Before the Nazis decided to murder European Jewry in gas chambers, they considered the Madagascar Plan - a plan to move four million Jews from Europe to the island of Madagascar.
Whose idea was it?
Like almost all Nazi ideas, someone else came up with the idea first. As early as 1885, Paul de Lagarde suggested deporting Eastern European Jews to Madagascar. In 1926 and 1927, Poland and Japan each investigated the possibility of using Madagascar for solving their over-population problems.
It wasn't until 1931 that a German publicist wrote: "the entire Jewish nation sooner or later must be confined to an island. This would afford the possibility of control and minimize the danger of infection."1 Yet the idea of sending Jews to Madagascar was still not a Nazi plan.
Poland was the next to seriously consider the idea; they even sent a commission to Madagascar to investigate.
In 1937, Poland sent a commission to Madagascar to determine the feasibility of forcing Jews to emigrate there. Members of the commission had very different conclusions. The leader of the commission, Major Mieczyslaw Lepecki, believed that it would be possible to settle 40,000 to 60,000 people in Madagascar. Two Jewish members of the commission didn't agree with this assessment. Leon Alter, the director of the Jewish Emigration Association (JEAS) in Warsaw, believed only 2,000 people could be settled there. Shlomo Dyk, an agricultural engineer from Tel Aviv, estimated even fewer.
Even though the Polish government thought Lepecki's estimate was too high and even though the local population of Madagascar demonstrated against an influx of immigrants, Poland continued its discussions with France (Madagascar was a French colony) over this issue.
It wasn't until 1938, a year after the Polish commission, that the Nazis began to suggest the Madagascar Plan.
In 1938 and 1939, Nazi Germany tried to use the Madagascar Plan for financial and foreign policy arrangements.
On November 12, 1938, Hermann Goering told the German Cabinet that Hitler was going to suggest to the West the emigration of Jews to Madagascar. Hjalmar Schacht, Reichsbank president, during discussions in London, tried to procure and international loan to send the Jews to Madagascar (Germany would make a profit since the Jews would only be allowed to take their money out in German goods). In December 1939, Joachim von Ribbentrop, the German foreign minister, even included the emigration of Jews to Madagascar as part of a peace proposal to the pope.
Since Madagascar was still a French colony during these discussions, Germany had no way to enact their proposals without France's approval. The beginning of World War II ended these discussions but after France's defeat in 1940, Germany no longer needed to coordinate with the West about their plan.