The island of Madagascar has never been the home to a formal Jewish community. There is no synagogue, nor any formal Jewish congregation. And yet, this island off the coast of Africa, which celebrates the 53rd anniversary of its independence today, was, at one time, considered an ideal territory on which to settle the Jews of Europe. Unlike most settlement plans that were developed for Jews, however, this relocation would not have been voluntary.

The “Madagascar Plan” was officially proposed in June of 1940 by the head of the Nazis’ Jewish Department of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The idea itself seems to have originated earlier in the 1880s, as a suggestion of Paul de Lagarde, a noted Orientalist whose ideas were held in great esteem by those who disliked Jews. In fact, the idea was taken so seriously by others even before the Nazi plan that a Polish committee was sent to assess the location in 1937. Although the committee chairman reported that 60,000 Jews could be relocated there, the Jewish members of the committee felt that the island could absorb no more that a few thousand immigrants. Furthermore, local inhabitants also opposed any new settlers.

The Madagascar Plan, which was approved in August 1940, hinged on Germany’s complete conquest of France, who controlled Madagascar at that time. Unfortunately for the many Jews who were later murdered, the Battle of Britain took longer than planned, and the Nazis then turned toward the Soviet Union. The Madagascar Plan fell apart, and tens of thousands of Jews who might have been spared, were left in Europe.

*One who studies the Orient, meaning both the Near East and the Far East.

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