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Madagascar Virtual Jewish History Tour

Madagascar, an island located off the coast of East Africa, has never been home to a significant number of Jews. After the island became a French colony, a small number of Jewish families settled in Tananarive, but they did not establish a Jewish community.

In the summer of 1940, Heinrich Himmler proposed to Hitler and the Nazi Party the plot to transport the entire Jewish population to the island. The "Madagascar Plan" was proposed by Franz Rademacher, the Jewish affairs expert in the German Foreign Office. Rademacher laid out his plan in his memorandum, "The Jewish Question in the Peace Treaty" on July 3, 1940. The plan called for the French colony to be turned over to the Germans, who would establish military bases on the island.

The Madagascar population of 25,000, mainly Europeans, would be removed and the Jews would be forcibly relocated there. Hitler discussed the plan with Mussolini in June 1940, but there were many failings in the plot. The Nazis intended to move four million Jews, not including Russian Jews, to an island unable to accommodate even a population of 40,000 to 60,000, as determined by a Polish commission previously discussing the relocation of the Jews in 1937. The Madagascar Plan ultimately became unfeasible when the Battle of Britain took longer than the Nazis expected and Hitler made the decision to invade the Soviet Union in the fall of 1940. Germany was left in no position to transfer Jews.

When Madagascar gained its independence in 1960 and became the Malagasy Republic, Israel was one of the first nations to send an ambassador. Relations between the two countries are close, and, over the years, the leaders of both countries have exchanged visits a number of times.

Today, less than 100 Jews reside on the Island. The few Jews who live there however are especially observant and well-read in Talmud and Torah, and are interested in keeping their religious traditions alive for future generations. Rumors persist among the population that the Malagasy Jews are descendants of ancient Israelites, but it is much more likely that their distant relatives were Indonesian seafarers who landed on the Island thousands of years ago. Local legend has it that the staff of Moses and a fragment of the 10 commandments were housed on the island, but were lost during colonial rebellions during the 1940's. Some Malagasy Jews believe things that are unique to their culture and contrary to modern Judaism (for example, that Jesus is the Mesiah, or that ritual animal sacrifice is a tenant of the religion).

Local adults teach Hebrew to classes of 30-40 eager students on the weekends. The community President is a representative from Kulanu, a New York based non-profit with the goal of connecting and providing support for small and growing Jewish communities worldwide. Kulanu provides educational material for conversion classes and a monetary stipend to the Malagasy Jewish community.

More than 100 men and women from Madagascar engaged in a mass conversion ceremony with the help of the Kulanu organization in May 2016. Leaders of the Madagascar Jewish community spent time in various Jewish congregations and worked with representatives from Kulanu for 2 years before bringing their constituents to a local river to engage in the conversion process. Kulanu posted on it's website following the ceremony that the men and women who were bathed in the river were forever after “transformed into full-fledged Jews.” Many Jewish marriages were performed after the ceremony.

Sources: "Madagascar." Encyclopedia Judaica. CD-ROM Edition. Judaica Multimedia. 1997;;
Yad Vashem
Miles, William F.S. “The Malagassy Secret,” The Jerusalem Report (September 21, 2015);
Kestenbaum, Sam. “Madagascar Natives Convert en Masse,” Forward (June 3, 2016)