The German Templers in the Land of Israel, 1868-1948

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Prelude

In the middle of the 19th century, a Protestant religious group was formed in the region of Stuttgart, Germany, with the belief that true Christians ought to settle in the Holy Land, the land where Jesus lived and taught. The group was led by Christoph Hoffman (1815-1885) and Georg David Hardegg (1812-1879). They were expelled from the Lutheran Church in 1858 for their belief in 'Millenarism' that taught that the society was led by corrupt and unjust leaders, and that a radical change was necessary to the society. How? The change would be brought by a small group of believers or devouts who would return to the roots of Jesus' teachings, away from the corruption of the church. They established themselves as the "Temple Society" in 1861 with view to settle in the Holy Land because it is there that the Apocalypse would eventually be brought to the world, as the Scriptures have foretold. They became known as the Templers (not to be confused with the Knights Templars of Medieval era) because there is no need for sacred buildings such as churches: the spirit of Jesus resides in every devout person who is himself a "temple". They arrived in Haifa in 1868.

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First settlements

At the time, Haifa was inhabited by about 4000 Arabs. The city was located in the North-Eastern part of the present city, facing the Akko-Haifa bay. Its harbour started to gain in importance when Akko (Acre) declined after the city was damaged by the British bombing of 1840 (thus ending the Orient Crisis against Egyptian ruler Muhammad Ali). The Templers bought a piece of land, at the foot of Mount Carmel, on the Western side of the Ottoman city, and built their houses there on a single street, while their agricultural fields laid on the slopes of the Carmel.

Soon after Hardegg arranged the transaction in Haifa, Hoffmann bought a land in 1869 next to Jaffa which belonged to another Protestant group who came from Maine, USA. This group went bankrupt after a few months of settlement and were eager to return to USA. They were able to do so with the money they received from the Jaffa sale. 

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The schism

In 1871, they bought another piece of land, north from Jaffa, and called it Sarona (a name derived from the name of the region called the Sharon plain).

In 1873, Hoffman bought another land, Emek Refaim (the Biblical valley of Refaim), just south from Jerusalem. It happens that his own nephew, Carl Hoffman (1836-1909), was the pastor of the Protestant church in Jerusalem. 

But, in 1874, a dispute raised between the two charismatic leaders and this caused the split in the society: one third followed Hardegg out of the society which elected Hoffman as sole leader. Hardegg's followers therefore resorted to finding another spiritual community of Protestants in the Holy Land. They tried the Lutheran church of Sweden in 1874 and the Anglican church in 1879. But Hardegg died in 1879 and his followers became even more divided. The German Lutheran church in Jerusalem took the opportunity to offer them to return to the Lutheran church, which they did over the following years. 

In Templers' colonies, there is no "church", as explained above. Instead they had  a Community Hall. But the followers of Hardegg, who returned to the Lutheran faith, obviously built a church in their settlements. Hardegg's sons lived in Jaffa and became vice-consuls of the USA one after the other. One of them also opened the Jerusalem Hotel, now Drisco Hotel. 

Hoffman died in 1885 and was replaced at the head of the Templers Society by his son, Christoph Hoffman II (1847-1911).

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Economics of the Templers

The Templers mostly worked in agriculture (for example they created the Jaffa Orange brand) and brought many techniques with them that were also learned and used by the Jewish settlers of agricultural colonies, who arrived from about the same period of the 19th century. They also founded small factories (mostly to make their own agricultural tools and machines). The Fast family in Jerusalem also opened a hotel, the Fast Hotel, and a travel agency. A press house printed a newspaper in German called "Die Warte des Tempels" (the Temple Keep). Another entrepreneur opened the "Bank der Tempelgesellschaft" (Bank of the Temple Society). The Templers also endeavoured to build roads between their settlements, which greatly helped the rest of the communities, and founded a coach company to travel from one to another.

The visit of Kaiser Wilhelm II to the Holy Land in 1898 (his ship anchored in Haifa, facing the German colony) brought a new boost for the Templers. Although they were rejected by the Lutheran church in Germany, the Kaiser saw them as German colonists being useful to broaden presence in the world, and the Holy Land in particular. Special financial loans were offered to new colonists to acquire more lands and new communities followed: Wilhelma (1902) now called Bnei Atarot near Ben Gurion airport, Valhalla (1903) near Jaffa, Bethlehem of Galilee (1906) and  Waldheim (1907) now called Alonei Abba. Two of these communities (Jaffa and Bethlehem of Galilee) followed Hardegg and ultimately built a church in their respective settlement when they returned to the Lutheran faith.

In 1878, there were about 850 Templers. Then their number was of 1300 by 1884, and it reached a peak of about 2000 in 1914, at the eve of World War I. 

