The Madagascar Plan: Hitler’s Plan To Deport European Jews – Analysis
By Matija Šerić
The attitude towards Jews or the so-called the “Jewish question” was in the center of attention of Hitler’s National Socialist party (NSDAP) and the Third Reich. Jews were always the focus of Nazi policy. More precisely, the Jews were Adolf Hitler’s obsession, on the basis of which he came to power in large part. Although his attitude towards the Jews was extremely negative, there were many ideas among the Nazi leadership on how to cleanse Germany of Jews.
Until the acceptance of the Final Solution at the Wannsee conference in early 1942, the Jewish question was mostly solved by emigration to other countries in Europe and the world. In such an emigrant policy, in fact the policy of expelling Jews, the Madagascar Plan also found its place. That plan called for the deportation of European Jews to a remote island off the east coast of Africa in the Indian Ocean. Although the Madagascar Plan seems bizarre and science-fictional today, it was considered by the international community in those years, in addition to the Third Reich.
When the Nazis came to power in early 1933, half a million Jews lived in Germany, and another 200,000 in Austria, which in March 1938 became part of the German Reich. Legalized discrimination, state-sponsored terror, and the “de-Judaization” of the German economy were designed to force Jews to emigrate. During the 1930s, for Hitler and his comrades, it was not important where the Jews went, but it was important for them to go in as large a number as possible. In those peacetime years, the National Socialists refrained from applying radical options such as mass liquidations. The main concern was how to get rid of the Jews without too much damage to the state finances. In addition, the aim was to rob the ineligible before their deportation. The Nazis were happy that foreign countries did not welcome the exiles with joy. Berlin counted on the export of anti-Semitism and anti-Jewish sentiment.
Nazi elite in charge of emigration
The task of planning migrations and confiscation of property before the departure of the Jews was not easy. Such jobs could not be performed by unprofessional average officials from the NSDAP, SA or SS, but exclusively by the party elite. Jews were dealt with by the inevitable Gestapo, but the main task was given to the SD (Sicherheitsdienst). The SD was an internal security service within the SS before it developed into an intelligence service responsible for internal (Department II) and foreign (Department III) political opponents. From 1935, Department II-112 assumed jurisdiction over Jewish activities. The department had three subdivisions: for assimilated, orthodox, and Zionist Jews.
Zionists became the specialty of the young Adolf Eichmann, a former employee of the Viennese company Vacuum Oil. Orthodox Jews were dealt with by Professor Albert Six and Dieter Wisliceny – the unemployed son of an impoverished Silesian landowner. Theo Dannecker, who at the age of 17 tried unsuccessfully to run the family laundry business, took over the sector of assimilated Jews. Practically all of them were born between 1905 and 1913. They had in common the fear of the Depression. Their careers failed because of incompetence and radical political beliefs. Their “mission” evolved from intelligence monitoring of Jewish organizations to an active role of excluding Jews from the economy and encouraging emigration. Wisliceny argued that it was necessary to “break the organizations of assimilated Jews” and “slyly encourage Zionism” in order to create conflicts and divisions within the Jewish community. They began to think globally and collect data on Jewish organizations around the world. They traveled to their associate and friend, the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, Amin al-Husseini.
The young ideological elite, Eichmann, Wisliceny, Dannecker and others, were not like the SA vandals, although one should not exaggerate when talking about their civility. They were encouraged to attend evening courses and learn Hebrew. Instead of writing insulting slogans on shop windows and walls, these young men wrote essays with the titles “How I see the solution to the Jewish question” or “A report on the Jews engaged in the cattle trade with my suggestions on how to put an end to this evil.” They are encouraged to show maximum initiative in identifying and solving problems.
The search for an overseas destination for Jews
One of the first tasks was to find an overseas destination for German Jews. It should be emphasized that the starting point was the hypothesis that the Nazi anti-Semitic propaganda failed and that important parts of the German population, especially the former left, rural Catholics, landowners and military officers preserved open sympathies for the Jews or continued to do business with them. They began to think about suitable destinations.
