Cyprus internment camps

Cyprus internment camps were camps run by the British government for internment of Jews who had immigrated or attempted to immigrate to Mandatory Palestine in violation of British policy. There were a total of 12 camps, which operated from August 1946 to January 1949, and in total held 53,510 people.[1][2]

Great Britain informed the United Nations (UN) on February 14, 1947, that it would no longer administer the Mandate for Palestine. This prompted the UN General Assembly to recommend partition of Palestine into independent Jewish and Arab states on November 29, 1947. Some 28,000 Jews were still interned in the Cyprus camps when the Mandate was dissolved, partition was enacted, and the independent Jewish State of Israel was established at midnight Palestinian time on May 14, 1948. About 11,000 internees remained in the camps as of August 1948, with the British releasing and transporting the internees to Haifa at the rate of 1,500 a month. Israel began the final evacuation of the camps in December 1948 with the last 10,200 Jewish internees in Cyprus mainly men of military age, evacuated to Israel during January 24–February 11, 1949.[2]

PikiWiki Israel 7792 Cyprus deportation camps
Cyprus deportation camp


Anti-deportation protest rally, Tel Aviv, 1946

In the White Paper of 1939, the British government decided that future Jewish immigration to Palestine would be limited to 75,000 over the next five years, with further immigration subject to Arab consent. At the end of World War II, there were still 10,938 immigration certificates remaining but the five years had expired.[3] The British government agreed to continue issuing 1,500 certificates per month, but the influx of Jews, especially from the displaced person camps in Europe, well exceeded that number.[3] It was decided in August 1946 to hold many of the illegal immigrants on Cyprus.[3] Previous places of detention had included Atlit detainee camp in Palestine, and a camp in the Mauritius.[4] A few thousand refugees, mostly Greeks but also a "considerable number" of Jews from the Balkans, had reached Cyprus during the war years.[5]

PikiWiki Israel 8676 Moshe Wilensky Cyprus Live Shoshana Damari
Moshe Vilenski playing piano and Shoshana Damari singing at DP camps in Cyprus (ca. 1947–48)

At its peak there were nine camps in Cyprus, located at two sites about 50 km apart. They were Caraolos, north of Famagusta, and Dekhelia, outside of Larnaca.[6] The first camp, at Caraolos, had been used from 1916 to 1923 for Turkish prisoners of war.[7]

The majority of Cyprus detainees were intercepted before reaching Palestine, usually by boat.[4][7] Some were on vessels that had successfully run the British blockade, but were caught in Palestine. Most of them were Holocaust survivors, about 60% from the displaced person camps and others from the Balkans and other Eastern European countries.[4] A very small group of Moroccan Jews was also in the camps.[4] The prisoners were mostly young, 80% between 13 and 35, and included over 6,000 orphan children.[4] About 2,000 children were born in the camps.[4] The births took place in the Jewish wing of the British Military Hospital in Nicosia. Some 400 Jews died in the camps, and were buried in Margoa cemetery.[8]

Escape attempts

A number of escape attempts took place while the camps were active. The most significant was in August 1948, when an estimated 100 inmates escaped a detention camp via a secret tunnel the British believed had been dug over a period of six months. The British believed that the escapees were being met by Jewish representatives in Cyprus, and "selected male specialists" among the refugees were being put on small boats capable of reaching Israel in 24 hours, which were being brought to Cyprus at night. Some 29 refugees were arrested over the incident and given prison sentences ranging from four to nine months. One man managed to escape while being transported from court to prison.[9][10] In January 1949, as the British began deporting the final batch of inmates to Israel, an unspecified number of Jews who had escaped the camps and had remained at large in Cyprus turned themselves in so they could be sent to Israel.[11] In February 1949, the evacuation of the camps officially ended, although some families and individuals remained in Cyprus until November 1949 due to health reasons or because they had young babies.

