Shalom Life | July 01, 2014

Shalom, Mauritius: A Jewish Culture Guide

In 2000, Rabbi Silberhalft officiated the first Bar Mitzvah in the nation since World War II.

By: Ashley Baylen

Published: July 22nd, 2014 in Culture » Society » News

Shalom, Mauritius: A Jewish Culture Guide

And we’re off, to anywhere and everywhere, as we say ‘Shalom’ every week to different global travel destination. World cities, provincial towns, and even the most unassuming of suburbs are infused with Jewish history and culture, some of which is waiting to be discovered.

For the pious follower, the curious traveler, or the intrepid adventurer, we’ll unearth the best of what to do and where to go. Be it an emerging subculture, a historical landmark, or simply a triumph of art in any form, Jewish experiences are found around the world; and likely as well in your backyard.

It may be in the destination, the journey, or the company, but there is much to uncover and celebrate near and far, so hurry up and get going.

Shalom, Mauritius

The capital city of Port Luis

Mauritius is one of the world’s hidden gems. While very few have had the opportunity to visit this exquisite island situated in the Indian Ocean about 2,000 kilometers off the southeast coast of Africa, even fewer know that it boasts a rich, Jewish history. Don’t let the fact that only 43 of it’s current 1.3 million person population identify as Jews dissuade you from exploring this small country – only 2040 square km.

In the fall of 1940, prior to the Nazis deciding on their Final Solution to eliminate the Jewish people, their focus was on getting them out of Europe. They decided to send out three ships – the Atlantic, Milos, and Pacific – carrying a total of 3,600 Jews from Vienna, Gdansk, and Prague with plans on sending them to Palestine (under British rule).

The Jews arriving by ship did not have entry permits, and were therefore denied entry by the British government. Sir Harold MacMichael, the High Commissioner, decided to deport all immigrants to either Trinidad and Tobago or Mauritius, also under British rule.

On November 25, 1940, 1,800 Jews boarded the Patria towards Mauritius. The Haganah, who intended to cripple the ship because they wanted the Jews to stay in Palestine, accidentally bombed it, leaving 260 fatalities and 172 injuries. The ship was only equipped with 805 lifeboats. All surviving Jews from the Patria were permitted to remain in Eretz Israel, while the 1,584 passengers on the Atlantic were sent to Atlit detainee camp in Mauritius.

At the detainment camp, prisoners suffered from tropical diseases and inadequate food and clothing. A number of Jewish organizations including the South African Jewish Board of Deputies, The Jewish Agency and the Zionist Federation stepped in to help as much as possible, providing food, clothing, medicine, and religious items.

When first imprisoned, men and women were separated, but eventually they were given permission to intermingle, leading to 60 children being born at the camp. After 5 years, 128 prisoners had died in the camp and buried in a Jewish section of St. Martin Cemetery in Mauritius.

When the war ended, prisoners were given the choice between returning to their homes in Europe or immigrating to Palestine. The majority chose to abandon their past and move to Haifa.

Find out more about the Jewish history of Mauritius on the next page!

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