Q: What was the contemporary German public opinion on the Herero Genocide?
However, the source cited in wikipedia does not provide any details of the public outrage. I would like to know what form did it take? Did people write editorials? Did deputies protest in the Reichstag? Rallies? Lectures? Petitions? Demonstrations?
It was a very controversial 'event'. So much so that it prompted an entire election, which was popularly named after it: the "Hottentottenwahlen" (= Hottentot elections. 'Hottentotten' being the – even at the time considered – racist epiteth for the Herero and Nama people.) The election itself is indication for a deep divide in public opinion over acts and methods in the colony.
Public debates in parliament and prompting an election
Especially the Socialists/Social Democrats from the SPD were appalled by the dispatches describing the cruelty of the German military. The ensuing election campaign itself then moved a bit away from this and focused again more on domestic issues and general colonial policy, though the original outrage about the genocide still dominated the agendas. Note that 'the outrage' was of course confined to Socialists and other left leaning parties, and the Catholic Center-Party — as of course conservatives perpetrated it and pretty much were in agreement with 'strong leaders dealing out harsh measures to those who deserved it'. A recipe for excellent polarisation of the electorate.
The election was called the Hottentot election because its cause and the election campaign were determined by the Herero war in the colony of German Southwest Africa, but above all by the Nama uprising that was connected with it. The Nama were called "Hottentotts" - a derogatory term even then. The ongoing colonial war, which was associated with high costs, led to a political crisis in Germany, after the German government had requested a supplementary budget of 29 million Marks for the war in Deutsch-Südwestafrika on August 2nd, 1906, in the Reichstag. Especially the Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD) refused to agree to further funds in view of the reckless warfare with numerous victims among the estimated 20,000 Nama. Initially, the Reich leadership had tried to resolve the conflict by making a certain amount of concessions. Above all, Matthias Erzberger, a member of the Centre, sharply criticised the extensive expenditure and argued against the colonial wars. This led to the fact that the Centre faction, too, partly against its will, rejected the supplementary budget. In contrast, conservatives and national liberals vehemently advocated the continuation of the colonial war. The vote on 13 December resulted in a narrow majority of 177 to 168 against the supplementary budget. […]
On the same day, Imperial Chancellor Bernhard Fürst von Bülow ordered the dissolution of the Reichstag by decree of Wilhelm II, who also supported this step in terms of content. One reason for the dissolution in the face of a not very important issue was that not only the Emperor but also large sections of the bureaucracy had become increasingly reluctant to accept the Centre's strong position. Bülow, who did not share this position and would have liked to continue to rely on the Centre, gave in. He hoped to restore his tarnished position of trust with the emperor by trying to establish a new political government majority. As things stood, the only way to do this was to resume cooperation with the former cartel parties of conservatives and national liberals, extended to include the left-wing liberals. After the death of Eugen Richter the year before, a willingness on the part of the left-wing liberals to support the government had been apparent for some time. This alliance actually came about and is generally referred to as the Bülow Bloc. It was not least through the mediation of the government that electoral agreements were reached between the parties involved for the run-off elections, which have now become commonplace. […]
In the run-up to the elections that are now approaching, it was above all the government itself that set the tone with its propagation of a majority that was reliable in "national issues" and the fight against social democracy, which was fought as an enemy of the monarchy, religion and property, and against the nationally unreliable Centre Party. The aim was to unite the cartel parties and the left-wing liberals into a nationally-minded, anti-socialist and anti-clerical bloc. This was supported by a newly founded '"Reichsverband gegen die Sozialdemokratie'.
— WP: Reichstagswahl 1907
Epilogue: The polarising debates led to a higher voter turn-out over-all. The perverted voting system then ensured that the SPD won half a million more votes than in the last election but lost half of their seats. Yet, the SPD still remained the strongest party in terms of votes received by a majority of 10%.
(SPD: 28.9% – 43 seats, Centre Party: 19.4% – 105 seats; for comparison Antisemite Parties: 3.1% – 21 seats!)
