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NAMIBIA / DEUTSCH-SÜDWESTAFRIKA / WWII NAZI DESIGNS IN AFRICA / INTELLECTUAL PROPAGANDA: Karte von Deutsch-Südwestafrika. Bearbeitet von Paul Sprigade und Max Moisel. / Neubearbeitung 1940.


Colour print, featuring Nazi era handstamp of the ‘Geographisches Institut, Koloniale Abteilung, Universität Berlin’ to upper right corner and various old manuscript inventory numbers in blue crayon and pink pen to blank margins (Very Good, clean and bright, some marginal creasing and a short repaired tear in upper left blank margin), 75 x 62 cm (29.5 x 24.5 inches). N.B. The image of the map provided here censors out the Nazi symbol of the Swastika from the handstamp of the ‘Geographisches Institut, Koloniale Abteilung, Universität Berlin’; this has been done pursuant to German laws on the representation of Third Reich symbols; however, this detail is clearly present and uncensored on the actual map itself.


A very rare and curious work made in 1940 depicting what is today Namibia as still being ‘German Southwest Africa’, even though the country had not been a German colony for almost a generation; updating Max Moisel and Paul Sprigade’s authoritative 1912 map, the present work was made for the High Command of the German Armed Forces during the early part of World War II as a work of ‘intellectual propaganda’ to advance a serious, but ultimately ill-fated, Nazi scheme to regain Germany’s former colonial possessions in Africa – the present example hailing from the library of the Nazi ‘Colonial Department’ at the University of Berlin.



The present map is one of the great ‘irredentist’ maps of Africa; made for the Oberkommando der Wehrmacht (OKW), or High Command of the German Armed Forces, in 1940, early in World War II.  It depicts Deutsch-Südwestafrika (German Southwest Africa, today’s Namibia), as still being a German colony, even though the country had been ruled by Britain since 1915, having been lost by Germany during World War I.

In the 1930s, elements of the Nazi hierarchy became wedded to the ideal of seeking the return of Germany’s former African colonies, including Deutsch-Südwestafrika, to the ‘Vaterland’.  During the early part of World War II, when the present map was made, they hoped to leverage ‘going easy’ on Britain in exchange for certain concessions, including the return of the lost colonies.  While this never came about in the end, when the present map was made the notion was still considered a serious possibility.

Indeed, while the map appears at first blush to be a formal military topographical survey (it certainly meets the high scientific standards of that purpose), in reality, it is a work of ‘intellectual propaganda’, that seeks to show a revived German-controlled Deutsch-Südwestafrika as matter of destiny.  Yet, despite the fact that the map bears the note ‘Sonderausgsabe! Nur für öffentlicher bestimmt!’ (Special Issue! Only intended for public use!), in the upper right corner, in reality the map was made in only a very small print run to lobby members of the Nazi hierarchy; there is no evidence to suggest that the map was ever publicly distributed.

The map was drafted for the OKW by the Heeresplankammer (Army Survey Office) and was printed by the Reimer map house that that had been responsible for issuing most of the important official maps of the German colonies during the pre-WWI era.  The Heeresplankammer based the map upon Max Moisel & Paul Sprigade’s, Deutsch-Südwestafrika 1:2 000 000 (Berlin: Dietrich Reimer, 1912), which was itself reduced from ultra-large scale sectional maps based on systematic triangulated surveys.

The map depicts Deutsch-Südwestafrika to an ample scale of 1:2,000,000, erroneously showing it to still be a German colony, but is nevertheless highly detailed and accurate, apart from its revisionist political aspects, and shows the country’s infrastructure updated to the present day.  The ‘Erklärung’ (Explanation), in the lower left margin, identifies the symbols used for political boundaries; railways, all-season roads for autos, roads only passable for autos during the dry season, other routes, and foot paths, while areas of elevation are expressed by shading with the spots heights of key peaks given in metres.

The inset in the lower left corner showcases the ‘Caprivi Strip’, the curious, narrow band of territory that extends from the far northeast corner of Deutsch-Südwestafrika deep into the heart of southern Africa.  It was the result of a bizarre diplomatic accommodation agreed in 1890 to give Germany access the supposedly navigable Zambesi River (which was shortly proven to be unnavigable).


A Note on Rarity

The present map is extremely rare.  We can trace only a single institutional example of the map, bearing the date 1940, held by the ZBW – LeibnizInformationszentrum Wirtschaft (Kiel); while the Universitäts- und Landesbibliothek Düsseldorf apparently holds an edition dated 1941.  Moreover, we are not aware of any sales records.

The map’s great rarity is due the fact that it would have been made in only a handful of examples for use within high-level Nazi circles, and being relatively large and fragile, it would have had a very low survival rate.

The present example of the map has an intriguing provenance, as it was one held by the library of the Koloniale Abteilung (Colonial Department) of the Geographisches Institut (Geography Institute) of the University of Berlin, a research unit that was revived by the Nazis to inform their designs to regain their lost overseas holdings.  The map features the Abteilung’s handstamp, bearing the Nazi eagle and Swastika.


