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An excerpt on the provision of human skulls from German-Southwestafrica by German scholars from:

Andrew Zimmerman:

Anthropology and Antihumanism in Imperial Germany

(Chicago: University Of Chicago Press, 2001), pp. 244-45. Amazon

(...) In January 1904, conflicts over land ownership between German settlers and Herero led to open military conflict. 17 Dissatisfied with Governor Theodor Leutwein’s attempts to negotiate with the Herero, Germany sent in General Lothar von Trotha, whose strategy against the Herero was not simply to defeat them militarily but to exterminate them as a people. 18 Trotha drove the Herero into the desert by ordering soldiers to shoot every Herero man, woman, or child not fleeing in that direction. Once in the desert, the Herero were kept from sources of water. The Herero’s former rivals, the Nama, also rose against the Germans and led a successful guerilla war for years. However, they also met a fate similar to that of the Herero. While Trotha was soon recalled and his orders overturned by the government in Berlin, his campaign was brutally effective. By the time the state of war ended in 1907, there were fewer than twenty thousand Herero surviving from an original population of between sixty and eighty thousand. The Germans had also killed more than half the Nama, who had numbered twenty thousand before the war. The Germans took all collective property of the Herero and Nama and dissolved their political organizations. Those who surrendered or who could be captured were forced into concentration camps, where they continued to die in great numbers from typhus and other diseases. At the time of this writing, the Herero are attempting to get reparations from the German government. 19

In April 1905, over a year after the war [against the Herero] began, [the German anthropologist Felix von] Luschan contacted none other than Lieutenant Ralf Zürn, the district chief of Okahandja whose paranoia and aggressive behavior toward the Herero had provoked the first shots of the war. Shortly after the fighting began, Zürn had been recalled to Germany and nearly court-martialed for his poor discipline and excessive hostility. 20

Luschan desired a Herero skull that Zürn was rumored to have brought from Africa. The anthropologist persuaded the lieutenant to donate the skull to the museum, which soon prompted a further request: “The skull you gave us corresponds so little to the picture of the Herero skull type that we have thus far been able to make from our insufficient and inferior material that it would be desirable to secure as soon as possible a larger collection of Herero skulls for scientific investigation.” 21 It is unclear whether Luschan was thinking of the genocidal policy pursued in Southwest Africa or just hoped that the ordinary course of colonial war would make this “larger collection of Herero skulls” available. Just after the war, rumors did circulate among anthropologists and even in the popular press about shipments of thousands of Herero skulls. 22

In any case, Luschan posed the question to Zürn, “If you are aware of any possible way in which we might acquire a larger number of Herero skulls. . . .”Luschan was so enthusiastic that, in his initial draft of the letter, he forgot to insert his customary qualification that his request for skulls be filled only “in a loyal way”—a phrase that he inserted in the final draft of the letter. 23 Loyal or not, Zürn was optimistic about fulfilling Luschan’s demands through a contact still serving in the German army near Swakopmund: “I hope that my requests will have success, since in the concentration camps taking and preserving the skulls of Herero prisoners of war will be more readily possible than in the country, where there is always a danger of offending the ritual feelings of the natives.” 24

Zürn was correct in his assessment, and anthropologists were able to obtain a number of Herero corpses and skulls from the concentration camps. Germans involved in this process reported that they forced imprisoned Herero women to remove the flesh from the severed heads of their countrymen with shards of broken glass so that the skulls could be shipped to anthropologists or anatomists in Berlin. 25 The zoologist Leonard Schultze happened also to be on a collecting trip in Southwest Africa when the war broke out. He found that, although the fighting made the collection and preservation of animals difficult, it presented new opportunities for physical anthropology: “I could make use of the victims of the war and take parts from fresh native corpses, which made a welcome addition to the study of the living body (imprisoned Hottentots [Nama] were often available to me).” 26

The military doctors Dansauer, Jungels, Mayer, and Zöllner in Southwest Africa also collected Herero body parts in the concentration camps and shipped them to Berlin, where they were studied by the anthropologist Wilhelm Waldeyer and his students. 27 The Holocaust brought to Europe practices developed in colonial Africa, as the genocidal war against the Herero and the role of anthropologists in that war make all too clear. 28 (...)


17. The most recent and the most extensively researched account of the period of German colonization in Namibia is Jan-Bart Gewald, Herero Heroes: A Socio-Political History of the Herero of Namibia, 1890–1923 (Oxford: James Currey, 1999). See also Helmut Bley, South-West Africa under German Rule, 1894–1914 (1968), trans. Hugh Ridley (Evanston, Ill.: Northwestern University Press, 1971); Jon M. Bridgman, The Revolt of the Hereros (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1981); and Horst Drechsler, “Let Us Die Fighting”: The Struggle of the Herero and Nama against German Imperialism (1884–1915) (1966), trans. Bernd Zöllner (London: Zed, 1980). The standard account of the war has been that it began with Herero attacks on German settlers. However, Gewald has marshaled significant evidence suggesting that German troops, fearful of a Herero attack, fired the first shots in panic. See Gewald, Herero Heroes, 141 – 91 .

