Atlit Detention Camp

Historic Site in North Coast

In 1939, as the situation of the Jews of Europe became increasingly dire, the British government issued a white paper limiting Jewish immigration to Palestine to 10,000 to 15,000 'certificates' a year. If Jewish refugees could not come to Palestine legally, the leaders of the Zionist Movement decided, they would do so illegally. Thousands of Jews fleeing Nazism made it past the British blockade, but many more were captured and interned at the Atlit 'Illegal' Immigrant Detention Camp.

On 10 October 1945, the Palmach (the Special Forces unit of the Haganah) broke into the camp and released 208 prisoners. The daring infiltration, led by a young Yitzhak Rabin, caused the British to close the camp. Between 1946 and 1949, Holocaust survivors and other Jews arrested for illegally entering Palestine were sent to camps on Cyprus.

You can walk around the site on your own, but written explanation is scant; the best way to see the camp is on a 1½-hour guided tour (call ahead). Guides present the barracks (reconstructed); a dreadful wash house (largely original) where new arrivals were stripped of their clothing and disinfected with DDT; and a 34m-long ship very much like the ones used to ferry ma’apilim (clandestine immigrants) to pre-state Israel (the vessel here is actually the Galina, built in Latvia in the 1970s). A ship this size would have been packed with 600 to 800 refugees.

The Atlit camp is 16km south of Haifa and 20km north of Zichron Ya’akov. Bus 221 (every 30 minutes) links the camp with the Atlit train station (10 minutes), 3km to the south, and Haifa’s Hof HaCarmel bus station (25 minutes).