Namibia's island of death: Shark Island, off Namibia's coastal town of Luderitz, was the venue of a brutal concentration camp during German colonial rule. Casper W. Erichsen, an alumnus of the University of Namibia, writes about an island of suffering and death.
Link to this page <textarea cols="50" id="link2this" readonly="readonly" rows="14" style="display: none;"><a href="http://www.thefreelibrary.com/Namibia%27s+island+of+death%3a+Shark+Island%2c+off+Namibia%27s+coastal+town...-a0106941218">Namibia's island of death: Shark Island, off Namibia's coastal town of Luderitz, was the venue of a brutal concentration camp during German colonial rule. Casper W. Erichsen, an alumnus of the University of Namibia, writes about an island of suffering and death.</a></textarea>
Between 1904 and 1908 a series of wars were fought by the indigenous people of Namibia against German colonial forces. The most famous was waged by the united Herero nation, the occupants of central Namibia, who in the initial battles and skirmishes defeated the German colonial army. However, Kaiser Wilhelm II soon sent reinforcements from Berlin and at the end of the war in 1908, the Herero nation was all but destroyed: socially, culturally; economically, psychologically and physically. Over 80% of Herero men, women and children were wiped out.
Many southern Namibian communities suffered the same fate when they took up arms against the Germans in 1905. In fact, only 50% of the Nama people of the south were still alive after the war.
There is, however, another aspect of the Namibian genocide that has remained almost entirely forgotten in the years that have passed since 1904-08.
Following the defeat of the Herero, the German army set up five internment internment, in international law, detention of the nationals or property of an enemy or a belligerent. A belligerent will intern enemy merchant ships or take them as prize, and a neutral should intern both belligerent ships that fail to leave its ports within a camps for "prisoners-of-war", strategically placed around the colony. The concept was borrowed from South Africa South Africa, Afrikaans Suid-Afrika, officially Republic of South Africa, republic (2005 est. pop. 44,344,000), 471,442 sq mi (1,221,037 sq km), S Africa. , where only a few years earlier the British had been responsible for thousands of deaths, using concentration camps in the Boer War Boer War: see South African War. .
As such the new German camps were called Konzentrationslagern and throughout the colony the scattered members of the defeated Herero nation were rounded up and sent to these camps. Original files of the German Colonial Administration, now kept in the National Archives National Archives, official depository for records of the U.S. federal government, established in 1934 by an act of Congress. Although displeasure concerning the method of keeping national records was voiced in Congress as early as 1810, the United States continued of Namibia, reveal this sinister chapter of Namibia's violent heritage.
Enter Shark IslandShark Island may be a reference to:
- Shark Island, Namibia, off the coast of Namibia, site of an early concentration camp
- Shark Island (Port Jackson), in Sydney Harbour, Australia
. In the far south of Namibia lies the coastal town of Luderitz. The town is famous for being the bridgehead bridge·head n. 1. a. A fortified position from which troops defend the end of a bridge nearest the enemy.
b. A forward position seized by advancing troops in enemy territory as a foothold for further advance. of German colonialism and the discovery of diamonds in 1908.
Flanked by sea and desert, the landscape is rough and unforgiving; old German colonial houses stand on solid rock, built to resist the cold ocean winds that besiege be·siege tr.v. be·sieged, be·sieg·ing, be·sieg·es 1. To surround with hostile forces.
2. To crowd around; hem in.
3. Luderitz for most of the year.
The most westerly Westerly, town (1990 pop. 21,605), Washington co., extreme SW R.I., between the Pawcatuck River and Block Island Sound; inc. 1669. Its textile industry dates from 1814, and granite has been quarried there since c.1850. point of this ocean town was, and still is, Shark Island. Poised on the vast South Atlantic, the island is barren and wind-swept. Its surface is entirely covered in solid granite rock, carved into surreal formations by the hard ocean winds.
In 1905, Shark Island was home to one of the colony's biggest and most feared concentration camps. Placed on the far, most exposed tip, facing the open ocean, the camp was surrounded by barbed wire barbed wire, wire composed of two zinc-coated steel strands twisted together and having barbs spaced regularly along them. The need for barbed wire arose in the 19th cent. and was guarded around the clock by German colonial troops Colonial troops or colonial army refers to various military units recruited from, or used as garrison troops in, colonial territories. Colonial background , the Schutztruppe. The Shark Island camp had no buildings, only standard issue military tents and improvised im·pro·vise v. im·pro·vised, im·pro·vis·ing, im·pro·vis·es
v.tr. 1. To invent, compose, or perform with little or no preparation.
2. shelters made from blankets and what little building material was made available to the prisoners.
Marooned ma·roon 1 tr.v. ma·rooned, ma·roon·ing, ma·roons 1. To put ashore on a deserted island or coast and intentionally abandon.
2. ..... Click the link for more information. on the far end of Shark Island, the Herero and later Nama prisoners would have felt isolated and forgotten.
