German Colonial Empire
Coat of arms
|1912||2,962,495 km2 (1,143,826 sq mi)|
The German colonial empire (German: Deutsches Kolonialreich) constituted the overseas colonies, dependencies and territories of Imperial Germany. Unified in the early 1870s, the chancellor of this time period was Otto von Bismarck. Short-lived attempts at colonization by individual German states had occurred in preceding centuries, but crucial colonial efforts only began in 1884 with the Scramble for Africa. Claiming much of the left-over uncolonized areas of Africa, Germany built the third-largest colonial empire at the time, after the British and French. The German Colonial Empire encompassed parts of several African countries, including parts of present-day Burundi, Rwanda, Tanzania, Namibia, Cameroon, Gabon, Congo, Central African Republic, Chad, Nigeria, Togo, Ghana, New Guinea and numerous other West Pacific / Micronesian islands. Including mainland Germany, the empire had a total land area of 3,503,352 square kilometers and population of 80,125,993 people.
Germany lost control of its colonial empire when the First World War began in 1914, in which all of its colonies were invaded by Allied forces during the first weeks of the war. However, a number of colonial military forces held out longer, with German troops in South West Africa and Kamerun surrendering in 1915 and in 1916, respectively, while forces under Paul von Lettow-Vorbeck fighting a guerilla campaign in East Africa tied down allied troops until 1918, only surrendering after the end of the war.
Germany's colonial empire was officially dissolved with the Treaty of Versailles after Germany's defeat in the war and where each colony became a League of Nations mandate under the supervision (but not ownership) of one of the victorious powers. The German colonial empire ceased to exist in 1919. Plans to regain their lost colonial possessions persisted through the Second World War, with many at the time suspecting that this was a goal of the Third Reich all along.
See also: German colonial projects before 1871
Germans had traditions of foreign sea-borne trade dating back to the Hanseatic League; German emigrants had flowed eastward in the direction of the Baltic littoral, Russia and Transylvania and westward to the Americas; and North German merchants and missionaries showed interest in overseas engagements. The Hanseatic republics of Hamburg and Bremen sent traders across the globe. Their trading houses conducted themselves as successful Privatkolonisatoren [independent colonizers], concluding treaties and land purchases in Africa and the Pacific with chiefs and/or other tribal leaders. These early agreements with local entities later formed the basis for annexation treaties, diplomatic support and military protection by the German government.
However, until their 1871 unification, the German states had not concentrated on the development of a navy, and this essentially had precluded German participation in earlier imperialist scrambles for remote colonial territory. Without a blue-water navy, a would-be colonial power could not reliably defend, supply or trade with overseas dependencies. The German states prior to 1870 had retained separate political structures and goals, and German foreign policy up to and including the age of Otto von Bismarck (1815-1898; in office as Prussian Foreign Minister from 1862 to 1890) concentrated on resolving the "German question" in Europe and on securing German interests on the continent. However, by 1891 the Germans were mostly united under Prussian rule. They also sought a more clear-cut "German" state, and saw colonies as a good way to achieve that.
In the states of the German Confederation founded in 1815 and the Zollverein founded in 1834, there was some call from private and economic interests for the establishment of German colonies, especially in the 1840s. However, governments had no such aspirations. In 1839, private interests founded the Hamburg Colonial Society, which sought to purchase the Chatham Islands east of New Zealand and settle German emigrants there, but Great Britain had a pre-existing claim to the island. Hamburg relied on the Royal Navy for its worldwide shipping interests and therefore gave no political support to the Colonial Society. The Society for the Protection of German Immigrants to Texas, established in Mainz in 1842 sought to expand the German settlements into a colony of "New Germany" (German: Neu Deutschland). About 7400 settlers were involved. The venture proved a complete failure. There was a constant lack of supplies and land and around half of the colonists died. The plan was definitively ended with the annexation of Texas by the United States in 1845.
Starting in the 1850s German commercial enterprises spread into areas that would later become German colonies in West Africa, East Africa, the Samoan Islands, the unexplored north-east quarter of New Guinea with its adjacent islands, the Douala delta in Cameroon, and the mainland coast across from Zanzibar.
In 1857, the Austrian frigate Novara departed from Triest on the Novara Expedition, which aimed to explore and take possession of the Nicobar islands in the Indian Ocean. The Novara arrived at the Nicobars in 1858, but the Austrians did not subsequently lay claim to the islands.
The next state-sponsored attempt to acquire a colony occurred in 1859, when Prussia attempted to claim the island of Formosa (modern Taiwan). Prussia had already sought the approval of the French Emperor Napoleon III for the undertaking, since France was also seeking to acquire colonies in East Asia at that time. Since French interests focussed on Vietnam, not Formosa, Prussia could seek to acquire the island. A Prussian naval expedition, which departed Germany at the end of 1859, was tasked with concluding trade treaties in Asia for Prussian and the other states of the Zollverein and with occupying Formosa. However, this task was not carried out, due to the limited strength of the expedition forces and because they did not wish to preclude a trade treaty with Qing China. In a cabinet order of 6 January 1862, the expedition's ambassador, Friedrich Albrecht zu Eulenburg was "released from carrying out the part of his task concerned with identification of overseas settlements suitable for Prussian settlement."
Despite this, one ship from the expedition, the Thetis was sent to Patagonia in South America to investigate its prospects as a colony, since the Prussian naval command in particular were interested in the establishment of a naval strong point on the South American coast. The Thetis had already reached Buenos Aires which the commander of the ship decided to return to Germany due to the exhaustion of the men after the year-long expedition and the need for repairs to the ship.
