Madagascar, a huge island off Africa’s south-east coast, is notorious as the location initially considered by the Nazis as suitable to house millions of Jews expelled from Europe in a geographical final solution. However, the Nazis were not the first to think of the cruel idea, nor was the idea of re- settling Jews there the only link between the island and the Jewish people.
Poland ceased to exist in 1795 when the Third Partition of Poland allocated its last territory to its greedy neighbors. After World War I, when Po- land was recreated by the victorious Allies from the remnants of the German, Austro-Hungarian and Russian empires, the Little Treaty of Versailles (different from the main Treaty of Versailles, which ended the war) demanded that Poland pro- tect the civil rights of all minorities, including its three million Jews. But with the passing of time the government began passing anti-Semitic laws similar to the Nazi Nuremberg Laws with the same objective: to drive the Jews from Poland.
The influential extreme right-wing Camp of National Unity founded in 1937 fanned the flames of anti-Semitism and advocated the emigration of ninety percent of the country’s Jews. Ironically, this attitude transformed Poland into a strong opponent of Britain’s restriction of Jew- ish immigration to Eretz Yisroel and a powerful advocate for “A Jewish, independent Palestine as large as possible with access to the Red Sea.”
At the same time, Nuremberg style anti-Semitic laws were legislated to encourage Jews to leave. In 1936, Jews were ordered to display their names on their shops, which led to increased attacks against Jewish businesses. The following year, Jews were blocked from practicing medicine and law and in 1938 Poland’s largest bank excluded Jews from its working force. Poland also instated a law revok- ing the passports of Poles living abroad for over five years unless they maintained a link with the country. This rendered tens-of-thousands of Jews who had moved to Germany since World War I stateless and led to severe repercussions when Germany dumped 15,000 Polish Jews at the Polish border in October 1938.
With this backdrop, Poland began negotiating with France to resettle its three million Jews in French controlled Madagascar in 1937, weeks after French Colonial Minister Marius Moutet spoke of sending France’s Jews to various French colonies, including Madagascar. Poland had first considered the idea in 1926, considering moving excess Polish peasants to the island. Poland argued that since it had been unable to build over- seas colonies during its non-existent years, other European countries should grant Poland access to their colonies or at least allow Poland to use them as dumping grounds for Jews. After all, prior to World War I, 150,000 Jews had emigrated from Europe every year.
First to think of Madagascar as a dumping ground for undesirable people was France. In 1793, at the height of the French Revolution, a revolutionary committee legislated a proposal to deport France’s beggars and unwanted to the re- mote island.
The idea of settling Jews on the remote island was the brainchild of the virulently anti-Semitic German intellectual Paul de Lagarde, a proto-Nazi, who wrote that the best way to curb Jewish influence would be to isolate them in Madagascar. Combining learning and great intellect with dogmatism and nationalism, de Lagarde aimed at establishing a German lifestyle based on anti- Semitism and expansionism. The initial and most important task of a state was to create a climate in which a “national religion” could flourish, he wrote.
In a nutshell, he ranted, “Germany is the totality of all German-feeling, German-thinking, Ger- man-willing Germans: In this sense, every one of us is a traitor if he does not consider himself personally accountable in every moment of his life for the existence, fortune and future of the fatherland, and each is a hero and liberator if he does.”
To achieve German unification, he suggested, Jews must be relocated to either Palestine or Madagascar. Unlike the Nazis, who eradicated anyone with a quarter Jewish blood, de Lagarde was only opposed to Jewish culture and was happy to make peace with any Jews willing to totally assimilate.
Many Europeans believed that at least some of Madagascar’s indigenous tribes were descended from Jews. Speculation of the tribes’ origins dated back to the publication of a possibly fictitious ac- count of Madagascan life in the 1729 book authored by Kobert Drury and titled Journal, During Fifteen Years Captivity on Madagascar. Many scholars suspected that the book was written or improved by Daniel Defoe (1660-1731), who au- thored the much more famous Robinson Crusoe.
