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Pre-State Israel: Atlit Immigration Camp

The “illegal” immigration (Ha’apala) to Israel during the British Mandate is a fateful period in the history of the Jewish People and the modern settlement in Israel but also one that links the heritage chain and the stories of heroism of the Jewish people. Coming by every conceivable route, some 122,000 immigrants came to Israel during the Mandate - about 20% of the entire population of Israel prior to independence.

At the end of the 1930's, the British constructed the Atlit detention camp as a military camp on the Mediterranean coast. Between 1939 and 1948, it was converted and served as a detention camp for illegal Jewish immigrants. Many of those imprisoned at Atlit had escaped from Nazi persecution in Europe, but upon arriving on the shores of Israel found themselves incarcerated once again behind barbed wire.

On the night of October 9, 1945, Palmach fighters led by Nachum Sarig broke into the Atlit camp and freed the prisoners in a daring raid. The operation demonstrated valor and resistance by members of the Yishuv in the struggle for the right to immigrate.

Following Israel's independence, the Council for Israel Heritage Sites was allocated much of the camp's original 25 acres and the site was officially proclaimed a National Monument in 1987. The Atlit Detention Camp museum aims to teach the history of this illegal immigration to Israel. It enables the visitor to experience the trauma of the immigrants who were subjected to this form of imprisonment.

The site has a number of restored corrugated barracks, which the British used for processing, servicing and housing of the immigrants. These restored barracks serve to tell the story as the backdrop for a “Sight and Sound” show, interactive computer games and for housing and displaying the Ha'apala archives.

Sources: Society for Preservation of Israel Heritage Sites