After the Second Schleswig War in 1864, colonialist societies in Prussia aspired to take possession of the Nikobar islands which had previously been in Danish possession. For its part, Denmark unsuccessfully proposed to exchange the Danish West Indies for some of the lost territory in Schleswig in 1865. In 1866 and then again in 1876, Jamal ul-Azam, Sultan of the Sulu Islands, located between Borneo and the Philippines, offered to place his islands under Prussian and then Imperial German control, but both times he was rebuffed. Ahmad ibn Fumo Bakari, the Sultan of Wituland asked the Prussian traveller Richard Brennerto establish a Prussian protectorate over his lands, but this request was never considered in Berlin.
In the 1867 constitution of the North German Confederation, article 4.1 declared "colonisation" as one of the areas under the "oversight of the Confederation", which remained the case in the Imperial constitution established in 1871.
In 1867/8, Otto von Bismarck dispatched the warship Augusta to the Caribbean to show the flag of the North German Confederation. At the personal urging of Prince Adalbert, the commander of the North German Federal Navy, and without Bismarck's knowledge, the commander of the Augusta, Franz Kinderlingconducted negotiations with José María Castro Madriz, President of Costa Rica with a view to establishing a naval base at Puerto Limón. Bismarck rejected the acquisition, due to the American Monroe Doctrine. This desire to avoid antagonising the United States also led him to reject a Dutch offer to establish a naval base on the Dutch island of Curaçao.
In 1868, Bismarck made his opposition to any colonial acquisitions clear in a letter to the Prussian Minister of War Albrecht von Roon:
On the one hand, the benefits which one might derive from colonies for the Motherland's trade and industry are mostly illusory. Then, the costs which the foundation, maintenance, and especially the establishment of claims to colonies entail very often exceed the utility which the Motherland gets from them, entirely apart from the fact that it is difficult to justify placing significant tax burdens on the whole nation for the benefit of individual commercial and industrial interests. On the other hand, is not sufficiently developed to be able to undertake the task of firmly protecting distant states.
He also repeatedly stated "... I am no man for colonies"
The policy of the North German Confederation at this time focussed on the acquisition of individual naval bases, not colonies. With these it would be able to use gunboat diplomacy to protect the global trade interests of the Confederation through a kind of informal imperialism. In 1867, it was decided to establish five overseas bases. Accordingly, in 1868, land was bought in Yokohama in Japan for a German naval hospital, which remained in operation until 1911. In 1869 the "East Asian Station" (Ostasiatische Station) was established there by the navy as the first overseas base, with a permanent presence of German warships. Until the German Empire's acquisition of Tsingtao in China as a military port in 1897, Yokohama remained the base of the German fleet in East Asia. It later proved useful following the acquisition of colonies in the Pacific and in Kiaochow.
In 1869, the Rhenish Missionary Society, which had been established in southwestern Africa for several decades asked King William of Prussia for protection and suggested the establishment of a naval station at Walvis Bay. William was very interested in this suggestion, but the matter was forgotten following the outbreak of the Franco-Prussian War.
A French proposal after the Franco-Prussian War to hand over the French colony of Cochinchina instead of Alsace–Lorraine, was rejected by Bismarck and a majority of the delegates in the North German Reichstag in 1870. After German Unification in 1871, Bismarck maintained his earlier position. During the 1870s, colonialist propaganda achieved increasing public profile in Germany. In 1873, the African Society in Germanywas established, which considered exploration of Africa its main function. In 1878 the foundation of the Central Society for Commerical Geography and Promotion of German Interests Abroad was established, which sought to acquire colonies for Germany, and in 1881 West German Society for Colonisation and Export was founded, which included the "acquisition of agricultural and commercial colonies for the German Empire" in its founding statute. In 1882, the first Society for German Colonisation was established, which was a lobby group for colonialist propaganda. In 1887, the competing Society for German Colonization was established with the goal of actually undertaking colonisatin. The two societies merged in 1887 into the German Colonial Society. Generally, four arguments were advanced in favour of the acquisition of colonies:
Moreover, German public opinion in the late-19th century viewed colonial acquisitions as a true indication of having achieved full nationhood, and eventually arrived at an understanding that prestigious African and Pacific colonies went hand-in-hand with dreams of a High Seas Fleet.
Bismarck remained opposed to these arguments and preferred an informal commercial imperialism, in which German companies carried out profitable trade with areas outside Europe and made economic inroads without the occupation of territories or the construction of states. Bismarck and many deputies in the Reichstag had no interest in making colonial conquests merely to acquire square miles of territory.
As a result, the first colonial enterprises abroad were extremely hesitant: a Treaty of Friendship between the German Empire and Tongawas signed in 1876, which provided for the establishment of a coal station on the Tongan island of Vavaʻu, guaranteeing all usage rights of the specified area to the German Empire, but leaving the King of Tonga's sovreignty untouched. No actual colonisation occurred. On 16 July 1878, he commander of the SMS Ariadne, Bartholomäus von Werner occupied Falealili and Saluafata on the Samoan island of Upolo "in the name of the Empire". The German occupation of these places was revoked in January 1879 with the conclusion of a treaty of friendship between th local rulers and Germany. On 19 November 1878, von Werner established a treaty with the leaders of Jaluit Atoll and the Ralik islands of Lebon and Letahalin, granting privileges like the exclusive right to establish a coal station. An official German colony in the Marshall Islands was only established in 1885. Von Werner also acquired a harbour on the islands of Makada and Mioko in the Duke of York Islands in December 1878, which would become a component part of the future protectorate of German New Guinea in 1884. On 20 April 1879, the commander of the SMS Bismarck, Karl August Deinhard and the German Consul for the South Seas Islands, Gustav Godeffroy Junior established a treaty of commerce and friendship with "the government" of Huahine, one of the Society Islands, which granted the German fleet the right to anchor at all harbours on the island, among other things.
