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Book Review of: Heidemarie Wawrzyn's Nazis in the Holy Land 1933-1948

by Gil Zohar April 4, 2014

Nazis in Palestine 1933-1948 recounts the demise of the Palästina-Deutsche
 
Heidemarie Wawrzyn
Nazis in the Holy Land 1933-1948
Walter de Gruyter GmbH Berlin / Boston
the Vidal Sassoon International Center for the Study of Antisemitism, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, 2013
$116
 
by Gil Zohar
 
For readers of the Winnipeg Jewish Review, 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 dominate the 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 German Levant 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 1933-1948 documents 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.
 
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