A Visit to the Atlit Detention Center

Students from Cohort V recently visited the Atlit Detention Center, now a heritage site, with Dr. Tami Rich for part of her Curating the Holocaust course.


Cohort V on a ship which was made into an exhibition at the Atlit Detention Center

After the establishment of a National Socialist government in Germany, the number of Jewish immigrants to Palestine exponentially increased. Because of the infighting and violence already existing in the country, the British imposed immigration quotas, restricting Jewish immigration in accordance to a ratio of Jews and Arabs represented in the population. In 1939, the British established a detention center in Atlit in order to maintain compliance with immigration quotas. Naturally, women, children and the elderly were released from the Atlit Detention Center at a quicker rate than men, because the British wanted to control the numbers of young, able Jewish men into the general Palestinian population for obvious reasons.


Our Guide describing barrack life at the Atlit Detention Center, this was a women’s and children’s barrack. 

In 1946, the immigration situation was amplified by the Jewish refugee crisis in Europe. Most, if not all, Jews lost their homes to members of the community, or otherwise, who moved in after they were deported to the East. Holocaust survivors were kept in displaced persons camps, as before the war they applied for visas elsewhere but were continually denied. With promises from organizations like Haganah, the Joint Distribution Committee, and Mossad many Jewish refugees boarded overcrowded ships to Palestine. Many of these ships were meant to hold half of the occupants they were now taking to Palestine. In 1946 alone, 22 ships brought 22,000 Jewish immigrants to Palestine. Only some were allowed to enter the country, others were sent back to where they came from or kept in British detention centers.


A photo of the disinfection showers. 

The Weiss-Livnat students of Cohort V were given a tour of one of these camps earlier this semester, the Atlit Detention Center which is just south of Haifa. Most immigrants came to Haifa first, as it was and is the main port in Israel. Upon arrival they were taken by train, not unlike the cattle cars used in the Final Solution, to Atlit. Here they were required to take disinfection showers, which was traumatic for the Holocaust survivors whose families were killed in gas chambers marked as disinfection showers. If the British guards were kind they would turn the water on to prove the pipes were real, and in fact, water did come out of the faucets.


An example of the trains used to bring immigrants to the Atlit Detention Center.

Only 4,000 people could be kept at the Atlit Detention Center, so the British opened a second detention camp in Cyprus, Operation Igloo, which housed many more immigrants. The demands of the Jewish immigrants were ignored and not met; they were stuck between a rock and a hard place, between displaced persons camps in Europe and British operated detention camps. The decision to come to Palestine was already difficult, the voyage itself was perilous; 3,000 migrants died on their way to Palestine. The ships they used were often derelict and overcrowded. When they were detained by the British they were kept on the ship much longer than they had planned for, and their provisions ran out.


This is an example of a ship that would be used to bring displaced persons to Palestine. 

Tami Rich’s “Curating the Holocaust” class requires a tour of the detention center, though all students are welcome. One of their assignments after visiting is to prepare a mock exhibition for the Heritage Site, and this experience will hopefully help the students obtain jobs in the museum field after graduation. Many of Tami’s students in the past are already working in museums, and this class helped them achieve their goals. Tami will work on this project with the students and teach them how to design exhibits for museums.  

Interested in applying for our MA in Holocaust Studies Program?  You can find the application and more information at our website