Sunday, April 26, 2009

The German Templers/Jews Swap of WWII

Templers - not Templars - which is what I first thought when this article caught my eye. A fascinating, little known story, from A life-saving swap By Nurit Wurgaft and Ran Shapira Sun., April 26, 2009 Iyyar 2, 5769 "The Eretz-Israeli residents that have been exchanged have arrived from the Reich," a Haaretz headline announced on November 17, 1942. "There's been much commotion at the Afula station," the article read, "in preparation for the arrival of 114 women and children, relatives of Eretz-Israeli and British residents, who've come from Germany. They were exchanged for German women and children from Eretz Israel, who were allowed to travel to Germany." Ora Reshef, 73, from Kiryat Ono, may have been aboard that train to Afula. In 1939 she journeyed with her mother from Palestine to Poland, she thinks, "to celebrate Passover, and so that my grandmother and grandfather could get to know their grandchild." The grandparents, a wealthy couple, lived in a large wooden house, she recalls. After they occupied Poland, and return travel became impossible, "the Nazis came to the house and found us. Since we weren't Polish citizens, but had documents issued by the British Mandate authorities, Mother had to report to the police station every week. In 1942 they came and told us, 'You're going.' No one knew whether to believe them, but a few days later we were put on a train and got to Israel by way of Turkey." Between 1941 and 1945, some 550 Jews arrived in Palestine under similar circumstances, having been trapped in occupied Europe and then released as part of the same deal, for Germans detained in Palestine. Some of them have remained in touch with each other to this day. The German women and children who were deported from Palestine were Templers - members of a Protestant religious movement founded in Germany in the mid-1800s. The Templers worked to bring about salvation and the second coming of Jesus Christ, and believed the only way to do this was to live a productive life in the Holy Land. By World War II, the Templer population in Palestine was already in its third generation, with communities in the German Colonies of Jerusalem and Haifa, as well as in Sarona (now the Kirya in Tel Aviv), Valhalla near Jaffa, Wilhelma (now Moshav Bnei Atarot), Beit Lehem Haglilit and Waldheim (now Alonei Aba). Although they lived in Eretz Israel, they maintained their German citizenship, studied in German and identified as Germans. Many supported the racist-nationalist ideology of Adolf Hitler; indeed, after Hitler's party rose to power in 1933, some Templers joined the Nazi cause. The Nazi regime decreed that their party would run all German affairs in Eretz Israel and placed Nazi activist Cornelius Schwarz at the head of the local community. "They went from religious messianism to political messianism," says Prof. Yossi Ben-Artzi, rector of the University of Haifa and a professor in its Land of Israel studies department. He believes that the Nazi episode in Templer history has been blown out of proportion. "The members of the younger generation to some extent broke away from naive religious belief, and were more receptive to the Nazi German nationalism. The older ones tried to fight it." In 1938 about 17 percent of Palestine's Templer community were members of the Nazi Party. British Mandate authorities were not happy to have Nazi activity in their own backyard. And at the end of August 1939, a few days before the war broke out, young Templer men eligible for the draft were conscripted into the Wehrmacht and left for Germany. Those who stayed behind became enemy nationals, imprisoned in their own homes. Palestine's German colonies were surrounded by barbed-wire fences and watchtowers, and effectively became detention camps. The British wanted to expel the German citizens from the country they controlled. And so the road was paved for an exchange of German citizens in Palestine for British subjects - Jews from Palestine, who had left for Europe just before the war and were stranded there, unable to return. "In return for the Germans whom the British wished to deport, they received Palestinian citizens - Eretz Israeli Jews in occupied Europe," says Hebrew University Holocaust scholar Prof. Yehuda Bauer. "Jewish groups pressured the British government to negotiate an exchange of these British subjects for the Germans." The swap, Bauer stresses, stemmed primarily from British and German interests: Just as the British wanted to get the Germans out, Germany was happy for the chance to rid itself of a few hundred more Jews. The exchange, however, was not an even one. The number of Germans deported from Palestine was greater than the number of returning Jews. Bauer explains that despite the pressure they exerted, the various institutions affiliated with the Yishuv (pre-state Jewish community) wielded no real influence over the talks that ultimately enabled a group of Jews to escape the ghettos of Europe. It was the British who negotiated with the Germans, first under the auspices of the U.S. Embassy in Berlin, and later through the Swiss. "The Yishuv's leadership had no idea when the Jews exchanged for the Templers would arrive. They did not even know how far the negotiations had progressed - the British had that little regard for the leadership and its power," he says. Rest of article.

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