Although Bismarck "remained as contemptuous of all colonial dreams as ever," in 1884, he consented to the acquisition of colonies by the German Empire, in order to protect trade, safeguard raw materials and export-markets and to take advantage of opportunities for capital investment, among other reasons. In the very next year Bismarck shed personal involvement when "he abandoned his colonial drive as suddenly and casually as he had started it" - as if he had committed an error in judgment that could confuse the substance of his more significant policies. "Indeed, in 1889, [Bismarck] tried to give German South-West Africa away to the British. It was, he said, a burden and an expense, and he would like to saddle someone else with it."
Following 1884, Germany invaded several territories in Africa: German East Africa (including present-day Burundi, Rwanda, and the mainland part of Tanzania); German South-West Africa (present-day Namibia), German Cameroon (including parts of present-day Cameroon, Gabon, Congo, Central African Republic, Chad and Nigeria); and Togoland (present-day Togo and parts of Ghana). Germany was also active in the Pacific, annexing a series of islands that would be called German New Guinea (part of present-day Papua New Guinea and several nearby island groups). The northeastern region of the island of New Guinea was called Kaiser-Wilhelmsland; the Bismarck Archipelago to the islands' east also contained two larger islands named New Mecklenburg and New Pomerania. They also acquired the Northern Solomon Islands. These islands were given the status of protectorate.
The shift in Bismarck's policy on the acquisition of colonies began as part of his 1878 Schutzollpolitikpolicy on the protection of the German economy from foreign competition. The beginning of his colonial policy in connection with the Schutzzollpolitik was the acquisition of Samoa, where there were significant German economic interests. In June 1879, as Imperial Chancellor, he acknowledged the "Treaty of Friendship" agreed between the Samoan chiefs and the German consul in Samoa in January 1879, with the result that the consul assumed control of the administration of the city of Apia on the island of Upolo, along with the consuls of Britain and America. In the 1880s, Bismarck would unsuccessfully attempt to annex Samoa several times. The western Samoan islands, which included Apia, the main city, became a German colony in 1899.
In April 1880, Bismarck actively intervened in domestic politics in favour of colonial matters, when he presented the Samoa Bill to the Reichstag. It had been endorsed by the Federal Council, but was rejected by the Reichstag. The bill would have provided German financial support to a private German colonial trade company that had fallen into difficulties.
In May 1880, Bismarck asked the banker Adolph von Hansemann to produce a report on German colonial goals in the Pacific and the possibility of enofrcing them. Hansemann submitted his Memorandum on Colonial Aspirations in the South Seas to Bismarck in September of the same year. The proposed territorial acquisitions were almost all taken or claimed as colonies four years later. Those Pacific territories that were claimed in 1884 but not taken were finally brought under German colonial administration in 1899. Significantly, Hausemann was a founding member of the New Guinea Consortium for the acquisition of colonies in New Guinea and the Pacific in 1882.
In November 1882, the Bremen-based tobacco merchant, Adolf Lüderitz contacted the Foreign Office and requested protection for a trade station south of Walvis Bay on the southwest African coast. In February and November 1883, asked the British government whether the United Kingdom would provide protection to Lüderitz's trade station. Both times the British government refused.
From March 1883, Adolph Woermann, a Hamburg bulkgoods trader, shipowner, and member of the Hamburg Chamber of Commerce, engaged in extremely confidential negotiations with the Foreign Office, which was headed by Bismarck, for the acquisition of a colony in West Africa. The reason for this was the fear of tariffs that Hamburg traders might have to pay if the whole of West Africa were to come under British or French control. Finally a secret request from the Chamber of Commerce to Bismarck for the establishment of a colony in West Africa was submitted to Bismarck on 6 July 1883, stating that "through such acquisitions, German trade in Trans-Atlantic lands could only be given a firmer position and a surer support, while without political protection trade cannot now thrive and progress."
After this, in March 1883, the Sierra Leone Convention between the United Kingdom and France was published, in which the two countries' spheres of interest were laid out without consideration of other trading nations. In response the German government aske the senates of the cities of Lübeck, Bremen, and Hamburg for their opinions. In their answer, the Hamburg merchants demanded the acquisition of colonies in West Africa. In December 1883, Bismarck let Hamburg known that an Imperial commissioner would be sent to West Africa to secure the safety of German trade and to conclude a treaty with "independent Negro states". A warship, the SMS Sophie would be sent to provide military protection. Additionally, Bismarck requested suggestions on this plan and asked for Adolph Woermann's advice personally on what instructions should be given to the Imperial commissioner. In March 1884, Gustav Nachtigal was named as the Imperial Commissioner for the West African Coast and set sail for West Africa in the SMS Möwe.
The year 1884 marks the beginning of actual German colonial acquisitions, building on the overseas possessions and rights that had been acquired for the German Empire since 1876. In one year, Germany's holdings became the third-largest colonial empire, after the British and French empires. Following the British model, Bismarck placed many possessions of German merchants under the protection of the German empire. He took advantage of a period of foreign peace to begin the "colonial experiment," which he remained sceptical of.
