Shark Island Concentration Camp
Shark Island Concentration Camp or "Death Island" (Konzentrationslager
auf der Haifischinsel vor Lüderitzbucht) was one of the five Namibian
concentration camps located on Shark Island off Lüderitz, Namibia. It
was used by the German empire during the Herero and Namaqua genocide
of 1904–1908. Between 1,032 and 3000 Herero and Namaqua men, women,
and children died in the camp between its opening in 1905 and its
closing in April 1907.
2.2 Conditions at the camp
2.3 Arrival of the Nama
2.4 Forced labour
3 Death toll
4 Medical investigation
5 See also
On 12 January 1904, the
Herero people rebelled against German colonial
rule under the leadership of Samuel Maharero. Origins of the Herero
revolt date back to the 1890s when tribes settled in
under pressure from the growing number of German settlers wanting
their land, cattle, and labor. Factors such as loss of property,
increasing debt in an attempt to resettle lost herds, low wages on
white-owned farms, and racial inequalities only intensified the
hostility between the Herero and the Germans. When the Herero
rebelled, they killed over 100 German settlers near the town of
Okahandja. Over 15,000 German reinforcements under the command of
Lothar Von Trotha defeated the Herero force at the Waterberg River in
August 1904. Two months later, the
Nama people broke out in a similar
rebellion against German colonists. Traditional rivalries prevented
the Herero and Nama from joining together, however both groups
continued fighting guerrilla warfare against the German colonial
forces. Following the abandonment of Lothar von Trotha's policy of
exterminating Herero within the borders of
German South West Africa
German South West Africa by
denying them access to water holes, the colonial authorities adopted a
policy of sweeping the bush clear of Herero – both civilians and
rebels – and removing them, either voluntarily or by force, to
Although there are records of Herero prisoners-of-war being held in
Lüderitz Bay as early as 1904, the first references to a camp at
Shark Island and the transfer of large numbers of Herero prisoners
Keetmanshoop are in March 1905. From early on, large numbers
of Herero died in the camp, with 59 men, 59 women and 73 children
reportedly dying by late May 1905. Despite this high initial rate
of mortality on the island which, with its cold climate, was
unsuitable for habitation, particularly for people used to the dry,
arid climate of the veld, the German authorities continued to transfer
people from the interior to the island, ostensibly because of a lack
of food in the interior, but also because they wished to use the
prisoners as labour in constructing a railway connecting Lüderitz
Conditions at the camp
Word quickly spread among the Herero of the conditions at the camp,
with prisoners in other parts of
German South West Africa
German South West Africa reportedly
committing suicide rather than be deported to
Lüderitz due to the
stories of harsh conditions there in late 1905. The Cape Argus, a
South African newspaper, also ran stories describing terrible
conditions at the camp in late September 1905. One transport rider who
was described as having been employed at the camp in early 1905 was
quoted as saying:
The women who are captured and not executed are set to work for the
military as prisoners ... saw numbers of them at Angra Pequena (i.e.,
Lüderitz) put to the hardest work, and so starved that they were
nothing but skin and bones [...] They are given hardly anything to
eat, and I have very often seen them pick up bits of refuse food
thrown away by the transport riders. If they are caught doing so, they
are sjamboked (whipped).
August Kuhlmann was one of the first civilians to visit the camp. What
he witnessed shocked him as he described in September 1905:
A woman, who was so weak from illness that she could not stand,
crawled to some of the other prisoners to beg for water. The overseer
fired five shots at her. Two shots hit her: one in the thigh, the
other smashing her forearm...in the night she died.
Many cases of rape of prisoners by Germans were reported at the
camp. Although some of these cases did result in the perpetrator
being successfully punished where a "white champion" took up the
victim's cause, the majority of cases went unpunished.
Other factors such as minimal food rations, uncontrollable diseases,
and maltreatment led to high mortality rates. Prisoners typically
received a handful of uncooked rice. Diseases such as typhoid spread
quickly. Prisoners were concentrated in large, unsanitary living
quarters with low medical attention. Beating occurred frequently as
the German officials often used the sjambok to force prisoners to
Arrival of the Nama
Whilst the Germans initially followed a policy of sending people from
the south to concentration camps in the north, and vice versa,
meaning that Nama prisoners mostly went to concentration camps around
the city of Windhoek, by mid-1906 Germans in
Windhoek were becoming
increasingly concerned about the presence of so many prisoners in
their city. In response to these concerns, in August 1906 the Germans
began to transfer Nama prisoners to Shark Island, sending them by
Swakopmund and then by sea to Lüderitz. The Nama
leader, Samuel Isaak, protested this, saying that their transfer to
Lüderitz had not been part of the agreement under which they had
surrendered to the Germans, however, the Germans ignored these
protests. By late 1906, 2,000 Nama were held prisoner on the
The prisoners held on Shark Island were used as forced labour
throughout the camp's existence. This labour was made available by
the German army Etappenkommando for use by private companies
Lüderitz area, working on infrastructure projects such
as railway construction, the building of the harbour, and flattening
and levelling Shark Island through the use of explosives. This
highly dangerous and physical work inevitably led to large-scale
sickness and death amongst the prisoners, with one German technician
complaining that the 1,600-strong Nama work force had shrunk to a
strength of only 30–40 available for work due to 7–8 deaths
occurring daily by late 1906. The policy of forced labour
officially ended when prisoner-of-war status for the Herero and Nama
was revoked on 1 April 1908, although Herero and Nama continued to
labour on colonial projects after this.
