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Namibian Remains Repatriated from Germany

By: Eric Singh.
Berlin. 30 September 2011.

In a very moving ceremony, the remains of 20 Namibians, victims of genocide carried out by German troops was handed over by Professor Dr. Karl Max Einhäupl, of the world-famous Charité University Medical Centre, to Ms Esther Moombolah-Gôagoses of the Heritage Council of Namibia. The ceremony was held in the premises of the Charité in Berlin and was witnessed by a packed hall which accommodates several hundred people.

Included here was a delegation from Namibia representing the various ethnic groups of the country. The main victims of the German genocide were the people from the Herero, Nama, Damara and other national groups. They were delegated by their people in conjunction with the Government of Namibia to bring back the remains of their ancestors to be buried on Namibian soil in a dignified manner and humility.

It is estimated that in the period between 1904-1908, troops of the German Empire (Kaiserreich) carried out the first genocide in the 20th century in the then German Colony of South West Africa (Namibia) and removed the limbs and heads of about three thousand (3 000) Herero, Damara and Nama and other groups in order to carry out research for racial purposes. How many others are unaccounted for? Many of these skulls were brought to Germany as trophies, as is done after big game hunting. The US troops followed with their trophies from Vietnam. How many Iraqi people have fallen victim to this barbaric habit?
Is this far-fetched? I should think not. Given the “terrific” performances of the occupying US forces against the local Iraqi people, such acts cannot be ruled out. Time will tell and the truth will out.

In his address, Prof Einhäupl asserted, “With this move we are dealing with an extremely shameful period of German science. It reminds us of the suffereing, misery and degradation which the Herero and Nama Volk had to endure during the genocide carried out by the German colonial troops. This was the first display of racism carried out by German Colonialism, and later practised by the National Socialist (Nazis). As a doctor and scientist it is absolutely painful to realise that medical scientists offered their services in the promotion to this form of racism”.

According to Professor Einhäupl, this was the first time that a scientific institution in Germany has undertaken such a move. The whole project began with a request by the Government of Namibia for the repatriation of the skulls. In accordance with the request of the Namibian Government, all the records for each individual are well documented. In each case general details about the skulls itself and its primary documentation are followed by the individual results of the historical/ethnological and anthropological/paleopathological investigations.

Investigations are being carried out by the German Research Foundation, which was especially set up for this purpose in 2010. Their work has so far revealed that the 20 skulls examined, nine were from the Herero and eleven Nama. Given this limitation of time it was impossible to do a complete examination. The scientists are convinced that by the year 2012, additional insights obtained in the intervening period, will be made available.

The visit of the Namibian Delegation has been downplayed, in fact almost completely ignored by the German government. They did not even have the decency to pay Cabinet Minister of Youth, National Service, Sport & Culture. Kazenambo Kazenambo a courtesy call or to receive him which is a norm in the world of diplomacy.

In a letter (29 September 2011) written by Mr Wolfgang Gehrcke, M. P. of the Links Party in the Bundestag (German Parliament), this fauxpas was brought to the notice of Dr Werner Hoyer, State Minister in the German Foreign Ministry.
Mr Gehrcke also referred to the press release issued by the Foreign Ministry a few days earlier announcing the handing over ceremony.

The contents of the release is very low key and a farce. It states inter alia: The remains of dead (my emphasis – es) people from the Herero, Nama and Damara people that were brought to Germany will be handed over to the delegation to take back to Namibia. Not a single word of regret or apology.

Instead, at the handing over ceremony, the German Government was represented by a functionary from the Foreign Ministry, a lady by the name of Frau Cornelia Pieper. The farce continued. This was too much for the many people that were present and the lady was heckled with shouts demanding apology immediately and reparation now. She was quickly led out of the hall through a side door and was gone. The sending of this lady was an affront to the delegation and the Namibian people.

In fact Chancellor Angela Merkel or her Minister of Foreign Affairs should have attended this historic ceremony. But both were sitting very pretty in Warsaw attending a meeting of the European Union. But that’s no big deal. Warsaw is a stone’s throw from Berlin. The powerful jets that fly these people around, that distance could be reduced to a child’s throw. Surely one of them should have had the decency to show their solidarity and abhorrence of the dastardly deeds carried out in the name of the German people over a 100 years ago.

Alternatively, Federal President Christian Wulff should have made his appearance at this momentous event. No, he preferred to display his “Pepsodent” teeth whilst handing out certificates to people who applied for German citizenship.

