go to the same location and picture this: Holocaust survivors and refugees,
landing on the very same Mediterranean shores only to be greeted by armed
guards, train tracks and watch towers–a terrifying scene at the very least.
But the refugees
were survivors, and the camp was a British internment camp, not a concentration
camp. The British mandate authorities built the camp to detain “illegal”
Jewish immigrants to Palestine between 1939 and 1948. Members of the Palmach,
Etzel and Lechi were also held in the camp. Once the Jewish immigrants arrived
at the Illegal Detention Camp at Atlit, they were separated by sex and ordered
to go through humiliating delousing and disinfecting procedures. Their meager
possessions were also cleansed and often ruined.
From 1939 until
the War of Independence in 1948, the British used the Atlit camp to detain
Jewish refugees who had escaped the ghettos and concentration camps in Europe.
Significant restrictions on Jewish immigration caused the population of the
camp to swell to 40,000 – in an area built for 5000 persons. Some of the
detainees succeeded in either escaping from or being given permission to
leave the camp for relocation into Jewish settlements, known as the Yishuv.
This created a degree of optimism for those left behind at Atlit. Others
lived in Atlit for up to two years.
Despite the difficult
condition in the camp a sense of community was established with ulpan
(Hebrew classes), lectures and sports. Shabbat, holidays, weddings, brit
milah and other Jewish events were celebrated as the camp grew into a community.
The original detention
camp is now a national historic site. The hands-on museum includes the de-infection
station, barracks and an interactive computer installation in Hebrew and
English that demonstrates the plight of the Jews during that period.