The island is one of the most picturesque, obscure in the world: Located about 1800 kilometres off the south-eastern coast of Africa, Maritus is hardly a bastion of Judaism. The island population of 1.2 million is predominantly Hindu and Christian, with just 40 Jews.
Turn back the clock to 1940, however, and the story was not quite the same: In October of that year, British Mandate authorities deported 1,584 Jews who had escaped the Nazi clutch by “illegally” traveling to Palestine. The group was shipped to Mauritius, where according to the Jewish Virtual Library they spent the rest of the war in a detainment camp in Beau Bassin.
There, men and women were separated. Prisoners were not mistreated, but tropical diseases and hunger was rampant.
Following the war, Great Britain made an exception to it’s ban on Jewish immigration to Palestine and allowed those Jews who wished to return to the Land of Israel. On August 26, 1945, 1,320 landed in Haifa.
Today, the independent government of Mauritius has announced it would open a memorial and information center to honor the refugees. One hundred twenty six detainees died there.
Andrew Slome, the general manager of Sugar Beach Resort, told the SAJR it was important that events like this were recorded as part of Mauritian history and it would help to further educate the Mauritian public about the hardships of internment, the detainees’ resilience; how the detainees managed to create a sense of community and how they struggled continuously and tirelessly for their freedom and ultimate return to Eretz Israel.