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ATLIT DETENTION CAMP - HIDDEN CHAPTER OF THE ISRAELI INDEPENDANCE WAR

The British "White Paper", published in 1939, drastically limited the number of Jewish immigrants allowed to enter British Mandate Palestine. Just four months after the publication of the "White Paper", the WWII started, and millions of Jews were trapped in the Nazi's occupied Europe. They had nowhere to go, only to Palestine, but that route was cut off by the British, whose "White paper" permitted only 75,000 Jewish immigrants in the 5 years (till 1944). All other countries limited their immigration quotas to almost zero, and 6,000,000 Jews were rounded and killed by the Nazis resulting that ruthless policy.


But even after the end of the WWII, the leftovers of the European Jewry still had no escape – their homes were taken, property stolen, and many of those who tried to return, were killed by their former neighbors. At the same time, the situation of the Jews in the Arab countries also became desperate, and many of them tried to escape. The only dream of all those displaced Jews was to find a way to Palestine. Illegal Jewish immigration, organized by the Zionist organizations in Palestine, did their utmost to bring the Holocaust survivors and Jewish refugees from the Arab countries to the Promised land. The whole British Navy stood on their way, creating a tight blockade of the Palestinian shores. But despite the blockade, more than 122,000 people landed in Israel. Some managed to escape the arrest and were hidden in Jewish villages and towns, but most were captured by the British.

Jewish refugees ship vs. British destroyer


To solve the problem of the illegal Jewish immigration and to teach the Jews "a lesson", the British Mandatory Government built a detention camp near Atlit (15km south of Haifa) to hold illegal Jewish immigrants. The captives were brought to the camp and locked behind the barbed wire controlled by the armed guards. When people were dispatched to Atlit, the men were sent to one side, women to the other. They were sprayed with DDT, then told to undress and were sent to the showers. The very word "shower" combined by the views of the barbed wire, armed guards and watch towers, brought back the worst horrors of the Nazi gas chambers camouflaged as showers. Many inmates tried to escape, and were brought back and bitten, many others committed suicide. But for the British all those people were criminals who tried to break into Palestine illegally, and they could not care less about their fears and feelings.

Disembarking the trains, Left to Right -

Jewish victims of Holocaust ( 1st two pictures)

vs. Jewish inmates are brought to Atlit (3rd picture) - try to find the difference


Atlit Detention Camp


The inmates ordeal finally ended on October 10th, 1945. In a daring raid of the Palmach (Jewish Underground Commando Units), all the inmates of the camp were liberated. Carrying babies and small children on their backs, the Palmach fighters led the detainees into the darkness of the October night. They walked through the open fields behind Atlit, and then climbed the steep cliffs of the Carmel Mountain ridge, continuing straight up through rocks, thorns and caverns. This unprecedented act signaled the beginning of the organized armed struggle against the British occupation which lasted until the May 14, 1948, when the State of Israel was declared, and the British had to leave the country.

Today the Atlit Detention Camp is a museum which purpose is to tell the fascinating story of the Illegal Jewish immigration under the British Mandate. Several of the old buildings, such as the decontamination barrack and some of the living barracks were restored to make the camp appear as it had been when holding inside Jewish inmates.

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