Germans in the Holy Land - The Temple Society

By Miri - 
 
Thinking Israel and Germany usually ends up with thinking Holocaust. However, Germany's connection to historic Palestine precedes the Second World War by quite a few centuries. Like many other Christian leaders in Europe, Germany's emperors also had an interest in "liberating" the Holy Land from "infidels" and at the same time in extending their influence in the region. German knights and armies thus played an important role during the different crusades starting in the 11th century. 
Centuries later, a small group of German sectarian Christians still pursued an interest in settling in the Holy Land, though this time with a less belligerent motivation. The followers of the German Temple Society only stayed a few decades in Palestine, but left quite an impact on the development of the region.

The Temple Society was founded in Germany in 1861 and is based on the apostolic vision from Corinthians 3:26 that god's spirit lived in every individual and that everyone thus constitutes god's temple. Based on this belief the Templers believe that remaking their lives as god's temple in Palestine would hasten the second coming of Christ and the Messianic era.

Early depiction of German colony in Haifa
As early as 1868, with Palestine still forming part of the Ottoman Empire, the founders of the Society purchased land in Haifa and established their first colony at the foot of Mt. Carmel. Up until today the wide main street with trees neatly planted on both sides and stately stone houses with red-shingled roofs, which nowadays are mainly used as restaurants, coffee shops and bars, is still a very popular area among both locals and visitors.
Keeping to strict urban planning, introducing local industries and organising regular transportation services between the Northern main cities, Haifa's Templers are today credited with promoting the development of the city.

Soon after, in 1871 the Society established its first agricultural colony, Sarona, a few kilometres away from Jaffa. Like those in Haifa, the Templers in Sarona suffered during the first years of the settlement's existence and great numbers of them died due to disease, harsh conditions, over work, and the climate. Sustained by their faith and dedication however, the Templers persisted and  Sarona eventually grew into an economically successful and self-sustaining colony which in many ways acted as a role model for the growing Zionist Movement of the time. The oranges stemming from Sarona were reportedly the first ones to be labelled "Jaffa Oranges", a trade mark well known internationally up until today.

After a visit of Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany in 1898 a society for the advancement of the German settlements in Palestine was initiated which in turn enabled the Templers to acquire more land for new settlements and the colonies of Wilhelmina near Lod, Valhalla near Jaffa, Betlehem of Galilee and Waldheim were established during the early 1900s. During this time the Templer community in Palestine is said to have numbered 2,200.

With the arrival of the British in Palestine in 1917 the Templers, still German nationals, came to be regarded as enemy aliens and a large number of them were interned in Egypt. After long negotiations, which included the repatriation of roughly 300 Templers to Germany, the British House of Lords gave permission for the remaining internees in Egypt to return to Palestine.
Upon their return the community managed to revive the abandoned and partly demolished colonies which continued to thrive and prosper. Being dependent on the local population for their economic well-being, the Templers tried to stay neutral within the rising tensions between the Arab and the growing Jewish population.

Documentation of the era that witnessed the German National Socialists' rise to power in the 1930s is very ambiguous concerning the political stance of the Templers. While some authors remain that only a small part, particularly the younger members of the community was drawn by the nationalistic fervor of the period, others claim that the majority of the Templers were sympathetic towards the Nazis and their ideology. Numerous articles mention Sarona, the colony in Tel Aviv, as being the first community outside of Germany to have a Nazi party.

After the war broke out in 1939, the British Mandate government declared the Templers once more enemy nationals and turned the German farming settlements of Sarona, Wilhelma, Bethlehem and Waldheim into large internment camps. All of the Germans left in Palestine were moved into these camps except for the remaining men of military age. Those men were placed in a Prisoner of War camp at Acre. 

In July 1941 most of the Templers were deported to Australia, leaving only a small number in Palestine, some of who were exchanged for German Jews in a deal brokered by the British government.

After Israel's foundation in 1948 most of the remnants of the Templer colonies were turned into state property. Many Templer buildings are still partly in place and constitute curious sites in the midst of Israeli cities, such as the remnants of Sarona opposite the Ministry of Defense in Tel Aviv.

Sarona - in the Middle of Tel Aviv

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