Mitri Simaan Nehmeh
My father (Simaan Elias Abdallah Nehmeh) was a student in the Syrian Orphanage. He left with his cousin Abou Martin (Elias Nasrallah Haddad) to Jerusalem. He was sent to Germany to learn carpentry.
studied at night and worked in the workshops during the day. Upon finishing his training in Germany, he was handed his certificate by the Prussian Emperor. The emperor noticed his strange name. He asked about him and was told he was from Syria and that he excelled in his work and earned his certificate with distinction. The emperor congratulated him and was so impressed that he decorated him with a medal and gave him a present: a brass model of Kölner Dom. Cathedral.
My father gave a very good reputation for the Syrian Orphanage in Germany.
He returned to Lebanon after finishing his studies in Schneller Jerusalem. He was employed at the American school in Sidon where he taught carpentry.
When I (Mitri) was born in 1929, my father wrote to Theodore Schneller asking him to come and baptize me. He was not able to come because he was traveling to Germany so he sent his son, Hermann Schneller, who baptized me in our home in Khirbet Kanafar.
When I was seven years old, Herman Schneller wrote to my father informing him that there is a place for me in Jerusalem and asked him to bring me as soon as he could. I was sent to Jerusalem and stayed there until 1939 when the war broke out.
I was transferred with other students of the elementary school to Nazareth after the British army occupied Jerusalem and Herman Schneller was deported to Australia.
The vocational students remained in Jerusalem after being given small parts of the school namely the Schneller printing press, the vocational school, and the pottery workshop.
The secondary students were sent to Bethlehem.
I remained in Nazareth until 1944 and then I was returned to Jerusalem to the vocational school where I learnt metalwork and got my diploma in the summer of 1947.
I worked in the Daniel Haddad (another Schneller graduate) workshop in Jerusalem for two days. An owner of a factory in Ramallah needed an employee. I went there and worked for him for four days after which I was asked to return to Schneller Jerusalem.
The employee working on the electric generator, Issa Tweini from Ain Karem, made a mistake and the generator exploded. He was sacked and they needed some one to replace him; so, I retuned to Jerusalem and was employed by Mr. Saeed Asfour who was the director then. Mr. Asfour asked me to learn more about generators and he employed me for 30 Palestinian piasters per month.
The tradition in Jerusalem was that every year we went for a three days' trip to Jericho. That year we missed that trip because Helmut Billeh was killed. The Jewish community alleged he was capturing and killing Jews in Germany. I remember going to my barber, who was Jewish, for a haircut and asking him why they did that terrible deed by killing Helmut Billeh. The barber told me he was killing Jews. I asked him how
would that be possible when he worked twenty-four hours with his father Franz Billeh in the printing press of Schneller. The barber said he was capturing Jews in Germany before he came to Jerusalem.
The three days trip to Jericho and the Dead Sea was cancelled, and the funeral of Helmut Billeh was held in the Dabbagha Lutheran church.
I worked in the Jerusalem school until 1948 when the Arab Jewish war broke out. I was unable to move around as it was not safe and I booked a ticket with Alamain Taxi service and returned to Nakura Lebanon just before the border closed. I returned on 1 January 1948 and I never returned.
In order to leave I went to the Lebanese embassy in Jerusalem as my passport had expired. The embassy told me that my passport was a French mandate passport and it was no more valid. They gave me travel papers that allowed me to leave and return to Lebanon. However, leaving was not that easy.
On New Years Eve educator, Fouad Nukho, called me and asked me to ring the bells. I asked him how we could ring the bells when the war was still going. He told me we are occupied and we have been asked to ring the bells so we have to do that.
I took ten to fifteen students and went to the bell tower of the school to ring the bells. There were three bells, the big bell was huge, and it needed two people to ring it. If the students were not strong, the bell would pull the students holding the rope and would bash their heads on the ceiling five meters up.
I was not the one to ring the bells. The students rang the bells. I stood on the balcony of the bell tower with the principal's son Emile Asfour.
A car passed on the road. He asked me what this car was. I told him it was probably planting bombs. As I said that, a bullet whizzed near us and hit the stonewall above our heads. I called him and ran. He followed inquiring why I ran. I said: “didn't you hear the bullet?”
I returned to show him the place where the bullet had hit. As we were there, a second bullet struck near us. We ran down where the British Guard was and told him that they were firing at us. He told us to stop ringing the bells and we came down.
I explained to the British guard that I was Lebanese and I needed to leave the next day. I had my things and I could not travel among the Jews. They would kill me. I asked him to arrange for me to leave in a British army Jeep. He arranged for me to leave hidden in a British army Jeep early the next morning.
When the British soldiers saw me, they were angry and did not want me to be with them. The guard made sure I stayed and I hid inside the jeep. I was later dropped at Barclays Bank in the old city. I walked to Alamain Taxi Company and took the taxi to Haifa. I changed the car there and traveled from Haifa to Beirut through Nakura. I paid two Palestinian pounds for the trip, which was equivalent to twenty Lebanese pounds.
I returned to my village of Khirbet Kanafar. Herman Schneller used to lead the Sunday worship service every fortnight in our Evangelical church, and the other Sundays Rev. Mousa Kirdahi lead the service.
Herman Schneller asked me to work with Adib Mourad in Schneller in the carpentry workshop. I started work in 1954.
I was trained in metalwork in Schneller - Jerusalem, but I worked in carpentry in Schneller - Lebanon (JLSS). I learnt carpentry from my father. We used to work together and sometimes we were working, each in a different house, so we had to share the tools. My father used to send the workers to me to swap tools.
I was employed at JLSS in 1954. Maria Schneller was in charge of the kitchen, laundry and boarding house.
One day my father told me to go to Herman Schneller and ask him if he was going to Ain Zibdeh for the funeral of Ibrahim Shawool. I went and asked him if he was leading the funeral service. He said if no pastor came, he would have to lead, so I took his robe with me and accompanied him.
When we got to Ain Zibdeh, he asked where the funeral would be held. My father explained to him that it was unthinkable for Evangelicals to use the Maronite church so we had to use the home of the deceased.
I remember walking with him and holding him to prevent him from falling as we walked to the cemetery. He told me along the way that Ibrahim Touma was sick and Schneller needed someone to look after the generator. I volunteered to do that job for the next three days until Touma was well again.
I also remember when the director's house was being built, Mr. Iskandar Haddad asked me to help in the work. They were putting up the roof and a small stone went into my eye. I was taken to Dr. Chahine Saliba in Beirut and he removed the stone from my eye. As the doctor was my relative, he did not charge us anything. Upon returning, we were offered payment for my medical treatment but we explained that it was performed by our relative free of charge.
I retired from working for JLSS in 1996 and I still live in my house near the school.