Many people who use the road from Beau-Bassin to Bambous, must have noticed a small portion of land which ressembles the American cemeteries: the St-Martin Cemetery. Not much has been written about this part of the history of Mauritius. In her book “The Mauritian Shekel”, which by the way I strongly recommend, Geneviève Pitot unveils some of the secrets of the cemetery.
The Nazi quest before World War II had forced many Jews from Austria,Germany, Poland, Danzig and other neighbouring countries to run away, leaving behind their houses, jobs, social status and even some of their family members to join Ertz Israel, the Promised Land, known at that time as Palestine. The journey from their country was filled with tribulations and many among them did not make it through. Finally those who reached Palestine had to face the British who governed the country at that time, and had to give their very last penny to be able to get admittance to the port of Haifa. But seeing the rush of Europeans coming to the country, the British feared for their power and tried to put an end to this mass immigration by sending a whole ship of passengers to a remote Britain Indian Ocean Territory, Mauritius.
In 1940, above 1500 ‘illegal’ refugees were sent to Mauritius where they were treated as detainees. Among them were men, women, children, new-borns as well as the elderly and also painters, doctors, musicians (Papa Schultz), engineers and other capable people. Families were torn apart, basic needs were not catered for, conjugal visits were not allowed, food shortage due to war also affected these persons whose only crime was to be born Jews.
For nearly five years, they stayed in the Beau-Bassin prison where men and women were kept apart in spite of the attempts made to relieve their conditions by the Zionist Organisations, from South Africa, Palestine and even the United States.
Finally, the British agreed to free the detainees but the transport back to Palestine was unsure and it was not until 1945 that those people could move out of the country to reach their home. Those who died during those five years were buried in the Jewish cemetery at St-Martin, the only legacy of this even darker period of the History of Mauritius.
The cemetery is not presently found on the list of our national heritage sites, but will surely some day find its place in the world heritage list to commemorate the inhuman treatment given to the Jews.