The namibian genocide


Oct 22 2018

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One evening several years ago, I was looking through photographs of Namibia online, and accidentally stumbled upon a horrific and relatively unknown piece of history. The image I saw was a heartbreaking black and white portrait depicting emaciated Africans. As I read the image caption, I was shocked to find out that this image was taken during the Namibian genocide - a genocide Germany committed against the Herero and Nama peoples of Namibia 30 years prior to the Holocaust.

I began speaking with others about the genocide, and came to learn that very few people knew about it. The more I began to learn about this part of history, the more I realized that many of the seeds of the Holocaust were laid here in Namibia. How did the world not know about this crucial part of our human story? As a humanitarian photographer and with a penchant for history, I couldn’t believe that I, too, had not known about this key part of our human story. 

I felt utterly compelled to shine a light onto these atrocities which had largely been overlooked by much of the world.​

I spent five weeks in Namibia during the spring of 2017 to uncover this past: to see what imprint the German colonial legacy had left. I learned that in Namibia, then known as German South West Africa, concentration camps were strategically established along its treacherous Skeleton Coast, where thousands of Herero and Nama natives perished at the hands of their German colonial masters. What was shocking to me was the lack of information available in Namibia itself. I learned of its dark history not through memorials erected at sites where the atrocities took place, but from oral accounts by the descendants of the genocide victims and the scarce amount of literature available on the topic (see The Kaiser's Holocaust, one of the few books which offers a comprehensive history on the matter).

Namibia is a land of paradoxes: one of both immense, surreal beauty and a one with a dark, almost hidden past. During my trip there, I travelled across the country (approximately the size of two Californias), from the Skeleton Coast in the west to the Kalahari in the east, and met with both Nama and Herero descendants of the genocide victims. I photographed people in their homesteads, at funerals, and at historical locations. What I found was that the natives' stories have a common thread woven throughout: that of an identity fractured by colonial-era crimes and years of ongoing neglect of this past, both by their country and by Germany. They desperately want their stories heard, not only by their communities, but by the rest of the world.

Presented By: The photographer

Kate Schoenbach

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Kate Schoenbach is a New York based visual storyteller, journalist, and speaker specializing in global humanitarian issues. Through photography and video, she creates compelling narratives and evocative imagery, shining a light on social injustices. Dedicated to empowering individuals experiencing oppression, her most recent project, Uncovering the Past, explores how identities fractured by European colonialism have shaped the world of the ancestors of the Namibian genocide victims. Her work on this project was aired on BBC World's website and received two million views on Facebook alone.

Kate comes to photography from a unique angle. Prior to studying photography at New York's School of Visual Arts, she obtained an MSc in Economics from the University of London. Her studies in economics and international relations have given her a deeper understanding of social issues, which allows her to connect more intimately with her environment when engaged in photographic assignments.

What Kate loves about photography is its unparalleled ability to connect people from all walks of life, as it is the universal language for everyone with the power of sight. Through a photograph, we are able to experience the essence of a moment which cannot be communicated through words alone. A powerful image is a pictorial account of a history past, present, and future and makes a faraway land or issue immediately tangible to the viewer. Through photography, Kate wishes to encourage a dialogue about the beauty, diversity, and synchronicity of our shared humanity.

Kate work with media companies, NGOs, foundations, and educational institutions to create impactful visual stories often overlooked by traditional media outlets.

Kate's work has been published in BBC World, Al JazeeraNew Era Publication Corporation, The Art of Intuitive Photography (available on Amazon), among others.