Book Review: The Kaiser’s Holocaust

The Kaiser’s Holocaust: Germany’s Forgotten Genocide, by David Olusoga & Casper W. Erichsen

Although it is not true that the slaughter of the Nama and Herero in Namibia is forgotten [1], it is true that the implications of this warfare on future German history is not often examined. One thing that sets this book apart from the few other books that deal at any length with the subject is the close attention the book pays to archival research as well as grim work with the spade. Taking advantage of the neglected genre of German settler memoirs from the interwar period as well as writings from the local population themselves (which is rare in colonial narratives). This archival research allows the authors to make some sound and provocative conclusions about the relationship between German colonial methods in Namibia and the inspiration of Nazi policy, a connection that was missed, for political reasons, by the investigators at the Nuremburg trials.

This book is written in a basically chronological fashion that examines a few key threads and key people that appear over and over again. It begins with an examination of a Germany in search of foreign glory and reputation as a latecomer to imperialism. Then there is the neglected cost of Namibia and the race by the British and Germans to settle all of the navigable ports on the Skeleton Coast, as it was then known. Then the early ineffectual efforts of Germany to intimidate unequal treaties by force, and then growing escalation of violence in the face of limited settlement and incompetence and arrogance, followed by an empty victory that led to a few years of a diamond rush followed by defeat in World War I and the loss of the colonies in the face of popularization of German atrocities. Then the book looks at the tortured course of colonial influence on right-wing (and left-wing) extremism and the key role played by former German South-West African veterans in the interwar period in the rise of the Nazi party, and also the forgotten role of early colonial experiences in shaping the ideas of Libenstraum and racial ‘science’ as well as the development of the death camps in Namibia that were later used against the Jews and others, and closes by looking at the triumph of amnesia and the neglect of the imperial experience as being a key model of Nazi atrocities, along with recent attempts to bring this sordid aspect of history to light.

This book, in many ways, reminds me of an essay I wrote while a high school student that dealt with the larger context of the Holocaust. The Holocaust was more than about the Jews, although views of ethnicity were important with many of the targets of the Holocaust. Likewise, this book points out that the Germans were students of the racism of the Americans and British imperialists with regards to their empires, taking the concentration camps of the Spanish in Cuba and the British in South Africa and the reservations of North America and making those ideas more extreme, and also bringing it uncomfortably close to Europe and using the ideology of denying humanity to imperial subjects to one’s neighbors instead of “savages” far away, who were, it should be noted, not savages at all but possessed of great intellect and noble ideals and considerable moral decency in the face of grim and hopeless circumstances. Ultimately, once anyone is viewed as being subhuman or beneath human dignity, the honor and dignity of no one is entirely safe from exploitation and oppression.

[1] I happen to have one other book that deals with the subject, http://www.amazon.com/Rivers-Blood-Gold-Conquest-Indigenous/dp/0802138012, in my library in Florida.

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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