Atlit Detainee Camp is a national conservation site, commemorating the detention center the British established for the thousands of Jews who illegally immigrated to the land of Israel from Europe during the British Mandate, in the years 1934-1948.
The detention center was built in 1939 in light of the British policy against Jewish immigration to the land of Israel, to appease the Arabs in the eve of WWII. During the years, over 40 thousand illegal Jewish immigrants were arrested in the camp.
The camp included a shack that was used for disinfecting illegal immigrants, clinic shacks, kitchens and dining rooms. About 100 wooden shacks were built, while 86 of them were used to house the illegal immigrants. The maximum capacity of the camp is estimated at 4,000 people. When the shacks were full, detainees were also held in military tents in the northern part of the camp.
The camp housed women and men separately, and the immigrants stayed between a few days to 23 months, based on population density; the British mandate authorities gave very few immigration visas to Jews who asked to immigrate to Israel – about 15 thousand visas a year.
During their incarceration, the immigrants were granted fairly decent living conditions and were treated fairly by the British authorities; a roof over their heads, regular meals and a reasonable freedom of movement within the confines of the camp. During most periods, women and men were allowed to socialize during the day.
After the establishment of the State of Israel, the site was used as an absorption camp for new immigrants who arrived after the establishment of the State, and later was used as a prisoners-of-war camp during the Independence War (1948-1949), the Sinai War (1956), and the Six Day War (1967). Over the years, the site has been neglected and most of its buildings were dismantled.
In 1987, the detention camp was declared a National Heritage Site. Several wooden shacks got restored, as well as the original disinfection shack. The buildings on the site include an exhibition showing the living conditions in the camp, British armored cars, watchtowers and the barbed wire that surrounded the camp.
In the northern section of the camp, a museum of illegal Jewish immigration history was built inside an old Latvian fishing ship that resembled the illegal immigration ships. The museum includes audiovisual exhibitions, and the visitors passing between the exhibitions get to experience restored crowded living cells, the kitchen, the bridge, and other parts of the ship as they were during the illegal Jewish immigration period.
The site also serves as a memorial and documentation center of the Aliyah stories during the British Mandate period.