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The map of Rehovot below is out-of-date as the Hi-Tech Park is already in existence.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!

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