In January 1904 the Herero people led by Samuel Maharero rebelled against German Colonial rule and in August the German general Lothar von Trotha responded with a fatal combination of military might and gunpowder. In October of that year the Nama people rebelled against the Germans only to suffer a similar fate.
More than 110000 Herero and Nama died in the 3 years that followed and the genocide was characterized by widespread death due to starvation and thirst because the Herero and Nama who fled the violence into the desert were prevented from returning and the German colonial army systematically poisoned desert wells.
Survivors, majority of whom were women and children, were eventually put into concentration camps and forced to work as slave labor for German military and settlers. German Scientists came to the concentration camps to conduct medical experiments on race using children of Herero people and children of Herero women and German men as test subjects. The experiments included sterilization, smallpox injections, typhus and TB. The numerous cases of mixed offspring upset the German colonial administration and their obsession with racial purity. 310 mixed-race children were subjected to numerous racial tests such as head and body measurements, eye and hair examinations. In conclusion the scientist advocated the genocide of alleged "inferior races" stating that "whoever thinks thoroughly the notion of race, can not arrive at a different conclusion".
These scientific actions and torment of the children were part of wider history of abusing Africans for experiments, and echoed earlier actions by German anthropologists who stole skeletons and bodies from African graveyards and took them to Europe for research or sale. An estimated 3000 skulls were sent to Germany for experimentation.
The Herero genocide has commanded the attention of historians who study complex issues of continuity between the Herero Genocide and the Holocaust. It is argued that the Herero genocide set a precedent in Imperial Germany to be later followed by Nazi Germany's establishment of death camps, such as the one at Auschwitz.
The 1985 UN Whitaker Report classified the aftermath of the rebellion as an attempt to exterminate the Herero and Nama peoples and therefore one of the earliest attempts at genocide in the 20th century.