The history of Shark Island is a study of human cruelty. It is not exactly certain when the first prisoners arrived on the island. The German missionary Kuhlmann, described in September 1905 a group of 487 Herero imprisonedim·pris·on tr.v. im·pris·oned, im·pris·on·ing, im·pris·ons To put in or as if in prison; confine.
[Middle English <tt>emprisonen</tt>, from Old French <tt>emprisoner</tt> : <tt>en-</tt> on the island and noted that they were in a sad state.
Yet already, in late May 1905, another German missionary Vedder had written to his colleague about the misery among prisoners in Luderitz, counting 59 men, 59 women and 73 children as being held there. He added that the mortality rate was "incredibly" high.
In June of the same year, the learned and respected Herero teacher, Samuel Kariko, who was working for a German mission, was sent with his family to do God's work among the prisoners on Shark Island.
His task was to convert prisoners and provide spiritual support to those already converted. When Kuhlman visited the island in September 1905, it was to meet with the "evangelist Samuel".
In 1918, after the British had taken over the colony in World War I, Kariko was interviewed for the somewhat controversial Blue Book (published by the British government in 1918 and partially serialised in New African New African is an English-language monthly news magazine based in London. Published since 1966, it is read by many people across the African continent and the African diaspora. in recent editions), giving a chilling description of Shark Island: "I was sent down with others to an island far in the south, at Luderitz. There on that island were thousands of Herero and Hottentot (sic) prisoners. We had to live there. Men, women and children were all huddled together.
"We had no proper clothing, no blankets, and the night air on the sea was bitterly cold. The wet sea fogs drenched drench tr.v. drenched, drench·ing, drench·es 1. To wet through and through; soak.
2. To administer a large oral dose of liquid medicine to (an animal).
3. us and made our teeth chatter. The people died there like flies that had been poisoned. The great majority died there. The little children and the old people died first, and then the women and the weaker men. No day passed without many deaths."
Many hundreds if not thousands of Herero prisoners arrived in Luderitz during the course of 1905 and 1906. Notwithstanding the fact that the prisoners on Shark Island were in dire physical and mental condition, they were put to hard, unpaid labour. Evidence shows the brutality with which prisoners were forced to work.
In a series of articles in the South African Cape Argus For the cycle race with the same name, see Cape Argus Cycle Race.
The Cape Argus is a daily newspaper published by Independent News & Media in Cape Town, South Africa. At times in the past it was known simply as "The Argus". that was devoted to the atrocities at the hands of the German colonial power in Namibia, it was described how mostly women were used for manual labour in the harbour town.
One such article published on 28 September 1905 quoted a young transport rider, Mr. Percival Griffith (described by the Argus as "an accountant of profession, who owing to owing to prep. Because of; on account of: I couldn't attend, owing to illness.
owing to prep ⇒ debido a, por causa de hard times, took up on transport work at Angra Pequena Angra Pequena (Portuguese for "small cove") was a small coastal area in Southwest Africa.
First discovered by Europeans in 1487 by the Portuguese explorer Bartolomeu Dias, it was made into a trading station by German trader Adolf LÜderitz in 1883 who renamed it LÜderitz and "), as recounting:
"... Most of the prisoners, who compose the working gangs at Angra Pequena, are sent up from Swakopmund. There are hundreds of them, mostly women and children and a few old men. There are many small children among them and not a few babies. Children as young as five or so years of age are made to work and are ill-treated like their unfortunate elders ... Heavy loads of sand and cement have to be carried by the women and children, who are nothing but skin and bone.
"The loads are out of all proportion to their strength. I have often seen women and children dropping down ... When they fall, they are sjamboked [whipped] by the soldier in charge of the gang, with his full force, until they get up. Across the face was the favourite place for the sjamboking and I have often seen the blood flowing down the faces of the women and children and from their bodies, from the cuts of the weapon ...
"I cannot say how many gangs there are as they work in different parts of the town. A lot of them work on the island, where we were not allowed to go."
(Angra Pequena was the original name of Luderitz and is still the name used in the Cape). However, the very graphic description of a child being whipped across the face is an act of such brutality that it is distressing to accept as truth. Nevertheless, the employment of severe force and general maltreatment maltreatment Social medicine Any of a number of types of unreasonable interactions with another adult. See Child maltreatment, Cf Child abuse. of prisoners in Luderitz is a theme that echoes throughout many sources relating to relating to relate prep ⇒ concernant
relating to relate prep ⇒ bezÜglich +gen, mit Bezug auf +acc the concentration camps.
Also photographic evidence suggests that it was common practice in the colony, to put women to hard labour, especially, as described above, moving heavy loads with their bare hands. The bitter irony of this forced labour was that by building the infrastructure of the German colony This article is about the Templer colonies in Israel. For former colonies of Germany, see German colonial empire. The term German Colony designates neighborhoods of several Israeli cities that were originally built by the Templers, a German religious , the prisoners were solidifying the German presence and thereby the demise of their own future.
