Shark Island – Photographs by Graeme Williams
Shark Island, just off the town of Luderitz, Namibia, is home to one of the world’s first concentration camps considered by some historians to be the first extermination camp and used by German military during the period 1905-907. It was only a few years earlier that the British had introduced the concept of concentration camps during the Anglo-Boer War in neighbouring South Africa.
The German military forces interned captured Nama guerrilla fighters led by Cornelius Fredericks, on the island. Initially 1 795 prisoners were sent to Shark Island on 9 September 1906 where they discovered hundreds of Herero prisoners who had been interned earlier that year. According to a local German commander, Von Estorff, 1 032 of the Nama prisoners alone had died April 1907. It is believed that 80 percent of all prisoners sent to the island, did not leave.
A British diamond prospector who was in Luderitz shortly after the closure of the camp spoke to local residents and wrote the following: cold for nights are bitterly cold there hunger, thirst, exposure, disease, and madness claimed scores of victims every day, and cartloads of their bodies were every day carted over to the back beach, buried in a few inches of sand at low tide, and as the tide came in the bodies went out, food for sharks.
The bay adjoining the island is still a breeding ground for sharks.
In 1922 a study centering on racial anatomy of 17 Hottentot heads was published in a German morphology and anthropology journal. These heads were taken from bodies of prisoners on the island. The study hoped to prove Eurocentric theories by comparing Hottentot heads to those of apes.
Edward Fredericks, a survivor of the island imprisonment, said in 1917, lashes were given to us in plenty, and the young girls were violated at night by the guards
The island is now an integral part of the mainland after a recent harbour reclaimation project. The fairly bleak rocky peninsula with a windswept caravan/camping park at the point is dominated by a lighthouse that caps the central rock. The area is also becoming a popular spot for the development of upmarket homes.
(Main reference: Luderitzs Forgotten Concentration Camp by Jeremy Silvester and Casper Erichsen)
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