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The Nazi Plan to Relocate Jews to Madagascar, One of World War II's Forgotten ‘What Ifs’

Soldiers on the beach of Madagascar - via Blog My asa with permission

Soldiers on the beach of Madagascar – via Blog My asa with permission

History is filled with ‘what ifs’. Writers and historians alike are keen on imagining alternate scenarios had one event turned out differently. For instance, what if the Axis powers had won World War II (as imagined by American writer Philip K. Dick)? What if Napoleon had successfully invaded Russia in 1811? And what if US President John F. Kennedy had survived his 1963 assassination?

One of those lesser-known ‘what ifs’ is the Madagascar Plan, which nearly came to fruition during World War II. The Madagascar Plan was a suggested policy by the Nazi government of Germany to relocate the Jewish population of Europe to the island of Madagascar at the height of the war. The idea, put forth by Franz Rademacher, head of the Jewish Department of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, was to hand over Madagascar, then a French colony, to Germany as part of the French surrender terms. The project was approved by Adolf Hitler and on 15 August 1940, he ordered Adolf Eichmann to start the resettlement of a million Jews per year for four years to Madagascar as a police state under the SS. The project was eventually shelved as the Nazis opted for the systematic genocide of the Jewish population instead.

Magnus Brechtken, a German associate professor at the University of Nottingham who specializes in the study of this aspect of World War II, explained in further detail in the following video (in English) what the Madagascar Plan entailed:

One of the reasons why the Madagascar Plan was abandoned is linked to the fact that Germany failed to defeat Britain and take control of the Navy fleet, a necessary step in order to implement the logistics of the deportation. The project was still being considered by Hitler until 1942, when British forces eventually wrestled control of Madagascar away from Vichy France, putting a definite end to the plan.

The Malagasy blog My Asa Mada retrieved a collection of historical archives that depict battles that occurred between British forces and Vichy France in Madagascar in 1942. Here are some of the photographs and videos from that period from their blog post:

RAF in Madagascar via My asa blog with permission

RAF in Madagascar via My asa blog with permission

The following video shows the British Navy fleet arriving in Madagascar accompanied by the Free French Forces:

On the day after Holocaust Memorial Day in the United Kingdom (27 January), Malagasy people took to the Web to ponder the implications of the question, “What if the Madagascar Plan had come to pass?”

Tomavana, a Malagasy blogger based in Geneva, Switzerland, wrote that alternate history has too many variables to project with pertinence:

Bien que l'idée 1) d'épargner plusieurs milliers de vies me soit séduisante, j'avoue manquer d'imagination pour imaginer un monde meilleur avec seulement des “si”.  Jour après jour, mon action est plutôt dictée par le désir de léguer à nos descendants un monde moins pire que celui que nous avons reçu de nos parents … et inutile de dire que ce n'est pas aussi aisé

Although the idea 1) of potentially saving thousands of lives is evidently appealing to me, I confess that I lack the imagination to foresee a better world based on ‘what if’. What I try to do day after day is to conduct myself in a way that means I can hopefully leave future generations a world less worse than the one we received from our parents … and needless to say, it is not an easy task these days.

Randiana, a Malagasy citizen in France, wonders whether the situation in Madagascar would be similar to the situation in Palestine today had the Madagascar Plan been implemented:

Given the conflict in the occupied territories in Palestine today, the most pessimistic voices during the implementation of the Balfour Plan (the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people) have now been overtaken by the harsh reality. Imagination, at that time, wasn't gloomy enough to predict the human tragedy of modern Middle East. (As for Madagascar), the Colonial period had left too many wounds, and some of them were still wide open long after liberation. A nation, after all, reacts to difference like an individual. You can only accept the other if you are at peace with yourself. Anyway, the Madagascar Plan had the same evil roots as the Ghetto and the Final solution plan: a racial pyramid, glorifying the Aryen race, where Africans, of which Malagasy, Tziganes were not even considered as humans.

We will never know what would have happened had Germany implemented the Madagascar Plan. But what we know is that Madagascar was central to many decisions taken during the WWII, yet the fate of its people did not seem to be taken into account in most of the decisions that were made then.

  • Let us leave aside for a moment the good or evil of the plan, and just explore two aspects of the logistics.
    1. Moving a million people a year requires a tremendous amount of resources. Even if the Germans got the entire British merchant fleet, they would have to staff, fuel, and maintain it. When they conquered France, they did not get the entire French fleet, naval or merchant. They wold have had to operate the canal.
    2. I have only been to the northern tip of Madagascar, but my impression is that the island would not be able to support an infusion of three million people without a significant commitment of resources. The genocide that took place in Europe required just that as well – a significant commitment of resources. Hitler could have freed up both material resources and elite fighting units if there had never been a concentration camp system.

    Just my two cents. Like a true amateur, Hitler left the logistics to the professionals, leaving himself free to screw up the things he cared about.

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