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THE

INCREDIBLE

STORY OF THE JEWISH PEOPLE


THE

INCREDIBLE

STORY OF THE JEWISH PEOPLE



THE MADAGASKAR PLAN

This is the Author’s Note to ‘The Madagaskar Plan’ by Guy Saville

_____________________________
















The Madagaskar Plan is a work of fiction with a basis in histor­ical fact. This history, and its interpretation, remains contentious and pivots on whether the Nazis were always determined to exter­minate the Jews or if merely expelling them from Europe would have sufficed. It is beyond the scope of this note to examine all the controversies and contradictions raised by the ‘Madagaskar Projekt’. Nevertheless, I want to show that it was discussed at the highest levels, that multiple branches of government took the possibility seriously, and that given certain deviations from real history, it could have come to pass.

Although the Nazis’ plans for the Jews were never benign they may not have always been genocidal. In the early stages of the war a policy of expulsion and ghettoisation was pursued. The Lublin Reservation was established in October 1939 on the eastern fringes of the Reich in conquered Poland. It was hoped that the entire Jewish population would eventually be deported there; transports began at once. Those who arrived found harsh condi­tions but no systematic killing. Lublin was run by an ambitious police chief and protege of Himmler’s: Odilo Globocnik. However, a lack of planning combined with a typhus epidemic and squabbling between different elements of the SS caused the project to collapse. There were also fears that Lublin was not a remote enough location in which to ‘quarantine’ the Jews.

On 25 May 1940, Himmler formally suggested a more ambi­tious scheme (as the first epigraph of this novel shows): to deport the Jews to an African colony. Given previous statements he had made, he can only have-meant Madagascar. The date is also significant: the eve of Dunkirk and less than a month before the French surrendered. The defeat of France would put its colony of Madagascar at Germany’s disposal.

Hitler responded by stating that Himmler’s idea was ‘sehr gut und richtig'— very good and correct — and he should put it into action at once.1

The concept of exiling the Jews to Madagascar dates to the eighteenth century, though the first treatise on the subject wasn’t written until 1883 by Paul de Lagarde, professor of philology at Gottingen University. De Lagarde’s work was later taken up by The Britons, an organisation dedicated to spreading anti-Semitic propaganda throughout Europe. It was headed by Henry Hamilton Beamish, who met Hitler in 1923 to discuss the Madagascar Plan (the first occasion we know for certain Hitler became aware of it). As the notion of banishing the Jews to the Indian Ocean became more widely known, various governments - including the British and French - considered it as a panacea for their Jewish populations. The Plan found its most enthusiastic reception in Poland which twice debated it (in 1926 and 1938) and on the second occasion sent a delegation to Madagascar to draw up a feasibility study. The Lepecki Commission (two members of which were Jewish) reported challenging living conditions for whites and endemic malaria, and concluded that a maximum of seven thousand families could be sent there. SS officials used this material when they began drawing up their own plans.

Why Madagascar? Over the decades other remote possibil­ities were suggested, from British Guiana (Prime Minister Chamberlain’s preference) to Ethiopia (President Roosevelt’s), as well as Brazil and Angola. It was to Madagascar, however, that anti-Semites’ imagination continually returned. The island’s insular location obviously appealed but much was also made of biblically inspired theories that Madagascar had been settled by Jews centuries before and that its inhabitants, the Malagasy, were their descendants. Spurious evidence included widespread circumcision among the Malagasy and their observance of the Sabbath.

After Hitler approved Himmler’s plan in May 1940, he discovered the subject with Mussolini, remarking that ‘an Israelite reserve could be created on Madagascar’ (18 June); and reviewed the logistical feasibility with the head of the German navy, Admiral Erich Raeder (20 June).

