Nazis in Palestine 1933-1948 recounts the demise of the Palästina-Deutsche


For readers of The Jerusalem Report, the noun “diaspora” is inextricably linked to the adjective “Jewish”. But in the 19th and 20th centuries various countries, among them Germany, also developed networks of overseas settlements. Motivated by imperialism, economic opportunity, religion and missionizing, some 30-million ethnic Germans –émigrés who today might be called expats - established close-knit outposts of Deutschtum (German nationality) in their Wahlheimat (chosen homeland) in places as disparate as China, Turkey, Brazil and Kenya.

In Palestine, the Germans established a model of industry, culture, faith and architecture which grew to number some 2,500 people before its demise following World War II. About half of the Palästina-Deutsche were Templers, not to be confused with the Teutonic Crusader order of Templar knights. In 1868 the first Lutheran evangelical members of die Tempel Gesellschaft arrived in Haifa from Württemberg. Other Pietist colonies soon followed in Sarona-Jaffa, Jerusalem, Bethlehem in Galilee, nearby Waldheim – now Alonei Abba, and Wilhelma – now Bnei Atarot near Lod. The hard-working homesteaders revamped the Jaffa citrus business and introduced modern industry from Mitteleuropa.

Apart from the Templers, German Protestant and Catholics also made a significant contribution to modernizing backward Palestine. In 1904 Heinrich Meissnner built the Jezreel Valley Railroad linking Haifa to Damascus, opening the desolate north to Zionist pioneers.

In Jerusalem the German presence was especially notable. There they erected 12 landmark structures in the neo-Romanesque Wilhelmine style popular in the Kaiserreich. Until today the Dormition Abbey on Mount Zion; Church of the Redeemer in the Old City; and Auguste Viktoria hospice atop the Mount of Olives dominatethe Holy City’s skyline, reflecting imperial Germany’s Drang nach Osten politics in the dying Ottoman Empire.

Though some 850 Palestine-Germans were deported to Helwan, Egypt in 1918 following the British conquest of the country towards the end of World War I, they were allowed to return in 1920. The German community initially prospered under the British Mandate. Firm Paul Aberle, the largest German enterprise in the country, had branches in Jaffa, Haifa and Jerusalem employing scores of Germans, Jews and Arabs. Its joint partner, Wilhelm Aberle, was the local agent for the GermanLevant Shipping Company, the Hamburg-Amerika Line, IG Farben, and several other German corporations.

This idyll ended in 1933 when NSDAP came to power. Through the Auswärtiges Amt(Foreign Office) and the Auslands-Organisation (Overseas Organization),Berlin set out to indoctrinate and Nazify the far-flung Volkdeutsche communities abroad. Heidemarie Wawrzyn’s Nazis in the Holy Land 1933-1948documents that successful Nazification campaign between 1933 to 1939 of the Landeskreis Palästina - upgraded in 1937 to Landesgruppe on the occasion of the Führer’s birthday. The historian then covers the fate of the Palestine-Germans arrested by the British as enemy aliens once World War II broke out and ultimately either deported to concentration camps in Australia or sent back to Germany in exchange for Jews holding Palestine passports rescued from the Holocaust. Co-published by Berlin-based Walter de Gruyter GmbH and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem’s Vidal Sassoon International Center for the Study of Antisemitism, the volume offers gripping reading and fascinating historical detail about the little-known period.

In keeping with the Nazi policy of Gleichschaltung (synchronization) both in Germany and throughout the far-flung 49 Landesgruppen, all of the Palestinian-German social, sports and professional organizations and clubs were subsumed into Nazi structures. For example, in 1938 the Haifa Templer women’s auxiliary en masse joined the National Socialist Frauenschaft (Women’s League).

As Wawrzyn explains, this was a story of generational conflict – while the first settlers were deeply religious proto-Zionists sympathetic to the restoration of Israel as a Jewish homeland, their children became increasingly focused on business, and their teenage grandchildren enthusiastically joined the Hitler Jugend and its sister sorority the Bund deutscher Mädel (Band of German Maidens). So popular were the twin Nazi youth groups that a youth hostel opened in Waldheim to serve them in 1938.

The previous year Jerusalem’s two German-language schools were unified into the new Deutsche Schule with a Nazi curriculum. Jews were excluded, and Arabs restricted to 25 per cent of enrollment.