18. For arguments—which I do not find persuasive—against the genocidal interpretation of the war with the Herero, see Brigitte Lau, “Uncertain Certainties— the Herero-German War of 1904” in History and Historiography (Windhoek: Discourse/ MSORP, 1995), 39 – 52; and esp. Gunter Spraul, “Der ‘Volkermord’ an den Herero: Untersuchungen zu einer neuen Kontinuitätsthese,Geschichte in Wissenschaft und Unterricht 39" (1988): 713 – 39.

19. See Roger Boyes, "Germany Apologies for 1904 Slaugther of Africans," "The Times" (London), 9 June 1998, 16.

20. See Jan-Bart Gewald, Herero Heroes: A Socio-Political History of the Herero of Namibia, 1890–1923 (Oxford: James Currey, 1999), 141 – 91.

21. Felix von Luschan to Oberleutnant Ralf Zürn, 15 April, 21 June 1905, Archives of the Museum für Völkerkunde, Berlin (MfV), IB 39, vol. 1 , 775 / 05.

22. See Felix von Luschan to Ernst A. Böttcher, 8 October 1906 , and Böttcher to Luschan, 18 October 1906, MfV, IB 39, vol. 2 , 1675 / 06. Luschan declared the rumor to be a “mystification.”

23. Felix von Luschan to Oberleutnant Ralf Zürn, 21 June 1905 , MfV, IB 39, vol. 1 , 775 / 05.

24. Felix von Luschan to Oberleutnant Ralf Zürn, 21 June 1905, and Zürn to Luschan, 25 June 1905, MfV, IB 39, vol. 1, 775 / 05.

25. See Gewald, Herero Heroes, 189 – 90 n. 256 . Gewald’s information comes from a letter of 31 July 1908 from the German colonial secretary to the governor of Southwest Africa, Namibian National Archives, Windhoek, Zentralbureau 2027, SAWW.II.d. 8 . He also cites a photograph in Meine Kreigs-Erlebnisse in Deutsch- Südwest-Afrika, Von Einem Offizier Der Schutztruppe (Minden: Wiköhler, 1907), 114 , with the following caption: “A chest of Herero skulls was recently sent by troops from German Southwest Africa to the pathological institute in Berlin, where they will be subjected to scientific measurements. The skulls, from which Herero women have removed the flesh with the aid of glass shards to make suitable for shipment, come from Hereros who have been hanged or who have fallen.” This caption is also cited in Gesine Krüger, Kriegsbewältigung und Geschichtsbewußtsein: Realität, Deutung und Verarbeitung des deutschen Kolonialkrieges in Namibia 1904 bis 1907 (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1999 ), 98.

26. Leonard Schultze, introduction to Zoologische und anthropologische Ergebnisse einer Forschungsreise im westlichen und zentralen Südafrika ausgeführt in den Jahren 1903–1905, ed. Leonard Schultze (Jena: Gustav Fischer, 1908), viii. Schultze is cited in Gewald, Herero Heroes, 189 n. 256 . See also H. von Eggeling, “Anatomische Untersuchungen an den Köpfen von vier Hereros, einem Herero- und einem Hottentottenkind,” in Schultze, ed., Zoologische und anthropologische Ergebnisse einer Forschungsreise im westlichen und zentralen Südafrika, 322 – 48.

27. See Wilhelm Waldeyer, forward to “Cerebra Hererica” and “Cerebra Hererica,” by Sergio Sergi, in Schultze, ed., Zoologische und anthropologische Ergebnisse einer Forschungsreise im westlichen und zentralen Südafrika, 1 – 321.

28. There is obviously no space here to discuss in any more than a suggestive way the enormous topic of continuities between German imperialism and Nazi expansionism or even between anthropology in the two periods. Woodruff Smith has done interesting work on ideological continuities. See Smith, The Ideological Origins of Nazi Imperialism.

Zum Seitenanfang | Siehe auch:

Reinhart Koessler und Heiko Wegmann: Schädel im Schrank. Das düstere koloniale Erbe der deutschen Rasseforschung muss endlich aufgeklärt werden. Die Zeit

Klaus Riexinger: Erbe des Rassenwahns. Nach Berlin will auch Freiburg Schädel aus der Kolonialzeit an Namibia zurückgeben, "Der Sonntag"

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