Location of Madagascar in relation to Africa
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The Madagascar Plan was a proposal of the Nazi government of Germany 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 Nazi government, proposed the idea in June 1940, shortly before France's defeat in the Battle of France. The proposal called for the handing over 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 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. The plan was postponed after the Germans failed to defeat the British in the Battle of Britain later in 1940 and was permanently shelved in 1942 with the commencement of the extermination of European Jewry.
In the late 1800s and early 1900s there were a number of resettlement plans for European Jews that were precursors to the Madagascar Plan. Paul de Lagarde, an Orientalist scholar, first suggested evacuating the European Jews to Madagascar in 1885. Members of the Zionist movement in 1904–1905 seriously debated the British Uganda Programme, by which Russian Jews, who were in immediate danger from ongoing pogroms, would be settled in what today is Kenya. The plan was later rejected as unworkable by the Zionist Congress. Adherents of territorialism split off from the main Zionist movement and continued to search for a location where Jews might settle and create a state, or at least an autonomous area. The idea of Jewish resettlement was taken up in the 1920s by British antisemites Henry Hamilton Beamish, Arnold Leese, and others. With the cooperation of the French, the Polish government commissioned a task force in 1937 to examine the possibility of deporting Polish Jews to the island. The head of the commission, Mieczyslaw Lepecki, felt the island could accommodate 5,000 to 7,000 families, but Jewish members of the group estimated that only 500 or even fewer families could safely be accommodated.
In Nazi Germany
Racism and antisemitism were basic tenets of the Nazi Party and the Nazi government. Discrimination and violent attacks against Jews began immediately after the seizure of power in 1933. Violence and economic pressure were used by the Nazis to encourage Jews to voluntarily leave the country. By 1939 around 250,000 of Germany's 437,000 Jews emigrated to the United States, Argentina, the United Kingdom, Palestine, and other countries.
The Nazi leadership seized on the idea of deporting the remaining German Jews overseas. Barren unproductive lands were viewed as appropriate destinations as this would prevent the deportees from flourishing in their new location. In his May 1940 memorandum to Hitler Concerning the Treatment of the Alien Population in the East, Reichsführer-SS Heinrich Himmler declared that he hoped to see "the term 'Jew' [...] completely eliminated through the massive immigration of all Jews to Africa or some other colony".
Although some initial discussion took place in 1938 among Nazi ideologues such as Julius Streicher, Hermann Göring, Alfred Rosenberg, and Joachim von Ribbentrop, it was not until 1940 that planning formally began. 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, a memorandum on the fate of the Jews. "The desirable solution is: all Jews out of Europe," said Rademacher. He 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".
On receiving the memorandum, Luther broached the subject with Foreign Minister Ribbentrop, who was simultaneously developing a similar scheme. By 18 June, Hitler and Ribbentrop spoke of the Plan with Italian leader Benito Mussolini as a possibility that could be pursued after the defeat of France.
Once he learned of the plan, SS-Obergruppenführer Reinhard Heydrich, chief of the Reich Main Security Office (RSHA), insisted that Ribbentrop relinquish any future responsibility for the Plan to that office. As Heydrich had been appointed by Göring in January 1939 to oversee Jewish evacuation from German-occupied territory, the Jewish question was hence under his purview. Adolf Eichmann, head of the RSHA Sub-Department IV-B4, which dealt with Jewish affairs and evacuation, soon became involved. On 15 August, he released a memorandum titled Reichssicherheitshauptamt: Madagaskar Projekt (Reich Main Security Office: Madagascar Project), calling for the resettlement of a million Jews per year for four years and abandoning the idea of retaining any Jews in Europe. The RSHA, he emphasised, would control all aspects of the program. While Rademacher called for the colony to be under German control but self-governing under Jewish administration, Eichmann made it plain that he intended for the SS to control and oversee every aspect of life on the island, which they would govern as a police state.
Most Nazi officials, especially Hans Frank, governor of the General Government (the occupied portion of Poland), viewed the forced resettlement to Madagascar as being preferable to the heretofore piecemeal efforts at deportation into Poland. As of 10 July, deportations into Poland were cancelled and construction of the Warsaw ghetto was halted, since it appeared to be unnecessary.
Rademacher envisioned the founding of a European bank that would ultimately liquidate all European Jewish assets to pay for the plan. This bank would then play an intermediary role between Madagascar and the rest of the world, as Jews would not be allowed to interact financially with outsiders. Göring's office of the Four Year Plan would oversee the administration of the plan's economics.
Additionally, Rademacher foresaw roles for other government agencies. Ribbentrop's Foreign Affairs Ministry would negotiate terms with the French for the handover of Madagascar to Germany. It would also play a part in crafting other treaties to deal with Europe's Jews. Its Information Department, along with Joseph Goebbels and his Ministry of Public Enlightenment and Propaganda, would control the flow of information at home and abroad. Viktor Brack, a division chief in the Chancellery of the Führer, would oversee transportation. The SS would undertake the expulsion of the Jews from Europe and govern the island as a police state. The Nazis expected that after the invasion of the United Kingdom in Operation Sea Lion that they would commandeer the British merchant fleet to transport the Jews to Madagascar. Many deportees were expected to perish in the harsh conditions or die at the hands of the SS.
After Germany's failure to defeat the Royal Air Force in the Battle of Britain in 1940, the invasion of Britain was postponed indefinitely. This meant the British merchant fleet would not be at Germany's disposal for use in evacuations, and planning for the Madagascar proposal stalled. In late August 1940 Rademacher entreated Ribbentrop to hold a meeting at his ministry to begin drawing up a panel of experts to consolidate the plan. Ribbentrop never responded. Likewise, Eichmann's memorandum languished with Heydrich, who never approved it. Establishment of ghettos in Warsaw and other cities in Poland resumed in August 1940. Hitler continued to mention the plan until February 1942, when the idea was permanently shelved. British Empire forces took the island from Vichy France in the Battle of Madagascar in November 1942 and control was transferred to the Free French.
At the end of 1940, Hitler asked Himmler to draft a new plan for the elimination of the Jews of Europe, and Himmler passed along the task to Heydrich. His draft proposed the deportation of the Jews to the Soviet Union via Poland. The later Generalplan Ost (General Plan for the East), prepared by Professor Konrad Meyer and others, called for deporting the entire population of occupied Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union to Siberia, either for use as slave labour or to be murdered after the Soviet defeat. After the German failure in the Battle of Moscow in December 1941, Hitler resolved that the Jews of Europe were to be exterminated immediately rather than after the war, which now had no end in sight. Since transporting masses of people into a combat zone would be impossible, Heydrich decided that the Jews would be killed in extermination camps set up in occupied areas of Poland. The total number of Jews murdered during the resulting Holocaust is estimated at 5.5 to 6 million people.
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- Video overview of the Madagascar Plan on YouTube by the German historian Magnus Brechtken (de)
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