After the publication of the British “White Paper” in May 1939, which limited the number of Jewish immigrants allowed to enter Palestine to 75,000 for five years;
25,000 immediately and 10,000 per year following, the Mandatory Government built the Atlit Camp - a camp near Atlit for detaining illegal immigrants who were captured
trying to enter Palestine. The number of detainees who were released from the camp was deducted from the general yearly quota. This camp was run by the British until the
State of Israel was created in 1948.
During World War II, from September 1939 until December 1944, 34 Aliya Bet (clandestine immigration) voyages from the Black Sea were organized, carrying a total of 18,500 ma’apilim (Aliya Bet immigrants).
About 10% of them did not reach the shore of Palestine (mainly due to ships sank, such as happened with the ‘Struma’ and its 769 immigrants). From these figures one can
estimate that about 17,000 ma’apilim stayed in the camp during this period. Most of them were freed in accordance with the monthly quota, but some – the 1,750 ma’apilim of
the ‘Atlantic’ who the British did not transfer to the ‘Patria’ – were deported for a lengthy and distant detention on the island of Mauritius (following the tragic consequences
of the sabotage of the Patria, the British made a special gesture and refrained from deporting to Mauritius the ma’apilim who were on board and survived the ship sink).
When WW-II came to an end, clandestine immigration to Palestine of Jewish refugees and Holocaust survivors from Europe increased a great deal. From January to July 1946, 10,200
ma’apilim were interned in Atlit. They arrived on 11 Aliya Bet vessels that did not succeed to run the British blockade. In August 1946 the British changed their policy and
deportation of the ma’apilim to detention camps in Cyprus began. By April of 1948, 52,500 ma’apilim had been deported to Cyprus. 30,000
ma’apilim were freed by the British and
brought to Palestine as their quota allotment came due (the quota was increased to 1,500 per month after WW-II ended). The process of liberating the refugees was concluded in
the Atlit camp. The rest of the Cyprus detainees, most of those of draft age, were liberated only after the State of Israel had come into being.
Two incidents connected with the Palmach involving the Atlit Camp are particularly worth mentioning:
(1) October 10th 1945: In a daring raid of the 1st Company of the Palmach under the command of Nachum Sarig, all the inmates of the camp were set free. This act signaled the beginning of the
armed struggle of the Palmach against the British which lasted until the summer of 1947. Click here for the report by Yoske Yariv (Rivkind) of the
liberation operation (Yitzhak Rabin – Israel’s 5th Prime Minister who was assassinated in 1995 - was the commander of one of the two
platoons that took part in this operation; the commander of the other platoon was Nechemia Shein).
(2) June 29th 1946 – “Black Saturday”: following the British search for members of the Palmach and their weapons in Yagur and Sdot Yam, all those who had been captured were first moved to
the Atlit camp. After few days of interrogation they were transferred to the detention camp in Rafiah (The Aliya Bet vessel ‘Wedgwood’ was intercepted at the very same time, and her
ma’apilim were detained in a temporary tent camp adjacent to the Atlit Camp; they remained there until those arrested in the Black Saturday were released or transferred out of the Atlit Camp,
thus “making room” for them). Click here for Yehuda Ben-tzur's story of that memoriable day.
When the State was created the Atlit Camp became a temporary shelter for the absorption of new immigrants and served as such until 1970. In 1986 the Council for the Preservation of Old Buildings
and Settlements – a government agency - took upon itself to reconstruct the neglected site and the following year it was declared a “reserved national site”. The purpose of the
site is educational: to tell the story of Aliya Bet. Several of the old buildings, such as the decontamination building and several of the barracks were cleaned and restored and
other objects were added to make the camp appear as it had been when in use. There is also a light and sound program and a computer game, etc. There is also a library there on the
subject of illegal immigration for those interested in delving into the subject and for school children. Special mention should be made of computerized database
which contain the names of ma’apilim and general information about Aliya Bet from its start in 1934. For a small entrence fee one can visit the camp and tour it on his/her own or join a guided tour.
Recently, a small vessel representing a typical Aliya Bet vessel was put in the site. The offices of the camp may be contacted by phone: (04)984-1980.
The entrance to the Atlit Camp reserved national site
A guided tour in the Atlit Camp reserved national site