Who were the German Templers? Well, they emerged in Germany during the mid-nineteenth century; with its roots in the Pietist movement of the Lutheran Church; and its history a legacy of preceding centuries during which various Christian groups undertook to establish what they saw as the perfect Christian religion in preparation for Christ’s promised return.
So the Templers movement was founded by Christoph Hoffmann [1815-1885]; who believed that humanity’s salvation lay in the gathering of God’s people in a Christian community. He also believed that the second coming of Christ was imminent. And that according to Biblical prophecy it would take place in Jerusalem; where God’s people were to gather as a symbol of the rebuilding of the temple.
Hoffmann’s thinking was inspired by the 1st-century Christian community and based on Matthew’s Gospel in regard to Old Testament prophecies and their relevance to the coming of Jesus Christ. Hoffmann also believed that these “prophecies concerned mainly the founding of the Kingdom of God on earth.”
So in deciding where a Christian community should be established; Hoffmann wrote, “I made a special study; to discover if a center were named in the prophecies. I found that some Prophets declared Jerusalem to be the center. Others mentioned Israel, that is, Palestine; to be the external manifestation of the Kingdom of God on this earth.”
The German Colonies In Palestine
So Christoph Hoffmann met Georg David Hardegg (1812–1879) in 1849. They became friends and partners, and in 1853 Hardegg embraced Hoffmann’s dream of a Christian State. Hoffmann and Hardegg purchased land at the foot of Mount Carmel and established a colony there in 1868. At the time; Haifa had a population of 4,000. The Templers are credited today with promoting the development of the city. The colonists built an attractive main street that was much admired by the locals.
In fact, It was 30 meters wide and planted with trees on both sides. Also the houses, designed by architect Jacob Schumacher, were built of stone; with red-shingled roofs; instead of the flat or domed roofs common in the region. Sadly, hard work, the harsh climate and epidemics claimed the lives of many before the colony became self-sustaining. But Hardegg stayed in Haifa; while Hoffmann moved on to establish other colonies.
Then Hoffman established colonies in Jaffa a year later, and two years later; in 1871 a third colony in Sarona; as the Templers’ first agricultural colony, on the road from Jaffa to Nablus. In 1873 a fourth colony was established in the Valley of Refaim outside Jerusalem’s Old City. The colony’s oranges were the first to carry a “Jaffa orange” brand; one of the better known agricultural brands in Europe; used to market Israeli oranges to this day.
Furthermore, the Templers established a regular coach service between Haifa and the other cities; promoting the country’s tourist industry; and made an important contribution to road construction.
More Templer colonies
So after the 1898 visit of Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany; one of the Kaiser’s traveling companions; initiated the formation of a society for the advancement of the German settlements in Palestine, in Stuttgart. In fact. it enabled the settlers to acquire land for new settlements by offering them low-interest loans.
So the second wave of pioneer settlers founded Wilhelma (now Bnei Atarot) in 1902 near Lod; Walhalla (1903) near the original Jaffa colony; followed by Bethlehem of Galilee (1906) and Waldheim (now Alonei Abba) in 1907. At its height, the Templer community in Palestine numbered 2,000.
After the Nazi takeover in Germany, the new Reich’s government streamlined foreign policy according to Nazi ideals; using financial pressure especially. The Nazi emphasis was on creating the image that Germany and Germanness were equal to Nazism. Thus, all non-Nazi aspects of German culture and identity were discriminated against as un-German. All international schools of the German language subsidized or fully financed by government funds were obliged to redraw their educational programs and to solely employ teachers aligned to the Nazi party. The teachers in Bethlehem were financed by the Reich government; so Nazi teachers also took over there.
In 1933 Templer functionaries and other Gentile Germans living in Palestine appealed to Paul von Hindenburg and the Foreign Office not to use swastika symbols for German institutions, without success. Some German Gentiles from Palestine pleaded with the Reich government to drop its plan to boycott shops of Jewish Germans on April 1, 1933. Some Templers enlisted in the German Army. By 1938, 17% of the Templers in Palestine were members of the Nazi party.
At the start of World War II colonists with German citizenship were rounded up by the British and sent; together with Italian and Hungarian enemy aliens, to internment camps in Waldheim and Bethlehem of Galilee. On July 1941, 661 Templers and other Germans in Palestine were deported to Australia; leaving 345 in Palestine. In 1939, at the start of World War II, the British authorities declared the Templers enemy nationals; placed them under arrest and deported many of them to Australia.
After the Foundation of the State of Israel
After its foundation, the State of Israel—with the fresh memory of the Holocaust—was adamant in not permitting any ethnic Germans, of a community which had expressed pro-Nazi sympathies, to remain in or return to its territory. In March 1946, a team from the Zionist Haganah assassinated the leader of the community, Gotthilf Wagner. Later four more members of the sect were murdered in order to drive the group from Palestine. The former Templer colonies were re-settled by Jews.
In 1962 the State of Israel paid DM54 million in compensation to property owners whose assets were nationalized. Sarona was incorporated in Tel Aviv, part of it becoming the compound of the Israeli Ministry of Defense and the IDF High Command Headquarters, while the other part housed various civil offices of the Israeli government, using the original German houses. In the early 21st century the civil offices were evacuated and the area extensively renovated, becoming a pedestrian shopping and entertainment area.