Tucked out of sight behind a high concrete wall sits one of the last things one would expect to find in the western Jewish side of Jerusalem: a well-kept cemetery of about 150 graves, all of them German and many of them housing the remains of men and women who would have rolled over in those graves at the thought of a Jewish state in Palestine.
This is the cemetery of the Templers, a German Protestant sect that moved to the Holy Land in the 1860s and 70s, a decade or two before Jewish Zionists made their first migration to Ottoman Palestine. The Templers (not to be confused with the Knights Templar, a Crusader order) had left Germany, and persecution for their beliefs, to found a society that would advance the reconstruction of the Jewish temple. This was necessary, the followers believed, to enable the return of Jesus Christ and the advent of paradise on Earth.
They settled in an area, about a kilometre from the Old City of Jerusalem, known as the Valley of Rephaim. There they built one and two-storey stone houses modelled after the German homes they had left behind. Many of those sturdy structures remain intact today in the area known simply as the German Colony.
But the cemetery is a complete surprise. Beyond the locked gate (it’s opened on request), the graves hold the bodies of the founder (Christoph Hoffmann) and the earliest residents who died in the late 19th century. In a position of prominence stands the memorial of the 550 Templers, who had lived here or in the other Templer communities near Tel Aviv and Haifa, and who had given their lives in the First and Second World Wars ... fighting for the other side.
The deceased had fought for the Ottomans in the 1914-18 war, allied with Germany and against the Allies who marched into Jerusalem in 1917. In the 1939-45 war, the Templer men had fought for Nazi Germany.
Indeed, well before 1939, the Templers of British Mandate Palestine had made clear their support for Adolph Hitler’s Nazis. When war broke out, the British authorities in Palestine ordered the residents of the German Colony interned and then deported to Australia; their stone houses were confiscated.
To the Templers, both religiously and politically, the Jews were but a means to the Templers’ apocalyptic ends. So descendants of the men and women buried in the Templer cemetery must be surprised to find the cemetery intact and well tended, on a street where thousands of Jews pass by every day.