The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 14, Issue 12 (March 1, 1940)
Germany's Treatment Of Native Peoples — A Dark Colonial Record
In considering the very debatable question of the accessibility to the requirements of German industry of the raw materials of backward countries, it is advisable that we should strictly separate the purely economic aspect from the moral and social one of the treatment of native races. Normally one would think that a nation like Germany, with its long tradition of philosophy and music and quasi-culture, would be almost as trustworthy a guardian of the native races as their neighbours in western Europe. Yet the slightest acquaintance with the history of German colonial administration forbids us to harbour any such illusions. Germany's colonial experience was limited to 25 years, but it was marked by such bloodshed and brutality that only a dreamer or a callous-minded individual could think of granting her new mandates for native races.
England created her oversea empire of settlement two centuries before Germany had any stirrings in that direction. It is true that in 1680 the Great Elector of Brandenburg, acting on the advice of a Dutch sea captain, authorised the Brandenburg Africa Company to establish itself under his aegis at Cape Three Points, in West Africa. This and other settlements never paid their way, so that in 1718 the new elector was glad to sell the lot to Holland for 7,200 ducats and 12 negroes.
Frederick the Great of Prussia considered making a German settlement near Kamerun, but was engrossed in the inner colonisation of the Polish frontier, the sort of process that is now being promoted by both Russia and Germany.
Though the German merchant, Theodor Weber, entered the Pacific in 1857 as the agent for the firm of Godeffroy and Sons, Bismarck, as late as 1880 refused to inaugurate a colonial policy for the consolidated German Empire. He was deaf and adamant to the visions of the Deutscher Kolonialverein. In 1878 he repudiated the unauthorised annexation of New Guinea and the Reichstag refused at his orders to finance the German South Sea Trading Company, which had salvaged the bankrupt remains of Godeffroy's great enterprise, or to annex the islands of Samoa. He did, however, take notice of the Panama Canal project and with an eye to the future he acquired coaling stations for Germany in Tonga, Marshall and Samoa. His idea of colonising was very different from that to which long experience had brought the British Government. He was willing to protect German traders but he would leave to them the administration of the colonies, the courts of justice and the collection of taxes. The supervision of the Imperial Government was inexpert and remote; there was no bureaucracy of experienced officials or tradition of administration. In four years the Imperial Government had to intervene in New Guinea to collect its own taxes, and within fourteen years the New Guinea Company had surrendered its rights. It was the same in the other colonies which surrounded Africa after the partitions of the late 'eighties and the 'nineties. These left Germany in possession of vast tracts in German East Africa —what became Tanganyika –German South West Africa, Togoland and Kamerun. There were no trained officials. Men with shady characters, men with a past to hide or a reputation to recover, were sent to the colonies as administrators. There was no careful study of ethnology or of the culture of the unfortunate tribes. There was excessive centralisation of ultimate authority in the hands of inexpert officials in Berlin while excessive license was allowed to minor officials on the spot. There was no system of law for the protection of the native; government and judiciary were one and the same. It is not surprising that in no colonial domain were the relations between the whites and the blacks so strained as in the German colonies. Punitive expeditions were incessant; gross outrages took place and whole regions were depopulated; forced labour was prevalent and flogging was rampant even under the benign rule of such a man as Dernburg. Black troops revolted and had to be disbanded. When the Great War broke out the German officials in Togoland realised that Nemesis was at hand. Panic broke out. The principal chief of the Dualas, Rudolf Bell, who had been educated in Germany, was executed; and wholesale massacres followed.
The story of our colonies contains a whole series of events of a nottoo-pleasant kind; embezzlements, falsifying of evidence, sensual cruelties, assaults on women, horrible illtreatment—things that do not contribute to a laurel wreath. The colonies must be no dumping ground for second-rate people. Men with a past or who are on the shelf, and officials and officers who are mentally and morally offensive, are no good to us in the colonies, not even if they are royal princes, but would only be suited to drag the German, and I would say the Christian, name in the dust.
A conservative deputy added his testimony that “in the beginning the German colonies served as a dumping ground for damaged reputations,” In a lecture which I heard at the Royal Colonial Institute in 1914 Professor Bonn said that Germany had not got the class of men that she wanted for her colonies. “We wanted to build up on African soil a new Germany and create daughter states. We carried this idea to its bitter end. We tried it in South-West Africa and produced a huge native rising causing the loss of much treasure and many lives…. We tried to exterminate a native race whom our lack of wisdom had goaded into rebellion. We succeeded in breaking up the native tribes, but we have not succeeded in creating a new Germany.”
