Most people know that for a few critical months during 5702/1942, Erwin Rommel’s tank army threatened to burst through Egypt like a tidal wave and capture Eretz Yisroel. Another fact is less well known. Years before Rommel, Nazis were already exchanging Sieg Heil salutes in the streets of Eretz Yisroel and enacting anti-Semitic decrees. How did these anti- Semites get to Palestine through the back door?
The story of this Nazi invasion began not during Hitler’s regime but a century before. During the 1850s, the theologian Christian Hoffman began dreaming up yet another of Christianity’s thousands of schisms and offshoots. This sort of thing is commonplace. Protestants alone have proliferated about 30,000 distinct denominations, each claiming to the exclusive proprietorship of the world’s truth. Hoffman persuaded a number of his coreligionists to break off and join his Friends of Jerusalem sect, later renamed the Tempelgesellschaft (Temple Society).
Like so many of these splinter groups, Hoffman’s also never got very far. For the past 145 years it remained pathetically insignificant, never boasting more than 3,000 adherents and today possessing only about 1,000 members. Nonetheless, the group does have one claim to fame. It left its mark on the world by creating the most strangely named of Yerushalayim’s neighborhoods, the German Colony, or Moshava HaGermanit in Hebrew. Who would expect to find a name like that a couple of kilometers from Yerushalayim’s city center?
The Crimean War had broken out, a war so horrifying that many people were convinced it must be the war of Gog and Magog that precedes the final redemption. If the Day of Judgment was at hand, where better to precipitate the yearned for event than in the Holy Land?
In pursuit of this goal, hundreds of Templers moved to the Holy Land and founded seven settlements. The largest was founded in Haifa in 5628/1868 and another in Sarona (named after the plains of Sharon) where the Templers developed the famous Jaffa orange. Luckily for them, this modern village was located in the center of future Tel Aviv.
In his book Some of my Best Friends are Jews, American Jewish writer, Robert Gessner, described what happened when Tel Aviv became a boomtown in the 30s. “Sarona is not exploited by Tel-Aviv; she has something which Tel-Aviv is itching to get. She has land, over 7,000 dunams – precious sand on which apartments can be constructed… They had come to Palestine as religious, petty-bourgeois farmers.
They struggled with the stubborn sand and lived smugly among themselves. Suddenly they awoke to discover their sand worth almost its weight in gold. They sold their marginal lands for over $3,000,000. A dunam, for which they gave an Arab $10, brings them $10,000 and up from a Jew.”
The best remembered Templer neighborhood was founded in Yerushalayim, or, to be more accurate, near Yerushalayim, since at the time it was divided from the city’s nearest neighborhoods by a low hill. The German Colony, as this place is still known, is located in the shallow Emek Refaim valley to the south of Yerushalayim that Sefer Yehoshua (15:8) mentions as the border between the tribes of Yehuda and Binyomin, “The border shall go up to the top of the mountain that faces the valley of Hinnom (Gehinnom) westward, that is at the end of the valley of Refaim northward.”
The founder of the village, Matthaus Frank purchased the land from the Arab village of Beit Safafa, building his large house near the beginning of the main road in 5633/1873 replete with grapevine, steam mill, and swimming pool, and the place still exists, bearing above its front lintel the words from Shmuel I (7:12), “Even Ezer,” in confident hope that Hashem would help his venture.
After a while, the German Colony developed into what anyone might have mistaken for a typical south German village with its cluster of one and two story homes covered with red tiled roofs, screened by green shutters, and decorated with fenced gardens. Within two years, the colony had grown to 100 inhabitants and by 5670/1910 their number had rocketed to 400.
Feeling they had encroached on a land of barbarians, the Templers clung to their European heritage and maintained their German citizenship for generations. This was a drastic mistake. After a while they acclimatized and got on quite well with the Arabs and Jews who moved into their neighborhood. All went well until many of them were swept into the Nazi maelstrom of the 30s.
Swastikas in Yerushalayim
The rise of the Nazi party in 5793/1933 stirred up the nascent nationalism of Germans all around the globe, their enthusiasm flamed by the Auslands Organisation der NSDAP (the Organization of Overseas Nazis of the National Socialist Labor Party). Many Palestinian Templers also caught the bug. A year earlier, Karl Ruff, a Haifa architect had founded a Nazi organization in Palestine and before long branches erupted in Haifa, Yerushalayim, Yaffo and elsewhere.