Feverish planning to create a Grossgetto(super-ghetto) in Madagascar gripped the Nazis in the summer of 1940. An initial proposal was completed on 3 July by Franz Rademacher of the Foreign Office, its purpose made explicit in the first paragraph: 'to get Jews out of Europe’. It should be noted that this was not the first time the Plan appeared in official Nazi documents. The first ever mention is as early as 24 May 1934 in a memorandum to Heydrich. Six years later Heydrich insisted the SS play a leading role m Rademacher’s scheme and assigned Adolf Eichmann and Theo Dannecker to the task. All the discussion was of a 'territorial fund solution’ (my italics). The finished text of the ‘Madagaskar Projeckt' was delivered on 15 August 1940 and circulated by Heydrich at ministerial level. This is the most detailed account we have of how the Nazis intended to run the island, its stated aim:

... to relocate approximately 4,000,000 Jews to Madagascar. In order to avoid lasting contact between the Jews and other peoples, an overseas solution of an insular nature is to be preferred to any other alternative.

To transport this number of people a fleet of 120 ships would have to be procured, each ship with a capacity of fifteen hundred ‘units’, two ships to leave daily. With a return journey time of sixty days, the document notes, ‘this would equate to a total of around one million Jews per year’. This exodus was expected to take four years. Jews were to be sent in waves with the first transports consisting of ‘farmers, construction experts and crafts­men’. It would be financed by the compulsory acquisition and sale of all Jewish property and assets.

The island itself would be divided into sectors by country of origin. Jews would be put to work on a ‘large scale programme to expand the transport network’ building new roads and railways; rivers would be redirected. The WVHA, the SS economic depart­ment, wanted to take over existing French businesses using Jewish labour, especially the cash crops of ‘coffee, tea, cloves, vanilla, perfume and medicinal plants’. Madagascar was (and still is) the largest producer of vanilla in the world, something the SS expected to continue profiting from. The Plan also mentions the establish­ment of a meat export industry.

A council of Jewish elders would help run the regional sectors, a system Heydrich had used in occupied Europe; the council would be subservient to the SS. Jews would also be allowed their own internal postal, health and police services. As Madagascar would be a German mandate, and because Jews were barred from German citizenship, they would hold no nationality. Categorically, Madagascar would never be allowed to become a state. The island would be placed under the direct control of an SS police governor. Although not mentioned in the 15 August plan, documents else­where name Philipp Bouhler (chief of the Chancellery in Hitler’s personal office and an old comrade of the Fiihrer’s) as the first candidate for the job.

Two further points are worth noting from Rademacher’s initial proposal: 1) ‘Diego Suarez ... which [is] strategically important will become a German naval base’ 2) ‘the Jews will remain in German hands as a pledge for the future good behaviour of the members of their race in America.’

Was any of this credible? The issue divides historians. Some - Philip Friedman and Magnus Brechtken, for example - are dismissive of the Plan, believing it to be a fantasy, a smokescreen to mask the true intentions of the Nazis. Others, such as Hans Jensen and Christopher Browning, insist it must be taken serious­ly. There is plenty of evidence to suggest that many people at the time accepted the Plan as a viable proposition.

Aside from the involvement of Hitler, Himmler and Heydrich, as well as Goring and other key figures not mentioned in this note, a huge amount of bureaucratic energy was expended on the Plan in the summer of 1940. As early as July, Hans Frank, govern­or of the General Government (the Nazis’ name for occupied Poland) was informed about Madagascar. He was sufficiently convinced by the sincerity of the Plan to halt the construction of the ghetto in Krakow, deeming it no longer necessary because the Jews were going to be sent to Africa. A similar decision was reached in Warsaw. The same month the Polish Jews themselves were informed that shortly ‘they would all leave for Madagascar’. In October, French Jews were readied for their journey below the equator. For those who question the sheer logistical difficulties of shipping four million people to Madagascar it should be noted, as historian Mark Mazower does, that the years 1939-45 saw the largest experiment in socio-ethnic engineering in history with millions of Jews, Poles and ethnic Germans moved around Europe like pieces on a chessboard. Given this massive upheaval, and the fanaticism of the SS, it is not impossible to imagine something similar happening - but by boat rather than rail.

