Between 1938-1945, the dehumanizing detention camp in Atlit, Palestine served as a holding center for Jews who “illegally” immigrated into their own homeland. While Jews fled the vast Nazi-controlled territories throughout the world, the British, in an attempt to appease the Arabs, limited Jewish immigration to Palestine. Harkening back to the very recent atrocious conditions which Jews faced in concentration camps and ghettos, the British acted in quite an insensitive and cruel fashion. They were brought to “delousing” stations and “showers” in order to ensure they were free of any disease. As late as 1945, 40 Iraqi Jews, who had managed to find their way from the tumult of Iraq (Farhud of 1941) to the Jewish homeland, were captured and housed at Atlit.
A heroic effort led by the Palmach, the elite fighting unit of the Haganah, enabled the freedom of numerous ‘illegal’ Jewish prisoners. Over two hundred Jews escaped during the clandestine operation, and were purposely placed throughout different locations in Israel, making it impossible for the British to track them. The bravery of the Palmach cannot be underestimated. Along with dire safety conditions, the Palmach fighters carried children on their backs while traversing the rocky hillside of the North to ensure safe haven. Not one person who was contained at Atlit was ever discovered and re-arrested.
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