Jewish immigration to Palestine was encouraged, while the Foreign Office and the British government were not afraid of incurring the hostility of the Arab world. Other countries closed their borders (Brazil and South Africa in 1937, Italy in 1938) or, like the USA, had strict immigration quotas, which the number of German Jews soon reached. After considering various possibilities, SD experts concluded that Colombia, Ecuador and Venezuela are poor and weak enough to cause political problems.
Conference in Evian in 1938
The SD’s thinking about Jewish emigration ran parallel to efforts at a higher level regarding the growing international problem of Jewish refugees. On the initiative of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, in July 1938, representatives of 32 countries met at the Royal Hotel in the French town of Evian-les-Bains to solve this problem. Nervous about the Germans, the Swiss insisted that the conference be held on the French side of Lake Geneva. The delegates devoted themselves to explaining the problems in their own countries to prove that they have no place for immigrants. The Americans imposed a position on immigration quotas and British Palestine as the basis of the debate. The bluntly honest Australian delegate rejected talk of “refugees” and spoke openly of another “race”. Only the representative of the Dominican Republic offered to take over the Jews, which the regime there intended to cover up speculation with state-owned land. No one condemned the government that was responsible for the refugee problem. The only (negligible) success of the conference was the establishment of an International Committee under the chairmanship of Georg Rublee, which was supposed to find a way for half a million people to leave Germany, but in such a way that the immigration quotas in the receiving countries would not be jeopardized.
In December 1938, Hitler sent Hjalmar Schacht to London to negotiate with Rublee with the intention of achieving an initial quota of 150,000 able-bodied Jews to emigrate in the next three years, which could finance the emigration of another quarter of a million poor Jews. The entire operation was to be financed by the countries participating in the Evian conference, because Germany considered that the Jewish property valued at six billion marks was its property. 25% of that amount was to be transferred to a special fund that will be unblocked when the embargo on German exports is lifted.
Jews abroad were supposed to cover the travel and accommodation expenses of the emigrants, but in the form of loans for the purchase of German export products. Direct payment would be made by the mentioned fund. The remaining 75% of the Jewish capital will belong to the German Reich, not counting the amount needed to support the remaining German Jews. Because of such ambitious proposals and the reluctance of the member states participating in the Evian conference to accept Jewish refugees, the negotiations quickly died down. Desperate people made dangerous journeys across Siberia to war-torn Shanghai, or across the ocean in dilapidated ships to an uncertain fate in Cuba, Mexico or Palestine. The British allowed the entry of children and maids due to the lack of servants in middle-class households and at the same time cooperated with the Arabs in preventing the establishment of a Jewish nation-state in Palestine.
The origin of the Madagascar Plan
In the summer of 1940, the Second World War, which at that time was still only European, took place in Germany’s favor. The Wehrmacht overran France and the German Reich became the master of Europe. In a situation where German urban planners, doctors and economists were working to isolate Jews in ghettos and camps in Europe, the idea of Africa serving as the final destination for European Jews under German control looked attractive. At the highest level, a bizarre project was created about their deportation to Madagascar – an African island in the Indian Ocean.
The idea of deporting Jews to the French colony of Madagascar has been circulating in European anti-Semitic circles since the 1880s. In 1937, the Polish government approached the French and British governments with the idea of emigrating one million Jews to Madagascar or British South Africa. The British were not inclined to this idea, but in May Prime Minister Leon Blum and Minister of Colonies Moutet allowed a Polish mission to visit Madagascar and study the possibility of housing Polish Jews. The Polish mission included two Jews who claimed that the island was unsuitable for accommodating more than 500 families, while their Polish colleague believed that five to seven thousand could be accommodated.
In 1938, the French Foreign Minister Bonnet proposed to Ribbentrop the relocation of ten thousand Jews to the island. The following year, Chamberlain and Roosevelt considered the possibility of Mussolini settling the Jews in Ethiopia. As crazy as the idea of emigrating Jews to British Guiana, Ethiopia or Madagascar may seem today, serious statesmen dealt with it back then. The Nazis interpreted this as a general anti-Semitic consensus in the international community. In March 1938, Heydrich instructed Eichmann to examine the possibilities of a diplomatic solution to the “Jewish question in the spirit of talks between France and Poland”.
