MAURITIUS, island in the Indian Ocean about 500 mi. E. of Madagascar, where Jewish refugees from Central Europe – passengers of the Atlantic – were put into detention during World War II after being forcibly deported from Palestine by the British as "illegal" immigrants (see *Patria). On their arrival in Mauritius (Dec. 26, 1940), they numbered 1,580 persons: 1,320 landed in Haifa on Aug. 26, 1945, after the ban on their return was rescinded; 128 died while in Mauritius; 212 men joined the Allied forces, 56 of whom entered the *Jewish Brigade. About 60 children were born after the original strict regulation on separation of the sexes in the camp was abolished. The detainees consisted of a Maccabi-He-Ḥalutz transport from Czechoslovakia, remnants of the Jewish community of Danzig, and a transport launched from Vienna. They were interned in the town of Beau Bassin, the men in a former prison, the women in adjacent huts of corrugated iron. They were not brutally treated, but were afflicted by tropical diseases, such as malaria, and by a lack of suitable clothing; food was often inadequate. Considerable moral and material assistance was given by Jewish organizations, particularly the South African Jewish Board of Deputies, the South African Zionist Federation, and the Jewish Agency. The detainees conducted manifold communal and cultural activities; they struggled for release and retransfer to Palestine through the
In 1946 the St. Martins Jewish Cemetery, where Jewish detainees who died on the island during the war are buried, was entrusted to the South African Jewish Board of Deputies. Since that date the SAJBD, in cooperation with local benefactors (both Jewish and non-Jewish) and in recent years in partnership with the African Jewish Congress, has overseen its maintenance, including an extensive restoration project in 2001. Towards the end of the 20th century, a steady trickle of Jews began settling in Mauritius. In 2004, there were an estimated 60 Jews living permanently there. These were primarily engaged in tourism (three leading hotels were under Jewish management), agriculture, and the diamond and burgeoning textile industries. Plans were afoot for the opening of a Jewish community center, incorporating a synagogue, in the first half of 2005.
[David Saks (2nd ed.)]
Relations with Israel
In 1960, while Mauritius was still a British colony, Israel, represented by a consul general, extended it technical aid particularly through scholarships for young Mauritians to study medicine in Jerusalem and technical assistance on the spot. Mauritius became independent in 1968 and joined the United Nations. An Israel delegation attended the celebration, and full diplomatic relations were established between the two countries, Israel's ambassador in Tananarive (Malagasy) serving as non-resident ambassador to Mauritius. Offers for new scholarships in Israel, as well as Israel assistance by experts in agriculture and other fields, were accepted by Mauritius. Mauritian professionals trained in Israel founded a Mauritius-Israel Friendship Society. Strong Indian influence in Mauritius, as well as Muslims of Pakistani origin who constitute 20% of its population, make themselves felt in Mauritius' attitude and policy toward Israel. The general attitude to Israel, however, is basically friendly, with the elder generation still remembering with sympathy the Jewish refugees from Europe exiled there in 1940, and the mutual relations between the countries remained fruitful.
Zwergbaum, in: Yad Vashem Studies, 4 (1960); 191–257; idem, in Gesher, 66 (March 1971), 92–104; D. Trevor, Underthe White Paper (1948), index; M. Basok (ed.), Sefer ha-Ma'pilim (1947), passim; Yad Vashem, Ha-Sho'ah ve-ha-Gevurah be-Aspaklaryah shel ha-Ittonut ha-Ivrit – Bibliografyah, 2 (1966), 12871–970.
Source: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.