Read The Madagaskar Plan Online

Authors: Guy Saville

The Madagaskar Plan


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Once again
my own Cole


I hope the concept of the Jews will be completely extinguished through the possibility of a large emigration to Africa or some other colony.

Memorandum to Adolf Hitler,
25 May 1940


Despite the Führer’s ideological misgivings, it is my belief that this weapon can deliver us the final victory in Africa.

Top-secret communiqué to Germania,
22 March 1953



Those with a detailed knowledge of northern Madagascar will notice that I have taken certain liberties with the geography—this has been for the sake of the narrative. For the same reason, I have simplified the tussling array of organizations, departments, and individuals that the Nazis would have employed to run their “Madagaskar Plan.” I hope experts in both fields will indulge this license.



The World, 1940–52

FOR A FEW hours in May 1940, it was hoped that British forces at Dunkirk might escape. Then Hitler gave the order to destroy them.

The disaster that followed saw thousands of British troops killed and a quarter of a million taken prisoner. Prime Minister Churchill resigned. He was succeeded by Lord Halifax, who judged the public mood of dread and sued for peace. In October that year, Britain and Germany came to terms, signing a nonaggression pact and creating the Council of New Europe. The occupied countries—France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Denmark, and Norway—were granted autonomy under right-wing governments and took their place alongside Italy, Spain, and Portugal. Although weakened, Britain’s empire continued to span the globe.

With his western borders secure, Hitler launched a surprise invasion of Russia in 1941; two years later the Soviet Union was no more. The Reich now extended from the Rhine to the Ural Mountains; its capital was renamed Germania. Those around the Führer began calling for the reacquisition of the colonies Germany had lost after the Versailles Treaty. “On the day when we’ve solidly organized Europe,” Hitler told an expectant SS audience in response, “we shall look toward Africa.”

The armies of the Reich marched to the equator, conquering a vast swath of land from the Sahara to the Belgian Congo. As this new territory edged nearer the borders of the British Empire, Hitler and Halifax agreed on further peace accords guaranteeing the two countries’ mutual neutrality. The culmination was the Casablanca Conference of 1943, during which the continent was divided—Churchill said “cleaved”—between the two powers. Britain would retain its interests in East Africa; Germany would take the west. Other negotiations granted Mussolini a small Italian empire, while Portugal kept its colonies of Angola and Mozambique.

Throughout these upheavals the United States remained staunchly isolationist.

Germany’s African empire was divided into six provinces. Gradually civilian and military administrations were replaced by SS governors, answerable to Himmler but semi-autonomous and with almost unlimited power. The most ambitious was the governor of Kongo, Walter Hochburg. The builder of gleaming new cities and an African autobahn network, Hochburg ruthlessly exploited the continent’s natural resources to “stiffen the sinews of Europe.” He was also responsible for the wholesale deportation of the black population to the Sahara and a fate few dared to question.

Despite a decade of peace and prosperity, Hochburg remained restless: he wanted the swastika to fly over all of Africa. In 1952, he attacked Portuguese Angola and began preparing to invade British Northern Rhodesia. The Colonial Office in London, along with elements in Germania who feared Hochburg’s growing power, decided to move against him. They arranged a botched assassination attempt to provoke Hochburg into invading Rhodesia prematurely, forcing him to fight on two fronts and overextend himself. Defeat would mean the end of his ambitions.

On 21 September 1952, even as the German army was bogged down in Angola, Hochburg ordered his panzers into Rhodesia. He assured Hitler of a swift victory …




Hampstead, London

4 October 1952, 01:15

THERE HAD BEEN no news since the morning they parted. No telegrams, no letters, no breathless messengers arriving with the dawn. Not a word from Burton in five weeks and a day, only radio reports that she didn’t want to hear: war in Kongo and thousands slaughtered. She had struggled not to count every single hour.

Madeleine Cranley lay on her side, sheets wrapped around her, and tried to sleep. Her long dark hair spilled over the pillow. Inside she sensed the fluttering of the child she was carrying. She was five months now, the baby due in February. Whenever she ate with her husband she made a display of gorging herself, hoping the extra weight would disguise her belly. Her throat was constantly stuck with unwanted food: cakes and puddings and gravy churned with acid. Her jaw ached from grinding.

In the hallway the clock chimed the half hour, then two o’clock. Madeleine flickered in and out of consciousness; at some point she reached over and switched off the light.

