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Press release


Charité Hands Over Human Remains Dating from the Colonial Period

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Once again, the Charité – Universitätsmedizin Berlin has handed over the human remains of members of various ethnic groups originating from the former German South-West African region to the National Heritage Council of Namibia. The Charité's Board Chairman, Prof. Karl Max Einhäupl and Council Chairperson Esther Mwoombola-/Goagoses signed the hand-over document in the presence of Jerry Ekandjo, Minister of Youth, National Service, Sport and Culture at an official ceremony today which was also attended by numerous high-ranking representatives of both governments and Namibia's indigenous communities.

Addressing today’s audience, Prof. Einhäupl stressed that "first and foremost this repatriation process must serve to honor the victims themselves. Simultaneously however, we must never forget that at the time in question, the core principles of human dignity were frequently violated in the name of science. These human remains were used to legitimize a racist colonial ideology that permeated all spheres and levels of society in the early twentieth century." Prof. Einhäupl went on to emphasize that such wrongdoings must serve as an acute reminder to today's researchers that they must aspire to be the guardians of historically informed, responsible scientific investigation.

The 21 victims were members of the Herero, Nama, San, Damara and Ovambo ethnic communities. Over the past three years a research project coordinated by Charité scientists has attempted to identify the origins of the human remains and determine how they found their way into anthropological collections in Berlin. It could thus be revealed, that the remains that were handed over today belong to twelve women, seven men and two children and were brought to Berlin between 1898 and 1913. The origins of only five persons could be clearly traced to the period of the colonial wars in Namibia (1904 to 1908). The majority of these persons appear to have died of natural causes, while others were clearly victims of lethal violence. Their remains will now be transported to Namibia and finally returned to their homelands, more than 100 years after their deaths.

This is the fourth time that the Charité has been instrumental in returning human remains from its anthropological collections to their countries of origin. In addition to Namibia, remains have also been returned to indigenous communities in Paraguay (2012) and Australia (2013).


Charité Human Remains Project


Uwe Dolderer
Leiter des Geschäftsbereichs Unternehmenskommunikation
Charité – Universitätsmedizin Berlin
t: +49 30 450 570 400

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