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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Department of Sociology, UCLA


From “Native Policy” to Exterminationism: German Southwest Africa, 1904, in Comparative Perspective


This paper examines the transition from colonial “native policy” to a program of genocide in German Southwest Africa (Namibia) in 1904. I explore the reasons for the Germans’ murderous assault on the Ovaherero during the 1904 war and in the concentration camps between 1904 and 1908. Although colonial atrocities were not unusual at the time, the German attack on the Ovaherero is rightly described as the first genocide of the 20th century. Indeed, it is one a small number of deliberate attempts to exterminate an entire population within modern colonial settings. The fact that this was a German crime also points insistently back to the “Sonderweg” thesis, forcing us to ask whether German colonialism was not, after all, exceptional—exceptionally exterminationist, that is, as the British argued after WWI.

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