Immigration quota system

From November 1946 to the time of the Israeli Declaration of Independence in May 1948, Cyprus detainees were allowed into Palestine at a rate of 750 people per month.[4] During 1947-48, special quotas were given to pregnant women, nursing mothers, and the elderly.[4][6] Released Cyprus detainees amounted to 67% of all immigrants to Palestine during that period. Following Israeli independence, the British began deporting detainees to Israel at a rate of 1,500 per month. They amounted to 40% of all immigration to Israel during the war months of May–September 1948.[4] The British kept about 11,000 detainees, mainly men of military age, imprisoned throughout most of the war. On January 24, 1949, the British began sending these detainees to Israel, with the last of them departing for Israel on February 11, 1949.[2][4]

Camp conditions

PikiWiki Israel 7790 Cyprus deportation camps
Cyprus winter camp

The American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (the "Joint") provided most of the detainees' needs, including welfare and medical aid, two nurseries, and extra food rations.[6] The Jewish Agency sent teachers and social workers from Palestine[6] but refused to give direct aid to the detainees on the grounds that it would grant legitimacy to the camps.[12]

Conditions in the camps were very harsh, with poor sanitation, over-crowding, lack of privacy, and shortage of clean water being the main complaints.[6] The local Joint director Morris Laub considered that the German prisoners of war housed in adjacent camps were treated better.[13]

In popular media

The 1960 film Exodus, adapted from the book of the same name by Leon Uris, starts with the arrival of Jews in a camp. The presence of Palestine volunteers is also shown.

Ruth Gruber documents the daily life of Jewish detainees and conditions in the camps of Xylotympou and Caraolos in her book Exodus 1947: The Ship that Launched a Nation.

The book series "Promise of Zion" by Robert Elmer references the camps as the main character avoids being captured with other Jews on board a ship, and again when he returns to Cyprus in search of his mother. The camps' living condition are described in more detail here.


  1. ^ [Archivist tracks down the 'lost babies' of Cyprus' Jewish refugee camps] - Haaretz
  2. ^ a b c Tucker, Spencer C.: The Encyclopedia of the Arab-Israeli Conflict: A Political, Social, and Military History (2008), p. 280
  3. ^ a b c Arieh Kochavi (1998). "The Struggle against Jewish Immigration to Palestine". Middle Eastern Studies. 34: 146–167. doi:10.1080/00263209808701236.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Dalia Ofer (1996). "Holocaust survivors as immigrants - the case of Israel and the Cyprus detainees". Modern Judaism. 16: 1–23. doi:10.1093/mj/16.1.1.
  5. ^ Bernard Wasserstein (1979). Britain and the Jews of Europe 1939-1945. London: Institute of Jewish Affairs. p. 329. ISBN 978-0-7185-0158-7.
  6. ^ a b c d e Rakafet Zalashik and Nadav Davidovitch (2006). "Measuring adaptability: Psychological examinations of Jewish detainees in Cyprus internment camps". Science in Context. 19: 419–441. doi:10.1017/s0269889706001001.
  7. ^ a b Ulvi Keser (2009). "Turkish assistance activities for the Jewish immigrants and Jewish immigrant camps in Cyprus during Second World War". Ege Academic Review. 9: 735–758. (includes list of boats)
  8. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2013-10-02. Retrieved 2013-09-27.CS1 maint: Archived copy as title (link)
  9. ^
  10. ^,_NY_Herald_Tribune,_Aug._9,_1948.
  11. ^,1427422
  12. ^ Irith Zertal (1998). From catastrophe to power: Holocaust survivors and the emergence of Israel. University of California Press. pp. 209–210. ISBN 978-0-520-21578-8.
  13. ^ M. Laub Last Barrier to Freedom page 25

See also

Further reading

  • Source: N. Bogner, The Deportation Island: Jewish Illegal Immigrant Camps on Cyprus 1946-1948, Tel-Aviv 1991 in Hebrew.
  • Source: D. Schaary, The Cyprus Detention Camps for Jewish "Illegal" Immigrants to Palestine 1946-1949, Jerusalem 1981 in Hebrew.
  • Source: M. Laub, Last Barrier to Freedom, Internment of Jewish Holocaust Survivors on Cyprus 1946-1949, Berkeley 1985
  • Encyclopaedia Judaica: Articles: Cyprus, Illegal Immigration (1971)
  • Searching for memories in the soil: Cyprus Mail, Nathan Morley (2011)

External links

Atlit detainee camp

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.

