Prisoner of War Camp Aus 1915-1919

Establishment, operation and closure of the prisoner of war camp at Aus
Bruwer, Johann
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Prisoner of War Camp Aus 1915-1919

Author: Johann Bruwer
Namibia Scientific Society
2nd edition, Windhoek 2003
ISBN 99916-40-42-8
Soft cover, 15x21 cm, 40 pages, 31 bw-photos, plan of camp


About two weeks after the surrender of the German Colonial Troops at Khorab on 9 July 1915, 797 German prisoners of war were brought by train from Otavi to Aus.

First published in 1985, it has now been revised to include a comprehensive list of both the graves of prisoners of war and their South African captors, who perished at Aus.

It also provides information on other prisoner of war camps in the former South West Africa, as well as on the deportation of Germans from the territory.


This brochure is intended to provide a succinct overview of the history of the prisoner of war camp at Aus. The site at which the camp was located more than eight decades ago, lies south of the main road which connects Lüderitz on the west coast of Namibia with Keetmanshoop in the southern interior.

East of Aus, one turns off the main road into a side road which leads to the prisoner of war camp. Visitors can also reach the site by driving eastwards through Aus and crossing the railway line which lies east of the town. A short distance from the turn-off to the historic site, there stands a sweet thorn Acacia (Acacia karoo).

In the immediate vicinity of this tree, a sharp-pointed 2,80 m high granite stone rises from the ground. In 1985 this undamaged stone was moved with great care from a place nearby to its present location next to the sweet thorn tree.

The granite slab symbolizes the transitory nature of both the inanimate constructions, the ruins of which can still be seen to this day at the site, and their interwoven human stories. The gentle rise formed by one of these ruins, seems a natural choice for the location.

Fixed to the stone is a bronze plate which carries a relief of a Schutztruppler. The original relief, which measures 9 cm x 14,2 cm, and can be found at Farm Lichtenstein-Nord (owner Mr U. Rusch), was created by the well-known Hans Lichtenecker around 1929. Born on 26 January 1891, Lichtenecker fought during the First World War under the German flag as reservist in South West Africa against the Union of South Africa's invading troops. He died on 25 January 1988 at Gotha, at the age of ninety seven.

As is stated on the bronze plate, the National Monuments Council and the Heritage Society of former Colonial and Overseas Troops ("Traditionsverband ehemaliger Schutz- und Uberseetruppen e.V") are jointly responsible for the maintenance of the remains of the Aus prisoner of war camp. In 1985, the site of the former prisoner of war camp was declared a national monument.

On 3 August 1985, during a dignified ceremony to commemorate the establishment of the camp seventy years earlier, the stone monument with its bronze plate was unveiled. Representatives of the Heritage Society of former Colonial and Overseas Troops, the Fellowship of German Soldiers ("Kameradschaft für deutsche Soldaten") and the Memorable Order of Tin Hats were present at the occasion. The ceremony included the laying of wreaths at the graves of both the German prisoners of war and the members of the Protectorate Garrison Regiment, which are contained in the cemetery there.

On 9 July 1915, the dark clouds of the First World War disappeared over the horizon for the former German colony of South West Africa. On that day, at Km 500 on the Otavi railway line directly north of Otavi, the Germans signed a Surrender Treaty. As a result, those German troops in South West Africa which had retreated to, and were gathered together at Khorab, came under the command of the Union of South Africa's invading forces. General Louis Botha signed the treaty on behalf of the Union forces, while Governor Theodor Seitz and Lieutenant-Colonel Victor Franke signed on behalf of German South West Africa.

Paragraphs 3 and 8 of the Surrender Treaty stipulated that all soldiers and non-commissioned officers of the active German troops, as well as members of the Territorial Police ("Landespolizei" - the former German South West Africa police force) were to be detained as prisoners of war until peace had been concluded in Europe and in other theatres of war. One of the interesting features of the treaty was that it allowed prisoners of war to retain their side arms.

Understandably though, this concession did not apply to ammunition. Initially there were two prisoner of war camps2 in the former German territory which subsequently became known as South West Africa. A few officers of the active German Colonial Troops and the Territorial Police were detained at the Okanjande camp near Otjiwarongo, because they had refused to give their word of honour that they would, upon release, take up a fixed abode at a place of their choice.

It was decided that a prisoner of war camp should be established for non-commissioned officers and men of the Colonial Troops and Territorial Police, a few kilometres east of Aus, in the south of the country. As a result, this lonely and isolated place became a part of our country's history; its tales still capture our imagination, and win our admiration.

At first, one wonders why the prisoner of war camp was built specifically at Aus, especially because the area around the town is semi-desert, and the Namib desert itself begins just on the other side of the hills to the west of Aus. During the South West Africa campaign, Aus was of great strategic importance to both the German defenders and the advancing South African soldiers. One reason was that it was one of the two important railway stations (the other was Seeheim) on the line between Keetmanshoop and Lüderitz.

Although the Germans defended Aus with dogged determination, it was occupied towards the end of March 1915 by Brigadier Duncan Mackenzie, who had landed at Lüderitz six months earlier with his troops. The surrender of the German South West Africa Colonial Troops at Km 500 allowed the South African troops to turn their attention fully to the campaign in East Africa.

Naturally, the maintenance of a prisoner of war camp is a burden on the economy of a country which is at war. From an economic point of view, Aus was more or less an obvious choice for the site of a prisoner of war camp. At the time (July 1915), there was no railway connection between the Union and South West Africa, because the railway line from Seeheim terminated at Karasburg, and the existing line between Lüderitz and Keetmanshoop could only be utilized as far as Aus.

Food and other provisions, as well as equipment for the camp at Aus, could be transported quite easily by ship from Cape Town to Lüderitz, and taken from there to Aus by railway. For Aus, then a tiny village with some twenty houses, two hotels and perhaps half a dozen shops and warehouses, this was the beginning of an activity-filled period. On 21 July 1915, about two weeks after the surrender of the Germans, 797 German prisoners of war were brought by rail from Otavi to Aus.

Six days later, on 27 July 1915, Brigadier H.T. Lukin, who was responsible for the execution of the Surrender Treaty, reported that the last train carrying prisoners of war had left Tsumeb on that day, and was on its way to Aus. The German positions at Khorab had by then been completely evacuated. At the same time, five companies of the South African Veterans Regiment (SAVR) and 960 German prisoners of war (POWs) were moved by train from Kimberley to Cape Town. […]