Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

15 Sivan 5761 - June 6, 2001 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








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Jewish Detainees Of Mauritius Remembered
by D. Saks, South Africa

The graves of 66 Jewish detainees on the island of Mauritius who died during the Second World War were reconsecrated at a special ceremony organized by the South African Jewish community in May this year.

Mauritius, now an island republic in the Indian Ocean about 1800 kilometers off the East African coast, was the holding place for nearly 1700 Jewish refugees from Nazism who were denied entry to Palestine by the British authorities in the early years of the war. The refugees were redirected to Mauritius, at the time a British colony, where they held in a detention camp for the four years and seven months.

One hundred twenty-seven of the detainees died during this period and were buried on the island in what is now called the St. Martin's Jewish Cemetery. The majority of the survivors succeeded in ultimately settling in Israel.

The Mauritius Jewish cemetery has been owned since 1946 by the South African Jewish Board of Deputies which, during the war, played a leading supportive role to the detainees. Through the Board of Deputies, South African Jews sent such things as food and medicines, religious items such as siddurim and reading material, to Mauritius. For a time, the cemetery was voluntarily cared for by Jacques Desmarais, a non-Jewish native of Mauritius. Major restorative work to the matzeivot, which had weathered badly as a result of their being made from soft, volcanic rock, took place during the 1980s, and in 2000 and 2001 new stones containing all the information on those interred were cemented into the bed of all the kevorim.

Rabbi Moshe Silberhaft, spiritual leader to the African Jewish Congress which is run by the Jewish Board of Deputies in South Africa, officiated at the reconsecration service. Last year Rabbi Silberhaft officiated at the first bar mitzvah to be held in Mauritius since the war. There are today about 40 Jews living on Mauritius, none of whom have any connection with the original detainees. Mauritius itself is mainly Hindu and Christian with a large Moslem minority.


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