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We conclude our look at Namibia – Germany’s First Holocaust with the History Channel documentary, 100 Years of Silence.
‘There Was Injustice’: Skulls of Colonial Victims Returned to Namibia
By David Knight
The skulls of 20 indigenous Namibians killed more than a century ago are set to be handed over to a delegation from the African country in Berlin this week — and the solemn ceremony could be the first of many as Germany reflects on its colonial past.
After exhaustive research into their origins, the skulls — 11 from members of the Nama tribe and nine from the Herero people — will be returned to Namibia, which was known as German South West Africa from 1884 to 1919.
The Namibian embassy in Berlin will hold a memorial service led by the head of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Namibia, Bishop Zephania Kameeta, at St. Matthew’s Church on Thursday. The next day the official handover of the remains will take place at the Charité Hospital, where they have been stored at the Berlin Medical Historical Museum.
A massive research effort was undertaken there as part of a “reconciliation” in response to requests from the Namibian government for the repatriation of the remains, a spokeswoman there told SPIEGEL ONLINE.
Scientists at Charité have spent months examining the skulls to determine their origin. “The tribal authorities asked Charité to provide information with as much detail as possible; the sex, any signs of disease and origin,” the spokeswoman said. Specific cultural features, such as filing to make teeth sharper, helped identify the remains as belonging to the Namibian tribes.
[...]The story of how the remains came to be transported back to Germany is horrific. They belonged to the victims of German colonial troops, killed mercilessly following a Herero uprising in January 1904 which left 123 Germans dead. After the decisive Battle of Waterberg in August 1904, the Herero fled into the desert towards Botswana, pursued by German troops. Thousands were killed as they fled; out of a reported 80,000, only around 15,000 reached the neighboring country. The massacre is considered to be among the first genocides of the 20th century.
In October 1904, the German commander in Namibia, General Lothar von Trotha, gave his infamous order to kill any Herero, armed or not, found within the limits of German colonial territory. The skulls in Berlin, which mostly came from Herero who had died in prison camps, were sent back to Germany for supposed scientific studies aimed at underpinning the doctrine of racial superiority of Europeans over Africans.
“At the time, they viewed the skulls not as human remains but as material with which to investigate and classify race,” the Charité spokeswoman said. “There was injustice. From today’s standards, this was not right. Period.”
There were also grisly reports that the widows of those killed were forced to use shards of glass to strip away flesh from the skulls to prepare them for transport. “This has been reported in various instances, but this was not true for the skulls we received,” the Charité spokeswoman said. “They were in formalin, a preservation solution. This horrible thing didn’t happen to them.”
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