Paramount Chief of the Ovaherero, Chief Kuaima Riruako, in a very emotional speech, labelled the German Authorities racists. At the same time praised former Devleopment Minister Frau Heidemarie Wieczorek-Zeul, who at a meeting in Windhoek some years ago, had the guts to express her abomination and sorrow for what happened at the beginning of the last century. But the lady concerned was a minister. She doesn’t have the authority. There are two people who can do that – the Chancellor (Prime Minister) or the President. During his incumbency in the Presidency, Roman Herzog bluntly refused to do anything of that sort. The others just remained quiet. It might not be a bad idea if the German Parliament takes the matter in hand. But that is asking for too much.

Chief Riruako made a comparison of the genocide that was carried out in his country and the same tactics that were used during the Dritte Reich in Germany.
He pointed out the intention of the Germans was to completely wipe out the Herero people. They failed. He, as a Herero, is in Germany to tell the tale. He also mentioned the attempt of Hitler and his thugs to wipe out the Jewish Community.

Over 6 million people were killed by various methods. The concentration camps are a living proof of the dastardly activities that took place within the confines of those walls. The mockery of the camps are that you are greeted at the entrance with a slogan nailed to the wall “Arbeit macht frei” (work liberates). That slogan is apt. Thousands of prisoners died of exhaustion and their bodies were thrown into the huge ovens that were in operation to get rid of those that were murdered every day.

Chief Riruako accuses the Germans of double standard in their dealing with Namibia and Israel and the Jewish people. Whilst bending backwards to appease Israel with all sorts of assistance, the people of Nambia, even now, 100 years later, are waiting for the German Government to open its mouth and to pay compensation to the survivors of the victims. He told the audience this is racism in all its nakedness. “Is it because we are black and the Israelis are white”? How much of truth lies in this statement which so far has been spoken of in undertones or behind closed doors. It is also a known fact that many non-Germans who were part of the Reich murder machinery – in the uniform of the SS, were compensated and some who are still living, are receiving monthly pensions from Germany. They were mainly from the three Soviet Baltic States of Latvia, Estonia, Lithuania. Ukraine is also well represented in this group as well as Hungary, Bulgaria and other countries of the Balkan.

One word will suffice to break the impasse. Why is it so difficult for the German authorities to utter that magic word SORRY? I put this question to Frau Petra Löber, a fellow scribe who was sitting next to me at the ceremony.

She mentioned a statement she read in a book by Prof Alexander Mitscherlich and his wife Margarete who analysed the trial of the Nazi Doctors in 1946. In their work they make a statement which hits the nail right on the head – Germans are incapable of mourning. In other words it is better to suppress one’s feelings.

Leader of the Linke in the Bundestag, Dr Gregor Gysi sees it like this. He said, “In Germany there must a winner and a loser. Nothing in between”. Therefore it is not surprising that the trials of the Nazis and their cahoots were not accepted, by a large section of the German population. It was branded Sieger Justiz (Justice of the Victor). That situation has not changed drastically to the present day. Anti-semitism is still very rife, albeit, very quietly. And, fascism is raising its ugly head once again. It is not confined to Germany alone. There are official fascist parties in many countries of Europe.

The fall of the Berlin wall 22 years ago is a huge victory for the Federal Republic of German. This confirms what Gysi said. The victors are really showing their teeth. The losers are wiping their tears. On 3 October, Germany will be celebrating the 21st anniversary of unification.

In law, Germany is united. In fact, there are still two German states existing – East & West. The West lost no time in showing their “poor” cousins who is the boss. The euphoria of the past two decades has evaporated, especially the older generation who are more or less living in poverty.

The biggest obstacle to unification is undoubtedly the machinery that manages the Stasi Files (it was called the Gauck Behörde, followed by Birthler and now Jahn) the documents of the former East German secret police. It is run by previous East German anti-Communist dissidents. Very bitter and spiteful people. Not appropriate to manage such documents. They are too involved and partial. Therefore, they cannot be rational.

Quite a number of times this body is equated to the Truth & Reconciliation Commission (TRC) of South Africa. BULLSHIT. How can you dare to place the two on a par. Whereas the TRC sought to reconcile, the Behörde is a witch hunter. It is an absolute replica of the notorious Joseph McCarthy Un-American Activities Committee of the 1950s.

On the other hand, the Germans could learn a lot from the TRC. Not that the TRC was a magic body. There are many failings. Taking the time factor into account, this is acceptable. On the other hand, its successes are innumerable. It gave people a chance to come out and tell the truth. Many did and myriads of mysteries were solved. Most pressing were the crimes committed by the authorities and the people who had disappeared. Many mothers, sisters and wives were able to learn for the first the fate of their loved ones and the site of the graves. That was a great relief. At long last these bodies were given a proper burial under true traditional custom.

