Giants in a Quiet Corner

April/May 2010

Giants in a Quiet Corner

Esther Hecht

Behind a stone wall on a busy Jerusalem street the stories of forgotten heroes and legendary characters live on.

Lined with cafés, bookstores, jewelry shops and even a sex shop for women, Jerusalem’s Emek Refaim Street pulses with life. But between the shop windows and café tables—where Rachel Imenu Street meets Emek Refaim (valley of the giants)—stands a mysterious wall. Hidden behind it are some of the most piquant stories in Israel’s history. 

Two sets of metal doors mark the entrances. Near the eastern doors, a metal plaque announces “Templer Cemetery, since 1878.” Here lie Christian visionaries from Germany who first came to Palestine in the 1860s. Their Jerusalem settlement would be one of seven in the country.  

The Templers are the reason that this neighborhood is called the German Colony. Throughout Palestine they built roads, founded modern industries and introduced new farming technology, which made them a welcome presence. Until World War II, that is, when some became Nazi sympathizers, giving the British an excuse to deport many of them. Some were exchanged for Jews held in Nazi Germany.

But what about the doors at the wall’s western end and the sign that announces “Alliance Church International Cemetery”? Here, in an area just 30 yards wide and 100 yards long, are some 400 graves of men and women, most of them Christians, some of them heroes, who bound their lives with the Jewish people and the State of Israel. 

A few were British soldiers or policemen who settled in Israel after their tours of duty, says Me’ir A’arony, the cemetery’s guide (011-972-52-380-6208). Others would be worthy of a monograph, but their stories are little known, puzzles with missing pieces. The details are hidden in incomplete and contradictory newspaper reports and obscure accounts. The gravestones themselves—some of them brass plaques, others horizontal stone slabs on a raised base, in the manner of Jerusalem’s Jewish graves—offer tantalizing hints. 

The cemetery, established toward the end of the 19th century by the American Presbyterian Church, was originally known as the American Protestant Cemetery. The Christian Alliance Church assumed full ownership of it in 1927 and, in the early 1990s, gave the cemetery its current name. 

Just a few yards from the entrance, in the middle section, a vertical stone marks the burial site of Methodist minister John Stanley Grauel (1917-1986). Born in Worcester, Massachusetts, Grauel was inspired to help the Jewish people after seeing newspaper photographs of Nazis abusing Jews. A friend suggested he join the American Christian Palestine Committee, an organization dedicated to the establishment of a Jewish state.

Grauel became director of the ACPC’s Philadelphia office, but went one step further: He joined the Haganah, which had a recruitment office next door. And that is how he came to be the only non-Jew among the American crew of the famed illegal immigrant ship Exodus 1947.

The boat was carrying some 4,500 Holocaust survivors to Palestine in July 1947 when British destroyers intercepted it, ramming it and boarding it violently. Though Grauel had a visa for Palestine and credentials as a journalist, the British arrested him. But they made the mistake of holding him at the Savoy Hotel, where correspondents thronged the bar desperate for information about the Exodus. Before long, Grauel’s eyewitness report was on its way to the world. Then, spirited away by the Haganah, he spoke to other reporters in Jerusalem.

He also testified before the United Nations Special Committee on Palestine, pleading the cause of unlimited Jewish immigration. The committee had come to study the Jewish-Arab conflict, and it gave Grauel’s testimony greater credence precisely because he was not Jewish. Golda Meir later said that it was a key factor in bringing about the United Nations partition decision. 

“John the priest,” as his shipmates called him, was a handsome man with blond hair and blue eyes. Dressed always in white, often with a magenta shirt and a large gold cross, he became a regular on the speakers circuit of both Jewish and non-Jewish organizations in the United States. He also participated in other humanitarian efforts, including the American civil rights movement and Native American struggles. Grauel, An Autobiography, As Told to Eleanor Elfenbein (Ivory House) appeared in 1982.

The State of Israel never recognized his contribution, though Jerusalem Mayor Teddy Kollek awarded him the Medal of Jerusalem. After Grauel died in Roosevelt, New Jersey, in September 1986, the United Jewish Appeal in New York paid to transport his body, and the B’nai B’rith World Center in Jerusalem arranged his burial in Jerusalem. An Israeli flag draped the coffin, and the grave was flanked by an Israel Navy honor guard, Exodus shipmates and veterans of other immigrant ships.  

Grauel’s tombstone is inscribed with a verse from the Jerusalem Talmud: “He who saves a single life…is as if he had saved the entire world.”

