Lothar von Trotha

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Lothar von Trotha
Lothar von Trotha.jpg
Born (1848-07-03)3 July 1848
Magdeburg, Province of Saxony, Prussia
Died 31 March 1920(1920-03-31) (aged 71)
Bonn, Germany
Allegiance  Kingdom of Prussia
 German Empire
 Weimar Republic
Service/branch Royal Prussian Army
German Army
Years of service 1865-1920
Rank General
Battles/wars Austro-Prussian War
Franco-Prussian War
Wahehe Rebellion
Boxer Rebellion
Herero Wars
Spouse(s) Bertha Neumann
Lucy Goldstein-Brinckmann
Lothar von Trotha

Adrian Dietrich Lothar von Trotha (3 July 1848 – 31 March 1920) was a German military commander during the European new colonial era. As a brigade commander of the East Asian Expedition Corps, he was involved in suppressing the Boxer Rebellion in Imperial China on behalf of the Eight-Nation Alliance. He later served as governor of German South-West Africa and Commander in Chief of its colonial forces, in which role he suppressed a native rebellion during the Herero Wars. He was widely condemned for his brutality in the Herero Wars, particularly for his role in the genocide that led to the near-extermination of the Herero.


Lothar von Trotha belonged to a prominent Saxon noble family. He was married twice; on 15 October 1872 he married Bertha Neumann, who died in 1905. Following his retirement from the service, on 19 May 1912, he married Lucy Goldstein-Brinckmann (1881–1958), a second marriage for both, Lucy came from a family of converted Jews living in Frankfurt; in London. Trotha had two sons, who died without descendants.


Born in Magdeburg, the capital of the Province of Saxony, Trotha joined the Prussian army in 1865 and fought in the Austro-Prussian and Franco-Prussian wars, for which he was awarded the Iron Cross 2nd class. He married Bertha Neumann on 15 October 1872.

He was commander of the Lauenburgisches Jäger Bataillon Nr. 9 for two years in Ratzeburg before he was deployed to Africa in 1894.

Colonial service[edit]

In 1894 Trotha was appointed commander of the colonial forces in German East Africa and was ruthlessly successful in suppressing uprisings there, including the Wahehe Rebellion. While temporarily posted to Imperial China as Brigade Commander of the East Asian Expedition Corps, he was involved in suppressing the Boxer Rebellion.[1] On 3 May 1904 he was appointed Commander in Chief of German South-West Africa and was directed to crush the native Herero rebellion.

In German South-West Africa[edit]

Trotha arrived in South-West Africa on 11 June 1904, when the war against the Herero had been raging for five months. The German command up to that time had not had much success against the Herero guerrilla tactics. Initially, he too suffered losses.

In October 1904 General von Trotha devised a new battle plan to end the uprisings. At the Battle of Waterberg, he issued orders to encircle the Herero on three sides so that the only escape route was into the waterless Omaheke-Steppe, a western arm of the Kalahari Desert. The Herero fled into the desert and Trotha ordered his troops to poison water holes, erect guard posts along a 150-mile line and shoot on sight any Herero, be they man, woman or child, who attempted to escape. To make his attitude to the Herero absolutely clear, Trotha then issued the Vernichtungsbefehl, or extermination order:

Trotha defended his policies later in his life "It was and is my policy to use force with terrorism and even brutality." An undisclosed German soldier was reported to have said of the massacres "...the death rattle of the dying and the shrieks of the mad...they echo in the sublime stillness of infinity." Trotha's tactics were in marked distinction to that of the Herero leaders, who were, in the main, careful to ensure that only soldiers were attacked.[4]

Trotha's methods caused a public outcry which led the Imperial Chancellor Bernhard von Bülow to ask William II, German Emperor, to relieve Trotha of his command.[5] 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.

Trotha's troops also routed the Nama. On 22 April 1905 he sent a message to the Nama, suggesting they surrender, and mentioning the fate of the Herero.

Approximately 10,000 Nama died during the fighting, the remaining 9,000 were confined to concentration camps.[5]

On 19 November 1905 Lothar von Trotha returned to Germany and was appointed as an infantry general in 1910. He died of typhoid fever (bilious fever) on 31 March 1920 in Bonn.


On 16 August 2004 the German government under Gerhard Schröder officially apologized for the genocides, but rejected calls to pay reparations to the descendants of the Herero and Nama. "We Germans accept our historic and moral responsibility and the guilt incurred by Germans at that time," said Heidemarie Wieczorek-Zeul, Germany's development aid minister. In addition, she admitted the massacres were equivalent to genocide. The two countries have generally had a good relationship since and Germany has tailored economic, political packages for the people of Namibia.

In 1933, the Nazi authorities had named a street in Munich as "von Trotha Straße". In 2006 the Munich city council officially decided to change the name of this street to "Herero Straße" in honour of the General's victims.[6]

As General von Trotha has no living descendants, some of his distant relations traveled to Omaruru in October 2007 by invitation of the local Herero chiefs and publicly apologised for his actions. Wolf-Thilo von Trotha, a member of the family, said,

"We, the von Trotha family, are deeply ashamed of the terrible events that took place 100 years ago. Human rights were grossly abused that time."[7]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Kiernan, Ben. 2007. Blood and soil: a world history of genocide and extermination from Sparta to Darfur Yale University Press. ISBN 978-0-300-10098-3. p. 382
  2. ^ The German Colonies; What Is to Become of Them?, p. 16, at Google Books
  3. ^ Absolute Destruction: Military Culture and the Practices of War in Imperial Germany, p. 56, at Google Books
  4. ^ cf. Drechsler, Horst (1980). Let Us Die Fighting: The Struggle of the Herero and Nama Against German Imperialism, 1884–1915. London: Zed Press. p. 150. 
  5. ^ a b c Talking about genocide: Namibia 1904 - Peace pledge union (British pacifist site)
  6. ^ Evangelischer Presseverband für Bayern (2006-10-06). "Stadt München benennt von-Trotha-Straße um". Retrieved 2009-10-07. 
  7. ^ "German family's Namibia apology". BBC News. 2007-10-07. Retrieved 2008-08-08. 

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