The Nazi Plan to Move Jews to Madagascar

Map of Madagascar

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Before the Nazis decided to murder European Jewry in gas chambers, they considered the "Madagascar Plan," a scheme to move 4 million Jewish people from Europe to the island of Madagascar.

Whose Idea Was It?

Like almost all Nazi plans, someone else came up with the idea first. As early as 1885, Paul de Lagarde suggested deporting Eastern European Jews to Madagascar. In 1926 and 1927, Poland and Japan each investigated the possibility of using Madagascar for solving their overpopulation problems.

It wasn't until 1931 that a German publicist wrote, "The entire Jewish nation sooner or later must be confined to an island. This would afford the possibility of control and minimize the danger of infection." Yet the idea of sending Jewish people to Madagascar was still not a Nazi plan. Poland was next to seriously consider the idea, and they even sent a commission to Madagascar in 1937 to investigate.

The Commission

Members of the commission to determine the feasibility of forcing Jews to emigrate to Madagascar had very different conclusions. The leader of the commission, Major Mieczysław Lepecki, believed that it would be possible to settle 40,000 to 60,000 people in Madagascar. Two Jewish members of the commission didn't agree with this assessment. Leon Alter, the director of the Jewish Emigration Association (JEAS) in Warsaw, believed only 2,000 people could be settled there. Shlomo Dyk, an agricultural engineer from Tel Aviv, estimated even fewer.

Even though the Polish government thought Lepecki's estimate was too high, and even though the local population of Madagascar demonstrated against an influx of immigrants, Poland continued its discussions with Madagascar's colonial ruler, France, over the issue. It wasn't until 1938, a year after the Polish commission, that the Nazis began to suggest the Madagascar Plan.

Nazi Preparations

In 1938 and 1939, Nazi Germany tried to use the Madagascar Plan for financial and foreign policy arrangements. On Nov. 12, 1938, Hermann Goering told the German Cabinet that Adolf Hitler was going to suggest to the West the emigration of Jews to Madagascar. During discussions in London, Reichsbank president Hjalmar Schacht tried to procure an international loan to send the Jews to Madagascar. Germany would make a profit since the Jews would only be allowed to take their money out in German goods.

In December 1939, German foreign minister Joachim von Ribbentrop even included the emigration of Jews to Madagascar as part of a peace proposal to the Pope. Since Madagascar was still a French colony during these discussions, Germany had no way to enact their proposals without France's approval. The beginning of World War II ended these discussions, but after France's defeat in 1940, Germany no longer needed to coordinate with the West about their plan.

Initial Stages

In May 1940, Heinrich Himmler advocated sending the Jews to Madagascar:

However cruel and tragic each individual case may be, this method is still the mildest and best, if one rejects the Bolshevik method of physical extermination of a people out of inner conviction as un-German and impossible.

Does this mean Himmler believed the Madagascar Plan to be a better alternative to extermination or that the Nazis were already starting to think of extermination as a possible solution? Himmler discussed his proposal with Hitler of sending the Jews "to a colony in Africa or elsewhere" and Hitler responded that the plan was "very good and correct."

When news of this new solution to the "Jewish question" spread, Hans Frank, governor-general of occupied Poland, was elated. At a large party meeting in Krakow, Frank told the audience,

As soon as sea communications permit the shipment of the Jews [laughter in the audience], they shall be shipped, piece by piece, man by man, woman by woman, girl by girl. I hope, gentlemen, you will not complain on that account [merriment in the hall].

Yet the Nazis still had no specific plan for Madagascar. Thus, Ribbentrop ordered Franz Rademacher to create one.

The Madagascar Plan

Rademacher's plan was set down in "The Jewish Question in the Peace Treaty" memorandum on July 3, 1940:

  • The French would give Madagascar to Germany
  • Germany would be given the right to install military bases on Madagascar
  • The 25,000 Europeans (mostly French) living on Madagascar would be removed
  • Jewish emigration was to be forced, not voluntary
  • Jews on Madagascar would operate most local governmental functions, but would answer to a German police governor
  • The entire emigration and colonization of Madagascar would be paid by Jewish possessions confiscated by the Nazis

Change of Plan

Was the Madagascar Plan a real plan whose effects were not fully considered, or was it an alternate way of killing the Jews of Europe? It sounds similar to, if larger than, the setup of the ghettos in Eastern Europe. Yet, an underlying and hidden issue is that the Nazis were planning to ship 4 million Jews—the number did not include Russian Jews—to a location deemed ill-prepared for even 40,000 to 60,000 people (as determined by the Polish commission sent to Madagascar in 1937)!

The Nazis had expected a quick end to the war, which would allow them to transfer the Jews to Madagascar. Because the Battle of Britain lasted much longer than planned, and with Hitler's decision in the fall of 1940 to invade the Soviet Union, the Madagascar Plan became infeasible. Thus, alternate, more drastic, and more horrific solutions were proposed to eliminate the Jews of Europe. Within a year, the killing process had begun.

Resources and Further Reading

  • Browning, Christopher. “Madagascar Plan.” Encyclopedia of the Holocaust, edited by Yisrael Gutman, Macmillan, 1990, pp. 936.
  • Friedman, Philip. “The Lublin Reservation and the Madagascar Plan: Two Aspects of Nazi Jewish Policy During the Second World War.” Roads to Extinction: Essays on the Holocaust, edited by Ada June Friedman, Jewish Publication Society, 1980, pp. 34-58.
  • "Madagascar Plan." Encyclopedia Judaica. Macmillan, 1972.