The tension in her face began to slacken, warmth enveloped her … and as dreams offered their respite, she heard distant footsteps. She imagined they were Burton’s. He had gone to Africa to kill the SS governor of Kongo, his heart unshakable with revenge; she’d pleaded with him not to. Now he was back … sliding into bed like he did on their rare nights together, his body cold and welcome, smelling of musk and wood smoke. Before she relented to his arms, she wanted him to know how furious she was with him, how he had driven her almost insane with worry. He whispered an apology—but she no longer needed it; to have him home was enough. They were going to spend the future together.

A guttering breath escaped her: Burton would never come here.

Her mind roamed over the other possibilities of the household. She didn’t recognize the familiar pad of the servants, and it couldn’t be her husband; he was away tonight on business. Nor did the footsteps belong to her daughter, Alice. They were too clodding, too cumbersome.

There was a stranger in the house.

Madeleine turned on the lamp and strained to hear. The house creaked quietly. Had she imagined the footsteps? For years after she’d arrived in Britain as a refugee, the sound of boots on hollow stairs had fractured her dreams.

She thought she’d heard them come from the floor above, pass her door, and go down the main staircase. Thick soles muffled by carpet.

Madeleine untangled herself from the bedsheets and, mind still fuzzy, went to the landing. The light was on, though the house should have been in darkness. She climbed the staircase, aware of the unwieldy weight of her stomach. There were two levels above her: at the very top the servants’ quarters, below that the floor where guests stayed and Alice’s room.

She opened the door as silently as possible, in case she’d been dreaming all along. Her lungs tightened. Alice’s bedside lamp was on, illuminating the tumble of her daughter’s room—but the bed was empty. Madeleine slid her hand beneath the covers: the mattress was baby warm.

“Elli?” It was her pet name for Alice. “Elli?” For some reason, she was whispering.

There was a connecting door to the playroom. Madeleine opened it: nothing but darkness and the glint of rocking-horse eyes. Fog pressed against the window. Back in the bedroom, she checked the wardrobe. Sometimes Alice would stow away beneath piles of blankets and teddy bears. It, too, was empty. She thought of the time Elli had gone missing on Burton’s farm.
Don’t worry,
he’d said,
we’ll find her
. His tone was so confident, so settling.

Madeleine returned to the floor below and hung over the balustrade. “Elli?” she called.

The housekeeper, Mrs. Anderson, appeared: black dress, hair in a tight black bun. She possessed a servility that made Madeleine tense, aware that as the mistress of the house she was more foreign than the Polish gardener.

“Have you seen Elli?”

Mrs. Anderson let a rare smile shrink her lips. “Alice”—she enunciated the syllables—“is with us downstairs.”

“What’s she doing?”

“Nothing you need concern yourself with, Mrs. Cranley.”

“It’s the middle of the night! My daughter should be in bed.”

“As should you.”

“What did you say?”

Another smile tautened Mrs. Anderson’s face; then she was gone.

Madeleine strode to her room to fetch dressing gown and slippers; she wanted her toes covered before confronting the housekeeper. She pushed through the door and stopped short. Her arms clutched her belly.

On the bed was a suitcase. The battered suitcase she had fled Vienna with fourteen years earlier, after the
when the Nazis took over the country.

“I thought I told you to throw this away. Yet Mrs. Anderson informs me it’s been hidden in the cellar since you moved in.”

It was her husband, Jared.

He was a senior civil servant at the Colonial Office and dressed in his uniform of charcoal-black pinstriped suit and waistcoat; the smell of the night lingered on the cloth: autumnal, damp, penetrating. Brilliantine darkened his blond hair. His eyes looked rheumy, as if he had recently wept. He was packing the case.

Madeleine said, “I thought you were away tonight.”

“I had some good news: rushed back to share it with you.”

“Is that why Elli’s downstairs?”

“You really mustn’t call her that. It sounds too German. People talk enough as it is.”

Jared continued to pack. There seemed no logic to the items he chose: summer dresses, wool stockings, her favorite cardigan. He reached for a silk camisole, scrunching it in his fist. “I don’t remember buying this. It looks cheap.”

Madeleine recognized it as a gift from Burton. Heat prickled her cheeks. In the past month there had been plenty of such innocent provocations. At breakfast Jared had taken to reading aloud headlines from the


”—and asking what she felt about so many soldiers being butchered in Africa. But he couldn’t know. How could he sit there eating toast, sipping his tea, with the knowledge that across the table his wife was pregnant with another man’s child? Exhaustion was making her paranoid.

She made her voice as sweet and light as possible: “Are we going somewhere?”

He ignored the question and buried the camisole deep in the case. Unsure what to do, Madeleine waited in silence for her husband to finish, hands continuing to protect her abdomen, her bare feet growing cold. Finally he threw in some bottles of perfume, snapped the lid shut, and lifted the suitcase to test its weight.

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