Elaboration and attempt to realize the plan
In June 1940, the SS’s plans to expel the Jews to Poland were suspended and the Madagascar solution began to be considered. On June 3, Franz Rademacher, head of the Jewish department in the Third Directorate of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, put forward a proposal: “instead of Palestine or the reserve in Lublin, why not use the French colony of Madagascar as a reserve for the Jews?” This seemed a good solution for the German authorities in Poland. In this way, they would speed up the resettlement of the non-German population and actually commit ethnic cleansing in order to obtain ethnically pure German areas in the occupied parts of Poland. The master of occupied Poland, Hans Frank, told his subordinate officials that instructions would soon be issued according to which “all Jews, including those in the General Governorate, will have to be sent to the African colonies which France will leave to Germany”. Back in May, Heinrich Himmler mentioned a similar solution when he spoke about the alien population of the eastern regions: “I want to see the term Jew disappear completely by deporting all Jews to Africa or some colony.”
The prerequisite for the realization of the plan was the neutralization of the British Navy, that is, the establishment of the German colonial empire in Central Africa. Rademacher as well as his superior leaders knew that the war had two basic purposes: “This war has two faces. One is imperialistic, thus securing the political, military and economic space needed by Germany as a world power. For a long time, it is general, and it strives to liberate the world from the chains of Judaism and freemasonry”. In his memorandum, Rademacher wrote: “Madagascar is to be occupied by the German Reich not for the purposes of colonial policy but for the purpose of resettling the Jews.” Since Palestine was rejected as a possibility (“the danger of another Rome”), the solution was found in mass deportation to some other place. The Lublin solution was to be kept for the biologically resistant and politically militant Eastern Jews who would serve as hostages against the imagined action of American Jews, and the passive Western Jews would be shipped to Madagascar.
According to the memorandum drawn up by Rademacher on July 3, 1940, the island was to be taken over by Germany as a mandated area under the administration of the SS police governor, excluding air and naval bases. It was pointed out that a military victory will soon follow, therefore the Ministry of Foreign Affairs should make the necessary diplomatic preparations. A peace treaty with France should secure the territory of Madagascar for German use, and diplomats should arrange the status of an overseas Jewish reserve under international law. 40,000 European settlers were to be accommodated, and there was no mention of the fate of the local population. Jews would be stripped of their citizenship with some limited self-government within the mandate. Jews would have their own mayors, police, postal and railway administrators. According to Rademacher, this was supposed to be a sign of German generosity: “We can use for propaganda purposes the generosity that Germany shows towards the Jews by guaranteeing them self-management in the fields of culture, economy, administration and justice. And we can emphasize that our German sense of responsibility towards the world does not allow us to immediately give independence to a race that has not had national independence for thousands of years. For that, they have yet to prove themselves to history”.
A special European bank would carry out the liquidation of Jewish assets in order to provide the SS with funds for transport and accommodation costs. Viktor Brack from the T-4 “euthanasia” program would be in charge of transportation. This created unpleasant forebodings. However, Rademacher described Madagascar as a “big ghetto” where the SS would monitor the Jews based on their rich experience, and the fate of the already imprisoned Jews was to remain a threat to American Jews. That summer of 1940, Rademacher collected data on the Jewish population in Europe and on Madagascar in general. The statistician Friedrich Burgdörfer calculated the population density on the island, but pretended to be unskilled by saying that the density would be lower than in the Reich, because large parts of Madagascar were dry, unhealthy or too hot, therefore unsuitable for normal life. The aforementioned Polish mission claimed that the island was fit for 500 to 7,000 families. A university professor of geology submitted a report that the island had no valuable mineral deposits or fossil fuels – not counting graphite – and was therefore unsuitable for European Jews. It is not at all necessary to have imagination to conclude that because of the unbearable conditions, many would die already on the way, as well as on the island itself. When Hitler recalled this abandoned plan in May 1942, he was delighted with the disastrous biological effects of the tropical climate.