First, Adolf Lüderitz's trading post in the Bay of Angara Pequena ('Lüderitz Bay') and the surrounding hinterland ('Lüderitzland') was placed under the protection of the German Empire in April 1884 as German South West Africa. In July, Togoland and Adolph Woermann's possessions in Cameroon followed, then the northeastern section of New Guinea ('Kaiser-Wilhelmsland') and the neighbouring islands ('the Bismarck Archipelago'). In January 1885, the German flag was raised at Kapitaï and Koba on the west African coast. In February, imperialist and "man-of-action" Carl Peters accumulated vast tracts of land for his Society for German Colonization, "emerging from the bush with X-marks [affixed by unlettered tribal chiefs] on documents ... for some 60 thousand square miles of the Zanzibar Sultanate's mainland property." which became German East Africa. Such exploratory missions required security measures that could be solved with small private, armed contingents recruited mainly in the Sudan and usually led by adventurous former military personnel of lower rank. Brutality, hanging and flogging prevailed during these land-grab expeditions under Peters' control as well as others as no-one "held a monopoly in the mistreatment of Africans." , and In April 1885, the brothers Clemens and Gustav Denhardt acquired Wituland in modern Kenya. With this, the first wave of German colonial acquisitions was largely completed.
The raising of German flags on Pacific islands claimed by Spain between August and October 1885 sparked the Carolines Crisis, in which Germany ultimately backed down.
In October 1885, the Marshall Islands were also claimed and finally several of the Solomon Islands in October 1886. In 1888, Germany ended the civil war on Nauru and annexed the island.
The rise of German imperialism and colonialism coincided with the latter stages of the "Scramble for Africa" during which enterprising German individuals, rather than government entities, competed with other already established colonies and colonialist entrepreneurs. With the Germans joining the race for the last uncharted territories in Africa and the Pacific that had not yet been carved up, competition for colonies thus involved major European nations and several lesser powers.
As Bismarck was converted to the colonial idea by 1884, he favored "chartered company" land management rather than establishment of colonial government due to financial considerations. Although temperate zone cultivation flourished, the demise and often failure of tropical low-land enterprises contributed to changing Bismarck's view. He reluctantly acquiesced to pleas for help to deal with revolts and armed hostilities by often powerful rulers whose lucrative slaving activities seemed at risk. German native military forces initially engaged in dozens of punitive expeditions to apprehend and punish freedom fighters, at times with British assistance. The author Charles Miller offers the theory that the Germans had the handicap of trying to colonize African areas inhabited by aggressive tribes, whereas their colonial neighbours had more docile peoples to contend with. At that time, the German penchant for giving muscle priority over patience contributed to continued unrest. Several of the African colonies remained powder kegs throughout this phase (and beyond). The transition to official acceptance of colonialism and to colonial government thus occurred during the last quarter of Bismarck's tenure of office.
Bismarck's successor in 1890, Leo von Caprivi, was willing to maintain the colonial burden of what already existed, but opposed new ventures. Others who followed, especially Bernhard von Bülow, as foreign minister and chancellor, sanctioned the acquisition of the Pacific Ocean colonies and provided substantial treasury assistance to existing protectorates to employ administrators, commercial agents, surveyors, local "peacekeepers" and tax collectors. Kaiser Wilhelm II understood and lamented his nation's position as colonial followers rather than leaders. In an interview with Cecil Rhodes in March 1899 he stated the alleged dilemma clearly: "... Germany has begun her colonial enterprise very late, and was, therefore, at the disadvantage of finding all the desirable places already occupied."
Nonetheless, Germany did assemble an overseas empire in Africa and the Pacific Ocean in the last two decades of the 19th century; "the creation of Germany's colonial empire proceeded with the minimum of friction." The acquisition and the expansion of colonies were accomplished in a variety of ways, but principally through mercantile domination and pretexts that were always economic. Agreements and treaties with other colonial powers or interests followed, and fee simple purchases of land or island groups. Only Togoland and German Samoa became profitable and self-sufficient; the balance sheet for the colonies as a whole revealed a fiscal net loss for the empire. Despite this, the leadership in Berlin committed the nation to the financial support, maintenance, development and defence of these possessions.
In the first years of the 20th-century shipping lines had established scheduled services with refrigerated holds and agricultural products from the colonies, exotic fruits and spices, were sold to the public in Germany. The colonies were romanticized. Geologists and cartographers explored what were the unmarked regions on European maps, identifying mountains and rivers, and demarcating boundaries. Hermann Detzner and one Captain Nugent, R.A., had charge of a joint project to demarcate the British and German frontiers of Cameroon, which was published in 1913. Travelers and newspaper reporters brought back stories of black and brown natives serving German managers and settlers. There were also suspicions and reports of colonial malfeasance, corruption and brutality in some protectorates, and Lutheran and Roman Catholic missionaries dispatched disturbing reports to their mission headquarters in Germany.
