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2014 | 1(350) | 137-152

Article title

On the margins of German Vergangenheitsbewältigung. Germany's Colonial Past Revisited


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The colonial policy of the German Empire, which brought large parts of West, East and South-Western Africa under German rule, remains a puzzle. It was initiated for ideological reasons and supported mostly by the nationalist, expansionist strand of Germany's petite bourgeoisie which used to justify colonial expansion pointing to the alleged necessity to find space for emigrants, production surpluses, scarce commodities and cheap labor for the German industry. None of these objectives were ever achieved and colonialism remained a short-lived and loss-making adventure, which ended during World War I, when the German colonies were mostly taken over by Entente troops. Even as an attempt, to export social tensions by directing the attention of the working class to nationalist, expansionist issues, colonialism proved unsuccessful. Instead, the tensions between social, political and economic constraints in the colonies inclined German troops to commit large scale atrocities in East Africa and German South-West Africa against the Herero, Nama and Maji Maji peoples. In German collective memory, colonialism never played an important role, because it was marginalized by the debates about German guilt for the outbreak of World War I, the Holocaust in World War II and last but not least, because the Third Reich directed expansionism toward Central Eastern Europe and downplayed the colonial adventure of the 19th century in propaganda.



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