The Atlit detainee camp was a detention camp established by the authorities of the British Mandate for Palestine at the end of the 1930s on the Israeli coastal plain (what is now Israel's northern coast), 20 kilometers (12 mi) south of Haifa. The camp was established to prevent Jewish refugees from entering Mandatory Palestine. Tens of thousands of Jewish refugees were interned at the camp, which was surrounded by barbed wire and watchtowers.
The Atlit camp is now a museum of the history of Ha'apala. Atlit was declared a National Heritage Site in 1987.
The Atlit camp, established by the British Mandatory government in the 1930s, was surrounded by barbed wire and watchtowers. Many of the detainees during the 1930s and 1940s were Jewish refugees from Nazi-controlled Europe. In the late 1940s, most were Holocaust survivors. The British authorities, acceding to Arab demands to limit Jewish immigration, refused to allow them to enter the country.
At Atlit camp, the men were sent to one side, women to the other. They were sprayed with DDT, then told to undress and enter the showers. In 1939–1948, tens of thousands of Jewish immigrants were interned here, men and women separated by barbed wire. Some internees stayed as long as 23 months.
The Darien II arrived with 800 refugees in March 1941. They were detained at the Atlit camp until September 1942, when the camp was shut down.
The Atlit camp was reopened in 1945 following World War II, as more and more illegals arrived in Palestine. Most of them were Holocaust survivors from DP camps in Europe who made the journey through the Berihah and Ha'apala ("Aliya Beth") clandestine immigration network.
Some of the German Templers living in the six Templer colonies in Palestine, who openly supported the Nazis, were declared enemy nationals by the British authorities and were detained at Atlit prior to deportation.
In November 1940, the British authorities decided to send 5000 illegals to detention camps on Mauritius. One of these deporting ships was the Patria. To stop the deportation, the Haganah, the Jewish underground militia in Palestine, exploded a bomb in the ship's hold on November 25. The size of the explosive charge had been seriously miscalculated, and the ship sank quickly. On board were 1800 refugees; 216 drowned in the disaster. The survivors from the Patria were detained in Atlit and not deported to Mauritius. They were released after a few months.
On October 10, 1945, the Palmach (special forces unit of the Haganah) broke into the camp and released 200 detainees, who escaped. Yitzhak Rabin, then a young officer, planned the raid and Nachum Sarig commanded it. Following this event, the British deported illegals to Cyprus internment camps. These camps operated from 1946 through the establishment of the State of Israel.
During the 1948 Arab-Israeli war, Atlit detainee camp served as a prisoner of war (POW) camp and civil internment camp for local Arabs. Egyptian POWs from the 1967 war and Lebanese citizens were also held there.