Africa Thesis Award 2004

 Casper Erichsen (left)

The jury of the ASC Master's Thesis Award has decided to present the 2004 ASC Master's Thesis Award to Mr Casper Erichsen for his thesis "The angel of death has descended violently among them. A study of Namibia's concentration camps and prisoners-of-war, 1904-08".

Full text of thesis

The historiography of the concentration camps, which the German colonial regime established in the wake of the war against the Herero and Nama peoples in Namibia, has been deeply influenced by white settler racial mentalities and concomitant denials of their existence. This revisionist historiography penetrated Namibia’s academic community, leading to publications – such as the work of Brigitte Lau – arguing that no genocide ever took place, something Casper Erichsen calls the Namibian version of the Auschwitz Lüge, the Auschwitz Lie.

Casper Erichsen’s The Angel of Death offers a systematic overview of the existence of these camps in German South-West Africa and the atrocities that took place under German rule vis-à-vis the Herero in particular. He describes in detail practices such as the forced labour that the local population was subjected to in the context of Namibia’s railway construction. The author diligently reconstructs this black page of Namibia’s and Germany’s history from a patchwork of different archival sources, thus ensuring that the dreadful events that occurred between 1904 and 1908 will never be forgotten.

The reasons that made the Jury decide to present the 2004 ASC Master’s Award to Casper Erichsen are the following:

  •  This Master’s thesis is important for the historiography of Namibia and Germany, and for genocide studies in general. It is likely to cause a stir in the debate about the nature of the extermination of Herero and Nama peoples and about the extent to which the German approach in Namibia presented a prelude to the emergence of concentration camps during the Second World War.
  •  The research is thorough, many-sided, ingenious and courageous. The author demonstrates scholarly independence in his critical reading of the existing literature on the subject. He offers wide documentation, while the use and analysis of old photographs helps the reader to better understand his argument.
  •  A balance between passionate commitment and critical analysis marks the style. The thesis is well written and highly relevant, especially in the context of present-day calls for reparation and reconciliation with Germany’s colonial past.

In conclusion, the Jury is of the opinion that Casper W. Erichsen’s ‘The Angel of Death has descended violently among them. A study of Namibia’s concentration camps and prisoners-of-war, 1904 – 1908’ represents a brilliant and original piece of work. It is, therefore, very pleased to be able to present him with the 2004 ASC Master’s Thesis Award.

Jos van Beurden
Chairman of the Jury

Full Jury's report (pdf, 24KB)