In contrast to Grauel’s prominent gravestone, a small plaque a few yards to the southeast marks the resting place of Charles T. Winters (1913-1984), who helped Israel during the 1948 War of Independence. The young state desperately needed fighter planes and munition, but the Neutrality Act of 1939 forbade United States citizens to trade in arms with parties at war. Al Schwimmer, an American Jew, ran a secret arms network to supply Israel with fighter planes, pilots, mechanics and ammunition, and he recruited his non-Jewish friend, Winters, who owned an air-transport company in Miami.

Courtesy of Jim Winters
Winters was able to buy war surplus B-17 fighter bombers (called Flying Fortresses) which, when decommissioned, could serve as cargo planes. According to his son Jim, Winters “sold” two of them to Schwimmer but kept them registered under his own name to avoid suspicion. On June 11, 1948, the planes flew from Miami to Puerto Rico, as if on a normal cargo run, and from there to Czechoslovakia, where they were loaded with arms, and finally to Israel, bombing Egypt on their way. Winters was convicted with Schwimmer and Hank Greenspun (another American Jew) of violating the Neutrality Act, but he was the only one sent to prison, on March 29, 1949, where he served nearly 8 months of an 18-month sentence.

He never told his son about his role in Israel’s War of Independence or his incarceration. When Winters died in 1984, Jim told The Miami Herald, “The funeral parlor was full of Israeli flags and blue and white flowers. [An] Israeli official came to escort my mom back to Israel for a ceremony there.” 

Winters’ wife, Joan, scattered part of his ashes on Mount Tabor; the rest were buried in this cemetery. His gravestone bears the inscription, “He at personal risk supported Israel in her hour of need.”

After Winters’ death, Jim campaigned to clear his father’s name. In December 2008, in one of George W. Bush’s last acts as president, he granted Winters an unconditional posthumous pardon. 

Southwest of Grauel’s grave, along the western wall, is a grave connected with another battle, albeit bloodless: to make Hebrew the national language. Deborah “Dola” Ben-Yehuda Wittmann (1902-2005) was the daughter of Eliezer Ben-Yehuda, the reviver of modern Hebrew.

“Ben-Yehuda would gather [his] children each evening and tell them all the new words he had created or rediscovered,” Dola’s husband, Max Wittmann, told The Jerusalem Post in 2000. “The children were required to pass them on.” And they were allowed to speak only Hebrew.

This linguistic isolation made Dola very lonely. Her father tried to help by getting her a dog and a cat, whom she later referred to as “the first animals to speak modern Hebrew.” Ben-Yehuda gave his daughter in marriage to Wittmann, a Protestant, on condition that they remain in the country and speak only Hebrew. Wittmann was an even greater devotee of Hebrew than Dola, becoming an expert on the language and continuing to use the elder Ben-Yehuda’s turns of phrase even after they were supplanted by newer terms. 

Dola and Max Wittmann, who had no children, were benefactors of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. When Dola died at the age of 103, a memorial service was held at the university’s Mount Scopus campus. She donated her body to science. Later, her remains were interred in the Alliance Cemetery together with her husband’s, in accordance with her will; she is one of the few Jews buried here. But their gravesite still lacks a tombstone and is marked only by an iron railing and a tiny sign with their names. 

A small upright stone a few yards northeast of Grauel’s is linked to another campaign in the Holy Land: to transform the country from a pilgrimage site into a destination for mass tourism. Rolla Floyd (1832-1911) was one of the first tour guides in modern Palestine and became the most famous and sought-after Western guide in the country during his more than 30-year career. He also operated a hotel and a line of diligences (stagecoaches) that ran from Jaffa to Jerusalem on what was then the only carriage road in the country.

In those days, tour guides did more than just show the country. One of Floyd’s tourists recounted, “He was to see to our camping-tour of Palestine, provide our horses, tents, and every necessity.” Not only that, but Floyd, as the tourist was told, “always carries the U.S. flag, and you will see that it floats over your camp every night while you are in the country.”
Former United States President Ulysses S. Grant toured Jerusalem with him in 1878. Kaiser Wilhelm II is said to have ridden with Floyd to Bethlehem in 1898, and Floyd claimed he had guided Mark Twain, who was on the world tour that sparked his popular account, The Innocents Abroad.

Floyd, born in Blue Hill, Maine, arrived in Palestine in 1866 with a group  of followers of Elder George Jones Adams, an excommunicated Mormon missionary. They aimed to hasten the second coming of Jesus by encouraging Jews to settle in Palestine—and to establish a profitable colony.