German colonial diplomatic efforts remained commercially inspired, "the colonial economy was thriving ... and roads, railways, shipping and telegraph communications were up to the minute." Overhaul of the colonial administrative apparatus thus set the stage for the final and most promising period of German colonialism. Bernhard Dernburg's declaration that the indigenous population in the protectorates "was the most important factor in our colonies" was affirmed by new laws. The use of forced, unpaid labor went on the books as a criminal offense. Governor Wilhelm Solf of Samoa would call the islanders "unsere braunen Schützlinge" [our brown charges], who could be guided but not forced. Heinrich Schnee in East Africa proclaimed that "the dominant feature of my administration [will be] ... the welfare of the natives entrusted into my care." Idealists often volunteered for selection and appointment to government posts, while others with an entrepreneurial bent labored to swell the dividends at home for the Hanseatic trading houses and shipping lines. Subsequent historians would commend German colonialism in those years as "an engine of modernization with far-reaching effects for the future." The native population was forced into unequal treaties by the German colonial governments. This led to the local tribes and natives losing their influence and power and eventually forced some of them to become slave laborers. Although slavery was partially outlawed in 1905 by Germany, this caused a great deal of resentment and led eventually to revolts by the native population[further explanation needed]. The result was several military and genocidal campaigns by the Germans against the natives. Political and economic subjugation of Herero and Nama was envisioned. Both the colonial authorities and settlers were of the opinion that native Africans were to be a lower class, their land seized and handed over to settlers and companies, while the remaining population was to be put in reservations; the Germans planned to make a colony inhabited predominately by whites: a "new African Germany".
The established merchants and plantation operators in the African colonies frequently managed to sway government policies. Capital investments by banks were secured with public funds of the imperial treasury to minimize risk. Dernburg, as a former banker, facilitated such thinking; he saw his commission to also turn the colonies into paying propositions. Every African protectorate built rail lines to the interior, every colony in Africa and the Pacific established the beginnings of a public school system, and every colony built and staffed hospitals. Whatever the Germans constructed in their colonies was made to last.
Dar es Salaam evolved into "the showcase city of all of tropical Africa," Lomé grew into the "prettiest city in western Africa", and Tsingtao, China was, "in miniature, as German a city as Hamburg or Bremen". For indigenous populations in some colonies native agricultural holdings were encouraged and supported.
In the years before the outbreak of the World War, British colonial officers viewed the Germans as deficient in "colonial aptitude", but "whose colonial administration was nevertheless superior to those of the other European states". Anglo-German colonial issues in the decade before 1914 were minor and both empires, the British and German, took conciliatory attitudes. Foreign Secretary Sir Edward Grey, considered still a moderate in 1911, was willing to "study the map of Africa in a pro-German spirit". Britain further recognized that Germany really had little of value to offer in territorial transactions; however, advice to Grey and Prime Minister H. H. Asquith hardened by early 1914 "to stop the trend of what the advisers considered Germany's taking and Britain's giving."
Once war was declared in late July 1914 Britain and its allies promptly moved against the colonies. The public was informed that German colonies were a threat because "Every German colony has a powerful wireless station — they will talk to one another across the seas, and at every opportunity they [German ships] will dash from cover to harry and destroy our commerce, and maybe, to raid our coasts." The British position that Germany was a uniquely brutal and cruel colonial power originated during the war; it had not been said during peacetime. The German overseas Colonies began to fall one by one to the allied forces. The first to go was Togoland to the British, then Dahomey to the French, then the Cameroons to the allied forces. Germany's colonies put up a stout fight but by 1916 Germany lost all of its colonies. Germany lost all of its overseas colonies due to its lack of forces compared to its enemy.
In the Pacific, Britain's ally Japan declared war on Germany in 1914 and quickly seized several of Germany's island colonies, the Mariana, Caroline and Marshall Islands, with virtually no resistance. One reason these colonies fell so easily is because of the departure of Admiral von Spee's fleet. In other parts of the Pacific Western Samoa, another German colony fell without a fight to a New Zealand force. Later on an Australian invasion of Neu-Pommern beat the Germans seizing the entire colony within a few weeks.
South Africa's J.C. Smuts, now in Britain's small War Cabinet, spoke of German schemes for world power, militarisation and exploitation of resources, indicating Germany threatened western civilisation itself. While propaganda was said about both sides it was here in Africa where Germany saw a crushing defeat. It was at Togoland where the Germans were quickly outnumbered leaving them to flee the capital which led to a large pursuit of German forces by allied armies leading to the eventual surrender of German forces on August 26, 1914. Smuts' warnings were repeated in the press. The idea took hold that they should not be returned to Germany after the war. These defeats all around the globe of a colonial power proved to the people of the world that these vast empires were not invincible and could one day be toppled. This fall of imperial Germany was the beginning of the end for colonialism.
Germany's overseas empire was dismantled following defeat in World War I. With the concluding Treaty of Versailles, Article 22, German colonies were transformed into League of Nations mandates and divided between Belgium, the United Kingdom, and certain British Dominions, France and Japan with the determination not to see any of them returned to Germany — a guarantee secured by Article 119.
In Africa, the United Kingdom and France divided German Kamerun (Cameroons) and Togoland. Belgium gained Ruanda-Urundi in northwestern German East Africa, the United Kingdom obtained by far the greater landmass of this colony, thus gaining the "missing link" in the chain of British possessions stretching from South Africa to Egypt (Cape to Cairo), and Portugal received the Kionga Triangle, a sliver of German East Africa. German South-West Africa was taken under mandate by the Union of South Africa. In terms of the population of 12.5 million people in 1914, 42 percent were transferred to mandates of Britain and its dominions. 33 percent to France, and 25 percent to Belgium.
