Most are Unaware of Germany’s Colonial Past and the First Genocide of the 20th Century

Chained Herero men

We have discussed the first genocide of the 20th century, committed by Germany in … Namibia, on African soil. We are not talking about World War II, but instead the real first genocide of the 20th century which almost wiped out all the Herero and Nama people of Namibia, Germany in Namibia: the First Genocide of the 20th Century. It was a campaign of racial extermination and collective punishment that the German Empire undertook in German South-West Africa (modern-day Namibia) against the Herero and Nama people, which took place between 1904 and 1907 during the Herero Wars. Today it is known as the Namibian genocide or the Herero and Namaqua genocide. It was cruel, gruesome, and yet today, many Germans don’t even know that their country had a colonial past! Hello? Germany had 4 colonies in Africa,  Togoland (Togo), Kamerun (Cameroon), German East Africa (Tanzania), and German South-West Africa (Namibia), and in most of them great atrocities were committed, yet, it is as if the history annals of the world have refused to acknowledge the humanity of the countless Africans who died. Recently, a German movie producer made a movie to reintroduce the German society to its colonial heritage. Recently, Germany agreed to pay Namibia €1.1bn over historical Herero-Nama genocide, while recognizing the actions as genocide, yet falling short of calling it reparations. Excerpts below are from the Guardian. You will also hear of the painful requests of many families for the return of their ancestors’ skulls (why on earth are these museums still holding onto people’s skulls?) Germany Returns Skulls of Namibians Genocide VictimsGermany Returns Artifacts Stolen From a Namibian Freedom Fighter.


Survivors of the Herero genocide (Wikimedia)

It was one of the darkest eras in German history, and the first genocide of the 20th century: the mass killing of tens of thousands of people in German South West Africa after a rebellion against colonial rule by the Herero and Nama tribes.

More than 100 years later, a feature film about the violence perpetrated by Germany in what is now Namibia explores that brutal colonial past for the first time. Its director hopes Measures of Men will bring the calamitous episode to the attention of ordinary Germans.

Germany has denied its colonial past for 120 years,” Lars Kraume said, in advance of the film’s domestic release on Thursday. “Most people are unaware Germany even had a colonial past, let alone anything about the brutality of it – it is not even taught in schools.” [Aren’t Africans humans too? are their deaths meaningless?]

… Measures of Men, filmed mainly on location in Namibia using local crew and expertise, tells the story of Alexander Hoffmann – played by Leonard Scheicher – a young, idealistic but wide-eyed ethnologist who questions the evolutionist racial theories of the time, according to which sizes and shapes of skulls determined intelligence. His attempts to rebut the pseudoscientific legitimisation of the superiority of white people over people from the colony of south-west Africa leads him to take first an intellectual and then a romantic interest in Kezia Kambazemi, the interpreter of a delegation of Nama and Herero people who are shipped to Berlin to participate in the Kaiser’s “Völkerschau”, or human zoo exposition.

Despite studying history for his final exams in Germany, Kraume became aware of Germany’s colonial past only when he visited Namibia in the early 1990s, immediately after its independence from South Africa. …

Namibian skulls (Reuters)

Kraume was particularly shocked by the existence of thousands of skulls of people murdered by Germans, which were gathered and shipped to Germany in large quantities and still exist in museums across the country.

I cannot comprehend the fact that we have these skulls, like artefacts, stored in ethnological museums,” he said. I cannot understand why they are still being kept and have not been given back.

You ask yourself: ‘Why were the skulls collected in the first place, and why have we not seen fit to give them back?’”

… The film’s relevance to the present day, Kraume said, is also in its depiction of how those in power choose to ignore scientific facts and truth for political gain and in order to maintain the status quo. …

6 thoughts on “Most are Unaware of Germany’s Colonial Past and the First Genocide of the 20th Century

  1. It’s a shame a lot of people still don’t know about this atrocity with the Namibian Genocide. Last year, I read The Kaiser’s Holocaust by David Olusoga who also made the Namibian Genocide & The 2nd Reich documentary. I was also glad to see other people who know about this such as your multiple articles over the past few years which I’ve also learned from. My blood boils with the horrors, the low reparation numbers or only using “programs” for compensations, or how the skulls are still in Germany. I swear it’s like Black people can be victims of genocides and no one cares and their perpetrators get away with it. As you may remember, I remember being shocked seeing the footage of Shark Island and it was hard not to think about the parallels between that and the Elephant Graveyard in The Lion King when the realization hit me. It’s good that you’re still talking about it because the atrocities to Namibians needs to be more-known.


    1. Thank you Ospreyshire. You are citing such good work. I will read David Olusoga’s book; I love his work, this documentary and others he has made. The parallel you made between Shark Island and the Elephant Graveyard in The Lion King is so poignant and helps to better visualize the atrocities perpetrated against Namibians.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. You’re welcome. I’m glad you know aboud david Olusoga’s work in both film and books. His book Black and British is another good one if you want to check that out. Getting back on topic, it’s great that you and some others have seen where I was coming from with the Shark Island/Elephant Graveyard parallels. I’m glad I’m not crazy when I had that realization that Mufasa was a genocidaire and proved me right that he was doing protagonist centered morality while also playing up the anti-Black implications of the hyenas. Sadly that fandom uses JEJ as a melanin shield which is just a strawman. The parallels are so stark when I saw the imagery in that documentary.


      2. Thanks Ospreyshire for your very poignant analysis and parallel of the Shark island with the Elephant Graveyard. For the longest time, I had been watching Mufasa and the Lion King in the first degree focusing on the artistry and music; while there are so many more hidden subtleties.

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      3. Sure thing and I’m glad you saw where I was coming from even back then when I commented on that older post involving the Namibian Genocide. I first saw that movie in theaters when I was just a little kid, so I didn’t think about the subtleties then, but as I got older I was kicking myself for not noticing these implications. It gets harder to watch knowing that apartheid ended the year Lion King came out if you pardon me going off-topic for a bit. I couldn’t look at Mufasa the same way again as it makes his “circle of life” speech extremely hypocritical in hindsight. I also gained insight after watching the documentary Mickey Mouse Monopoly which has a section based on racism in Disney movies, and there was a Black woman who talked about an experience where her white female friend was very concerned about her 3-year-old son for thinking some Black children were like the hyenas just because of how they talked even though they weren’t doing anything except laugh and play. That really disturbed me and I’m glad I wasn’t the only one who noticed that as an adult. I wonder if the Disney fans would think about that possibility if they bother learning about African culture and history. Getting on topic of the Namibian Genocide, it makes my blood boil that this subject isn’t talked about enough in schools as well as other atrocities like Leopold’s take over of the Congo for example.


      4. As a side note, aren’t the voices behind the hyenas in the Lion King portrayed by Black actors? Maybe that is where there was added “confusion” ?
        A lot is missing in our history books, particularly on the African continent: the Namibian genocide, Leopold II’s genocide in Congo, … the history of Africa in Africa is thought in pieces, and from the lens of the foreigners, it is time that we took hold of the narrative and tell our own stories.

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