The American Jewish Committee also considered the Plan in earnest, issuing a detailed report in August 1941 stating that it would be a catastrophe: ‘no pogrom in history would equal. . . the indiscriminate dumping of millions of helpless people into a primitive, hostile environment.’ This is perhaps the clinching piece of evidence for the Plan’s credibility. Even though the Nazis were still pursuing an expulsion policy in the summer of 1940 they had no interest in the Jews’ long-term survival. The unfortu­nates arriving in Madagascar would be exposed to an unforgiving tropical wilderness, disease and starvation. Many would have perished - but through a passive process. This would have suited the Nazis with their doublethink mentality: they could deny direct responsibility. Indeed Rademacher went further, saying that ‘use can be made for propaganda purposes of the generosity shown by Germany in permitting [Madagascar] to the Jews’.

History, however, tells that the Madagascar Plan was never implemented. It relied on a turn of events that didn’t happen: a settlement with the British. To move such huge numbers of Jews, the Nazis would need the shipping lanes of the Mediterranean, Red Sea and Indian Ocean open to German vessels. After the fall of France, it was assumed that either Britain would be defeated or peace negotiated. This was a prerequisite for shipping the Jews from Europe to Africa.

I have written elsewhere of how an accommodation between the British Empire and Third Reich could have come about. Assuming it did, what fate awaited the Jews of Britain? Eichmann identified 330,000 for transportation. We can never know what might have occurred but anti-Semitism was widespread in all sections of society and there were some ominous signs at govern­mental level. The possibility of deporting the country’s Jews to Madagascar was raised in Parliament in April 1938. A month later Lord Halifax, the Foreign Secretary, addressed the issue with his French counterpart, who was at the time engaged with his own version of the Plan. In November, Chamberlain and Hitler conferred on the subject through a South African intermediary. Elsewhere Britain’s record was unpromising.  When Jews were fleeing persecution in Germany in the 1930s, Britain refused 90 per cent of these refugees.  The other alternative - sending them to Palestine - had little support for fear of stoking Arab nationalism and destabilising the empire. Anthony Eden (Churchill’s Foreign Secretary 1940-45, and later Prime Minister) was described as being ‘immovable on the subject of Palestine - he loves Arabs and hates Jews’.’ It should be remembered that both the Balfour Declaration and Peel Commission came to nothing. The Vatican was also opposed to sending Jews to Palestine.

In Berlin, in the autumn of 1940, an SS unit consisting of ‘suit­ably qualified technical experts’ was made ready to travel to Madagascar to ascertain, among other things, landing sites, the scope for camp construction and ‘total absorption capacity’ of the island. It never left. When peace with the British didn’t come, the Plan stalled. In the months after, minds in Berlin were diverted by the looming invasion of Russia.

This corresponds with the conclusion Hans Jensen draws in his study of the subject: if Hitler won the war it would mean exile to Madagascar for the Jews. If he lost, extermination. In the parlance of alternative history this is a ‘point of divergence’. To state my own view, I suspect that if the Nazis had succeeded in conquering western Europe in 1940, including a settlement (of whatever kind) with Britain, a serious and determined attempt to ship the continent’s Jews en masse to the Indian Ocean would have been undertaken, even if the project was never fully realised.

Intermittent discussion of the Madagascar Plan continued through 1940 and 1941. It was officially abandoned on 10 February 1942 when Rademacher received the order ending the programme from Hitler. Several weeks earlier, at the Wannsee Conference, Heydrich had put in motion a more murderous fate for the Jews.

Many other elements in this novel are also based on fact.

Hitler intended to rebuild Berlin on an imperial scale after the war and name his capital ‘Germania’. The first phase of construc­tion, including the Great Hall, was due for completion by January 1950.

The Nazis had extensive plans for Africa, wanting to reacquire the colonies they lost after the Versailles Treaty and conquer a swathe of new territory stretching from the Sahara to the Indian Ocean. For a fuller discussion of this subject see my ‘Author’s Note’ in The Afrika Reich.

Germany led the world in atomic research during the 1920s and ’30s. However, the purging of Jewish scientists from universities combined with Hitler’s suspicion of what he described as ‘Jewish physics’ curtailed the Nazi programme to develop a weapon. The uranium for the bombs dropped on Japan at the end of World War II came from the Shinkolobwe mine in the Congo that Hochburg visits.

