Apology due for 1904 massacre

 

GERMANY: The German government will today admit its "colonial guilt" for the massacre by German forces of 60,000 members of the Herero people in Namibia a century ago, but will refuse to pay direct compensation.

Ms Heidemarie Wieczorek-Zeul, the German Development Minister, arrived in Namibia yesterday to attend a ceremony marking the 100th anniversary of the Herero massacre, a mostly forgotten chapter of German history.

"I want to mark Germany's particular political and moral responsibility for the past and its colonial guilt," said Ms Wieczorek-Zeul. "I would also like to emphasise Germany's special responsibility for Namibia."

For 31 years until 1915, Namibia was a German colony known as German South-West Africa, with Germans settled on land seized from the Herero people.

When the Hereros murdered a group of settlers, Kaiser Wilhelm dispatched an army to Namibia. Some 60,000 Herero, three-quarters of the population, were massacred while others were driven into the desert to die. Troops poisoned water holes and bayoneted anyone who tried to leave the desert.

Gen Lothar von Trotha, in charge of the operation, issued an infamous "Extermination Order" stating: "All Hereros must leave this land . . . Any Herero found within the German borders with or without a gun, with or without cattle, will be shot."

Survivors were put into camps where many died of smallpox and typhus.

Other camp inmates were used as guinea pigs in experiments conducted by Dr Eugene Fischer, the author of the Nazi standard text on "racial hygiene" and the teacher of Dr Josef Mengele, the Auschwitz "Angel of Death".

For decades, the Herero have pressed for reparations from Germany, with leaders calling it an attempt to "restore our dignity and get back what was taken away unfairly from us."

"It was genocide," said Mr Kuaima Riruako, the Herero leader, to Germany's DPA news agency. "We were massacred and our land, our cattle, our culture were seized."

But Berlin says compensation is impossible as international laws protecting combatants and civilians didn't exist a century ago. The government knows that any formal apology could make compensation payments legally necessary.

Namibia is Germany's largest recipient of foreign aid.

The Herero say the refusal to pay direct compensation is racist, considering the billions paid to victims of the Nazis. They have launched a $4 billion class action suit against the German government in a New York district court.