Day 6: The Scourge of the Kaiserbird

Perhaps the most important place I visited during my recent tour on the tracks and trails of “The Scourge of the Kaiserbird,” translated from my book “Die Keiservoël Oor Namaland” was Shark Island in the bay of Lüderitz.

The memorial stone celebrating Cornelius Fredericks, Nama war hero. His skull is reported to be still in the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute in Berlin.

This island was the scene of some terrible atrocities during the Nama War and thousands died there.

I have been accused by certain interested parties of slightly exaggerating these atrocities. Perhaps certain scenes were over emphasised, but perhaps not. The central truth is that none of what I have described can be worse as to what eventually happened in Poland and Germany during World War 2, the Holocaust in which six million Jews and also other “lesser” people were killed.

It was my deliberate intention to describe these atrocities in their horrific detail, because many commentators including myself contend that the Jewish Holocaust of 1939 -1945 really began on Shark Island during the Nama War. It was here that people (Namas and Hereros) were incarcerated, killed and experimented on, because they were considered an inferior race. At least one “researcher” claimed that he had found the “missing link”, the Nama people. This concept of the “Untermenschen,” inferior beings, led to the idea and philosophy of eugenics and racial classification and eventually genocide in the name of science. And it all started on Shark Island, 33 years earlier in 1906 -1907 with the research work of dr Eugen Fischer. Fischer wrote books and published articles which Adolf Hitler read and used for some of his ideas in Mein Kampf. He and Fischer became friends and according to one source Fischer was appointed as head of racial hygiene at Auschwitz with the outbreak of World War 2.

The most damning evidence of these atrocities is the skulls of Nama prisoners sent to the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute in Berlin. The heads of the dead Namas were given to the prisoners’ wives to scrape clean with glass shards, cooked and then packed and shipped.

The head of a Nama prisoner. The skulls were scraped clean by the other prisoners and then shipped to the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute in Berlin.

It is well documented with published photographs, and even as a final insult, used as illustrations for postcards. Most of these are still in Berlin.

One of the prisoners whose skull is still in Berlin was Cornelius Fredericks, leader of the Bethanien !Aman during the Nama war. He was also the son-in-law of Hendrik Witbooi. Cornelius is one of the main characters in “The Scourge of the Kaiserbird.” In a strange and ironic twist he is commemorated with a memorial stone on Shark Island.

I have returned to Shark Island many times, but not with pleasure. It is a sad place, made even more so by the presence of, of all things, a modern caravan camp site. The noise and jubilance of weekend revellers and picnic makers sound hollow and out of place when one knows the history.

To my mind a proper museum should be erected or even better a school or college or hospital should be built on this stark, windy and rocky island. It can and should remind us all of the madness that caused so much hardship and tragedy for so many people.

I visited Shark Island again on this trip because I had to.

“The Scourge of the Kaiserbird,” originally published in Afrikaans as “Die Keiservoël Oor Namaland,” will be available from all leading bookstores in Namibia, through Namibian Book Market, and in South Africa from Upper Case, formerly Graffiti, in Menlyn Maine. Copies can also be ordered from

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