Exile in Mauritius: Colonial Violence and Indian Ocean Archives

Publication Type:

Journal Article


Critical Arts, Volume 30, p.282–294 (2016)




On 26 December 1940, 1 580 central European Jewish refugees were imprisoned on the Indian Ocean island of Mauritius by the British colonial government after attempting to enter Palestine illegally. Unable to be repatriated to Nazi occupied Europe, and because no other country would grant them safe harbour, the British colonial government used these refugees as a symbolic deterrent against illegal immigration to Palestine by imprisoning them at Beau Bassin prison for the duration of the Second World War. Intersecting with a number of different disciplines and modalities, we examine the Beau Bassin story as a way to reposition histories of WWII from a southern Hemispheric and Indian Ocean perspective. Both ‘traditional’ and ‘ephemeral’ in its make-up, the Beau Bassin prison archive consists of records from the National Archives in London and Mauritius, official colonial records of correspondence, parliamentary debates, records from the South African Jewish Board of Deputies’ special committee on Mauritius 1940–1945, letters, memoirs, literary representations, art works, commemorative museum panels, life writing, interviews, and newspaper articles. In this article, we conceive of archives not simply as accounts of actions or records of what people thought happened, but rather as ‘records of uncertainty and doubt in how people imagined they could and might make the rubrics of rule correspond to a changing imperial world’ (Stoler 2010: 4). Approaching this story from a transnational and interdisciplinary perspective we locate the Beau Bassin story at the entangled apex of a confluence of narratives, from the history of the Indian Ocean region, Mauritian history, the history of the Second World War, to colonial studies, the history of penal colonies, Jewish Studies and the history of Palestine.

Add new comment

Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.