From 1923 until 1948, Palestine was ruled by the British who kept a tight limit on Jewish immigration. Exodus, the best-selling novel by Leon Uris, dramatizes the story of Aliyah Bet, the illegal Jewish immigration into Israel before the State of Israel was officially created in 1948.
Throughout the 1930s and 1940s, there were Jews who were desperate to flee Nazi persecution in Europe. Many longed to come to pre-State Palestine, but, in order not to upset the local Arab population, the British held firmly to a minuscule quota of new Jewish immigrants. Their solution was to put the Jewish refugees into camps, hauntingly similar to the concentration camps from which they fled.
The Atlit Museum of Illegal Immigration, located 12 miles south of Haifa, was one such a detention center. The original camp was enclosed with barbed wire and guards were stationed in watchtowers to make sure none of the tens of thousands of Jewish refugees escaped. Upon arrival, men and women were immediately separated. The refugees, many survivors from the Holocaust, were further traumatized by being forced to undress and enter shower rooms. Some refugees were detained in Atlit for up to two years.
You’ll be able to see a model of the original camp. The restored reception area will help you imagine what greeted the frightened refugees upon arrival. You’ll be able to see the delousing station where new arrivals were sprayed with DDT.
A few of the original 80 huts have been restored. Using mannequins and original clothes, books, toys and household goods, one of the restored huts resembles what it looked like in the 1940s. Viewing the restored barracks will help you visualize how the refugees lived when Atlit was active.
Don’t miss the boards on which survivors, hoping to connect with surviving family, wrote their names and countries of origin. Other highlights include a bus that was used to transport the refugees and a replica of a ship used during Aliyah Bet, the period of illegal immigration to Palestine. Reservations are required to board the ship.
Atlit also serves as a memorial site for those who died on the immigrant ships sailing between Europe and Palestine. Tours in English are available and must be arranged in advance.
NOTE: The current page has a YouTube Video that appears to be a trailer for a longer film about the immigrant ships.