This is one of those posts that starts out as a bit of fluff and then gets more interesting the deeper you dig. It has now got so interesting that plans are rapidly being put together for Polandian to send a roving reporter to the mysterious isle of Madagascar with instructions to sneak among the baobab and commune with the lemur until they get to the bottom of exactly why the island has such a strange attraction for the Poles.
What first drew my attention to the Poland-Madagascar connection was the article about the a book backed by the Russian government that claims Poland wanted to solve an “overpopulation” problem (nod nod, wink wink) by sending Jews to settle on the island. An idea subsequently investigated by Hitler as part of his ‘final solution’ and therefore not something anyone these days wants to own up to being involved in.
“The book is pure science fiction,” says Lukasz Kaminski from Poland’s state-backed Institute of National Remembrance.
The article leaves one with the impression that the Polish authorities of the 1930’s were not involved in any plan to move Jews to Madagascar, nor were they cooperating with Nazi Germany in any way. One might be tempted to just laugh the whole thing off, produce a funny cartoon and move on.
However. A little Google research shows that a surprising amount of detail is available about the 1937 commission that Poland sent to the island of Madagascar, headed by Major Mieczyslaw Lepecki, to determine the feasibility of forcing Jews to move there. So either people like About.com, the Jewish Virtual Library and others need to edit their texts or it is somewhat deceptive to claim that the whole idea is “pure science fiction”. (I’m not commenting here on the cooperating with the Nazis claim.)
Amazingly, the crazy idea of moving Eastern European Jews to Madagascar has cropped up more than once. It was first put forward in 1885 by a violently anti-Semitic German, Paul de Lagarde (sounds French but he’d changed his name). Later, in 1926 & 1927 the idea was revisited by both Poland and Japan as a way of solving their ‘overpopulation’ problem. One has to assume that means they thought they had too many Jews? Or perhaps that the Jews were the easiest to export? Who knows what they were thinking! The idea was then, apparently, seriously considered again by Poland in 1937 leading to the commission being sent over to check the place out. Finally the Nazis took the idea for their own and, when failing to secure the British fleet to help with transportation, moved on to write the disgusting end to this story we all know so well.
The resistance of the United Kingdom during the Battle of Britain and Germany’s failure to achieve a quick victory by September, were the ultimate causes of the Plan’s collapse. The British fleet would not be at Germany’s disposal to be used in evacuations; the war would continue indefinitely. Mention of Madagascar as a “super ghetto” was made once in a while in the ensuing months, but by early December, the Plan was abandoned entirely. When the British and Free French forces took over Madagascar from Vichy forces in 1942, this effectively ended all talk of the Plan.
On the other hand, you might look at Wiki’s article on the Madagascar Plan where there is no mention of the Polish commission at all. There is mention of “Żydzi na Madagaskar” being a slogan of pre-war far-right Polish organisation, the ONR, but that’s where the Polish implication ends for Wiki. They do mention the Paul de Lagarde mentioned earlier, as well as a couple of British far-right anti-Semites of the time – Henry Hamilton Beamish and Arnold Leese as being historically interested in the plan but despite adding an interesting “…and others” to the text, Wiki leaves you in no doubt that the only people involved in investigating the feasibility of this plan were the Nazis. Considering that Poles are extremely active in the Wiki project, would that suggest the “…and others” is done deliberately to avoid mentioning the Polish commission or that the whole story of the Polish commission is not true? I find it quite intriguing.
So does Poland have strange and sinister links with Madagascar or not? Were Major Mieczyslaw Lepecki and every other Pole who visited Madagascar as part of the commission simply a bunch of far-right anti-Semitic lunatics, or did they truly represent the Polish authorities of the time? Is it inconsequential that the DreamWorks Animation films were such a huge success in Poland? Was Paweł’s April-Fool post just a coincidence or does he have access to files that we all need to see?
Of course all this ignores the real question of “Why Madagascar?”.
As you can see, the need for us to dispatch a correspondent to the island is strong. Any volunteers?