The venerable old churchyard with its concise history of the community 400 years back can be found in England, New England, Norway, or in a Harry Potter tale, but not in Germany. Yet what happens when the Germans were buried far from Germany?
* * *
In the mid 1850s a German theologian by the name of Christian Hoffmann began developing a radical set of ideas about the Protestant churches in his day. He eventually quarreled with the local authorities in the Stuttgart area and in 1859 set up his own church; eventually the group registered themselves as Templers (no connection with the mediaeval order of the same name). Some years later they began moving to the Holy Land, mostly for religious reasons, though their efforts did dovetail nicely with the German imperial aspirations of the time. A few thousands of his followers came with him, settling in what a generation or two later would become Tel Aviv and Haifa; Hoffmann himself and hundreds of his flock came to Jerusalem.
Or actually, they came near Jerusalem. At the time the empty fields they purchased were out of town and even out of sight, since there was (and is) a low crest of a hill between them and the Old City; even the first Jewish neighborhoods outside the walls were visible only if one walked a few minutes from the northern edge of the new colony. It was 1873, and they called their settlement Kolonie Rephaim, because it was situated in a shallow valley which has been called Emek Refaim since the days of Joshua, who used it to demarcate the border between Judea and Benjamin.
The story of the German Colony in Jerusalem is fascinating, with lots of twists and turns, and I’m not going to tell it here. The basic outline is that it existed for more than 60 years; three generations of settlers lived there; in the 1930s many of them were proud, even flagrant Nazis; at the beginning of the Second World War those still here were rounded up by the British; some were eventually exchanged during the war for Jews and non-Jews with British Palestinian passports who had been caught in wartime Europe. The last Templers left the country in 1948.
In Haifa and in Jerusalem (I don’t know about Tel Aviv) they left their cemeteries behind. The neighborhood of Jerusalem where they had once lived changed its population a number of times, and these days it’s one of the more expensive, high-brow areas of town. Emek Refaim street has over the past decade or two become the single most important eatery thoroughfare in town. The corner of Emek Refaim and Rachel Immenu is its center.To the east of the intersection is a long high stone wall, with two metal gates. One is sometimes open, and behind it lies a Christian cemetery for people of all sorts who didn’t fit easily in during their lives, and needed an unusual place to be buried. Jews who converted to Christianity, American or British eccentrics, and so on. A fascinating place, and a tale for another day. Because this tale is about the mysterious place beyond the green gate on the right, the one that has a bronze plaque that announces in German that this is the Templerfriedhof, the Templar cemetery, and offers a cell phone number one can call if there’s a need to get in. I don’t know of anyone who ever has, and until yesterday morning, I’d never seen it open.
I was on an errand, and needed to be somewhere, but errands are commonplace, while this gate – I have most likely walked by it thousands of times since I was a child, and I’ve never seen it opened. So I went in.
One of the first grave stones on the right was that of Dr. med. Samuel Hoffmann, born in Ludwigsburg, which today is a suburb of Stuttgart; since he was born in 1849, I’ve chosen to assume he was a son or grandson of the theologian Christian Hoffmann, both for the name they share as for the fact that most people didn’t have university degrees in those days, and if the Hoffmanns did they were probably related.
Maria Dyck, previously Kraiss, was born in America in 1889. Mina and Else, family name not specified, were born in 1890 and 1891; along with Maria Frick, who was 16 years old, they all perishedwhen disembarking in Jaffa. The sea never gave back the body of the mother (no name? Whose mother?). What were the relationships between these 4 children with the various surnames?
Marie Fast nee Frank is pretty straightforward. Born near Stuttgart she must have been the daughter of followers of Christian Hoffmann, and as a young woman she was of the first wave of settlers to arrive. We know this because already in 1872, when she got married (aged 23) she was in Jaffa. But how are we to understand the story of her husband, Abraham Fast, who was born in Liebenau? If you can’t find Liebenau in Google Earth (and you can’t, not this one), it’s because the place no longer exists. It used to be a village or town of Ethnic Germans in southern Russia, which means that before Abraham came to the Holy Land and married his German sweetheart, he was a descendant of Germans who had moved east in the middle ages to colonize the Slavs. They were married for 52 years, here in Jerusalem, until her death at age 72. He lived on to be 85, and he died a subject of the English King. Or did he?
About a third of the way in there’s this large memorial, the largest in the cemetery. It tells of the sons who fell in the Great War.
The column on the left (not in this picture) enumerates the names of those who left the land of their birth and traveled to the land of their fathers, there to be killed. The column on the right (pictured) lists hose who managed to fight for the faraway homeland in their personal homeland: Hugo Wieland, for example, was born in Jerusalem in 1890 and died in 1918 in Baalbek (now Lebanon). I assume he was fighting the British. Daniel Groezinger was born in Hohenhasslach, but we assume he moved to the Holy Land, else why is his name on this plaque? He was killed, almost certainly in battle with the British, at Nazareth, in 1918. The list indicates that these men, some of whom may never have set foot in Germany before the war, regarded the distant land as the homeland, and the place they had been raised in as a home in a land. When after the Great War they found themselves under British control, this only reinforced their national pride. This memorial plaque was set up under British dominion. (There is a British military cemetery about five miles to the North, also from WWI).
As I was wandering around, two middle-aged American women, orthodox Jews from New York by their accents, wandered into the cemetery plopped themselves down on a shaded bench (it was a very hot day), and in very animated tones compared notes about some third woman. After a few minutes they got up and walked on, the long-dead Germans having offered them a sheltered spot for their chat. At no point did they seem to notice that they were anywhere but on a bench in a park.Had they looked behind them, to the point of convergence of the paths at the head of the grounds, they might have been startled. I certainly was:
A memorial crafted as a cross: nothing wrong with that, certainly in a Christian cemetery. Until you look closer, and see that it commemorates “more than 450 Dead of the three villages who died in the two wars”.
Keep in mind that once that second war was over, there were no Germans left in the German Colony – hundreds of the young men had returned in 1939 to fight for the Fatherland, and the rest were removed by the British. Which means that this memorial, unlike the other one, was not put up by a living local community. As a matter of fact, there’s an explanatory plaque at its foot that tells that is was put here in 1970, when the area was Jewish, and I personally can name quite a number of Holocaust survivors who lived within a radius of a mile. You begin to understand why that green door is locked all the time.All the while I’d been wandering around, I had noticed the five or six middle age Germans caring for the headstones, clearing weeds, fiddling with the sprinklers. The ones who had opened that gate, obviously. So I asked them who they are.
- We’re Templers.And how does one become a Templer, I asked? The first answer was typically German:
- One registers.
Seeing the skepticism on my face, the elderly man told the woman who had answered that he didn’t think that was what I had meant, so they both explained that being a Templer meant living according to a specific set of beliefs.
- How many Templers are there?
- We’re about 150 in Germany, and there are about 600 in Australia.
- Australia. But we’re from Germany.
Given that the British deported many of those Templers to Australia, I decided not to pursue the subject with these ones. They weren’t telling, so I wouldn’t ask.
- And you see it as a duty to come and maintain this cemetery, as part of being Templers?
- Yes. We come one a year, or once in two years.
- Is this a religious thing, or are you perhaps descendants?
Silence. But then, after a moment:
- Well, it just so happens that that’s my great grandmother, the one over there.
- And that one, over there, he was my ancestor: - So it’s actually more than a religious community. It’s a clan you’re born into?
- Well, yes, I suppose you could say that.
- Fascinating. Do you mind if I take your picture?
- Um, well, no of course not!