Avraham Botzer

Avraham Botzer (Hebrew: אברהם בוצר‬‎; 25 July 1929 – 2 June 2012) was the Commander of the Israeli Navy between 1968 and 1972.

Beth Shalom Synagogue (Athens)

Beth Shalom Synagogue (Hebrew: בית כנסת בית שלום‎) is the principal synagogue of Athens, Greece. It was built in 1935 of white Pentelic marble, the architecture is an austere Greek Revival style; the building was renovated in 1975. The synagogue is managed by Rabbi Gabriel Negrin, who was elected by the council of Athens’ Jewish community following the death of the long time leader Jacob Arar in 2014.

Delos Synagogue

The synagogue of Delos, Greece, is one of the oldest synagogues known today, its proposed origin dating between 150 and 128 BCE, although its identification as a synagogue has been disputed.

Elyakim Badian

Elyakim-Gustav Badian (Hebrew: אליקים-גוסטב בדיאן‬, born 12 December 1925, died 13 February 2000) was an Israeli politician who served as a member of the Knesset for Likud between 1977 and 1981.

Hebrew Political Union

The Hebrew Political Union (Greek: Κόμμα Εβραϊκής Πολιτικής Ενώσεως) was a political party in Greece in the 1920s.

Index of World War II articles (C)

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Jewish Koine Greek

Jewish Koine Greek, or Jewish Hellenistic Greek, is the variety of Koine Greek or "common Attic" found in a number of Alexandrian dialect texts of Hellenistic Judaism, most notably in the Septuagint translation of the Hebrew Bible and associated literature, as well as in Greek Jewish texts from Palestine. The term is largely equivalent with Greek of the Septuagint as a cultural and literary rather than a linguistic category. The minor syntax and vocabulary variations in the Koine Greek of Jewish authors are not as linguistically distinctive as the later language Yevanic, or Judeo-Greek, spoken by the Romaniotes Jews in Greece.

The term "Jewish Koine" is to be distinguished from the concept of a "Jewish koine" as a literary-religious, not a linguistic concept.

Jewish Museum of Greece

The Jewish Museum of Greece (Greek: Εβραϊκό Μουσείο της Ελλάδος) is a museum in Athens, Greece. It was established by Nicholas Stavroulakis in 1977 to preserve the material culture of the Greek Jews.

Jewish Museum of Rhodes

The Jewish Museum of Rhodes (Greek: Εβραϊκό Μουσείο της Ρόδου) is a museum on the island of Rhodes, eastern Greece. It was established by Aron Hasson in 1997 to preserve the Jewish history and culture of the Jews of Rhodes. It is adjacent to the Kahal Shalom Synagogue, which is the oldest synagogue in Greece and is located in six rooms formerly used as the women’s prayer rooms.

Kahal Shalom Synagogue

The Kahal Shalom Synagogue (Hebrew: בית הכנסת קהל קדוש שלום‎, or Beit HaKnesset Kahal Kadosh Shalom meaning Synagogue of the Holy Congregation of Peace, Greek: Συναγωγή Καχάλ Σαλόμ) is a Sephardic synagogue in La Juderia, the Jewish quarter of the city of Rhodes on the Greek island of Rhodes. It is the oldest synagogue in Greece today.