To amplify the point that Luderitz' infrastructure was built with concentration camp labour, carried out without recourse A phrase used by an endorser (a signer other than the original maker) of a negotiable instrument (for example, a check or promissory note) to mean that if payment of the instrument is refused, the endorser will not be responsible. to proper nutrition proper nutrition, n in Tibetan medicine, a therapeutic concept that begins with a digestive formulation because it is believed that a medical condition is primarily the result of a nutritional dysfunction or disturbance in the process of delivering nutrients. and medical facilities, the statistics of the railway works between the towns of Luderitz and Ketmanshoop are particularly relevant. According to according to prep. 1. As stated or indicated by; on the authority of: according to historians.
2. In keeping with: according to instructions.
3. numbers kept and compiled by the German Colonial Administration, a total of 2,014 concentration camp prisoners were used for railway construction on the Luderitz line between January 1906 and June 1907.
The same statistics coldly note that 1,359 of those prisoners died while working on the line: a 67% mortality rate! One imagines a trail of human bones running parallel to the actual tracks.
The most horrific event relating to the Luderitz camp, however, was the decision in mid-1906 to incarcerate in·car·cer·ate tr.v. in·car·cer·at·ed, in·car·cer·at·ing, in·car·cer·ates 1. To put into jail.
2. To shut in; confine. the southern Witbooi, Veldschuentragers and Bethanie communities on the island. The Nama groups, who had initially surrendered to the Germans, in the hope of retaining dignity and assets, were instead sent to Shark Island.
The biggest of these groups arrived on 9 September 1906 and consisted of over 1,700 people, all of whom were sent directly to the island where they joined other Herero and Nama prisoners. To them, there seemed to be no illusions as to what incarceration Confinement in a jail or prison; imprisonment.
Police officers and other law enforcement officers are authorized by federal, state, and local lawmakers to arrest and confine persons suspected of crimes. The judicial system is authorized to confine persons convicted of crimes. on Shark Island entailed.
The fact that Herero prisoners had died in droves on the island throughout 1905 and 1906, as witnessed by Kariko and others, meant that the German Colonial Governor Lindequist was well aware of the death warrant he had signed for the Nama prisoners. There was a reason the small, barren outcrop was called "Death Island" by German troops.
In secret government files relating to the Witbooi, there are a couple of letters marked "Top Secret". The letters were sent by the Luderitz missionary Laaf to the Rhennish Mission Society in Germany, but somehow intercepted and copied by the Colonial Administration.
In the letters, the missionaries describe the misery of the Nama prisoners on Shark Island. On 6 October 1906, Laaf wrote:
"A large number of the people [Nama prisoners] are sick, mostly from scurvy scurvy, deficiency disorder resulting from a lack of vitamin C (ascorbic acid) in the diet. Scurvy does not occur in most animals because they can synthesize their own vitamin C, but humans, other primates, guinea pigs, and a few other species lack an enzyme , and every week between 15 and 20 people die. Just as many of the Herero are perishing, so that one can make a weekly estimate of 50 deaths."
Little over two months later, Laaf was writing another letter:
"The mortality among the Nama is frighteningly high. There are often days where up to 18 people die. Today Samuel Izaak [sic] told Brother Nyhof: 'Dat Volk is gedaan'[the community is doomed]. If it continues like this, it will not take long before the entire community is completely killed off."
The ominous prediction of the Witbooi headman Samuel Isaak was to prove correct. In spite of repeated petitioning of the colonial and military administrations by the missionaries, the prisoners were not moved from Shark Island.
On 16 February 1907, the leader of the Bethanie people, Cornelius Fredericks, succumbed to the Island, thus joining several thousands of other concentration camp prisoners who died at the hands of the Germans.
By March 1907, 1,203 Nama prisoners had died on the island, of these 460 were women and 274 were children. In December 1906 alone, 263 prisoners died--an average of 8.5 per day, excluding fatalities among the Herero prisoners kept on the island. Of the 573 Nama survivors, 123 were deemed to be so ill that they would most likely die in the near future.
In summation--provided the German statistics were correct--six months after the Nama communities were deported to Shark Island, only 450 remained, out of a total of about 2,000 prisoners.
Ironically, the camp was only closed down because the new commander of the Schutztruppe, Von Estorff, who had originally signed the peace treaty with the Witbooi, promising them a fair treatment, had been to Luderitz and seen the carnage for himself. He immediately dispatched a letter to the Colonial Department in Berlin, and the "Die Totesinsel" camp was promptly closed.
The few survivors of Shark Island were transferred to the mainland, to the so-called Burenkamp outside Luderitz. Samuel Isaak survived the genocide and was sent to the military horse depot in central Namibia.
The Herero prisoners were officially freed on the Kaiser's birthday in 1908, although many had been sold off to farms and would most probably never hear about their free status.
The Nama were never officially given back their freedom, and those who survived the genocide only returned after the British arrived in 1915.