Monday, May 12, 2014

Different War, Same Brutality: An Historic Image Reconsidered

German Colonial Troops Executing Prisoners (mislabeled SWA)
Sometimes evidence from one genocide becomes associated with another.  Such appears to be the case with a widely published photograph purporting to show a mass hanging of Herero captives by German forces in Southwest Africa.  The wholesale starvation, enslavement, and execution of  Herero (and Berg Damara, and Nama) prisoners is well documented.  The bodies on the scaffold in this image are emaciated and the Germans are in colonial uniforms.  Such things were certainly done in Southwest Africa, but I do not believe that is where these men were killed.

I am uneasy making this observation, feeling as if the forest has been missed for the trees, when I point out that in this one case, in multiple citations, a picture of a mass hanging of African prisoners has been misidentified with the German Herero War of 1904 rather than a colonial conflict in German East Africa.  Aside from the horrific image itself, and the brutality of colonialism it commemorates, there are two reasons to suspect that it was not taken in Southwest Africa.

The first is the color of the hat bands on the feldmutz worn by the three Schutztruppen who stand before the scaffold.  Although the images are in black and white, the hat bands are clearly too light to be the blue color worn in Southwest Africa, as shown at left in an image from 1912-1914 showing two Schutztruppe commanders (Von Heydenbeck and Franke) wearing feldmutz with bands in their  colony's color.  The three men in the image above, however, are wearing what appear to be white bands, such as were worn in German East Africa prior to World War I.

More conclusive, however, are the native auxiliaries clearly shown standing at left and further back at right in this enlargement of the photograph in question.  They wear fez and are accoutred and uniformed like East African askari of a period prior to World War I.  No such askari uniforms were worn by  Germany's native allies in Southwest Africa, so the picture cannot have been taken there.

I believe that this image actually records an execution that may have taken place between 1905-1907  in East Africa during the Maji Maji uprising.  Summary executions, like the one that is likely depicted above, were used to suppress the Maji Maji resistance.  Many Africa people - perhaps even more than who died in German Southwest Africa during the same period -  may have been killed or died as a result of this contemporary colonial conflict in German East Africa.   It does not diminish the evidence of German brutality in either colony to say that this picture belongs to one conflict and not the other. 

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Material Culture: Corduroy Peaked DSWA Schutztruppe Officer's Cap

There has been an extremely rare offering on Ebay UK in the last few months, which thus far unsuccessful in attracting a bidder after two listings with an opening bid of $2,198 and change, for a DSWA Schutztruppe peaked officers cap.  In sand colored corduroy and dated 1912, this cap was likely used in the last years of German colonial rule, including the brief campaign and surrender to Louis Botha's Union of South Africa invasion force in 1915.  Similar hats were worn by officers and enlisted men in during the 1904 Herero war, though this is the only one I've seen photographed with the visor painted the same sand color.  I wish that there were more figures available in 28mm for wargaming wearing this style of headgear, though I have converted some Africans wearing fez using epoxy putty to create peaked hatted auxiliaries.