History of the LWF Jerusalem Program
In the wake of World War II, the work of German-run missionary associations, including the Augusta Victoria Stiftung, were transferred to the care of non-German organizations. LWF became the owner of the Augusta Victoria property, which was then being used as a hospital. LWF Jerusalem was one of the first projects of the Lutheran World Federation Department for World Service.
LWF Jerusalem was known then as “LWF-Middle East Office” and worked in Syria and Jordan as well as the West Bank. Over the years, the organization and the people whom it serves have weathered over a half century of conflict.
The Augusta Victoria Hospital
A History Shaped by Conflict
Augusta Victoria Hospital, named after Augusta Victoria, the wife of Kaiser Wilhelm II, was originally designed as a guest house for German pilgrims as well as a rest and recreation center for people affected by malaria. The building, located on the Mount of Olives, was inaugurated on April 9, 1910, but already by 1914 it became the headquarters for the Turkish military and in 1917 it was taken over by General Allenby as the headquarters for the British army.
In 1920, the High Commissioner for Palestine moved in and, for nearly a decade, the building served as the Government House for the British Mandate of Palestine. In the 1930s and 1940s, the Augusta Victoria building and the whole campus served as a “rest and relaxation” location of British soldiers until their departure and the end of the British Mandate on May 14, 1948.
During the winters leading up to and following the 1948 war, 750,000 Palestinian refugees struggled to survive, in desperate need of medical treatment, food, blankets, clothing, and shelter. The winters were bitterly cold, among the coldest on record. The Augusta Victoria campus quickly became the base for a massive humanitarian response.
Dr. Edwin Moll, the first representative of the Lutheran World Federation in Jerusalem, was already on the ground when the war broke out on May 15, 1948. He was sent here a few years earlier, initially by the National Lutheran Council in New York, to extend help to the German mission congregations who, as a result of the Second World War, were separated from the German mother church and trying to stay alive. Pastor Daoud Haddad, the first bishop of the ELCJHL, was one of the many local pastors that Dr. Moll worked with in the late 1940s in re-establishing the Lutheran, Arabic-speaking Palestinian parishes in Beit Jala, Jerusalem, Bethlehem, and elsewhere.
But when the war broke out in 1948, the attention of Dr. Moll and the LWF shifted to the larger Palestinian refugee population and the urgent need for humanitarian assistance. The distribution of clothing, milk, food, and other necessities helped thousands of refugees survive the first winters after the war. By 1949 the LWF formally established a presence in the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan and began working with the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) to convert Augusta Victoria into a hospital for refugees.
At the time of the partition of Jerusalem there were no hospitals in East Jerusalem. The existing 18 hospitals in Jerusalem were all located in West Jerusalem in territory occupied by Israel. The UNRWA asked the LWF to administer the 450-bed Augusta Victoria Hospital, and, with major support from UNRWA, AVH became the largest hospital in the area and played a key role in the provision of primary and secondary healthcare to Palestinian refugees.
Fearing that the property would be confiscated by Israel, the German owner, the Kaiserin Augusta Victoria Foundation (KAVF), transferred the Augusta Victoria Hospital and the surrounding 46 acres in 1950 to the trusteeship of the LWF and the LWF was registered as the owner. By the end of 1951, the LWF Middle East Program, with over 400 employees, was one of the largest employers in the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, behind only UNRWA and the government itself.
The United Nations often relied on the LWF to help meet the overwhelming needs of the refugee population. For example, UNRWA asked the LWF to operate clinics in over 25 remote and often politically sensitive locations in the West Bank and to establish a nursing school on the AVH campus. In order to help meet the pressing needs of a hungry refugee population, the LWF distributed foodstuffs to nearly 13,000 people every month, and established a bakery on the property in order to ensure a fresh supply of bread.
Augusta Victoria Hospital and the surrounding campus continue to serve as a hub of diaconal activities.