First Genocide of the 20th century and Image of God

One of the most striking and disturbing consequences of rejecting the biblical teaching of the Image of God is provided by the chilling story of General Lothar von Trotha (1848-1920). In 1904 he ordered the total extermination of the Herero tribe in South-West Africa. This was the first genocide of the 20th century.

Writing in 1904, he stated:

I know enough tribes in Africa. They all have the same mentality insofar as they yield only to force. It was and remains my policy to apply this force by absolute terrorism and even cruelty. I shall destroy the rebellious tribes by shedding rivers of blood and money.

In his diary von Trotha described the Herero as Unmenschen – non-humans! Von Trotha's tactics were in marked distinction to that of the Herero leaders, who were, in the main, committed Christians and very careful to ensure that only soldiers were attacked.

German soldiers burned Herero women and children to death whereas the Herero troops protected German women and children during the war! We could say that the Herero troops waged warfare in a way that honoured the biblical teaching that all human beings are created in the image and likeness of God. The German soldiers radically rejected this teaching and referred to the Herero people as 'cattle', 'monkeys' and 'stock'.

Von Trotha's methods caused a public outcry which led the German government to relieve von Trotha of his command. This, however, was too late to help the Herero, as the few survivors had been herded into camps and used as labour for German businesses, where many died of overwork, malnutrition or disease. Prior to the uprisings, there were estimated to be 80,000 Herero. The 1911 census records 15,000.

There is something very liberating about the Image of God teaching we find in the Bible. Nobody is an Unmensch, a nobody or sub-human.

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