Jerusalem’s German Colony
Meir Aharoni at the Templer monument in Jerusalem’s German Colony yesterday. Photo by Emil Salman
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A monument in the Templer cemetery in Jerusalem’s German Colony has aroused so much rancor that a special law is under consideration so it can be removed. Among others, the monument commemorates members of the German Christian sect known as the Templers, who died in the service of the Third Reich during World War II.

Inspired by apocalyptic religious ideology, 2,000 members of the sect came to live in Palestine during the 19th and early 20th centuries. When the Nazis came to power, many of them joined the Nazi party and even established a party branch in Jerusalem.

In 1943, the Templers were deported by the British Mandate forces as enemy aliens, and many subsequently joined the Wehrmacht, SS and other units of the Nazi regime. The Mandatory authorities confiscated their property which, after the establishment of Israel, became state property − all but the little cemetery on Emeq Refaim Street in the capital.
Descendents of the Templers see to it that the cemetery, which is usually closed to the public, is cared for, and they visit it each year. In the 1960s, descendents of members of the sect put up a central monument at the burial ground, mentioning the members who had died during their army service in World War II.

The fallen of World War I have their own monument in the cemetery, which was erected between the wars and mentions all the names of the dead and the place they fell. But aware of the sensitivity of the matter, the designers of the World War II monument used deliberately ambiguous wording: “In memory of the more than 450 dead and of those who fell in 1914-1918 and 1939-1945.”

In his 1990 book in Hebrew “Ir Hamenuchot,” historian Meron Benvenisti wrote that 63 members of the Templer community in Palestine were killed in the service of the Third Reich.

He points out that their names are not noted on any memorial plaque but only in a commemoration booklet, and that the place where they fell is not noted.

The Legal Forum for the Land of Israel, a right-wing group, has been working in recent years to have the monument removed. In a letter from the forum to Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein about a year ago, attorney Hila Cohen wrote: “We believe that it is inconceivable that within the State of Israel, not to mention in its capital city, such a monument exists, glorifying figures who are war criminals, partners to the most grievous attempt in history to wipe out the Jewish people.”

According to Cohen, the monument is an “unacceptable contradiction to the law mandating prosecution of Nazis and their collaborators.”

Attorney Michael Blass, Weinstein’s aide, responded at the time that no legal basis existed for the removal of the monument.

And so the forum began to work toward legislation of a bill with regard to the monument, along the lines of the law against the erection of monuments to terrorists, enacted to prevent the construction of a memorial to Baruch Goldstein, who killed 29 Muslims at the Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron in 1994.

The law against the Templer monument, proposed by MK Uri Ariel ‏(National Union‏), would add an amendment the law mandating prosecution of Nazis that would read: “No monument will exist that commemorates, either explicitly or implicitly, the Nazis and their collaborators.”

The amendment also states that any person who has been made aware of the existence of such a monument must report it to the police.

The forum is also considering getting expedited passage of a municipal by-law in Jerusalem to ensure the monument comes down.

The cemetery’s caretaker, Meir Aharoni, a Messianic Jew who also cares for the nearby cemetery for Messianics, says he opposes the destruction of the monument, and says the Templers had no choice but to join the Nazi party. “These were amazing people, who brought banana plantations and oranges to Palestine, textile factories, water pumps, tractors and generators. This monument is part of history. All they have left is this cemetery,” Aharoni said.