Madagascar: An Almost Jewish Homeland

By | Nov 02, 2011
2009 May-June, History, International

And how did the Nazis plan to ship millions of Jews halfway around the world to their police state? By forcing a defeated Britain to loan out the Royal Navy for transport, of course. Once interned on the island far from Western eyes, the Nazis would be free to do as they pleased with their Jewish prisoners. University of Toronto historian Eric Jennings has called the Madagascar Plan the “penultimate solution.” Until the winter of 1941-42, at least some in the Nazi hierarchy seriously pursued it. But no Jews ever arrived. The British invasion of the island in 1942, code-named Operation Ironclad, rendered the scheme permanently unworkable. The linchpin of the assault was the capture of Madagascar’s northernmost city, the deep water port and fabled pirate stronghold of Diego Suarez.

I think of Shlomo Dyk as we jolt and bounce through the terraced fields of the central plateau. As an agronomist, he believed this region could support colonists, though he and Alter both expected the indigenous peoples’ opposition would be “greater even than that of the Arabs against the Jews in Palestine.” But Solofo, my lively companion, insists that there have long been Jews in Madagascar, claiming that the “light skinned” residents of Fianarantsoa, the island’s intellectual capital, are their descendants. I smile at the bookish stereotype. But eager to find any trace of this mythical Jewish ancestry, we head south toward the famed university town.

Along the way, we stop in Ranomafana National Park, a lemur sanctuary. There I meet Théodore, who once ran barefoot through the rainforest to hunt the animals he now protects. He guides me over the muddy terrain and through the twisting lianas in his boots and hand-me-down hiking gear. We reach a lookout over the canopy just as the sky clears, and in the emerging sun he takes off his coat to reveal a Star of David on a length of leather tied around his neck. “A woman from Israel gave it to me,” he explains. “She taught me I should say shalom.” He’s never heard of the plan to settle tens of thousands of Jews in his country but sounds intrigued. “Malagasy love peace,” he tells me, “so it would be okay.” I tell him he’s the namesake of Israel’s forefather, Theodor Herzl. He grins and says, “I hope he sends me more tourists.”

When we arrive ?at Fianarantsoa, whose name means “place of good learning,” I am on the lookout for any signs of a Jewish connection but find nothing. While the locals in Fianarantsoa are proud of their scholarly reputation, they don’t associate their ancestry with Jews. Pork isn’t commonly eaten here, I’m told, but then the fruit bat I spy on my dinner menu isn’t exactly kosher. One evening, high above the city, I watch the sun drop behind a ridge on the horizon and imagine that my alma mater, Hebrew University, wouldn’t look out of place in this city of hills. But south of the equator the constellations are all different, and I am disoriented. Ragged child beggars sleeping in strips of rice sacks and cardboard in the filthy streets shock me back into my surroundings.

I am eager to leave here and fly north to my next destination, the battlefield of Diego Suarez, the town where the Madagascar Plan met its end. It’s humid outside of Diego’s Arrachart airport. The concrete portal still bears the French Air Force insignia, and just beyond the terminal, the rusted ribs of a World War II-era hangar rise over rows of palm trees. Squatters have strung their laundry up beneath the hangar’s skeletal shell. Another one of the country’s battered Renaults picks me up. In this one, I can literally see the pavement through a rusted spot worn through the car’s floor. The taxi driver whisks me past women dressed in cheerful printed fabrics selling fresh, sticky vanilla beans at ramshackle stands along the main road. The air smells like ice cream.

At night, the broad boulevards are dark and crowded with people enjoying the evening breezes sweeping in from the sea. The Southern Cross hangs overhead and the whole sleepy throng drifts down to the port to watch ships blink along the bay’s horizon. It was here that in 1942, Royal Navy vessels cruised into the same channel, taking the French by surprise in the early morning hours and dealing Vichy France a strategic blow.

7 thoughts on “Madagascar: An Almost Jewish Homeland

  1. Rainer Kunze says:

    An interesting feature. I was wrong when I thought the idea of Madagascar as a homeland for Jews was created by the allies after the war but (this also I thought) was dismissed by Churchill who wanted to give the Arabs a pain in the ass by settling Israel on Palestine ground . Now I learned that Nazi Germany invented this idea.

    1. errata says:

      >>Early Zionists debated a host of proposals to settle Jews in remote regions of the world, and one of them was Madagascar.<<

      What do you mean, "Now I learned that Nazi Germany invented this idea."?

      What in the article speaks of Nazi Germany inventing the idea?

      The article clearly states that it was an early idea by Zionists, obviously relative to the Jews who had been settling into areas of South Africa already, etc.

      Just because the Nazi's had a proposal to resettle Jews into this area of the world also doesn't mean it was a Nazi Germany idea any more than they, the Nazi's, invented the word Aryan and the swastika!

      Many many peculiar liaisons were formed before, during and after the "Nazi" regime became evident with their similar separation of Jew and Gentile, and eugenics, which is today found in mainly one nation.


      The "Jewish solution", wasn't just a Nazi ideal, it's an Ashkenazi//Zionist ideal that has never died, to which most of the Western world supports fully and rejoices as the bed becomes too small, the head has not place to rest, and the feet dangle!

      1. tez says:

        Well said

  2. Yakov Zamir says:

    Thank you Adam for learning and then sharing this story. I am marrying a woman from Madagascar and it means a lot to know that her homeland might have become the homeland for our people.

  3. Yitzhak says:

    Interesting. This affirmation of jews origins is quite popular in Madagascar though. However there is not enough proof to confirm it. As from Madagascar I would say may be jews were there long days ago. But left for an X reason.

  4. Fascinating stuff!

    We’re really looking forward to your complete book!

    While many of the earlier plans are no longer possible, hopefully their stories can provide some insight and guidance for our new initiative to create a New Jewish State, now, in a more peaceful part of the world.

  5. Feigue Cieplinski says:

    NO, the idea originated with the Polish government and then after a three person commission surveyed the issue , that was shelved. It is my understanding that once the Nazis took this over it was not the same benign project for sure.

    NO the idea was not of the Zionists, the had in mind Uganda, that was shelved too. The only place that is home is Israel the Zionist said then and so it happened. It was the Territorialist in desperation that they would have accepted any where no matter what including the Patagonia.

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