As a child, I lost my homeland
I was born in Ramla in 1936. My mother died, when I was seven years old. She left behind six of us: apart from me there were three older and two younger brothers and sisters. I ended up in a Syrian orphanage, a boarding school in Nazareth founded by the German missionary by the name of Schneller.
In 1947/48 hostilities between well-trained and organised Jewish underground movements and the Arab population increased. Our boarding school on top of a hill sat right above a Jewish kibbutz. As the situation worsened – our school was shot at several times – the school principal, who was Arab, was forced to send most of the children home. However, 14 children, including me, who came from the cities of Lydda (Lod), Jaffa and Ramle, could not be sent home, because there was heavy fighting in these cities and all access roads were subject to shelling. So we remained until the principal was able to rent a lorry. This was loaded with some of his furniture and belongings together with a few sacks of food for the children, such as rice, lentils chick peas, sugar, coffee substitute and 14 mattresses and blankets.
Finally we were allowed to mount the lorry. Our priest, Daoud Haddad, accompanied us. Our journey took us to Beirut in the Lebanon, since our principal’s brother lived there. For the first two weeks we stayed with friends of his. During this time a tent was acquired for us, which we were allowed to pitch in a cornfield. The oldest among us, who was 17, was instructed to supervise us. Our life was quite pleasant at first, we cooked and ate together what we were able to scrape and played the whole day long without a care. When the winter vame, we moved to a house in the city of Shamlan near Beirut. Here we were taugt normally.
One day in April 1948 terrible newa reached us. We heard that armed and mounted fighters of the Irgun and Stern Gang attacked the villige of Deir Yassin we heard the terrible news that Jewish fighters from the Irgun and Stern and brutally massacred die most of its inhabitants, thy didnot even spare the women and children.
A few months later in July 1948 we learnt that Israeli troops, with massive support by artillery fire and aerial bombardments had attacked and taken Lydda and Ramle, our home towns. Particularly in Lydda many were killed. The survivors had to leave their homes stripped of all their possessions. For us as children these were cruel and unimaginable events. We were also very concerned about the fate of our relatives.
We stayed in the Lebanon for another two years, until some sort of peace was established between Jews and Arabs. Palestine, our homeland, was by then partitioned (78% were part of Israel, the remaining 22%, the West Bank, became part of Jordan). We went to Bethlehem, which had been annexed by Jordan.
The German missionary Schneller had also founden a church and a boarding school in Bethlehem, so we were able to move in there. After some time, the director and reverend Hermann Schneller (grandson of the founder) was released from his internment as german in Australia. He was allowaed to run the school, but not to teach us German, so that many German hymns and even Grimm´s fairy tales were translated into Arabic and taught. We were educated evangelical-lutheran and went to reigious service. With 13, we were asked to take part in the preparatory courses for the confirmation, although we all had been baptised in the Orthodox Church, but because of our expulsion had no possbility to visit an Orthodox Church. With 14, we were all confirmed in the Lutheran Christmas Church in Bethlehem. Here in Bethlehem I was informed by my cousen who had flew with his family from Lydda to Jerusalem that my father and only 2 of my siblings were still alive in Ramla, only about 1000 persons, mostly Christians, were allowed to stay in Ramle.
Between Israel and the Arab nations there was no postal communication whatsoever. Through the International Red Cross refugees could send postcards, which were ultimately delivered to their relations, but they were allowed to write 36 words only. Sometimes it could take up to three months before either good or bad news reached us. A nephew of mine, who had fled Lydda on foot and found shelter in East Jerusalem, went to the USA to study. Now I was able to send mail to Ohio and he forwarded it to Israel. Despite all of this I was happier because I could communicate with my family more frequently.
At Christmas a year later Arab Christians only were allowed to travel to Bethlehem from Jerusalem via the Almond Tree Gate border crossing. This ruling applied to one person per family for 36 hours. Half the time was wasted on formalities and bodily searches at the border crossing. I was finally able to meet my father again for a few hours after almost four years of separation. One year later we embraced for the last time as he passed away soon after. After finishing The school in Bethlehem I was asked what I wanted to do and I said that I wanted to study technical electronics in Germany. At the age of 18 I came with a Jordanian passport to Köln – Delbrück – without speaking German. I was presumably taught in Jerusalem that Germans love -among other things – punctuality.
Here in Köln I made a training in electrics , worked for AEG, Siemens and Lybold and finally studied technical electronics in Köln.
In 1965 I became a German citizen. Finally I was able to visit my homeland again after 20 years thanks to my German passport to be re-united with my brothers and sisters, who are married and have children of their own.
As a baby I was baptized in the Orthodox Church of Ramleh, I was confirmed in the Protestant Nativity Church in Bethlehem at the age of 14, and in 1967 I was married in a Catholic Church in Cologne – so I am a true ecumenical Christian. 1970 our daughter Jeanette was born.
From 1970 til June 1999 I worked in Cologne as teacher for technical electronics, electronics and maths at the training centre Cologne – Michaelshoven.
Since 1974 I am engaged in the ecumenical movement and the international understanding here in Cologne and in the Holy Land. Here in Chorweiler (Cologne) I helped a Christian group from Antiochia to integrate and to build the Rum Orthodox community of St.Dimitrius.
I have cooked various times for homeless people in Roden-kirchen and in 2001 I celebrated my 65th birthday cooking for 120 homeless in Cologne.I have supported various different projects in the Holy Land, especially in Jerusalem, Bethlehem and Hebron. In Ramle, Palestine, now Israel, I helped a Christian community to build and furnish a community centre and a secondary school. In the year 2001 I was awarded with the „ Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany“ for my engagement for the understanding and rapprochement of nations and religions.
For more then two years now I also engage as knight of the order Christ of the Temple in Jerusalem for the Christians in the Holy Land and Syria.
It is a known fact that Jews were scattered all over the world including many Arab nations. Here they enjoyed the hospitality and civil rights. In the second World War War they were expelled from Europe – many were brutally murdered. They came to Palestine, our homeland, and found refuge.
By now, they have taken Palestine from us and hundreds of thousands of Palestinians are homeless in turn and are scattered to the four winds. I for one have relations in North and South America, Australia, Jordan, the Lebanon, Syria, Israel – and I myself live here in Bergheim near Cologne, Germany.
As long as the Palestinians have no sovereign country of their own, Israel won’t be at peace, because without Salam there is no Shalom and vice versa.
It is my sincere wish, my dream, that one day the Holy Land sees Jews, Christians and Muslims (“The Children of Abraham”) live side by side in harmony and mutual respect.