The group settled in Jaffa, in Maine-style prefabricated houses they had brought with them along with modern farming technology and wagons. But within a year, after suffering various hardships, most had left the country. By 1883, only four families, including the Floyds, were left. The Floyd home in Jaffa (10 Auerbach) is one of four that has been restored (another is a museum, the Maine Friendship House, that tells the group’s story,

Floyd started working with British tourism entrepreneur Thomas Cook. In 1873, Floyd helped establish the first Masonic lodge in the Holy Land. He was also president of the American Holy Land Exploration Society, which tried to verify locations of biblical events by collecting objects and information, and he coauthored a book on the society’s findings. 

After Floyd’s first wife died, in 1900 he married Mary Jane Clark Leighton, a widow, with whom he also had a home in Jerusalem at the beginning of Agrippas Street, near King George. Next to the home was a stone barn that Floyd rented out to students at the nearby Bezalel School of Arts and Crafts. His wife built the Eden Cinema next door. 

Courtesy of Women's Electoral Lobby History Project
Another kind of struggle—for women’s rights—is described on a Jerusalem-style grave just southwest of Grauel’s. Beryl Annie Henderson (1897-1990) was born in Lincoln, England. She was a primary school teacher who also worked tirelessly for women’s rights in England and Australia. 

In England, she campaigned for women’s right to vote and access to contraception and safe abortions. After retiring as a teacher, she lived in a kibbutz in Israel from 1960 to 1964, teaching languages. She later moved to Canberra, Australia, where she worked in the Family Planning Association, joined the women’s liberation movement and helped found the city’s first battered-women’s shelter. At the end of the 1970s, she returned to Israel for the remainder of her life.

Israel is defined not only by a series of struggles, but also by its cultural achievements, including  those of Reuven (Robin E.L.) Morgan (1934-1995), whose grave is just southeast of Grauel’s. In the 1960s, the heyday of Israel radio, this Welshman with coal-black hair, a Van Dyke beard and a fine announcer’s voice started his Israeli radio career on the English station. But with his command of Hebrew, familiarity with the Bible and talent as a director, he was able to work in Hebrew radio, too, where he introduced popular plays—adapting, translating, directing and producing them. The best-loved was the Thursday-night Paul Temple detective series. 

Morgan worked as a translator and film narrator and even as an actor in one Israeli film. The inscription on his Jerusalem-style tombstone is from “Fern Hill,” by the Welsh poet Dylan Thomas:

Time held me green and dying,/ though I sang in my chains like the sea. 

A few steps southeast of Morgan’s grave is that of an Arab Christian, Jamil Hashweh (1903-1982), whose cultural contribution also touched many lives. He was born in Gaza and grew up in Beersheba, one of 10 children. Though blind from early childhood, he learned to type and play the violin and later translated theological books into Arabic.

He settled in Jerusalem, where he opened an office for translating documents from German and English into Arabic. He organized and managed an association for the blind and produced the first Braille magazine in Arabic. He also devised a universal Braille system in Arabic.

He was a preacher and interpreter in the Alliance Church and wrote many hymns and poems.

Next to Hashweh lie the sisters Maria Lutz (1902-1988) and Mina Lutz (1904-1986), whose pious upbringing brought them to Israel in their old age. They grew up on a farm in Germany and as children listened to their father reading Scripture, emphasizing the passages relating to love of the Land of Israel.

In their later years, they sold the farm and donated all their assets to the Jewish National Fund, asking only that part of the money be used to buy them a home in Jerusalem, where they lived for about 10 years.

A forest was planted in their memory and the JNF saw to their burial. 

A’arony speaks with reverence for each of the interred, including Seventh Day Adventist pastor Andrew Dugger (1886-1975) and his own mentor, Derek Prince (1915-2003), who served as a noncombatant medic in the British Army in Palestine and then became a Bible scholar, exorcist and finally a Charismatic preacher with a worldwide following. Prince spent his later years in Jerusalem and, according to A’arony, influenced many Christians to visit Israel.

A’arony feels a special affinity with some 22 children who died of malaria and typhoid fever between 1924 and 1932 and whose nameless graves lie at the cemetery’s entrance. He believes they were orphans, like himself, and he has planted a miniature garden near their resting places.

The cemetery is the final repose of Christians, Messianic Jews and people refused burial elsewhere. It also has remains moved from the English Cemetery on Mount Zion. Burials are paid for privately, and the upkeep depends on donations. Today, the cemetery is reserved mainly for the Israeli Protestant Messianic community. 

This year, A’arony arranged for a radical addition, on the western wall: a 300-foot-long mural dubbed the Wall of Life. Artist Patty Solveson, from Spooner, Wisconsin, has begun with the Creation and will include events from both the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament. Work is expected to take several years.

But perhaps nothing captures the spirit of those buried here better than the inscription on the tiny tombstone of former British soldier John Shortlidge (1928-1986): “We do what we gotta do, And then we go.” 

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