Karaolos prisoner of war camp

The Karaolos prisoner of war camp was a prisoner-of-war camp established in Karaolos, Cyprus in 1916 with the intent of housing Ottoman troops captured during the course of World War I. The Ottomans were repatriated in February 1920, on the same year the camp received refugees of the Russian Civil War housing them for a year. Between 1946 and 1949, Karaolos resumed operation as part of the system of Cyprus internment camps used for the detention of Jewish refugees attempting to settle in Mandatory Palestine.

La Juderia

La Juderia, (Ladino: 'לה ג'ודיריה'), was the former Jewish quarter of the city of Rhodes, Greece. The quarter was inhabited by Sephardic, Ladino-speaking Jews.

Maccabi Thessaloniki

Maccabi Thessaloniki is a multi-sport club in the city of Thessaloniki, historically representing the Jewish community of the city. It maintains or maintained departments of football, basketball, volleyball, athletics, olympic weightlifting, table tennis, boxing, cycling and chess. Its colours are blue and white.

Michael Barkai

Michael (Yomi) Barkai (Hebrew: מיכאל ברקאי‎; January 26, 1935 – May 28, 1999) was the Commander of the Israeli Navy, a recipient of the Medal of Distinguished Service for his command of the missile ships during the Yom Kippur War.

Monastir Synagogue (Thessaloniki)

The Monastir Synagogue (Hebrew: קהל קדוש מונאסטירליס‎, Judeo-Spanish "Kal de los Monastirlis") is a historic synagogue of the once vibrant Jewish community in Thessaloniki.

Raquela Prywes

Raquela Prywes (Hebrew: רחלה פריבס; born Raquela Levy, 1924 in Jerusalem; died March, 1985) was a nurse in Israel, trained in midwifery, and obstetrics, at the Hadassah Medical Center. A ninth generation Jerusalemite, Raquela is the chief protagonist in the eponymous book, written by Ruth Gruber, who, in 1978, spent a year in Israel writing the life story. The book won the National Jewish Book Award in 1979 for Best Book on Israel, Raquela: A Woman of Israel, written by Ruth Gruber.Raquela graduated nursing at Hadassah Hospital, on Mount Scopus, years prior to the founding of the State of Israel.

After Jordan seized East Jerusalem, in 1948, she worked in the baby's ward at Hadassah Hospital 'A'. She was chosen by her superiors for special duties, being sent to the British Atlit detainee camp and on Cyprus internment camps, deliver babies and care for mothers, in the worst of conditions. On her return from Cyprus, she helped build the nursery wards in Jerusalem and, later, in Beersheba.

She married Dr. Arik Brzezinski, a prominent obstetrician, and worked closely with him. They had two sons, Amnon and Raphael. Amnon later became head of the Patricia and Russell Fleischman Women's Health Center, and Department of Obstetrics & Gynecology, at the Hadassah Medical Center, in Jerusalem.

After his death, she married her late husband's friend and colleague, then a widower, Dr. Moshe Prywes (assistant dean of the Hadassah– Hebrew University Medical Center, and later Dean of the Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, and after whom the Moshe Prywes Center for Medical Education, Ben Gurion University of the Negev, is named.) She helped deliver Jewish and Bedouin babies at the new Beersheva hospital, and saved the life of Sarah, Golda Meir's only daughter, who almost died from eclampsia.

Raquela Prywes died in March, 1985, at the age of 60 years.

Synagogue in the Agora of Athens

The Synagogue in the Agora of Athens is an ancient synagogue located in the Ancient Agora of Athens.

During an excavation in the summer of 1977, a piece of Pentelic marble apparently once part of a curvilinear frieze over a doorway or niche was discovered a few meters from the northeast corner of the Metroon. The marble fragment is incised with the images of a seven-branched Menorah and a Lulav, or palm branch. The synagogue is thought to date from the period between 267 and 396 CE.

Yitzhak Artzi

Yitzhak Artzi (Hebrew: יצחק ארצי‎, born 14 November 1920, died 17 September 2003) was an Israeli politician who served as a member of the Knesset between 1984 and 1988.

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