Event Reports

Germany and Germans in Jerusalem

by Michael Mertes

The Rediscovery of a Forgotten Heritage

About 200 people followed the invitation to an exciting and informative event titled “Germany and the Germans in Jerusalem” at the Konrad Adenauer Conference Center in Jerusalem, August 14. The conference was jointly organized by the German Embassy in Tel Aviv, the Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung Israel (KAS), Mishkenot Sha'ananim and the Jerusalem Foundation. It illustrated how much Germans contributed to shaping Palestine as well as the city of Jerusalem and other cities in the Holy Land in the 19th and early 20th century.

The new protestant provost Wolfgang Schmidt and State Secretary Peter Zimmermann, spokesman for the Thuringian state government, were among the guests. In his welcoming speech Michael Mertes, Director of KAS Israel, referred to the previous conference on “Jekkes and Templars” in June 2011. “Germany and the Germans in Jerusalem” followed in this path, which Mertes acknowledged to be an important subject regarding the efforts to strengthen the German-Israeli relations. Uri Dromi, Director of Mishkenot Sha'ananim and host of the evening, entertained the audience by recounting anecdotes that dealt with his childhood experiences with Jekkes, Jews of German origin.

German Ambassador Andreas Michaelis focused on the question of how to file the German contribution to the development of Palestine between 1871 and 1914. He put it into perspective with the German history of the 20th century, especially dealing with the “Orient Journey” Emperor Wilhelm II undertook in 1898 and its aftermath. Given the crimes the Germans committed during the Nazi regime, the German view on the Empire cannot be unselfconsciously patriotic. However, the continuing German presence in Jerusalem reflects a positive memory of the Germans in the city in the period prior to World War I. The ambassador mentioned the Augusta Victoria, the Church of the Redeemer, the Dormition Abbey, the Paulus-House and Talitha Kumi as outstanding evidences of that period.

Afterwards, Prof. Haim Goren (Tel Hai College) elaborated on the current state of research on “Germany and the Germans in Jerusalem”. His starting point was the groundbreaking meeting in March 2007, whose results were published in an anthology in 2011. Goren described the deep and partially lasting traces that the German missionary and settlement activities left in Jerusalem. Urban planning and agriculture, handcraft and early industrialization were fields of engagement and indicate to the thorough involvement in the areas of culture, education, health and social welfare. Goren pointed out that scientific findings concerning that topic were making progress. The subject did no longer only exist in a niche of academic interest, but reached growing attention in Israeli public.

Dr. Jakob Eisler from the Archives of the Protestant Lutheran Church in Württemberg continued in deepening some of the aspects of Prof. Haim Goren. In order to illustrate the diversity of the German involvement due to regional and compatriotic traditions, he used a map showing all 16 German federal states, Bundesländer respectively. His tour d'horizon started in Berlin and Brandenburg, carried on with the Rhineland, Mecklenburg, Saxony, Hamburg and Bavaria, and ended in Baden and Württemberg. Concluding his lecture, Eisler said: “The relatedness of Germans with the city of Jerusalem, as well as their common Jewish and Christian origins can particularly be seen in two German buildings: the former German provost and the water tower on the Mount of Olives. On both buildings you will find an inscription of Psalm 122.6: ,Pray for peace of Jerusalem: May they be secure who love you'.”

Prof. Dieter Vieweger, head of the German Protestant Institute of Archaeology in the Holy Land, recognized the pioneering efforts of Haim Goren and Jakob Eisler in his contribution to the event. The merits are due to them - and to the unforgettable Alex Carmel – because they “keep up the memory of the German pioneers`great achievements in the Holy Land, they wrest away their efforts from a damnatio memoriae and by finding historical justice, they lead the public onto their traces.” Vieweger underlined that the German involvement in Palestine was not only motivated by human altruism, but also by global political ambitions. This “peaceful crusade” served also to the purpose to evangelize the Arab-Muslim population.

In this context, Vieweger quoted a statement by the architect and archaeologist Conrad Schick in 1881: “Who is reasonably familiar with these things (...) about how to help up this country, will soon come to the conclusion that this can only happen by means of the culture that brings along Christianity”. Thus, Vieweger explained “it can easily be ignored that the local population had not asked for these blessings - a misunderstanding we are still afflicted by.”

Summarizing the event, Dr. Jakob Eisler presented two compilations of amateur films from the 1930s, which vitalized the image of German educational institutions and hospitals in Palestine. The films were well received by the audience. In general, the evening succeeded to illuminate an important chapter within the history of the German-Israeli relationship and also to raise interest to study the subject of “Germany and the Germans in Jerusalem” more deeply.

Translated by Magdalena Hermes