In a preface to the Madagascar book, Captain William Macket argued that the Madagascar tribes could not possibly have Jewish origins as some of their customs contradicted Torah law. But later writers accepted the idea. Historian Samuel Copeland noted in his 1822 A History of the Island of Madagascar, “The origin of the Madegasses, is, by the generality of writers, ascribed to the Jews: this idea is founded on the universal practice of circumcision amongst them, and from the title of ‘Descendants of Abraham’ having been assumed by the inhabitants of St. Mary’s Isle, and the coast opposite.” As to how Jews got there, Copeland argued that since the ark was in existence in early times, early sailors had a handy prototype to follow in building vast ocean faring ships.
In modern times, some Malagasy residents claim to be descended from Jews and a hundred of them even observe mitzvos to some extent. In 2015, people of the “royal” village of Vatumasina at the southeastern edge of the island, where many locals claim that the staff of Moshe and a fragment of the Aseres Hadibros are (or were) hidden, told Professor William F.S. Miles of Northeastern University that their ancestor was a man called Aliwarat who “was originally from Jerusalem and his first language was Hebrew.”
Then their story turned weird. They claimed that Aliwarat fled to Mecca after the churban and arrived in Madagascar with an amalgamation of Muslim and Jewish beliefs. (The Secrets of the Malagasy Jews of Madagascar, Jerusalem Post, 09/26/2015)
Delegation Sets Out
On May 5, 1937, a Polish delegation headed off to explore the feasibility of carrying out the Madagascar plan. JTA reported three weeks before that “The Polish Government has invited three colonization experts, two of them Jews, to make an expedition to the French island colony of Madagascar to investigate possibilities for Jewish settlement offered by the French Government, it was learned today.”
“The French Colonial Ministry has offered Jews limited possibilities for colonization on the island off the southeast coast of Africa,” JTA added. “While agitation has been going on for some time in Polish government circles for Jewish emigration to overseas territories, Jewish organizations have objected to Jews being singled out by the Government for emigration.”
The investigating commission included the Jew Solomon Dyk, who, before Hitler’s accession in Germany, was active in promoting Jewish agriculture in the Reich, and Loon Alter, director in Poland of the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society of New York and director before the war of the Immigration Department of the Jewish Colonization Association in Poland, JTA wrote. The single Polish participant was Major Mieczyslaw Lepecki of the Polish army, world traveler and author of many travel books.
After his return, Lepecki published a 250 page report claiming that the island could only absorb 40,000 to 60,000 Jews at the exorbitant cost of 30,000 francs per family. One of the Jews thought that four hundred Jews was the maximum that could be moved there while the other thought even that number was impossible. The Madagascar-French colonists wanted absolutely no new- comers from Poland at all and French nationalists everywhere were afraid that Polish immigration might result in the island becoming Polish. All these factors killed the Polish-Madagascar plan.
Were The Nazis Serious?
The Madagascar plan was revived in March 1938 when Adolf Eichmann was commissioned to help Chief of the Security Police Reinhard Heydrich devise “a foreign policy solution as it had been negotiated between Poland and France.” Eichmann, without bothering to visit the island, patched together a plan to ship four million Jews to Madagascar over four years where they would be confined in a giant police reserve. The operation was to be funded by confiscated Jewish property and by contributions from world Jewry. Transport would be provided by confiscated British ships once England fell to German arms.
Unlike the Poles, who favored Zionism, the Nazi plan was for Madagascar to destroy Jewish aspirations for Zion. The plan noted, “This arrangement would prevent the possible establish- ment in Palestine by the Jews of a Vatican State of their own, and the opportunity for them to exploit for their own purposes the symbolic importance
which Jerusalem has for the Christian and Mohammedan parts of the world. Moreover, the Jews will remain in German hands as a pledge for the future good behavior of the members of their race in America.”
In reaction to the plan, the American Jewish Committee commissioned a special report pub- lished in May 1941 which demonstrated that the numbers of Jews the Nazis were planning to send could never survive on the island. This did not bother the Nazis, who in all likelihood regarded the plan as an extermination scheme under the guise of resettlement. Germany’s failure to conquer Britain permanently scuttled the harebrained scheme.
(Sources include: Timothy Snyder, Black Earth: The Ho- locaust as History and Warning, Tim Duggan Books, New York, 2015. Jewish Virtual Library: The Nazis and the Jews, The Madagascar Plan. Wikipedia)