In total, by 1939 420 Palestine Germans had joined the Nazi party or were Parteianwärter (candidates), 280 teens and children were enrolled in the HJ and BDM, and 40 or so people while not NS party members belonged to Nazi affiliate groups such as the Deutsche Arbeitsfront (German Labor Front). Thus one in three Palestine Germans was active in Nazi organizations. The remaining two thirds, like in Nazi Germany itself, were part of the silent majority.

They paid lip-service to neutrality in the conflict between Arabs and Jews in Palestine. The Tempelbank made vast profits processing the 1933 Ha’avara transfer, whereby German Jews immigrating to Palestine could deposit some of their assets in escrow in German banks and use that money to import German-manufactured goods. Some Palestine-Germans complained of the competition from newly-established Yekkes. In general, the Palestine Germans reflected the racial antipathy of Nazism.

Beyond integrating and indoctrinating Germans here, Berlin targeted local Arabs, distributing Nazi propaganda including Mein Kampf and The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. German firearms and munitions were smuggled into the country, and may have been used in the Oct. 2, 1938 massacre of 19 Jews in Tiberias. Wawrzyn notes the true extent of this espionage and sabotage may never be known as the German Consulate in Jerusalem burnt most of its files in August 1939 on the eve of the outbreak of WWII.

That month 200 Palestine Germans 200 speedily left the country to report for military duty in Germany. Three of them, who joined an Arabic-speaking intelligence unit, returned by parachute in 1944, together with two Arabs who had been living in Berlin. Their failed mission, called Operation Atlas, aimed to poison Tel Aviv’s waterworks with arsenic, destroy the Naharayim hydroelectric plant, and blow up the Mosul-Haifa oil pipeline.

As Hitler’s 1,000-year Reich collapsed in misery, death and expulsion for so many Germans, so too was the end in Palestine. Historian Meron Benvenisti’s 1990 book Ir Hamenuchot notes 63 members of the Templer community were killed in the service of the Third Reich. Ten Templers repatriated to the Reich in July 1944 in the third exchange of Germans for Palestine Jews were killed in a bombing raid on Stuttgart a few days after their arrival.

Gotthilf Wagner, the Bürgermerister of the Templer colony of Sarona, was assassinated by the Haganah on March 22, 1946. The murder sent a clear message that the remaining Palestine Germans had no future in the yet-to-be-declared Jewish state. The Judenland would be Deutschfrei.

Wawrzyn, a historian well-versed in the relevant German and English sources, and the author of the 2005 Ham and Eggs in Palestine: The Auguste Victoria Foundation 1898-1939, makes the striking observation that no Arabic-speaking historian has made a serious study of the relationship of Palestine’s Arabs with Hitler’s Germany. The poisonous shadow of their leader at the time, Hajj Amin al-Husseini, still casts its pall over the self-censored subject.

If there is one criticism of Wawrzyn’s study, it is its overly narrow focus on the Palestine Germans. For example Wawrzyn fails to discuss the extraordinary visit here in 1933 of Kurt Tuchler, a German-Jewish lawyer and judge, and German Zionist Federation leader, who toured the country together with Leopold von Mildenstein, a senior Nazi officer who was head of the Jewish department of the SD (the security service of the SS and the Nazi party), The visit resulted in a series of positive articles “A Nazi Travels to Palestine” published in Der Angriff (The Attack). A medallion was struck in 1934 as a memento of the cooperation that took place between NSDAP and the German Zionist Federation in their mutual goal of relocating German Jews to Palestine.

Similarly Wawrzyn omits Adolph Eichmann’s brief 1937 visit to Palestine.

Her list of illustrations seems arbitrary and incomplete. Though she includes not entirely germane pictures of the British High Commissioner’s Palace and the bombed-out King David Hotel, she omits a photo of Jerusalem’s German Consulate on the Street of the Prophets festooned with a swastika flag, or a picture of the ruins after the Irgun dynamited it on Aug. 5, 1947. (In 1939 the British turned the empty consulate into the Mandate Department of Labour.)

Wawrzyn’s most striking omission is that she doesn’t discuss the 1952 Reparations Agreement between the Bundesrepublik and the new State of Israel. While most people consider the Wiedergutmachung as compensation for the Holocaust, the agreement was in fact bilateral. It too covered the $13-million Israel paid the Palestine Germans for their homes and businesses they had been forced to abandon.


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