Nazi Designs in Africa: The Last Chapter of ‘Deutsch-Südwestafrika

In the 1880s, following the ‘Scramble for Africa’, Germany acquired a large colonial empire in Africa, which consisted of Deutsch-Südwestafrika (Namibia), Kamerun (Cameroon), Togoland (modern Togo), and Deutsch-Ostafrika (modern mainland Tanzania, Rwanda and Burundi).

Berlin formally laid claim to ‘Deutsch-Südwestafrika’ in 1884, a move that was internationally recognised by the Berlin Conference that same year.  The colony was initially managed by the Deutsche Kolonialgesellschaft für Südwest-Afrika (German Colonial Society for Southwest Africa), supported by German bankers, industrialists and the mayor of Frankfurt, who sought to exploit its considerable mineral wealth.

However, Deutsch Südwestafrika became a crown colony in 1890, as the Kolonialgesellschaft found the burden of administration too much to bear, although it retained some of its mineral rights.  Germany then invited numerous foreign investors, including British interests, to help develop the colony, supported by as many as 10,000 European settlers.

However, Germany brutally suppressed the indigenous peoples, and their treatment of the Herero and Nama nations during the Herero Wars (1904-8) is generally considered to be one of the great war crimes of African history.

Within only a generation of establishing the colony, Germany succeeded in developing an impressive infrastructure and a series mines that made Deutsch Südwestafrika an economically productive colony, even if every venture was hard-earned in what was an unforgiving desert environment.

During World War I, conquering Germany’s African colonies was a priority for Britain and her allies.  While Germany put up strong resistance in Kamerun and East Africa, South African forces (acting as proxy for Britain) had a relatively easy time taking Deutsch Südwestafrika.  They invaded the country in September 1914, whereupon the outnumbered German Schutztruppe (Protection Force) was relegated to delaying tactics as they sought to evacuate their people and valuables.  Britain gained complete control of the colony by July 1915.

The Treaty of Versailles (1919), which followed the war, saw Germany lose all her colonies, which were divided between British and French trusteeship.  Deutsch Südwestafrika became the British protectorate of ‘South West Africa’, governed by the Union of South Africa.

The legality of the loss of Germany’s African colonies, including Deutsch Südwestafrika, was questioned by many Germans, who longed for the day when they could regain possession of these lands, either through diplomacy or force.

Upon the rise of the Nazi regime in 1933, Adolf Hitler and his top lieutenants were not especially sympathetic to the notion of regaining the African colonies.  They were far more interested in projecting German power in Europe, and saw the African ambitions as an unnecessary, and potentially costly, distraction.

However, many of Hitler’s key backers, especially in the business community, were great enthusiasts of Germany regaining its ‘place in the sun’.  In addition to any symbolic significance, reacquiring the German African colonies would give its military-industrial complex access to vital minerals and tropical resources that were otherwise in short supply.  While Hitler was never keen, their lobbying eventually succeeded in raising the colonial question to a high place on the Third Reich’s agenda.

In 1937, the Nazis created the Reichskolonialbund (RKB) (English: State Colonial League), an organization whose mandate was to “keep the population informed about the loss of the German Imperial colonies, to maintain contact with the former colonial territories and to create conditions in opinion favourable to a new German African Empire”.  Led by old African hands, the RKB was highly influential in Nazi industrial and academic circles.

Following Neville Chamberlain’s complete capitulation to the Nazis at the Munich Conference (1938), many in Berlin believed that Britain, and by extension France, could be badgered into agreeing to virtually any diplomatic concession, in return for not having to face the German war machine.  The RKB proposed that Germany should request that Britain and France return all of Germany’s African colonies in return for continued peace.  While no formal German demands of this kind were ever made, the notion was seriously entertained at the highest levels.

The outbreak of World War II only seemed to strengthen the hand of German colonial interests, as Britain and France looked pathetically weak, with many believing that the Entente forces could be either quickly vanquished or forced into a peace on terms heavily favouring Germany, including the return of its former African colonies.

The hopes of the German Africa lobby were raised when the Wehrmacht totally rolled over Belgium and France during their Blitzkrieg campaign (May 10 to June 25, 1940).  However, colonial concerns were crowded out in the frenzy that followed the victory, along with Germany’s failure to break Churchill’s resolve at the Battle of Britain (July 10 to October 31, 1940).

In 1941, Germany became embroiled in its ultimately disastrous invasion of the Soviet Union, and this killed any practical notion of Germany regaining her colonies.  It was clear that Britain would not made any diplomatic settlement with Nazi Germany, including ceding South West Africa to Berlin, while Germany no longer possessed the military resources, let alone the will, to take the colony by force.

Germany’s African ambitions were officially extinguished in 1943 when Martin Bornmann dissolved the Reichskolonialbund, deeming its purpose to be of “kriegsunwichtiger Tätigkeit” (an “activity irrelevant to the war”).  Deutsch Südwestafrika was thus irrevocably consigned to the realm of history.

Unfortunately, for the overwhelmingly Black people of South West Africa, from 1948 their country was ruled by the South African Apartheid regime.  That horrible chapter ended in 1990 when the country gained gained its independence as the Republic of Namibia.


References: ZBW – LeibnizInformationszentrum Wirtschaft (Kiel): Kt./C 87/7; OCLC: 255638618 (which erroneously cites 5 additional holdings).

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