Kraft durch Freude (KdF), the Nazis’ leisure organisation, became the largest tour operator in the world." By 1937, it was organising vacations for 1.4 million people; its cruise liners took Germans to destinations as varied as the Norwegian fjords and the oases of Libya. In Prora, on Germany’s Baltic coast, the KdF built the biggest hotel in the world: a prototype for things to come. Its ruins can still be seen and are as gargantuan as the novel suggests, taking a good hour to walk from one end to the other; they are well worth a visit. After the war, the KdF intended to expand its network of hotels to the Crimea (‘our Riviera’ as Hitler described it), Sweden, Argentina and Africa.

If Germany had defeated the Soviet Union it is likely a protracted guerrilla conflict would have continued east of the Ural Mountains. Hitler was ‘delighted by the prospect’, believing it would be the proving ground for a generation of Nazi youths. The discussion of the Madagascar Plan above refers only to the Jews of western Europe. The Nazis differentiated between them and the ‘Ostjuden’ - eastern/Soviet Jews - whom they deemed inferior and more dangerous. The plan was to force the Ostjuden on death marches across Siberia to exile in Birobidzhan in the far east of Russia. Birobidzhan had been created by Stalin in the 1930s as a Jewish enclave; Hitler planned to make it his eastern dumping ground. It is difficult to imagine the extremes of Birobidzhan: monsoons in the summer, -30 °C in the winter. A community of four thousand Jews lives there today.

The Nazis’ repugnant medical experiments on Jews are docu­mented elsewhere. Of relevance to this book is their obsession with twins. Between 1943 and 1944, for example, fifteen hundred pairs, including young children, were experimented on in Auschwitz - mostly with fatal results.

Globocnik was involved with building projects on a scale comparable to the ones I’ve imagined in Madagaskar. In 1940, he oversaw the construction of a ‘Jew ditch’ at Belzec, Poland. Intended as a defence against Soviet attack, it was to be 50 metres wide and 525 kilometres long (though only thirteen kilometres were ever completed). He wanted two and a half million Jews to work on it, moving the earth by hand, though in a memo Heydrich limited him to ‘a couple of hundred thousand’.

In 1948, a team from Electricite de France went to Madagascar to survey the island’s waterways for hydroelectric development. One of the key rivers they identified was the Sofia near Mandritsara, though concerns were raised about silting. To date, no dam has been built.

Notes

1.  For a detailed explanation of ‘why Madagascar?’ see Eric T. Jennings', essay ‘Writing Madagascar back into the Madagascar Plan’ (Holocaust ami Genocide Studies 21, no. 2, Fall 2007)

 2. The Plan has little to say about the 24,000 French colonists living on the island, other than they would be ‘resettled and compensated’, and nothing on the 3.6 million native Malagasy

3.  Hans Jensen’s Der Madagaskar Plan (Herbig, Munich, 1997) is a comprehensive, book-length study of the Plan and was indispensable in the writing of this novel. Unfortunately it is not available in English. Christopher R. Browning’s The Origins of the Pinal Solution (Heinemann, London, 2004) was another helpful text. Browning is especially interesting on how the Nazis evolved from a policy of expelling Jews to mass murder during the years 1939-42

4.  From a diary entry by Adam Czerniakow, head of the Jewish Council in Warsaw, 1 July 1940

 5. See Hitler’s Empire (Allen Lane, London, 2008)

 6. ‘Hitler’s Plan for Madagascar’ by Eugene Hevesi (Contemporary Jewish Record, no. 4, Aug 1941)

 7. The 10 per cent that were permitted mostly filled gaps in the economy. There was an acute shortage of domestic staff during the period and women willing to go into service were allowed entry - hence why Madeleine works as a maid

 8. As quoted in the diary of his private secretary Oliver Harvey, 25 April 1943

 9. Compare Goebbels’s diary entry for 18 August 1941 after he’d discussed Madagascar with Hitler: ‘Since the ’30s there have only been two possibilities for the Fiihrer: in the case of victory, banishment for the Jews; if he fails in his goal and loses the war, sweeping revenge and their destruction’

10. There is no Note 10

11. For a detailed account of the KdF see Strength through Joy: Consumerism and Mass Tourism in the Third Reich by Shelley Baranowski (Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 2004)