A short distance south of Haifa is one of the most interesting museums in Israel with a fascinating history. At the end of the 1930s, the authorities in British-rules Palestine established a camp for the detention of convicts and illegal Jewish immigrants. By the time the camp closed in 1942, it had held tens of thousands of Jewish refugees escaping from Nazi Europe.
The camp was reopened in 1945 to hold the influx of Holocaust survivors arriving from Europe. Later that year, a young officer of the Jewish underground, Yitzhak Rabin, planned a raid to liberate the detainees. 208 Jews were successfully taken out of the camp. Following the raid, the British set up an alternative camp in Cyprus.
Illegal immigrants were held in the Cyprus internment camps from 1946 to 1948 and the establishment of the State of Israel. The Atlit camp was used by the Israelis in 1948 (War of Independence)and 1967 (Six-Day War) to hold Arab detainees and POWs.
The Atlit camp’s inhospitable features included watchtowers and barbed wire fences. Jews arrived from Nazi Europe in the 1930s and Holocaust survivors arrived in the 1940s. The men and women were separated and sent to different sections of the camp. They were sprayed with DDT and told to undress and shower. The camp also held German Nazi supporters living in Palestine.
Highlights of Atlit Detention Camp
On a tour of the camp, visitors can walk through the original and reconstructed buildings, enter the disinfection building, and barracks. There is a short video presentation that tells the story of the rescue mission in 1945. In the Route to Haapala barrack, there is a database, containing the names of more than 110,000 illegal immigrants who were interred here.
There are personal stories, documents, newsreels, and historic photos from the period. Visitors can go aboard the Gallina ship, to get an idea of the conditions Jewish immigrants endured on the journey from Europe to Eretz Israel.