Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Denial of the Herero Genocide (Part 2)

Further to Part 1, another connection between negationist approaches to the Herero genocide and denial of the Holocaust is the lame attempts of deniers to neutralize terms such as 'vernichtung' and 'ausrottung'. Some of these attempts appropriate genuine academic literature that, whilst recognizing the brutal suppression of the Herero uprising, has argued that the meaning of the word 'vernichten' in 1904 fell short of genocide. For example, Nordbruch claims here, citing Karla Poewe (who is a bona fide anti-racist, pro-Herero anthropologist but does not believe that German policy was genocidal), that 'vernichten' in 1904 simply meant the "breaking of military, national or economic resistance."

These interpretations of 'vernichten', whether made in good faith (Poewe) or bad faith (Nordbruch), assume wrongly that if 'vernichten' had usages that fell short of genocide in one context, then the term could not have meant extermination or total destruction of life when used by a military commander. The textual evidence simply cannot sustain such an assumption.

As Nick noted on RODOH, Isabel Hull, p.60, cites this quote from the memoirs of Estorff:
crushing the people like this was in equal measure cruel and insane. One could have saved many of them and their herds, if one had spared them and given them refuge; they were punished enough. I suggested this to General von Trotha, but he wanted their complete destruction [gaenzliche Vernichtung]
The non-genocidal interpretation of 'vernichten' is also refuted in this paper by Gewald, which cites a letter by von Trotha in which he declares that "I believe that the nation as such should be annihilated" by denying access to the waterholes and finding "the small groups of the nation who have moved back westwards and destroy[ing] them gradually." Von Trotha then writes:
...I find it most appropriate that the nation perishes instead of infecting our soldiers and infecting their supplies of food and water. Apart from that, mildness on my side would be interpreted as weakness on the other side. They have to perish in the Sandveld or try to cross the Bechuanaland border.
Gewald also cites the diary entry of Stuhlmann dated 11th August 1904:
...we had been explicitly told beforehand that this dealt with the extermination of a whole tribe, nothing living was to be spared.
Stuhlmann also wrote that
Aber die Parole war ja: `Vernichtungskrieg den Hereros ohne Rücksicht auf anderes.'
So we have here, not only the use of 'vernichtung' in a genocidal sense, but also 'vernichtungskrieg'.

Furthermore, some deniers are perfectly aware of the true meaning of 'vernichtungskrieg'. This leads them to outright double standards when they apply the term to Stalin's war methods. Nordbruch informs us here that the English version of Joachim Hoffmann's Stalins Vernichtungskrieg 1941-1945 is Stalin's War of Extermination 1941-1945. The publisher of Hoffmann's text is one Germar Rudolf, who of course denies that the Nazis fought a war of extermination in the USSR, even though Hitler himself used the same term, Vernichtungskrieg, that is in Hoffmann's title.

Finally, the claim that von Trotha's use of 'vernichten' was referring to "breaking of military, national or economic resistance" is clearly refuted by the fact that von Trotha had a policy of not accepting a surrender. The policy was not simply to break resistance, but to prevent any possibility of future resistance by the surviving remnant of the population. The logic of such a policy necessitated a genocide, because any Herero survivors, even children, could, in theory, be assumed to be future rebels.


Irving Hexham said...

The association of the work of my wife, anthropologist Karla Poewe, with that of Klaus Nordbruch, the IHR, and Holocaust Revisionism is mischievous to say the least. Poewe was writing as an anthropologist long before Nordbruch picked up her work. He concern was with the fate of the Herero with whom she had lived and supported politically during her time in Namibia. Throughout her work in Africa Poewe strongly identified herself with Blacks and the struggle against racism.

Her conclusions about von Trotha’s “extermination order” were based on both anthropological and historical research. Using archival evidence and a linguistic analysis of how the word “vernichten” was used in German at the time of von Trotta she reached the conclusion that he intended to break the power of the Herero, but not “exterminate” them. She also produced evidence that he ordered his men take care of those who surrendered.

Brigitta Lau, who was the chief archivist of Namibia, supported Poewe’s position on the basis of archival documents she studied. Here it is important to point out that Lau was on the far left of the political spectrum, strongly opposed to all forms or racism, and someone who worked for the independence of Namibia. Before, she was able to publish the documents that she claimed supported her case she was killed a car accident. Immediately afterwards Lau’s staff were fired and the archives closed for six months while they were “re-organized.” The documents she spoke about were never published.

Confusing serious historical debates about the Herero War with Holocaust Revisionism is not helpful.

Jonathan Harrison said...

Irving, thanks you for your reply. I certainly did not mean to imply that Karla shares Nordbruch's political platform or bogus approach to evidence, so I have amended the article to clarify that point.

It is deeply unfortunate that Nordbruch cites Karla, because he is clearly appropriating her name for his own dubious ends, but he has nonetheless quoted her accurately regarding her interpretation of vernichten.

I'm sure there are usages of vernichten in 1904 that comply with Karla's definition, but she is clearly mistaken in her view that it could not have meant physical extermination when used by von Trotha. There are too many contemporary reports (cited above) that show vernichten and vernichtung being used in the sense of an attempt to physical wipe out the Herero:

'the nation perishes'

'nothing living to be spared'

I believe Karla may have fallen into a hermeneutic trap of assuming that a textual interpretation that is true in one case will refute a different textual meaning in another case.

It seems perfectly plausible to me that, as the German army's practices became more extreme, so did the meanings of words that accompanied those practices, in those specific milieux.

Deepest respect,

Dr Jonathan Harrison