Saturday, April 23, 2016

Rehovot: Machon Ayalon Museum: Underground Armaments Factory in the 1940s

I knew that the British did not allow the Jews in Palestine acquire weapons, so they had to be smuggled into the country.  I did not know, however, that there was a secret ammunition factory hidden under a small kibbutz in what is now Rehovot.  Amalia took me to Har HaKibbutzim in Rehovot to see the Machon Ayalon Museum, where the underground ammunition factory worked for 1945 to 1948.  Amalia signed me up for an English speaking tour with a group of people that were in the country for the Partnership 2Gether international meeting.

The map of Rehovot below is out-of-date as the Hi-Tech Park is already in existence.  The hidden ammunitions factory is under #7 where "you are here" is written.

You can also see the Weitzman particle accelerator tower from the front porch.
Entrance hours and phone number

The sentry box
The entrance.  Fee was just 20 shekels for me, or a bit over $5.
Picture of the kibbutz in the 1940s
Early pictures
The site still has some chickens as a reminder of the animals kept in the small kibbutz training site above ground
We walked in a non-descript door and watched a movie about the history of the site
I was with a group of English-speaking Americans who were in Israel for the Partnership 2Gether annual conference.  This site was designated a historic site in 1986 by the institute that preserves historic sites and it was restored to its original condition in 2003.

 Since the British did not allow the Jews in Palestine to obtain weapons, they had to do so illegally.  They managed to get weapons but they needed ammunition--i.e. bullets. In 1938, Yehuda Harazi, a bold arms purchaser, bought 12 machines to be used to make bullets and managed to smuggle them into Palestine.  It took a while as it was illegal to buy the machines in Poland as Poles wanted people to buy ammo from them.  They did manage to fool a Polish soldier on guard by threatening to call his officer and smuggled the machines, in parts, to Beirut.  They waited two years there and managed to send the machines as "parts of textile machines" and completely fooled the British.

 They had to figure out where to secretly make the bullets.   If the workers on this project had been caught, they would have been jailed and probably executed.    

It was decided to use Har Hakibbutzim, a hill hear Rehovot which could be dug into to make a hidden ammo factory and  a kibbutz training area on top.  They managed to do it under the British soldiers' noses.   Forty -five young men and women between 18 and 22, under total secrecy, worked in the underground factory, without telling anyone what they were doing.  They alternated working in the factory and working in the small kibbutz above ground.  Workers on the kibbutz that knew nothing about the secret factory were called "giraffes."

After the movie, we walked into the laundry.  On the outside it looked like a typical kibbutz laundry drop off site for dirty clothes.  A laundry was chosen as the "business" above the factory as the washing machines made lots of noise and could cover up the sounds below.

  In the second picture, laundry was drying in the wind as kibbutzim did not have dryers then.
And inside it looked normal too:  The woman at the sewing machine was named Esther.  She started working downstairs but was allergic to gun powder so she worked upstairs and was the key person to make sure everything was ok, to lock up, etc.
Sara, below, was the "giraffe."  She had no idea of what was going on until one day when the door was left unlocked. She was told what was happening, and insisted on working downstairs too, so a new giraffe replaced her.
The laundry was so successful that British soldiers also used it.  To keep them from coming to the kibbutz less often, the group opened a laundry shop in Rehovot.  Another benefit was that the workers often found notes in the British soldier's pants pockets that were useful to them.
Entrance under big washing machine to hidden factory over 40 feet below
It was so noisy below that people often sang to themselves to stay focused.  They could not even hear their neighbors sing because of the noise of the machines..

A bakery was right next to the laundry, and the baker was so good that lots of people wanted his bread. 

Below is the staircase that went down  25' from the bakery to the ammo factory.

9 mil bullet production
 Many of the workers were not outside for sunlight and would have gotten sick from a lack of Vitamin D, so they got to sit under the first tanning salon in the country!!
The bullets were tested every 1.5 hours in a small shooting range. They did it at that time because that is when the (noisy) British trains came by, drowning out the sounds of the bullets.

The final and most important part of the ammunition factory was when the gun powder was put in the shell casing.  Too much or too little gun powder could result in an explosion.  And the children's house was right above the room where this was done.  
pictures of daily life above ground on the kibbutz in the late 1940s
Thank goodness, there was never an explosion.  One of the women on the tour could not understand how the secret workers could endanger the lives of their children.  She could not understand that they had no choice.  If they could not continue their work in secret, there would be no ammunition, and all would die.