Germany consistently mishandled the native races committed to her care. She entrusted the administration to unsuitable, and often venal, officials who were allowed to profit from commercial enterprises. She disregarded native law and custom and permitted minor officials, non-commissioned officers who were often of a brutal type, to exercise unbridled license in their dealings with the unfortunate natives. The native soldiery were allowed incredible freedom. One official in Togoland created his native mistress a queen and gave her the power of levying fines and deciding legal cases. A sergeant who was ill, left the command of the station to his black wife. She arrested three natives, accused them of highway robbery and handed them over to a German captain, by whom they were blown from guns. The Clerical Party and the Social Democrats in the Reichstag year after year brought forward well authenticated reports of scandals in the German colonies and declared that witnesses were afraid to give evidence. Even the missionaries had often to remain quiet. When Father Schmitz and his associates in Togoland exposed the immoralities of an official even the enlightened Herr Dernburg wrote to the chapter of Cologne Cathedral warning them that if these charges did not cease he would have to take disciplinary action against the missionaries. “This campaign against officials must cease,” he said, “else it will be impossible to get anyone to enter the colonial service.” The accused officials then forbade all natives to communicate with either the Roman Catholic or the Protestant missionaries.
The notorious Dr. Karl Peters, one of the “successful” administrators, to whom a statue stands to-day in Dar-esSalaam, declared that it was impossible to get on in Africa without cruelty–the exact antithesis of the belief of Henry Morton Stanley. Rhinoceros whips and heavy cudgels which were used for flogging the natives were laid on the table of the Reichstag, and undeniable evidence was produced of the excessive use of them in “the flogging colonies.” One of these rhinoceros strips was a yard in length and bound at the end with wire. The “rope's end” which a humane governor used instead of this was steeped in hot tar and then dipped in sand to produce a rough surface. It had to be swung so that it hissed audibly. This was used for men and women alike. The Colonial Office in Berlin admitted that an official named Brandeis had flogged quite systematically “for educative reasons” and he received a Prussian order of distinction.
Forced labour expressed the German view that in return for the benefits of German kultur the native should render an equal service to the State. Dr. Karl Peters, who symbolises the frightfulness of colonial administration, said: “A very good recipe is the demand of a hut tax from every nigger over the age of 16–and one of not less than £5, so that they are forced to work. To me the most advantageous system seems to be one in which the negro is forced, following the example laid down by Prussian military law, to devote some 12 years of his life to working for the government.” In German South-West Africa, where forced labour was prevalent, farmers requiring help merely advised the government, and the police sent natives to the farm. Forced labour in Kamerun decimated the population and reduced the birthrate to a fraction; whole districts were depopulated. “I was ashamed that such things could be in a German protectorate,” said one witness before the Reichstag.
Immorality too, was rampant. Many officials lived with native concubines, and even built houses with public funds to accommodate them. Native soldiers and minor officials frequently took possession of betrothed native girls. There was a notorious case in 1900, as a result of which Prince Prosper Arenberg was sentenced to death by a court-martial of the First Guards Division in Germany for violent assaults on native women and the revolting murder of a native. By family influence he was eventually declared of unsound mind. Dr. Karl Peters, who had a harem of native concubines, hanged a native boy and girl. After six years he was tried and dismissed the service, not for these crimes, but for giving false reports to his superiors. Yet eventually the Colonial Party persuaded the Emperor to grant him a pension and there is a statue to him at Dar-es-Salaam if the natives have not destroyed it. The man who ordered unnameable atrocities on fallen tribesmen, is commemorated by monuments in two places in Kamerun. Such names as Kleist and Puttkamer and G. A. Schmidt make it impossible ever to trust with native lives and honour the nation which employed them.
It was put on record in the Reichstag in 1912 that 200,000 natives were shot down in a few years in risings in German territory. Sixty thousand of these were the unfortunate Hereros in German South-West Africa and 75,000 were victims of the fighting against the Majimaji in German East Africa. The Hereros were banished ruthlessly, first from their grazing lands and then from the country altogether. All who were found either with or without arms were shot by order of General von Trotha.
The brutality and futility of Germany's colonial administration is so amazing as to be almost incredible. Lack of experience was her misfortune rather than her fault; but the acceptance of the most elementary principles of British policy would have avoided the worst. It has been impossible for the better part of a century for a person of any but unquestioned character and education to gain admission to the British colonial service. It is forbidden for any to be financially interested in business enterprises in the colony; and it is out of the question for any to succeed who are even suspected of lack of sympathy for the native people and understanding of their customs and needs. Germany's Prussian policy was in harmony with the doctrine of bloodshed and the superiority of the race on which Hitler based “Mein Kampf.” There is no essential difference between the treatment of the Hereros and the Dualas and that which Germany's own European neighbours are suffering to-day.