Sarona (colony)

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This article is about the Templer settlement. For the town in Wisconsin, see Sarona, Wisconsin.
Sarona today

Sarona was a German Templer colony in Tel Aviv, Israel, which is now a neighborhood of the city.[1] It was one of the earliest modern villages established by Europeans in Ottoman Palestine.


Sarona, early 1900s

The Templer settlement of Sarona was one of the first modern agricultural settlements in Palestine and became a model for the Jewish pioneers. In August 1871, the Templers purchased 60 hectares of land from a Greek monastery north of Jaffa. Part of the Plains of Sharon (after which it was named), near the River Audsche (Yarkon), it was four kilometres from Jaffa. In October 1871, the foundation stones were laid for the first houses.[2] Extreme hardship and disease took a heavy toll in human life during the first few years. Malaria caused the deaths of 28 of the 125 settlers of Sarona in 1872 alone. In an effort to dry the marshy land, 1,300 eucalyptus trees were planted.

By 1889, 269 people lived in Sarona. There were 41 homes, a communal hall, a winery, workshops, barns and sheds. The Sarona colonists brought modern farming tools and practices to the Holy Land. They focused on crops and products they could readily sell. This "agriculture-for-profit" was an economic innovation in a land that for centuries had practiced only self-sustaining farming. Grain crops and dairy industry first, then orchards and vineyards were planted. Faced with a shortage of financial resources for infrastructure development, the community introduced Frondienst, a compulsory work system where every male member was required to do a certain number of hours of community work each month. The building of roads, development of land, roads and drainage and community facilities could thus be scheduled. Researcher and author Sven Hedin wrote of his visit to Sarona in 1916: "...many plants were in blossom. They mainly grow grapes, oranges and vegetables, [but] like in old times they also produce milk and honey."

British occupation[edit]

In November 1917, British troops occupied Sarona, turning the community house into a field hospital and commandeering other buildings for military use.[3] In July 1918, the Templers (a total of 850 people) were interned in Egypt at Helwan near Cairo. The Red Cross, Quakers and Unitarians took up their cause, and on July 29, 1920, after 270 internees had been repatriated in April to Bad Mergentheim in Germany, the House of Lords permitted the remaining internees to return to Palestine. The residents of Sarona returned to a plundered and vandalized colony. Following negotiations with the British authorities, compensation was paid, in some cases up to 50%.

By 1925 Sarona was still a small settlement, although grown in area. It was still a farming community but more emphasis was placed on trades. With the increasing Jewish immigration to Palestine (80,000 immigrants arrived in 1920-1926 alone) the settlement prospered due to a ready market for its produce and services.

Third Reich and World War II[edit]

Old Templer houses in Sarona

After the Nazis came to power in Germany, the new Reich's government shaped foreign policy according to Nazi ideals, especially using financial pressure. The Nazi emphasis was on equating Germany and Germans with Nazism, discriminating against all non-Nazi aspects of German culture and identity. All international schools of German language subsidised or fully financed by government funds were obliged to redraw their educational programmes and to solely employ teachers aligned with the Nazi party. German teachers in Bethlehem of Galilee were financed by the Reich's government, allowing Nazi teachers to take over there. In 1933 Templer functionaries and other Gentile Germans living in Palestine appealed to Paul von Hindenburg and the Foreign Office not to use swastika symbols for German institutions, without success. Some German Gentiles from Palestine pleaded with the Reich's government to drop its plan to boycott shops of Jewish Germans on April 1, 1933.[4] Some Templers enlisted in the German army. By 1938, 17% of the Templers in Palestine were members of the Nazi party. According to historian Yossi Ben-Artzi, "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."[5] At the start of World War II colonists with German citizenship were rounded up by the British authorities and sent, together with Italian and Hungarian enemy nationals, to internment camps in Waldheim and Bethlehem of Galilee, and were eventually deported.[6] In 1962 the State of Israel paid 54 million Deutsche Marks in compensation to property owners whose assets were nationalized.[6]One Templar from the Aberle family headed Mühldorf concentration camp was involved in the interrogation of the parachutist Enzo Sereni, and was responsible for him being sent to Dachau to be executed.[7]