In the Pacific, Japan gained Germany's islands north of the equator (the Marshall Islands, the Carolines, the Marianas, the Palau Islands) and Kiautschou in China. German Samoa was assigned to New Zealand; German New Guinea, the Bismarck Archipelago and Nauru went to Australia as mandates.
British placement of surrogate responsibility for former German colonies on white-settler dominions was at the time determined to be the most expedient option for the British government — and an appropriate reward for the Dominions having fulfilled their "great and urgent imperial service" through military intervention at the behest of and for Great Britain. It also meant that British colonies now had colonies of their own — which was very much influenced at the Paris proceedings by W.M. Hughes, William Massey, and Louis Botha, the prime ministers of Australia, New Zealand and South Africa. The principle of "self-determination" embodied in the League of Nations covenant was not considered to apply to these colonies and was "regarded as meaningless". To "allay President [Woodrow] Wilson's suspicions of British imperialism", the system of "mandates" was drawn up and agreed to by the British War Cabinet (with the French and Italians in tow), a device by which conquered enemy territory would be held not as a possession but as "sacred trusts". But "far from envisaging the eventual independence of the [former] German colonies, Allied statesmen at the Paris Conference regarded 1919 as the renewal, not the end, of an imperial era." In deliberations the British "War Cabinet had confidence that natives everywhere would opt for British rule"; however, the cabinet acknowledged "the necessity to prove that its policy toward the German colonies was not motivated by aggrandizement" since the Empire was seen by America as a "land devouring octopus" with a "voracious territorial appetite".
President Wilson saw the League of Nations as "'residuary trustee' for the [German] colonies" captured and occupied by "rapacious conquerors". The victors retained the German overseas possessions and did so with the belief that Australian, Belgian, British, French, Japanese, New Zealand, Portuguese and South African rule was superior to Germany's. Several decades later during the collapse of the then existing colonial empires, Africans and Asians cited the same arguments that had been used by the Allies against German colonial rule — they now simply demanded "to stand by themselves".
In Germany after the First World War, the general public opinion was that the seizure of the colonies had been unlawful and that Germany had a right to its colonies. Nearly all the parties elected to the Weimar National Assembly on 19 January 1919, voted in favour of a resolution which demanded the return of the colonies on 1 March 1919, i.e. while the Paris Peace Conference was still in progress. Only seven delegates from the USPD voted against it. The charge that Germany had failed to "civilise" the peoples under its control was seen as particularly outrageous - this had played a central role in German colonialism's self-legitimation. This protest achieved nothing - in the final version of the Treaty of Versailles, Germany was required to give up all its colonies. With the exception of German Southwest Africa, where some descendants of German settlers still live today (the German Namibians), all Germans were required to leave the colonies.
Even in the early phase of the Weimar Republic, there were voices calling for the return of the colonies - among them Konrad Adenauer, who was then mayor of Cologne. Adenauer was Deputy President of the German Colonial Society from 1931 to 1933. From 1924 there was a Colonial Office in the Federal Foreign Office, directed by Edmund Brückner, the former Governor of Togo. Brückner's policy was that the return of Togo, Cameroon, and German East Africa were the most likely. In 1925, the Colonial Imperial Society ('Korag') was established as an umbrella organisation, from which the Reichskolonialbund emerged in 1933. Also in 1925, Johannes Bell, who had been Colonial Minister in the Scheidemann cabinet, founded the "Interparty Colonial Union", which included members of the whole political spectrum, from the Nazi party to the SPD. In 1925, some settlers also returned to their plantations in Cameroon, which they had bought the previous year with financial support from the Foreign Office. In anticipation of the recovery of the colonies, the Colonial Women's School of Rendsburg was founded in 1926. In 1931, an Institute for Foreign and Colonial Forestry was founded at the Royal Saxon Academy of Forestry.
The treaty of Versailles attributed war guilt to Germany, but most Germans did not accept this and many saw the confiscation of the colonies by the Allies as a theft, especially after the South African premier Louis Botha stated that all allegations which the Allies had published during the war about the German colonial empire were, without exception, baseless fabrications. German colonial revisionists spoke of a "Colonial Guilt Myth."
After the Nazi seizure of power, various efforts were undertaken to revoke the terms of the Treaty of Versailles relating to colonies and to return the colonies to German control. In 1934, the Nazi party established its own Office of Colonial Policy, which was led by Heinrich Schnee, and then Franz Ritter von Epp and was a very active organisation. The Reichskolonialbund, established in 1936, under Franz Ritter von Epp absorbed all colonial organizations and was meant to raise pro-colonial sentiments, public interest in former German colonies, and take part in political agitation. However, no new overseas colonial enterprises took place and with the onset of World War II the organization entered a decline, before being disbanded by decree in 1943 for "activity irrelevant to the war". The role that colonialism actually played in Adolf Hitler's policy is disputed in scholarship.
The former German colonies played no role in the politics of Post-war Germany. However, individual west German politicians proposed undertaking late or post-colonial enterprises, especially the management of trusts in Tanganyika or Togo. Even within the African freedom movement, these suggestions co-existed with calls for decolonisation. At the end of 1952, members of the Ewe people submitted in a memorandum to the United Nations Trusteeship Council proposing that the territories of German Togoland taken by the British and the French be reunited and led towards independence together. This initiative was not accepted. In 1960, Adolf Friedrich zu Mecklenburg, the final German governor of Togo, was invited to Togo's independence celebrations by Sylvanus Olympio, President of Togo.
