Thursday, October 11, 2012

A Palestinian German Wishes to Return Home

OK, let's start with the embarrassing part: I can't say where today's document comes from. The first lecture in Archives 101 is about the extreme importance of provenance, and about always registering the file number of every document. In spite of which, I can't name the provenance of today's document. I found it in a pile of stuff someone once collected from various record groups to use in some internal discussion about something; once the discussion had happend the documents were set aside until someone else showed me this one as a curiosity. Which means I can't even prove it's authentic, though I have no doubt.

It's a letter written by Ernst Appinger on the 15th of December 1946. Appinger was a German POW being held in Velika Gorica, then in Yugoslavia and now in Croatia. Expecting soon to be discharged, he wrote to the "Chief Immigration Officer" in Jerusalem:
I was born in Haifa Palestine on the 1st of January 1910 and lived there till the 30th of August 1939, when I was forced by the German Counsul to leave my home. My parents were born in Palestine too. We were never members of a political party or organization.

I hope to be dismissed soon and don't know where to go. May I go back to Palestine? Were the Germans of Palestine expropriated? May I become a Palestine citizen? I thank you in advance for your kind informations [sic] and hope that there is a way for me to go back to my home, Palestine.
I have no idea what answer Appinger recieved, but it's highly unlikely the British authorities allowed him back. Clearly, he was a descendant of the Templar Society, a group of Germans who emigrated to Ottoman Palestine in the 1860s and 1870s, and settled outside Haifa, Jaffa and Jerusalem. (Yes, outside. Today the homes they built are all near the centers of town, but that was then). They came for religious reasons, and indeed the first two generations most likely were not affiliated with any political parties; the third, into which Appinger was born, had a tendency to join the Nazi party, but of course that doesn't tell us anything about Appinger himself. At the beginning of WWII, most of them were detained as enemy aliens by the British authorities and eventually deported, although a few may have hung on for another few years. The State of Israel, which hadn't existed at the time of the deportations, eventually paid restitution for their property. RG 67 in the ISA contains the documentation of the German consulate, which dealt with the consular matters of these far-flung German citizens.

In any case, no matter how tidy the historical narratives we sometimes tell ourselves, the reality is always messier.


  1. I'm curious as to what power the German consul would have had to force permanent residents of Palestine to leave their homes and go to Germany. I don't see how he could have had any legal power over them. Was it a matter of threats to relatives remaining in Germany or something like that?

  2. Id doubt the German consul had the athority ascribed to him. More likely it was the ruling British Mandatory powers making the decision - but it could be that the German consul was a go-between, receiving the order from the British and conveying it to the colonist. Or some other similar procedure.