Public debate in newspapers, polarised along party line affiliation
For an example of the contemporary debate: The Social Democrats' newspaper Vorwärts is completely digitised. In the issue 25.09.1906 we can read how they argued. Costly and senseless bloodshed, greedy and unjust land grabbing, followed by cruel extermination policy, ignoring resolutions of parliament, even sympathy for aims, motivations of the colonised. This paper alone discusses the problem in around ~300 articles.
More conservative-nationalist, but still 'center', the Vossische Zeitung is also digitised and took part in the debate. Shortly before the election, on 21. January 1907 they felt the need to publish 'election poetry' sent in by readers. The first 'poem' starts
Seid einig, einig, einig!
Werden wir die schwarzen Brüder
diesmal endlich unterkriegen,
oder soll in Deutschland wieder
Welsche Pfaffheit glorreich siegen?
Seht ihr, wie sie frech sich brüsten,
Höhnend euch von ihrem "Turme",
Und ihr zaudert euch zu rüsten
Alle, Mann für Mann, zum Sturme?
Auf, was deutsch ist, eng im Bunde!
Eins nur darf euch heute kümmern:
Seid nicht klein zur großen Stunde —
Und Zwing-Uri liegt in Trümmern
Very roughly: Unity, unity, unity!
Will we finally get the Black Brothers in the dust this time?
Or shall in Germany again catholic parsonry triumph gloriously?
You see how they boldly boast, mocking from their "tower"?
And you hesitate to prepare, all of you, man for man, for the storm?
On what is German, close together!
There's only one thing you can worry about today:
Don't be small at the great hour -And Zwing-Uri lies in ruins.
Meaning: 'Show the blacks their place in the colonies or bad radicals and Catholics will triumph, no time for dissent, it's war, the fatherland, make Germany great again' etc blabla. The incoherence of this style of thinking is as usual built in.
If we'd get to the really right-wing publications, things are of course even uglier to read, so I'll spare you that.
Historical analysis of the debates and their consequences
A more detailed analysis of the working class and SPD agitation and opinion as well as consequences of the election (which some misinterpret as 'colonialist turn' for the SPD) and by contrast its oponents is:
— Jens-Uwe Guettel: "The Myth of the Pro-Colonialist SPD: German Social Democracy and Imperialism before World War I", Central European History, Vol. 45, No. 3, 2012, pp. 452-484.
In stark contrast:
The colonial atrocities remained a topic of the social democrats during the election campaign, albeit only very limited. It speaks for the importance accorded this topic that the topic was never really taken up by the opponents. A reason for this might lie in the fact that the nationalist forces were not really concerned about the actual events in the colonies, but took issue with the fact that political parties and the public at large assumed the right to discuss these. Still, the extremely violent nature of the wars in GSWA [German Southwest Africa] did not really play a role in the public discourse of the metropole at that time. It was never raised as a topic on its own, nor was the violence condoned either. […]
The issue is more complex, however, and can best be explained by explicating the role played by the veteran’s associations, particularly the nature of the consensus reached during the elections. These associations are characterised by their reactionary nature, which puts them into opposition to the fundamentally aggressively chauvinist, radically right-wing groups, such as the Alldeutsche Verband (Pan-German League). Their rather unrefined social-Darwinist discourse and clear war-oriented politics distinguished these clearly from the veteran’s associations.
The extraordinary involvement of the large, otherwise non-political and loyal organisations in these elections indicates that something else was underlying in 1907, namely the quasi-sanctity of the government’s ultimate power of decision. In this they differed fundamentally from the radical oppositional approach of the Pan-Germans. The electorate confirmed the policy hitherto followed and gave carte blanche for the future. As such this [was] endorsing the authoritarian state, the quintessential German Obrigkeitsstaat. Consensus, however, was reached on the question of control of foreign and military policy; no external control should be exerted and therefore the general public would not be involved in decisions taken and procedures to be followed. The public had to remain acquiescent. This opened a space in which anything was possible, regardless.
— Matthias Häußler: "“Die Kommandogewalt hat geredet, der Reichstag hat zu schweigen.” How the ‘Hottentottenwahlen’ of 1907 shaped the relationship between parliament and military policy in Imperial Germany", Journal of Namibian Studies, 15 (2014): p7–24.
