The German Colonial Empire and its Aftermaths

Part V (last part) German colonial empire aftermaths

The End of the German Colonial Empire in International Law. Global Reorganization and Transnational Debates in the 1920s and Their Aftermaths.

On June 28, 1919, Germany signed the Versailles Peace Treaty, thereby declaring against its will the renunciation of its overseas colonial empire. Militarily, Germany had already lost the colonies to the Allies during the First World War. The peace treaty stipulated the cession of the colonies as valid under international law and ethically justified this with “Germany’s failure in the field of colonial civilization.” This accusation was primarily based on the violence that German colonial actors had perpetrated against inhabitants of the colonies through wars and forced labor. As evidence served in particular voices of inhabitants of the colonies, which Great Britain had documented in the “Blue Book” of 1918. From 1919 on, German colonial administrations with corresponding police and military structures in Africa and Asia were a thing of the past. However, German colonialism did not end there. State colonial policy, colonial thinking, and colonial economic relations between Germany and the colonially claimed territories continued. German colonial empire aftermaths

The end of the German colonial administrations provoked conflicting reactions at the Paris Peace Conferences in Germany and the former colonies. By analyzing them, it is possible to reconstruct globally conducted debates about colonialism, which at the same time reflect the beginnings of heterogeneous memories of the German colonial empire. In the European debate, voices from the colonies were instrumentalized to underpin their own narratives. Elites in the former colonies, in turn, used memories of the German colonial period to criticize the new mandate administrations. In this way, many actors – as a strategy in their respective contexts – produced memories of the time of the German colonial empire, some of which are still influential today. German colonial empire aftermaths

In German historiography, reactions to the end of the colonial empire have mostly been studied as national debates and fantasies. However, capturing the reactions and debates transnationally is essential because important actors who shaped the processes are otherwise overlooked. Moreover, the actors referred to each other transnationally and debated against the backdrop of the new international system institutionalized at the Paris Peace Conferences through the establishment of the League of Nations. Although they were not allowed to send official representatives to the peace conferences, the societies of the former colonies also discussed the consequences of the end of the German colonial administrations and tried to influence the negotiations. German and European historiography needs to examine colonial history from multiple perspectives and in its interconnections and interactions if it seeks to overcome its Eurocentrism. On the political level, this is the prerequisite for a joint reappraisal of colonial history, together with the societies of the former colonies. German colonial empire aftermaths

National Assembly at Weimar; Friedrich Ebert becomes Reich President; Petition of Africans living in Germany to the National Assembly; Signing of the peace treaty in the Palace of Versailles; the German colonies are transferred to the mandate powers of France and Great Britain. German colonial empire aftermaths

Dissolution of the Reichskolonialamt, transfer of affairs to a central colonial administration in the Reich Ministry for Reconstruction (1920); Passing of laws on “compensation for colonial war damage,” administration of payment of compensation for African colonial soldiers by the “Deutsche Gesellschaft für Eingeborenenkunde” (German Society for Native Studies), commissioned by the Colonial Department of the Foreign Office (1920 to 1925); Organization of colonial congresses by the Deutsche Kolonial Gesellschaft/DKG in Magdeburg, Nuremberg, Berlin, Dresden and Bochum (1920 to 1927). German colonial empire aftermaths

Reestablishment of a colonial department in the Foreign Office (1924); Colonial exhibitions in Berlin and other cities (1925 to 1928); Publication of the colonial novel “Volk ohne Raum” (People without Space) by the publicist Hans Grimm (1926); Colonial training week in Bremen organized by the “German student body” (1927); Foundation of the German section of the “Liga zur Verteidigung der Negerrasse E.V.” (“Liga Universelle pour la Défense de la race Noire”) with headquarters in Berlin (1929); New York stock market crash – beginning of the world economic crisis (1929); First “International Conference of Negro Workers” in Hamburg, the founding of the magazine “Negro Worker” (1930); participation of Africans from Berlin in the “International Conference for the African Child” in Geneva (1931). German colonial empire aftermaths

Establishment of the Colonial Policy Office; Colonial exhibitions in Chemnitz, Cologne, Wiesbaden, Nuremberg, Freiburg, Eisenach, Königsberg, Meersburg (1934 to 1935);
Several colonial films are commissioned, including: “The Horsemen of German East Africa” (1934), “Congo Express” (1936), “Carl Peters” (1941). German colonial empire aftermaths

“Gleichschaltung” of the colonial associations in the Reichskolonialbund (1936); Establishment of a Colonial Press Office in the Kolonialpolitisches Amt (1938).

Memoranda and memoranda on the establishment of a German colonial empire in southern Sahara (summer/1940) – “Central African Colonial Empire”; Issuance of a “Reichskolonialgesetz” by the Kolonialpolitisches Amt; Establishment of the “German Africa Corps” (1941). German colonial empire aftermaths

Dissolution of the Colonial Policy Office (Jan.); Surrender of German troops in North Africa (May).

Surrender of Berlin (May); unconditional surrender of the German Reich.


Imperial protection troops in German Southwest Africa
Passport Mark for Natives Black brass embossed passport mark with the imperial crown, below “Keetmanshoop Passport” with stamped No. 15488, top with mounting hole. These passport marks were issued by the Kaiserliche Schutztruppe to the natives to pass the passports and border control posts.

Handwritten Passport 1922, German Consulate Pretoria

South-West Africa Administration, Passports, 1922
Handwritten passport template with personal details. German Embassy in Pretoria 1922

Passport 1923, German Consulate Pretoria

Passport 1932, German Consulate Windhuk



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