Efforts to revive the Colonial War League after the Second World War, led to the establishment in Hamburg in 1955 of a "Union of Former Colonial Troops," ancestor of the current Traditional league of former colonial and overseas troops.
The final remains of the Protectorate Law survived until the legal expiration of the Colonial Society in 1975 and fiscal adjustments in 1992. Colonial history continues to be commemorated by colonial monuments, street names, and buildings related to German colonial history. In many places this has led to discussions about cultural memory and to calls for modification or renaming.
Representatives of the Herero and Nama, whose ancestors were killed in their thousands in German-administered Southwest Africa between 1904 and 1908, having taken legal action against Germany in the American courts. In January 2017, a class action against the German government was submitted to a court in New York. The statement of claim speaks of over 100,000 fatalities. In March 2017, it became known that the Namibian government was considering an action against Germany in the International Court of Justice in The Hague. It was said that damages were sought in the region of 30 billion dollars.
The publication of edited volumes on the themes of colonialism (2012) and German Colonial History (2019) by the Federal Agency for Civic Education aimed to bring about "revived awareness of colonialism in political, legal, and psycological spheres" to a wider group of readers and scholars, as the editor Asiye Öztürk put it. In 2015, Heinrich Heine University in Düsseldorf and the University of Dschang in Cameroon established a joint-research project on "Colonial links", which culminated in an exhibition in Düsseldorf in 2017. After that, the exhibition travelled to Dschang and to various German cities, where it was augmented with aspects of local relevance. Finally, a volume on the exhibition was published in 2019.
The Pennsylvania Dutch who emigrated to America in the 17th and 18th centuries were religious refugees from the Thirty Years War which devastated the German states 1616-1648 rather than colonial settlers. Germantown, Pennsylvania, was founded in 1684 and 65,000 Germans landed in Philadelphia alone between 1727 and 1775, and more at other American ports. More than 950,000 Germans immigrated to the US in the 1850s and 1,453,000 in the 1880s, but these were personal migrants, unrelated to the German Empire (created 1871) and later colonial plans. The Empire's colonies were primarily commercial and plantation regions and did not attract large numbers of German settlers. The vast majority of German emigrants chose North America as their destination and not the colonies – of 1,085,124 emigrants between 1887 and 1906, 1,007,574 headed to the United States. When the imperial government invited the 22,000 soldiers mobilized to subdue the Hereros to settle in German South-West Africa, and offered financial aid, only 5% accepted.
The German colonial population numbered 5,125 in 1903, and about 23,500 in 1913. The German pre–World War I colonial population consisted of 19,696 Germans in Africa and the Pacific colonies in 1913, including more than 3,000 police and soldiers, and 3,806 in Kiaochow (1910), of which 2,275 were navy and military staff. In Africa (1913), 12,292 Germans lived in Southwest Africa, 4,107 in German East Africa and 1,643 in Cameroon. In the Pacific colonies in 1913 there were 1,645 Germans. After 1905 a ban on marriage was enacted forbidding mixed couples between German and native population in South-West Africa, and after 1912 in Samoa.
After World War I, the military and "undesired persons" were expelled from the German protectorates. In 1934 the former colonies were inhabited by 16,774 Germans, of whom about 12,000 lived in the former Southwest African colony. Once the new owners of the colonies again permitted immigration from Germany, the numbers rose in the following years above the pre–World War I total.
In her African and South Seas colonies, Germany established diverse biological and agricultural stations. Staff specialists and the occasional visiting university group conducted soil analyses, developed plant hybrids, experimented with fertilizers, studied vegetable pests and ran courses in agronomy for settlers and natives and performed a host of other tasks. Successful German plantation operators realized the benefits of systematic scientific inquiry and instituted and maintained their own stations with their own personnel, who further engaged in exploration and documentation of the native fauna and flora.
Research by bacteriologists Robert Koch and Paul Ehrlich and other scientists was funded by the imperial treasury and was freely shared with other nations. More than three million Africans were vaccinated against smallpox. Medical doctors the world over benefited from pioneering work into tropical diseases and German pharmaceutical discoveries "became a standard therapy for sleeping sickness and relapsing fever. The German presence (in Africa) was vital for significant achievements in medicine and agriculture.
By the late 1880s German physicians identified venereal disease as a public health threat to Germany and its colonies. To fight it in Germany doctors used biopolitics to educate and regulate the bodies of likely victims. Propaganda campaigns did not work well in the colonies, so they imposed a much greater degree of supervision and coercion over targeted groups such as prostitutes.
To minimize dissent the German Colonial Press Law (written 1906-1912) kept the pugnacious settler press under control with censorship and prohibition of unauthorized publications. However, in Togoland, African writers avoided the law by publishing critical articles in the adjacent British Gold Coast Colony. In the process they built an international network of sympathisers. Exposés followed in the print media throughout Germany of the Herero rebellions in 1904 in German South-West Africa (Namibia today) where in military interventions between 50% to 70% of the Herero population perished, known as the Herero and Namaqua Genocide. The subduing of the Maji Maji uprising in German East Africa in 1905 was prominently published. "A wave of anti-colonial feeling began to gather momentum in Germany" and resulted in large voter turnouts in the so-called "Hottentot election" for the Reichstag in 1906. The conservative Bülow government barely survived, but in January 1907 the newly elected Reichstag imposed a "complete overhaul" upon the colonial service.