A verdict that may be a bit too clean and apologetic. Beside big politics and published opinion, the public discourse also manifested this 'event' in other forms:
Deeply seated in contemporary discourses of progress, modernisation, and the vanishing of whole peoples, popular theatre thus did not have to shy away from depicting the exterminatory character of the colonial war. On the On the contrary, as I have shown, the genocide was a selling factor in Berlin at the time. […]
The example of Circus Busch has shown that popular entertainment sometimes mirrored the univocal, expert discourse of the colonialist bourgeoisie and intersected it with spectacular, mass culture-appropriate stage effects. And in other times, as the example of the Metropol Theater has shown, popular theatre could betray its usual repertoire of politically ambiguous satire by staging clear-cut colonial propaganda. Here, an anxiety about the blurry boundaries of the different colonial epistemes, popular and bourgeois, surfaced in the voices of the critics. What both cases indicate is that the war itself and its genocidal character were not only very present in the German public sphere at the time but in their representation, assuring commercial success for the cultural industry in perpetuating the image of the lives of the Herero as ‘destructible.’
— Lisa Skwirblies: "The First German Genocide Enters the Popular Stage: Colonial Theatricality in Berlin, 1904-1908", Popular Entertainment Studies, Vol. 8, Issue 1, pp. 7–20.
Rohrbach's account and other first hand reports
If the settlement official Rohrbach should be any indication, then his view of these affairs is certainly quite distinct compared to von Trotha, but not simply: "unequivocally deplores the attempt to exterminate the Herero." While it is true that on the mentioned pages he doesn't advocate 'complete extermination'. It is also true that he makes a – in his view – 'more balanced' argument: 'to not kill all the cheap workers', as that would undermine exploitation, profit and manageability. But he also acknowledges
Warfare is, after all, at the mercy of the unfortunate principle of "annihilation" [Vernichtung], and we, who think at first not of warfare in its purest culture, but of the purpose that is to be achieved by war, and of what will come after the war, have nothing to say and may limit ourselves to reading in the local newspapers after 4 or 8 weeks each time what the war leaders or individual war participants telegraph or write home about the situation and the existing intentions.
— Paul Rohrbach: "Aus Südwestafrikas schweren Tagen", Wilhem Weicher: Berlin, 1909, p 170. )
That is, after he wrote on page 8:
Perhaps the first Herero uprising of 1896 dock was punished too mildly. The Negro does not regard leniency of the victor as magnanimity, but as weakness. It is a hard conflict for each of us, who wants to think and act humanely, but who still wants to accept his responsibility.
The sentiment of 'international responsibility' means of course 'sending soldiers to kill'. At least that didn't change much…
Rohrbachs seemingly 'more humane' views of utlitarianist exploitation of natives in that book is by far not the only thing he had to say on the matter in his more than 2500 writings. The Wikipedia characterisation of him is correct in so far as he did write, in no uncertain terms and repeatedly, in another book:
As far as the aspect of humanity was concerned, which was particularly emphasized in Germany in comparison with the order of extermination and which also led to the rectification of General von Trotha by the Imperial Chancellor, it must be admitted in itself that under certain circumstances, in order to protect the peaceful settlement of the whites from a simply culturally incapable, predatory indigenous tribe
the actual extermination of which may become necessary.
— Paul Rohrbach: "Deutsche Kolonialwirtschaft Südwest-Afrika", Buchverlag der "Hilfe": Berlin-Schöneberg, 1907, p352.
Quite conveniently, a small collection of Rohrbach's and other colonialists' racist attitudes and opinions is woven into a dissertation that analyses German colonial policy, and its debates over the sought after Dernburg-reforms:
— Sören Utermark: "„Schwarzer Untertan versus schwarzer Bruder“. Bernhard Dernburgs Reformen in den Kolonien Deutsch-Ostafrika, Deutsch-Südwestafrika, Togo und Kamerun", Dissertation, Universität Kassel, 2011. (PDF)