Thursday, April 24, 2008

Jerusalem German Colony: A Story

Cemeteries are temporary matters in Germany. Or rather, the graves in them are; the cemeteries themselves are businesses. Since it’s poor business to store items forever, the administrators of German cemeteries sell plots for limited periods – 10 years, or 25 if the family wishes to pay for the extra years. Then the graves are dug up, the remains are dumped somewhere, and the plots return to the market. My impression is that there can also be a period of grace, in which the cemetery administration leaves messages on the gravestones requesting the families to make contact to renegotiate, should they wish to pay again. This assumes the families come to visit.

There are exceptions: Bishops, dukes and other nobility are allowed to stay, as are important statesman. Soldiers who fell fighting for the Fatherland are buried in permanent graves. And Jews. Since Jewish law forbids disturbing graves, even thousands of years later, and contemporary Germans are very leery of aggravating Jews since in the past they weren’t at all (leery), Jewish cemeteries remain inviolate. But most places that used to have Jewish communities no longer do; military cemeteries also no-longer do much growing in Germany, nor are there any nobles left. Anyone wandering around Germany with a perceptive eye could be forgiven for thinking that the only people who used to live and die in Germany were bishops, dukes, soldiers, and Jews.

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.

Deeper into the cemetery, partially hidden under a very large bush, nestles the headstone of Christian Rohrer, who was the Head of the Community, probably in the period of its second generation.
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?!
- 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!


Unknown said...

The subject matter of the article cited below, which deals with the resettlement of the Templers' in Australia, is intriguing. To the best of my knowledge the author spends a couple of months’ in Israel every year and would be interesting to talk to. I enjoyed your piece. Cheers, Deuel.

JO - Journal of Israeli History
PB - Routledge
AU - Rutland, Suzanne D.
TI - "Buying out of the Matter": Australia's Role in Restitution for Templer Property in Israel
SN - 1353-1042
PY - 2005
VL - 24
IS - 1
SP - 135
EP - 154
AB - A pietist, Lutheran group, the Templers settled in Palestine in the 1860s, but maintained their German citizenship and established the first Nazi Party branch outside of Germany. At the outbreak of World War II they were interned by the British in Palestine, and about one third were deported to Australia. In April 1948 the remaining Templers were evacuated and many also chose to settle in Australia. The Australian government, which wanted to use the proceeds from the sale of the Templers' property to assist in their resettlement, successfully persuaded Germany to include this restitution as part of the Claims Agreement signed in September 1952. It took a further decade of negotiation before a final settlement was agreed to.
UR -
ER -

informaworld is the online home of publications from Taylor & Francis, Routledge, Psychology Press and Informa Healthcare
Informa plc ("Informa") Registered Office: Mortimer House, 37-41 Mortimer Street, London, W1T 3JH. Registered in England and Wales - Number 3099067.

Lydia McGrew said...

"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."

Can you explain this part a little more. Is the point just that the door is locked most of the time because there are no Germans around most of the time to open it and visit the cemetery? Or is there some further point that I'm not getting?

By the way, the Catholic order was spelled "Templars," not Templers.

Yaacov said...

Thanx Deuel.

Lydia - well, we've got a community of Nazis. Most of their young men traveled to Germany on the eve of WWII so as to fight for Nazi Germany. The rest were deported. After it was all over, the neighborhood where once they had lived was populated by Jews who were kicked out of their home in Jerusalem's Old City, by Jews who had been kicked out of their homes in Arab countries, and by Holocaust survivors. After a while, remnants of the community - who lived in faraway lands - came back and planted a memorial plaque to those who had died on the Nazi side in the middle of the now-Jewish neighborhood. At best one can speculate they were showing sensitivity by keeping their commemorative act away from the eyes of the locals. That may be a more generous interpretation than is justified.

The folks with whom I talked are here almost 40 years later. That seems to me a bit different.

Anonymous said...

"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 perished in Jaffa when their ship burst into flames."

The gravestone says "in der Brandung" - this means the waves that crash on the beach. The word has nothing to do with fire.

Anna A

Yaacov said...

Thank you, Anna, I stand corrected. And I've corrected the text.


Anonymous said...

Sh'lom Yaacov,

you're probably not going to spend a lot more time on investigating about the templers, but just in case: when I visited the Israeli State Archive in Jerusalem last spring, I scanned the files of the German Consulates in Jerusalem, Jaffa, Haifa (in search of material about Walter Roessler). There is plenty of stuff about the templers.

Anonymous said...

Shalom Yaacov,

I just became aware of this blog. You have style. You answer the people who correct you and set up a blog with a Muslim with different opinions who you seem to be connected you by a sense of humour. Congrats - I will look at your blogs from time to time.
I prolonged my dear grandmother's grave some time ago. She's been dead for 29 years, and in February, I buried my mother there. It's an unusual grave, because it's becoming one of the older ones on this graveyard in Northern Germany. I have to pay for it, of course.

Yaacov said...

Dear Annonymous - Thanx for the feedback, and my condolences on the passing of your mother.

Yaacov said...

I've been poking around a bit. Apparently Templars is the English spelling, and Templers is the German. Blogger's spell checker doesn't recognize either.