Overall the Templers contributed a lot, economically, to the otherwise poor and abandoned Land of Israel. They also were key to the flourishing Jewish settlements of the time, with their know-how. But bad tidings lay ahead of them... 

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The decline

During World War I, Germany and Turkey were allies. The German Templers naturally were in good terms with the Turkish rulers. The Jewish colonies in another hand had two categories of people: local Jews and immigrant from countries (such as Russia) at war with Turkey. The latter were expelled from the Land of Israel, and some of them went to Egypt under British rule. When the British army conquered the Holy Land at the end of 1917, matters started to change for the German Templers. Many of them were not satisfied with the course of affairs under the British rule. When the Nazi party raised to power in Germany, they joined it. A branch of the Nazi Party was opened in 1934 in Haifa and was followed by another one in Jaffa. At the time, it was not uncommon to see a Nazi parade in the streets of Tel Aviv !  So their relation with the local Jews started to deteriorate while the British authorities were neutral. Until the Second World War broke out...

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World War II

When the war broked out in September 1939, the German Templers were immediately considered by the British as potentially hostile citizens, due to their German citizenship and to their Nazi sympathy. Moreover, before the war, several young members of the Templers went to Germany to enroll in the German army. Some of them even served in the SS, while their family and parents lived in the Land of Israel. The British authorities took the decision to deport to Australia those who wanted to, and the rest faced concentration in some of their communities. 

At the end of WW-II, the horrors of the Holocaust became known to the world... The Jewish underground in the Mandated Palestine made no secret that they would liquidate, out of vengeance, any German citizen in the land. After release from the British surveillance, it was unsafe for the Templers to remain locally, so they were taken to Australia or Germany on British ships. Some Templers remained though, under British protection, but the last ones finally left in 1948 with the British when the State of Israel was about to be declared.  

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The Schumachers

Among the important figures of the Templers era in the Holy Land, are Jacob Schumacher and his son Gottlieb. Jacob was born in Germany and emigrated to the USA where he became an architect and engineer. His son Gottlieb was born in Ohio, US, in 1857. Then the family emigrated to the Holy Land in 1869 and joined the Templers Society in Haifa. Jacob became their chief architect and built many of the first colonists' houses. Due to his special connection with the US, he was also the US consular agent in Haifa from 1869 to 1908.

Jacob sent his son Gottlieb to study engineering in Germany. He came back to The Holy Land in 1881 and also worked on architecture and engineering for the Templers and was also hired by the Ottoman authorities for several constructions in the Holy Land. At the end of the 19th century, he was tasked to survey the Golan region in view to build the Hejaz railway to join Haifa harbour to Damascus. During this survey, he discovered ancient sites and made the first maps of the Golan Heights. He was passionate about the Holy Land and carried out archaeological digs such as in Megiddo in 1903-1905. During WW-I, he returned to Germany along with many Templers but returned in the Holy Land in 1924, once a settlement was found about the Templers properties with the new British authorities. He died there in 1925 and was buried in the Templers cemetery in Haifa.

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Plato von Ustinov

Ustinov was born in Russia in 1840 from a noble family. Due to a lung disease, he was advised to travel to the Holy Land to benefit from a warmer climate in 1861. In Jaffa he became friendly with the Metzler family of Protestant missionaries and financially helped them to build a school and infirmary. Once cured, he returned to Russia in 1862 but came back to Jaffa in 1865. Metzler treated many of the sick people among the US colonists from Maine. Then came the Templers in 1869. Metzler and Ustinov sold them their property in Jaffa, as the US colonists did. Then Ustinov went back to Russia. There he decided to convert to Protestant faith but, as a Russian noble of Orthodox faith, he had to sell all his estates before. He then adopted German citizenship and became Baron von Ustinov. He married Metzler's daughter and together they returned to Jaffa in 1878. At the time, the Templer Society suffered from a schism and the Jaffa colonists became Protestant. The Ustinov marriage was unhappy and they divorced in 1881 in Jaffa. In 1889, he married Magdalena Hall (1868–1945) who was born in Ethiopia from a Jewish Polish father and mixed Ethiopian-German mother. They had five children, one of them was the father of British actor Peter Ustinov. 

Ustinov had bought a large house in Jaffa in 1878 when he returned there with his first wife. He later transformed it as the Hotel du Parc in 1895. In 1889-1897, Ustinov sheltered in his house, then hotel, the religious services of the Protestant congregation. But in 1898, he paid most of the cost for the construction of a church, which became Immanuel Church in the Jaffa colony. When Kaizer Wilhlem II made an official visit in 1898 to the Holy Land, he stayed in Jaffa in Ustinov hotel.

Ustinov died in 1918. After WW-I, following the settlement of German properties in 1925 with the British authorities, his Hotel du Parc became an English school, then the British police office for Jaffa. Since 1970, it has returned to be a guesthouse and hosts a museum of the Jaffa colonies. 

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