The story of the Mauritius Jews begins with thousands of Jews and their attempt of fleeing the‘40s Nazi persecution on the old continent of Europe. Around 1.600 Jewish managed to escape from Europe by boats and came to Haifa but there they were forbidden to stay and deported by the British to Mauritius.
In the first day of the October 1940, 3 boats sailed from Tulcea, a Romanian harbor with about 3.500 immigrants from Czechoslovakia, Austria and Germany. Next month, the Milos and the Pacific came to Haifa and the 1.800 people were transferred to Patria. In the same mouth, the Mauritius Jews history is written with the arrival of 100 passengers that were transferred to Patria also.
To end the immigration, the British government decided to take some drastic measures and announced that the immigrants will be transferred to the island of Mauritius, which was a British colony. The fate of these Mauritius Jews had to be decided at the war’s end. These immigrants came on Mauritius at the end of December 1940 and taken to the Beau Bassin jail where the women, men and children were separated and placed in some barracks.
All the human rights were stolen from them. In January 1941, the South Africa’s Jewish community tries to improve the conditions of the Mauritius Jews but they had to confront the refusal of the Colonial Office. Many of these Mauritius Jewish died being sick and in poor conditions and the Petite Rivi’ere Cemetery became the cemetery of the Mauritius Jews.
ZAM (the Zionist Association of Mauritius) sent a letter to Maccabi, a Cape Town Jewish club, and asked for Jewish newspapers and books. He South Africa’s Jewish Chronicle published the letter and result, ten cases of magazines and books and 60 clothing cases were sent to the Mauritius Jews. There were other monthly shipments.
The South Africa Jewish organization showed interest in the Mauritius Jews and expressed their intentions of sending a delegation to the island to have a meeting with the refugees and see the camp’s conditions. Again, the Colonial Office only showed their reluctance. There was a meeting between the Chief Rabbi and the island’s only Mauritian Jew, Mr. Birger on his name, the representative between the detainees and South Africa.
On August 11th, 1945, the Jews left the island of Mauritius on the board of a ship called Franconia. But the living Jews were worried about the condition of the Mauritius Jews cemetery. The island’s government took the decision of transferring this property to the Deputies Board of South Africa.
The stone eroded in time, because of the poor quality, the bad weather and because of the cyclones that knocked the area. Today the Mauritius Jews cemetery is in good condition due to the donations sent and to the Birger family, the United Jewish Appeal and due to the South African Board of the Deputies. The cemetery was maintained by Jacques Desmarais at own expense.