In Yerushalayim, Ludwig Buchhalter, a teacher in the Templer school, was the proud head of the largest Nazi branch in the country whose 67 members jumped to orders coming straight from Berlin. Arabs were quite happy at this development. Before long, Buchhalter and a number of other Germans found that a good way of getting through Arab neighborhoods in those tumultuous times was to attach a Nazi flag or similar German symbol outside their cars. This guaranteed that one’s car would not be stoned or fired on. Of course, it was a wise idea to remove these items before driving into Jewish neighborhoods.
A number of rules and regulations were promulgated, among them the decision that “it was mandatory for members to greet one another with the Heil Hitler greeting and raised armed salute even in the street, so long as the greeting was not interpreted as a provocation to others.” Templer boy scouts, who until then had belonged to British style groups, now became part of the Nazi Hitler Jugend (Youth) and spent their spare time learning military skills in the Yerushalayim hills. Girls joined the Bund Deutscher Maedel (League of German Girls).
Templer members were also discouraged from hiring Jews or doing business with them. A German who had rented his cinema to a Jew received a threatening warning:
“The local leadership of the National- Socialist party was astounded to be made aware of the renting of your cinema to Jews. In this connection, we would like you to note that selling German property in the precincts of the German colonies nowadays requires authorization from the party’s Foreign Organization. This applies to every case of selling to non-Aryans who have German citizenship…
“In this connection, it is superfluous to point out and to draw your attention to the potential consequences of your actions for yourself and for your family. In the hope that you, as one of the nation, place your nation’s interests above your own, in accordance with the Fuehrer’s principle of ‘the common benefit having precedence to the benefit of the individual.’ Signed with Heil Hitler! Ludwig Buchhalter, branch director.”
It is only fair to note that not every Templer was enamored by the Nazi creed. To some extent, this involved a fight between the old timers who felt that Nazism contradicted the Templer ideology of universal redemption, and the younger people who were less devoted to the group’s ideals.
Originally, some argued that only a small minority of the group were Nazis. Further investigation revealed that 350 of the 2,100 Germans in Eretz Yisroel were members of the Nazi party by the outbreak of WWII, and that about half of them had joined the Deutshe Arbeitsfront (Nazi Labor Organization) or similar organizations.
In August of 5699/1939, Palestinian German men of military age received orders to proceed to Germany to participate in its armed struggle.
A Fatal Mistake
After WWII broke out, the Templers who had clung to German citizenship for so long discovered they had made a terrible mistake. First, England impounded them in internment camps built on some of their own farming settlements to prevent them from becoming fifth columnists.
During 5701/1941, England deported 661 Templers to Australia as enemy aliens and confiscated their property. Refugee Jews moving into vacated Templer settlements in the Gallil discovered all sorts of Nazi paraphernalia in the deserted homes including flags, party pennants and badges. The remaining 345 Templers left soon after the founding of the Jewish state.
After capturing the German Colony from the Arabs in 5708/1948 by the Etzioni Brigade, the municipality attempted to eradicate its German connotation by renaming it as the Rambam neighborhood. However, the new name never stuck. Although the neighborhood is almost entirely Jewish, its strange moniker still persists.
When Israel signed a Claims agreement with Germany in 5712/1952, part of the deal was that Israel should compensate the Templers for the loss of their buildings, and even the notorious Buchhalter received $60,000 for the home he had left behind. Not a bad sum for those days.
Besides their surviving buildings, the Templers are memorialized by a tall wall on Emek Refaim Street that hides their old cemetery from prying eyes. With good reason too, because if you penetrate into it and traverse its shady paths, you may find a cross shaped monument in commemoration of the Templer dead and those who lost their lives in the two world wars.
This memorial was erected in 5730/1970 by expatriated Templers who were obviously not sorry for the role the Templers played in trying to help Hitler realize his goals.
(Source: Kroyanker, David. The German Colony and Emek Refaim Street. Jerusalem Institute for Israel Studies and Keter, 2008.)