The decision to close the camp was made by Major Ludwig von Estorff,
who had signed the agreement under which the
Witbooi (a Nama tribe)
had surrendered to the Germans, after a visit to the camp in early
1907. After the closing of the camp, prisoners were transferred to
an open area near Radford Bay. Whilst mortality rates were still high
initially in the new camp, they eventually declined.
The precise number of deaths at the camp are unknown. A report by the
German Imperial Colonial Office estimated 7,682 Herero and 2,000 Nama
dead at all camps in German South West Africa, of which a
significant portion died at Shark Island. A military official at the
camp estimated 1,032 out of 1,795 prisoners held at the camp in
September 1906 having died, it is estimated that eventually only 245
of these prisoners survived. In December 1906, an average of 8.5
prisoners died per day. By March 1907, according to records that
do exist, 1,203 Nama prisoners had died on the island. The
over-all figure for deaths at the camp has been estimated as being as
many as 3,000. Combined with deaths amongst prisoners held
Lüderitz bay, the total may well exceed 4,000. The
vast majority of these prisoners died through preventable diseases
such as typhoid and scurvy exacerbated by malnutrition, over-work
and the unsanitary conditions in the camps.
In 1906, research was conducted by the doctor
Eugen Fischer on the
skulls of dead prisoners and on prisoners with scurvy by Dr
Bofinger. In 2001 a number of these skulls were returned from German
institutions to Namibia. The captured women were forced to boil heads
of their dead inmates (some of whom may have been their relatives or
acquaintances) and scrape remains of their skin and eyes with shards
of glass, preparing them for examinations by German universities.
Head of Shark Island prisoner used for medical experimentation
Human rights portal
German South West Africa
Herero and Namaqua Genocide
Research Materials: Max Planck Society Archive
^ Nazi Empire: German Colonialism and Imperialism from Bismarck to
Hitler - Page 48 2011 The concentration camp at Shark Island off the
coastal city of
Lüderitz became, for all practical purposes, a death
^ The Kaiser's Holocaust: Germany's Forgotten Genocide and the
Colonial Roots of Nazis - Page 220 Casper Erichsen,
David Olusoga -
2010 Shark Island was a death camp, perhaps the world's first
^ Genocide: A Comprehensive Introduction - Page 123 Adam Jones - 2010
- It created the German word Konzentrationslager[concentration camp]
and the twentieth century's first death camp
^ The Nature of Heritage: The New South Africa By Lynn Meskel page
1872 " the world's first extermination camp on Shark Island"
^ The Devil's Handwriting: Precoloniality and the German Colonial
State in Qingdao, Samoa, and Southwest Africa George Steinmetz
University of Chicago Press page 173 15 Sep 2008
^ Possibly the Shark Island Konzentrationslager was the world's first
death camp and largely functioned as an extermination centre
^ Border Conflicts in a German African Colony: Jacob Morengo and the
Untold Tragedy of Edward Presgrave P. H. Curson page 49
^ Zimmerer, Jürgen; Zeller, Joachim (2003). Völkermord in
Deutsch-Südwestafrika: Der Kolonialkrieg 1904 – 1908. Berlin:
Links. p. 80. ISBN 9783861533030.
^ Overmans, Rüdiger (1999). In der Hand des Feindes :
Kriegsgefangenschaft von der Antike bis zum Zweiten Weltkrieg. Köln:
Böhlau. p. 291. ISBN 9783412149987. Die Verhältnisse in
Swakopmund, zu denen sich Tecklenburg äußerte, stellten keine
Ausnahme dar. Noch schlimmer lagen die Verhältnisse im
Konzentrationslager auf der Haifischinsel vor Lüderitzbucht, dem
größten Gefangenenlager. Dort wurden sowohl Herero wie Nama
interniert und ihrem Schicksal überlassen. Die Inhaftierung auf de."
reprinted in Jürgen Zimmerer Deutsche Herrschaft über Afrikaner:
Staatlicher Machtanspruch und ... (2004). Page 46."
^ a b c Erichsen, Casper; Olusoga, David (2010-08-05). The Kaiser's
Holocaust: Germany's Forgotten Genocide and the Colonial Roots of
Nazism. Faber & Faber. ISBN 9780571269488.
^ Bartrop, Paul R.; Jacobs, Steven Leonard (2014-12-17). Modern
Genocide: The Definitive Resource and Document Collection. ABC-CLIO.
^ Erichsen 2005, pp. 72–73.
^ Erichsen 2005, p. 73.
^ Erichsen 2005, p. 74.
^ Erichsen 2005, pp. 75–76.
^ Erichsen 2005, p. 78.
^ Olusoga, David; Erichson, Casper W (2010). The Kaiser's
holocaust : Germany's forgotten genocide and the colonial roots
of Nazism. London: Faber and Faber. p. 220.
^ Erichsen 2005, p. 87.
^ Erichsen 2005, p. 86.
^ Erichsen 2005, p. 104.
^ a b Erichsen 2005, p. 109.
^ Erichsen 2005, p. 113.
^ Erichsen 2005, pp. 113–114.
^ Erichsen 2005, pp. 117–118.
^ Erichsen 2005, p. 119.
^ Erichsen 2005, p. 128.
^ a b Sarkin 2011, p. 125.
^ Zimmerer & Zeller 2003, p. 80.
^ Erichsen 2005, p. 133.
^ Erichsen 2005, pp. 134–139.
^ Fetzer, Christian (1913–1914). "Rassenanatomische Untersuchungen
an 17 Hottentotten Kopfen". Zeitschrift für Morphologie und
Anthropologie (in German): 95–156.
^ The Kaiser's Holocaust: Germany's Forgotten Genocide and the
Colonial Roots of Nazis - Page 224 Casper Erichsen,
David Olusoga -
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