Threads In History

The German Colony
The German colony in Jerusalem was founded by a community of German protestant immigrants who arrived in Jerusalem in 1873 to found heaven upon Earth and await the second coming of Jesus. They were members of a German Temple society and accordingly called themselves Templers (no connection with the Knights Templar who were a military order formed to protect pilgrims in the aftermath of the Crusades) .

The Templers in Israel hoped to be the vanguard of millions of Protestants who would come to settle and herald the second coming. In the event, a few thousand came, mostly artisans from semi-rural communities in Germany, some to Jerusalem and some to Haifa and Jaffa.

The area where they settled in Jerusalem is still known as the German Colony but the Templers and their descendants were deported by the British Government to Australia in 1941, as they were enemy aliens in what was then part of the British Mandate in Palestine.

This photograph is of the gravestone in the TemplerFriedhof cemetary founded in 1878 in Jerusalem. The cemetary fronts somewhat anonymously on to what is now Emek Refai’im, a busy street in the heart of the German colony. The person buried there is a ‘Tempelvorsteher’ (a temple chief), who was born in Jerusalem and died in the Wilhelma colony in Jaffa.

Templer gravestone

The Dunera
A quite different group of Germans was deported from England to Australia by the British Authorities in 1941. They comprised Germans some at least of whom had Nazi sympathies, and Jews who had escaped from Nazi Germany.

The British authorities lumped them together and interned them as enemy aliens. The authorities considered it easier to control them if they were out of Great Britain, and it is not difficult to understand this when Britain itself lived under the threat of invasion from Europe.

What is more difficult to understand is why the authorities failed to see that the Jews of Germany were not likely to be Nazi sympathizers, but rather willing fighters against Nazism, particularly as many of them still had family living in Germany, of whom of course, the majority died in the camps.

Some internees were sent to Canada and some to Autralia. Some ships were sunk and those on board lost. The fate of the Dunera might well have been the same but for the fact that the British soldiers who were guarding the Jewish internees aboard ship, stole their belongings and tossed what they did not want, overboard.

German u-boats found the belongings floating in the water and believed those aboard the Dunera were German prisoners of war.

Accordingly they did not try to sink the Dunera, which reached Australia, where the internees were kept in camps until slowly they were either accepted into the British Armed Forces or allowed to go wherever their visas allowed them to travel. In this way some arrived in what was then British Mandate Palestine.

As a side note, the officers and men responsible for looting the belongings of the internees on board ship were later court marshalled,

The internees in the Hay and Tartura camps in Australia were an extraordinary collection of human beings, with many well-educated artists, musicians, historians, scientists, and educators – religious and otherwise. Thrown together by force of circumstance, safe and yet exiled, their stories are many.

Of the many interesting and poignant stories of those aboard the Dunera, the story of Max Shchiff bears telling. The story is recounted in The Dunera Internees by Benzion Patkin, which tells the story of the Dunera with testimony from many of the internees.

In November 1938, Max Schiff, a member of the Zionest Youth Movement in Germany, was taken to a concentration camp for punishment. He was released and determined to escape from Germany. He took his family with him on a Mediterranean cruise that called in at Haifa and Tel-Aviv. They hoped to disappear once they were on land but they were not allowed to disembark.

In Athens they left the ship and hired a taxi to drive them northwards but they were overtaken by the police and put back on board. In Rotterdam Max Schiff dived overboard and swam ashore. He was captured and returned to Germany where the judge ordered him home, saying that as the Reich had requested Jews to leave Germany, he had done only what he was asked to do.

After escaping again and reaching England he was interned and deported to Australia on the Dunera. Fretting as to the fate of his wife and determining that the best way to bring the two of them together most quickly was to join the British Armed Forces, he did so when the status of the Jewish internees was altered to allow this. He was drowned when the troop transport on which he was sailing was torpedoed on route to England.