 T. A. S. factories during the pre-1948 underground period.
 Under the kill--the secret bullet factory!

Friday, April 22, 2016

Rishon L'Tzion--the Early Years in the 1880s

Rishon LeTzion, now the 4th largest city in Israel (with about 280,000 people) and a suburb of Tel Aviv, located just 5 miles from it, began its life in 1882 (after an early progrom in Kishinev)  when it was founded as an agricultural settlement by Jews from the Ukraine in the Russian Empire.  It was the 2nd Jewish farming community established in the 19th century, after Petach Tikva.    The pioneers that founded the town bought 835 acres of land from local Arab villagers.  They had a lot of problems with sandy soil and almost no farming experience.  A well was dug
Picture of well and water tower over it in 1910.
and the Bilu pioneers came, but the area only began to take shape when Baron Edmond de Rothschield took over, esnd in administrators and established citrus orchards, a winery and improved the farming system, conquering the sandy soil.

On April 5th, Amalia took me to Rishon. After parking the car, we headed to the historic area of town, the first streets of Rothschild and Ahad Haam.  Until a few years ago, Israelis were not required to preserve historic buildings, but in the old part of Rishon, many have been preserved. They date from the pre-Bauhaus era.  The residence of Rothchild's clerks has been preserved

and some of the homes of the 17 founding families.  Each family got 3 dunams of land, about 3/4th acre, enough for a house, animals, and some farm land.

Shmuel Cohen's house--Cohen adapted the melody of a folk song to poem Hatikva
The Kanner House
Official Israel sign on Kanner House
The Kanner house--the second story was probably an addition and has different stone work
Notice the grill work, popular in the late 1800s 
Naftali Imber, who wrote the poem Hatikva, briefly lived in the basement in 1983 of this house
Many of the older houses in Rishon were torn down in the 1960s as the "new" housing units were built.  Other people sold their homes to move into these new units.
Some people could not afford the newer units, so they did not sell, including Amalia's parents.  Now the home (and land) where Amalia's father lives is worth much much more than the units above!

17 Founding families are recognized in Founders' Square

It is easy to follow the special path to go to the historic points in Rishon.
The water tower today is part of a special Square..

Office Building for Rothchild and his clerks, much nicer than the pioneers' homes

Where clerks and visitors stayed.  It is being refinished.
Hotel and pension "London"--notice shutters used in the early 1900s
The synagogue was one of the earlier buildings and was constructed on the top of the hill in the area:
Part of Rothchild's house has been turned into a museum of what the clerks did and another part is the memorial house for Rishon LeTzion, where everyone from Rishon who has died in wars or terrorist attacks in memorialized.  Every town has one and this one is very powerful.

Drawing of the complex with middle glass part added recently
Herzl visited Rishon in the early 1900s and the park was built to honor him.  The tree stumps are from the original trees which were cut down (diseased?) and palms were planted behind them.

Notice "Herzl" standing on the balcony!

OK, I diverged a bit; back to the memorial house.  I had seen a special room in Kiryat Malachi, but the size and scope of this was very powerful.  Several rooms were filled with list of names, organized chronologically.  Under the windows, were books with photos and details about each person on the list.

A close up of one column of names:  The top left says "on the way to the establishment of the State of Israel.
Then those who died between 1948 and 1956.
A page from the book:   Zeleg O. born in 1941 and come to Israel in 1948. Died on July 29, 1960

Zeharia Guy M, son of Rivka and Meir, born in 1978 in Israel.  Joined the army in 1996, on erev Pesach he died in a car accident in 1997.  Also tells about his schooling, sports, things he loved.

On the anniversary of the death of the person, details are displayed on a video.  It was extremely moving.

Newer displays with colored pictures of the fallen

Fallen include women and recent immigrants
Artist depiction in memory of a special group
One room had a special, poignant display, with photos of the empty rooms of those who had died
 The custodian very kindly let us into a locked room with original furniture and papers from when the Rothschild clerks worked here.
Notice the original flooring and furniture

Bottles and barrel from the Carmel Winery that was started and continues to function here.

Letter from 1935
There is also a small section on the history of wars in Israel including this 1948 partition map that is not always easy to find.

Sinai War pictures
We didn't stop at the town museum, but there are some things worth seeing there.  Check it out at:

As we walked back to the car, we saw the new city hall.  I think the old one had been in the Rothschild building.

and murals depicting the past.

And new pictures of Israeli children today!