A very important aspect of the work of the TRC is recorded in a documentary of the various hearings that took place all over the country. At one hearing a black member of the police squad admitted to killing a number of young men and secretly burying their bodies in a bush. This, in the presence of the families of those killed. Jobs were not easy to find so the police force was the place to earn your living. However distasteful, especially the white superiors.

After the hearings, this young policeman sought a meeting with the families
of the people he killed. To his surprise, they agreed. That was a very tough get together. And a brave one too. He went on his knees to beg for the mercy and forgiveness from the families. He was scolded. He really got a tongue-lashing.
In the end they all cried. They prayed together and he was hugged by each and every person in the gathering. He was forgiven.

These were simple people with big hearts who lived in anxiety not knowing the whereabouts of the loved ones. The revelations of the young policeman removed a huge stone from their hearts. They were very grateful for that.

Although the German Government has made very heavy weather regards the genocide in Namibia over a 100 years ago, it is never too late to do so now. The example of the people mentioned above provides a fantastic guideline.


Eric Singh – Freelance Journalist
Mellenseestrasse 29 D-10319 Berlin


Germans distort a dark past - by Magreth Nunuhe

BERLIN - Enraged at what they consider distortion of history, members of the Herero and Nama delegation that descended on Berlin on Monday to repatriate 20 skulls of their ancestors, are demanding that the Charité University, where the skulls were kept for more than 100 years, provide answers to what the German scientists analysed about the heads.

A highly-charged delegation, which for the first time on Tuesday saw the remains of their ancestors displayed at an auditorium at the Charité University, want to know what happened to the brains and the bodies of their descendants who perished in the German colonial war of 1904-1908.

They were shocked that all the university could say was that their descendants died from illnesses while they knew very well how people died on Shark Island.

Some of the questions posed were: “Was there any comparison made with other previous records from Dr Eugen Fischer? Was any DNA study done? What happened to the brains after dissection? Where is the final report to support the hypothesis? Can this report be availed? Were the skulls used for teaching or research?”

But Dr Andreas Winkelmann, of the Charité University, who has been spearheading identification of the skulls, said they had very limited information except that they used data from documentation dating back to 1915.

From that data, they could tell how old the skulls were, whether they were male or female, Nama or Herero based on teeth formation and that 18 of the skulls were brought from Shark Island concentration camp in Luderitz, while two others may have come from other sources during colonial times.

“We don’t know their names, we don’t know with certainty the cause of death,” said Winkelmaan, adding that many may have died from scurvy – a lack of vitamin C caused by starvation although he could not say with certainty what diseases they died from.

He said that they could also not see from the skulls that somebody may have died from violence either, and that no DNA was done as that could not tell who somebody was.

“Some skulls showed signs of chronic inflammation, but we are very limited to determine the cause of death. There are no open signs of violence against the head,” said the doctor, triggering disapproving murmurs among delegates.

Winkelmann said the research method was done on muscles of the skulls where a final report was included in the original documentation of 1915.

He however could not say what the findings were except that the scientists found “what they wanted to find”.

He said that one year go they started doing research on the origins of the skulls but that had nothing to do with Dr Eugen Fisher and did not know where the brains were as they may have been removed in Namibia or Germany.

Fischer came to Namibia on behalf of German universities as soon as concentration camps opened to use ‘race science’ theories with the idea of a ‘supreme race’ by testing heads of 778 Herero and Nama dead prisoners of war.

This was to prove that the black race was inferior to the Germanic Aryan race by measuring skulls, facial features and eye colours.

“We think that this was bad science for a bad cause. We apologise for what scientists did a 100 years ago in the name of science and in the name of Charité University,” he added, saying that two of the skulls may have come from other sources of the 1904-1908 war but they were still investigating.

“We will have some more (skulls), but not hundreds. We are happy to return more once we are sure,” he added.

Winkelmann said there was no research or teaching done after the 1920s at German universities, “because science was not interested anymore”. Probed whether the Charité University was holding back information regarding the skulls, he said that he could assure that their university was free from any influence and the German government did not tell them what to say.

In total, from 24 000 up to 100 000 Herero people perished, along with 10 000 Nama people. The genocide was characterised by widespread death by starvation and thirst because the Herero, who fled the violence, were prevented from returning from the Namib Desert. Some sources also claim that the German colonial army systematically poisoned desert wells.

It is believed that more than 300 skulls of Namibians were brought to Germany between 1904 and 1908.

Gemeinsame Erklärung - Bundesregierung verweigert Entschuldigung für Völkermord an den Herero und Nama