The Madagascar plan

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The Madagascar Plan was a proposal by the Nazi German government to relocate the Jewish population of Europe to the island of Madagascar. Franz Rademacher, head of the Jewish Department of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs for the German government, proposed the idea in June 1940, shortly before the Fall of France.

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The proposal called for the handing over of control of Madagascar, then a French colony, to Germany as part of the French surrender terms.

The idea of deporting Polish Jews to Madagascar was investigated by the Polish government in 1937, but the task force sent to evaluate the island’s potential determined that only 5,000 to 7,000 families could be accommodated, or even as few as 500 families by some estimates.As efforts by the Nazis to encourage emigration of the Jewish population of Germany before World War II were only partially successful, the idea of deporting Jews to Madagascar was revived by the Nazi government in 1940.

Rademacher recommended on 3 June 1940 that Madagascar should be made available as a destination for the Jews of Europe. With Adolf Hitler’s approval, Adolf Eichmann released a memorandum on 15 August 1940 calling for the resettlement of a million Jews per year for four years, with the island governed as a police state under the SS.

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They assumed that many Jews would succumb to its harsh conditions should the plan be implemented.The plan was not viable due to the British naval blockade. It was postponed after the Axis lost the Battle of Britain in September 1940, and was permanently shelved in 1942 with the commencement of the Final Solution, towards which it had functioned as an important psychological step.

“The approaching victory gives Germany the possibility, and in my view also the duty, of solving the Jewish question in Europe. The desirable solution is: all Jews out of Europe.” That was how Franz Rademacher, head of the German Foreign Office’s “Jewish desk,” began a memo to the Nazi high command in the summer of 1940. In the document that followed, he spelled out an audacious plan to banish millions of European Jews to the African island of Madagascar. The scheme called for the Jews to have their European citizenship revoked and their property and personal fortunes seized to help fund a new “super-ghetto” in the Indian Ocean. Once resettled, they would languish under the rule of a Nazi SS police force. Rademacher argued that the island reservation could be spun as propaganda to show the world the “generosity” of the German people. On an even more sinister note, he pointed out that “the Jews will remain in German hands as a pledge for the future good behavior of the members of their race in America.” The Jews on Madagascar would not just be exiles—they would also be hostages.

Initial discussions began to take place in 1938 among Nazi ideologues such as Julius Streicher, Hermann Göring, Alfred Rosenberg, and Joachim von Ribbentrop,.Ten per cent of Jews under German jurisdiction by that date were Polish nationals. Józef Lipski, the Polish ambassador to Germany, expressed his country’s reluctance to take them back.

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And the Polish government decreed that Polish passport holders would not be permitted to return except under specific conditions. When Ribbentrop raised the matter with French foreign minister Georges Bonnet in December of that year, Bonnet expressed French reluctance to receive more German Jews and inquired if measures could be taken to prevent their arrival. France itself was contemplating how to deport some 10,000 Jews and considered whether Madagascar might be an appropriate destination.Planning for German deportations to Madagascar formally began in 1940. Franz Rademacher, recently appointed head of the Jewish Department of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, forwarded on 3 June to his superior, the diplomat Martin Luther,

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a memorandum on the fate of the Jews.”The desirable solution is: all Jews out of Europe,” said Rademacher. He briefly considered Palestine as a destination, but deemed it unsuitable, as he considered it undesirable that a strong Jewish state should be created in the Middle East. As well, Palestine was at the time under British control.Rademacher recommended that the French colony of Madagascar should be made available as a destination for the Jews of Europe as one of the terms of the surrender of France, which the Germans had invaded on 10 May 1940. The resettled Jews, noted Rademacher, could be used as hostages to ensure “future good behaviour of their racial comrades in America”.The plan was developed by Referat D III of the Abteilung Deutschland.

Strangely enough, the idea of corralling Jews on Madagascar was nothing new. The plan was first proposed in 1885 by the German scholar Paul de Lagarde, whose writings were a major influence on Hitler.

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Whether Madagascar could safely sustain a massive influx of immigrants was of little concern to the Nazis in the summer of 1940. By August, Rademacher, Eichmann and others had submitted several revised proposals to the Nazi high command. Their plans called for Germany to include provisions for a Jewish colony in Madagascar as part of any peace treaty with the French. The Germans would resettle and compensate the French colonists already living there, and then begin forcibly moving Jews to the island after the war at a rate of 1 million per year. To give the illusion of propriety, Madagascar’s Jewish arrivals would be allowed their own mayor, post office and police force, yet true power would rest with a Nazi police governor. Large swaths of the island would also be set aside for German military bases.

Many Nazi leaders had come to see the Madagascar Plan as the ideal answer to the so-called “Jewish question,” but by September 1940, its future looked uncertain. The scheme had hinged on the Nazis quickly conquering Europe, and its progress stalled along with that of their armies. The main stumbling block was Great Britain, which stubbornly held out against a colossal aerial barrage during the Battle of Britain. The Nazis had expected to appropriate the vanquished Royal Navy to ferry Jews to Madagascar, but with Britain still standing, the logistics suddenly became unworkable. Germany didn’t have the ships to force the deportations on its own, and lurking Allied navies made the sea lanes impassable. In late-1940, the plan was shelved and all but forgotten. A final blow followed in May 1942, when British forces landed in Madagascar in an amphibious invasion dubbed “Operation Ironclad.” The island was in Allied hands by the end of the year.

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In the end, no Jews were ever sent to Africa as part of the Madagascar Plan. Historians still debate what might have happened if they had been, but there’s little doubt that it would have been brutal. Scores of people would have succumbed to tropical diseases or starvation from lack of resources, and those who survived would have been subject to abuse or murder at the hands of the SS. With this in mind, many scholars argue that the resettlement scheme was tantamount to a death sentence. Others contend that it was all an elaborate ploy designed to mask Hitler’s true intentions to exterminate the Jews. At the very least, it was a move in the direction of the infamous “Final Solution” that was soon to follow. Less than a year after the Madagascar Plan was set aside, the mass murder of the Holocaust had begun.

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