Wednesday, 29 January 2014

The Darwinian Roots of the First Holocaust

Lieutenant General Lothar von Trotha ruthlessly put down an uprising in South-West Africa. Image courtesy of Wikipedia.

Joel Kontinen

Writing in Sunday Express, John Lewis-Stempel looks at the roots of German expansionism during the reign of Kaiser Wilhelm II:

The Lebensraum policy of expansion was advocated by the 19th-century German geographer Friedrich Ratzel, who distorted Darwin's theory of evolution to proclaim that migration was necessary for a race's survival.”

However, the way the Germans treated black Africans was not a distortion of Darwinism. There was more to the first holocaust than just expansionism. German scientists inspired by Darwinian evolution wanted to examine the skulls of dead Africans. Charles Darwin’s The Origin of Species had been translated into German in 1875. In addition, Ernst Haeckel promoted evolution with his writings and Nietzsche proclaimed his view of Übermensch or superman.

German scientists wanted to show that light-skinned Europeans were more evolved than dark Africans.

Germany conquered South-West Africa or the present-day Namibia in 1884. The colonial masters treated their subjects so badly that they revolted in 1896 and 1904-1908. The German troops under Lieutenant General Lothar von Trotha put down the uprising ruthlessly. Roughly 60, 000 Hereros and over 10, 000 Namas died either in battle or from malnutrition or diseases in concentration camps.

Lewis-Stempel says that many skulls were sent to Germany “to prove the similarity between the Nama and anthropoid apes”. This was not a distortion but an application of Darwin’s writings in The Descent of Man.

A hundred years ago, Charles Darwin’s shadow extended far from his homeland, bringing desperation, suffering and death to Africa.


Lewis-Stempel, John. 2014. The women made to boil heads of their own people in Germany's first Holocaust. Sunday Express (January 19).