Rademacher’s plan meant that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the German Reich also wanted to participate in the Final Solution of the Jewish Question. Heydrich duly reminded the intrusive Rademacher that he had been in charge of Jewish emigration since January 1939 and that he had achieved considerable success in this work. In August 1940, he sent his counter-proposals to “dear Comrade Rademacher” through Theodor Dannecker, an ambitious SD official who had been advocating for them since 1938. The counter-proposal excluded the Ministry of Foreign Affairs from the Madagascar work and consisted in the idea of moving from Europe to for the next four years, he evicted 1,500 Jews per day. Such a shrewd approach was debated on many levels. Hitler mentioned him to Mussolini. Greiser discussed this with Frank. Eichmann called Jewish representatives from Berlin, Prague and Vienna to find out their attitude. On July 1, 1940, Gerhard Mende, head of the Jewish department of the Warsaw Gestapo, reported to Adam Czerniakow, president of the Jewish Council, that “the war will be over in a month and the Jews will be sent to Madagascar.”
The Gauleiters in Baden and Saar-Palatinate were sure that this would happen very soon, because with Hitler’s approval they moved more than 6,000 German Jews to Vichy France through the province of Alsace-Lorraine. Such otherwise inexplicable evictions show that the Madagascar Project was seriously considered. Frank spoke about Madagascar at a party meeting in Cracow: “As soon as the sea routes are opened, which will allow the shipment of Jews (laughter in the audience), they will be sent, piece by piece, one by one, men, women and girls. I hope, gentlemen, that you will have no objections to that (approval in the hall). I believe we see light at the end of that tunnel.” Anti-Semitic caricatures depicted wild Eastern Jews arriving by boat in an environment of palm trees and natives, in an atmosphere reminiscent of a Gauguin painting. But the time of enjoying other people’s misfortune has passed, and the war brought uncertain times.
Failure of the plan
The Madagascar plan was unachievable because Great Britain was not defeated. The failure of the war with Britain and the risk of shipping across the Atlantic made it impractical. At the beginning of February 1941, Hitler referred to this during a meeting. When Martin Bormann reminded that the Jews should be moved overseas, Hitler proposed the use of large passenger ships owned by the Kraft durch Freude (KDF) organization headed by Robert Ley. However, the Führer was concerned about the fate of German naval crews in a sea full of British U-boats. Disregard for passengers was characteristic. As long as the Axis Powers were at war and were present in Africa, Nazi officials saw the possibility of sending the entire Jewish population of Germany and possibly Europe to overseas destinations including Madagascar.
However, as the war moved to the east, a reorientation in the territorial solution of the “Jewish question” took place in the same direction. In February 1942, the agile Rademacher admitted that the Madagascar Plan was dead because alternative options had emerged in the East. After the Wannsee Conference in January 1942, the extermination of Jews in Eastern Europe became topical, but as long as the Axis Powers were present on African territory, there was a possibility that some number of European Jews could be shipped there. If the Germans had won the war, some masses of Jews would undoubtedly have been sent to overseas territories. After approaching the Final Solution, Hitler would return to the Madagascar solution in talks with foreign politicians, but then it was just a cover for more radical measures.
The Madagascar Plan was an episode in the history of Nazi Germany and its attitude towards the Jews. Along with legal discrimination, state oppression, public shaming, robbery, terror and genocide, one of the solutions involved the expulsion of German Jews to remote overseas territories. The super attractive and imaginative idea of shipping the Jews to Madagascar has fired the imagination of European antisemites since the 1880s. In the late 1930s and early 1940s, the Madagascar idea went from science fiction to a realpolitik option. Respected statesmen of that time, such as Chamberlain, Roosevelt, Daladier, dealt with the issue of Jewish refugees and tried to find new destinations for them, although they all looked for excuses not to accept them. It is interesting how the Madagascar Plan and similar ideas, with the coming of the National Socialists to power in Germany, became current geopolitical issues from simple anti-Semitic dreams.
If the Plan had really been implemented, it would have led to a major humanitarian disaster and the death of tens of thousands of people already during the journey, and the tropical conditions on the island would have led to many additional violent deaths with features of genocide. The travel conditions and climatic conditions in Madagascar would make the job easier for the SS. Fortunately, Plan Madagascar failed due to the inability of Germany’s naval forces to defeat Great Britain in a war at sea. The Madagascar Plan should serve as a warning to today’s generations. No matter how fantastic some ideas are, they can become realistic if the political processes go in that direction.