Bernhard Dernburg, a former banker from Darmstadt, was appointed as the new secretary of the revamped colonial office. Entrenched incompetents were screened out and summarily removed from office and "not a few had to stand trial. Replacing the misfits was a new breed of efficient, humane, colonial civil servant, usually the product of Dernburg's own creation, the ... Colonial Institute at Hamburg." In African protectorates, especially Togoland and German East Africa, "improbably advanced and humane administrations emerged." However, Togoland saw its own share of bloodshed. The Germans used forced labor and harsh punishment to keep the Africans in line. Although the lack of any true war led some in Europe to call Togoland Germany's "model colony."
During the Herero genocide Eugen Fischer, a German scientist, came to the concentration camps to conduct medical experiments on race, using children of Herero people and multiracial children of Herero women and German men as test subjects. Together with Theodor Mollison he also experimented upon Herero prisoners. Those experiments included sterilization, injection of smallpox, typhus as well as tuberculosis. The numerous cases of mixed offspring upset the German colonial administration, which was concerned with maintaining "racial purity". Eugen Fischer studied 310 multiracial children, calling them "Rehoboth bastards" of "lesser racial quality". Fischer also subjected them to numerous racial tests such as head and body measurements, and eye and hair examinations. In conclusion of his studies he advocated genocide of alleged "inferior races", stating that "whoever thinks thoroughly the notion of race, can not arrive at a different conclusion". Fischer's (at the time considered) scientific actions and torment of the children were part of a wider history of abusing Africans for experiments, and echoed earlier actions by German anthropologists who stole skeletons and bodies from African graveyards and took them to Europe for research or sale. An estimated 3000 skulls were sent to Germany for study. In October 2011, after 3 years of talks, the first skulls were due to be returned to Namibia for burial. Other experiments were made by Doctor Bofinger, who injected Herero who were suffering from scurvy with various substances including arsenic and opium. Afterwards he researched the effects of these substances by performing autopsies on dead bodies.
Further information: Causes of World War I § Social Darwinism
Social Darwinism is the theory, "that human groups and races are subject to the same laws of natural selection as Charles Darwin had perceived in plants and animals in nature." According to numerous historians, an important ideological component of German nationalism as developed by the intellectual elite was Social Darwinism. It gave an impetus to German assertiveness as a world economic and military power, aimed at competing with France and the British Empire for world power. German colonial rule in Africa 1884-1914 was an expression of nationalism and moral superiority that was justified by constructing an image of the natives as "Other". German colonization was characterized by the use of repressive violence in the name of ‘culture' and ‘civilization'. Techniques included genocide in parts of Africa. Furthermore, the wide acceptance among intellectuals of social Darwinism justified Germany's right to acquire colonial territories as a matter of the ‘survival of the fittest', according to historian Michael Schubert.
On the other hand, Germany's cultural-missionary project boasted that its colonial programs were humanitarian and educational endeavors. Colonial German physicians and administrators tried to make a case for increasing the native population, in order to also increase their numbers of laborers. Eugene Fischer, an anthropologist at the University of Freiburg, agreed with that notion saying that they should only be supported as necessary and as they prove to be useful. Once their use is gone Europeans should, "allow free competition, which in my (Fischer's) opinion means their demise." .
The Dualas, a Bantu group in Cameroon readily welcomed German policies The number of German-speaking Africans increased in four West African German colonies prior to 1914. The Duala leadership in 1884 placed the tribe under German rule. Most converted to Protestantism and were schooled educated along German lines. Colonial officials and businessmen preferred them as inexpensive clerks to German government offices and firms in Africa.
|Territory||Period||Area (circa)||Current countries|
|German West Africa||1896–1918||582,200 km2|| Cameroon|
Central African Republic
|German South West Africa||1884–1918||835,100 km2||Namibia|
|German New Guinea
(including German Samoa)
|1884–1918||245,861 km2|| Papua New Guinea|
Federated States of Micronesia
Northern Mariana Islands
|German East Africa||1891–1918||995,000 km2|| Burundi|
|Kiautschou Bay Leased Territory||1898–1914||515 km2||China|
In recent years scholars have debated the "continuity thesis" that links German colonialist brutalities to the treatment of Jews, Poles and Russians during World War II. Some historians argue that Germany's role in southwestern Africa gave rise to an emphasis on racial superiority at home, which in turn was used by the Nazis. They argue that the limited successes of German colonialism overseas led to a decision to shift the main focus of German expansionism into Central and Eastern Europe, with the Mitteleuropa plan. German colonialism, therefore, turned to the European continent.
While a minority view during the Kaiserzeit, the idea developed in full swing under Erich Ludendorff and his political activity in the Baltic states, Ukraine, and Poland. Subsequently, after the defeat of Russia during World War I, Germany acquired vast territories with the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk and created several administrative regions like Ober Ost. Here also the German settlement would be implemented, and the whole governmental organization was developed to serve German needs while controlling the local ethnically diverse population. While the African colonies were too isolated and not suitable for mass settlement of Germans, areas in Central and Eastern Europe offered better potential for German settlement. Other scholars, are skeptical and challenge the continuity thesis. Additionally, however, only one former colonial officer gained an important position in the Nazi administrative hierarchy.
Unlike other colonial empires such as the British, French or Spanish, Germany left very few traces of its own language, institutions or customs in its former colonies. As of today, no country outside Europe uses German as an official language, although in Namibia, German is a recognized national language and there are numerous German placenames and architectural structures in the country. A small German ethnic minority also resides in the country.
Sofern nicht anders vermerkt, beziehen sich alle Angaben auf das Jahr 1912.