Sarona, together with the three other agricultural settlements - Wilhelma, Bethlehem of Galilee and Waldheim - became "perimeter" compounds into which all Germans living in Palestine were interned. Sarona held close to 1,000 persons behind a guarded, 4m high barbed-wire fence. In July 1941, 198 people from Sarona, together with almost 400 from the other internment camps, were deported to Australia on the Queen Elizabeth. They were interned in Tatura in Central Victoria Australia until 1947. By November 1944, most of the remaining Sarona residents had been moved to the camp in Wilhelma. The last group was sent there in September 1945.

Restored Templer home

The former Sarona houses were taken over by the British army and mandatory government, and as such were the target of raids and attacks by the Zionist underground organizations during their 1945–1947 struggle against British rule.

State of Israel[edit]

In 1948, when the British Mandate ended and British troops left Sarona, the old houses and army barracks were used by the newly formed Israeli government as offices. The area became known as the "Kirya." A part became a military compound, comprising the Israeli Ministry of Defense, the General Staff of the Israeli Defense Forces, and various other military installations. Other parts of former Sarona were used to house other ministries of the Israeli government.

With the rapid growth of Tel Aviv, the Kirya became prime real-estate in the heart of the city. When plans for redeveloping the area were proposed in the mid-1970s, preservationists successfully campaigned against demolition. Consulting with historians, it was decided that Sarona was of heritage value and that 18 structures with distinct architectural styles would be preserved. Civil government departments were moved out of the Sarona's low buildings and into a single high office building erected at its eastern end. During the widening of Kaplan Street, Sarona's main thoroughfare, considerable effort was made to move the historic buildings intact. These became an area of cafés, shops and recreation. A high-rise headquarters building was also erected in the military section, though historic buildings in the compound remain in IDF use.

Architecture and restoration[edit]

Moving a landmark building in Sarona
Ganei Sarona project logo

Since 2003, the Tel Aviv municipality has been working to preserve and restore Sarona. To make way for a highway, techniques were developed for moving some of the houses to a more convenient location.

Houses marked for preservation:

    • Original Community House (No 25)
    • Old Lämmle House (No 19)
    • Glenk House (No 61)
    • The New Community House (No 9a)
    • Friedrich Häring House (No 52)
    • New School and Community Complex (No 84)
    • Immanuel Steller House (No 55)

In 2008, after the widening of Kaplan Street, which required moving four houses and the old Gemeindehaus, the area to the south was renamed Ganei Sarona (Sarona Gardens).

Beit Hava'ad[edit]

One of the most important buildings in Sarona was the community house, Beit Hava'ad. The cornerstone of the building was laid in 1871, three years after the Templers arrived from Germany. The building was dedicated in early 1873 and housed the local school. After the Nazis came to power and Sarona became a Nazi stronghold, the swastika flew over the building for seven years. In 1943, Irgun fighters planted a bomb near the building, lightly wounding six residents, one of them Gotthilf Wagner, the mayor of Sarona and a fervent Nazi activist. When the British left Tel Aviv in 1947, a Haganah brigade camped there. The building was renamed for squad commander Carmi Rabinowitz, who was killed in action. In July 1948, after the founding of the state, it became a post office. During restoration work in 2005, the iron mechanism of the old carillon clock that adorned the facade was discovered. In 2006, the clock was displayed at the Eretz Israel Museum as part of an exhibit on the Templers. A descendant of the Templers who was visiting Israel recognized the signature of the manufacturer, the Perrot Company of Calw, Germany. After contacts with the firm, a new clock was made to replace the old one, and the original clock, now repaired, will be displayed at a visitors' center.[8]


Coordinates: 32°4′20.61″N 34°47′11.83″E / 32.0723917°N 34.7866194°E / 32.0723917; 34.7866194