Where Did Atlit And Hadar Haifa Go?
By Eva Feld
Eva Feld was born in Dortmund, Germany. Her father, Dr. Walter Steinberg, understood the threat of Nazism and in 1932, before Hitler even came to power, he came to Palestine looking for a refuge for his family. They followed him three years later, in 1935, sailing on the Yugoslav-flagged S/S Princessa Olga from Trieste to Haifa – where the family settled at Beit Wolloch on Mount Carmel.
Growing up as a yekke in Haifa, Feld experienced culture shock and the yishuv’s discrimination against German immigrants and lived through the constant battles and violence that prevailed in those early years before the state. The Haganah, Etzel and Lehi spent as much time fighting each other as fighting the British, she remembers. Suspected collaborators were summarily executed. She recalls the sinking of the S/S Patria on November 25, 1940 with 1800 Jewish would be immigrants on board. The Patria was the test of the 1939 White Paper to prove to the Arab leadership that indeed no more Jewish immigrants would be permitted into Palestine.
Finally in March 1947 the family boarded the S/S Russia – formerly a Nazi luxury liner – and sailed from Haifa to New York. Since then she never returned to the land of her youth until this year. Below are her impressions of the new country:
After 62 years of absence I visited my grandmother’s grave site, the Detention Camp of Atlit, Merkaz HaCarmel and the Hadar. I lived on Merkas HaCarmel and attended the Reali School in the Wadi. The address was #2 Sea Road. I spent my youth on the Hadar not only as a student but also as a volunteer at the Magen David Adom where I experienced the senseless refinery massacre and assorted exchanges of fire fallouts.
My grandmother’s grave site was more than just pristine. Its beauty glowing with dignity overwhelmed every fiber of my existence. It was an overwhelming event. Thank you to the Chevra Kadisha your work is beyond my treasury of words
On to Atlit were bitter and sweet memories reside. Where the ugly and the monotony of barracks, sand up to the mid-calves was made attractive by the personnel that ran the hospital section. Tall Cypress of Lebanon trees adorned the southern perimeter. We did not have life or death dramas but we had births. What a beautiful and appropriate event to happen that Succoth night. I begged to watch the birth; I was all of seventeen. The attending physician, a Hungarian refugee gave permission because he had a special liking for me. I lasted until the head appeared when my head began to spin and then ground under my feet slipped away. I don’t remember who was taken out of the delivery room first me or the baby. The baby was a boy and his name was Eliyahu. He was my special baby for the duration of my stay and hopefully should be well into his senior years by now.
I had every reason to look forward to Atlit. I showed the cashier the original Magen David Adom card which was all that was required to gain entrance to the hospital. While the cashier fussed with my request to be admitted at no charge I asked where Atlit was. I was shocked beyond words when she pointed out the shaded treed area with carefully maintained paths. The disinfection barrack was there and the basin where people could wash their hands. Otherwise the place had the aura of a well maintained primitive resort place.
Sure the disinfection barrack is there, under trees, of course, now where is the dining room with the rats lined up on the rafters waiting for crumbs to fall.... we had to cover up all the food until the ambulatory patience could come and partake. Any one who would visit the place would say, "What's so bad about that?" Indeed. What was good about it where the people, the caring personnel in the hospital.
More than likely life in the Barracks was rough and unbearable, what made the difference were the various groups who came in, PALMCH, Hagana, and Magen David Adom and others who brought hope and cheer and song and dance and gave the people a purpose. And the guards smirking as we waved out cards to ask for admission. And what about the nights when the depressed patients came out and wondered is there any hope for me. And now that same depressing place is nothing more than a "makom hav'ra'a" where any visitor would probably think, "So, what was so bad about this?" I cried! What a embarrassment ! What a fraud!
On to the Hadar which was beyond recognition. At first glace it looked like a misplaced shuk with neglected overgrown and unkempt streets and sidewalks. I requested my guide to drive me to Nordeau Street. The sign was torn half way down the pole, this street of broad steps and on each side fine shops and cafes was a dangerous walking area for man or beast. Excessive foliage and bulked out trees quenched my curiosity for anything else. Our car stopped at a tiny convenience market which boasted in big Hebrew letters, “Big Market.”
Fifteen years ago I received a photograph of my former residence of #2 Sea Road on the Merkaz HaCarmel and I was anxious to see the proud and beautiful building again. In reality the building looked abandoned and neglected. A mysterious business is being conducted from under black plastic bags. My guide forbade me from going down the stairs which lead into the garden for fear of danger. The proud balconies look hazardous with rusted underpinnings - these same balconies with views not only out to the Mediterranean but also deep into the Galilee with a First Century Roman fortress still standing. Happily I saw the flower shop there and after that it was nothing but daunting sadness. The supports where the shutters used to be are visible. The windows are covered with cheap card board painted black and white. The guide asked, “What happens if I open the front door?” “You will encounter the stairway.” I answered. He opened the door and immediately shut it there was dirt and feces on the stairs.
There were buildings I recognized across the street the big yellow one and the corner white building is still selling candies and ice cream. The Reali Mechinot are shrouded in a tunnel of overgrown unkempt trees. I was beyond shame to admit that I wore the proud uniform with “Ha-tz’nea Lechet”. The Merkaz I loved so much was nothing more than an overlooked third world place of refuge. What was the jewel of central Carmel has now become a crumbled chunk of coal.
Israel has grown up and became a sophisticated country at the cost of abandoning its precious past. Aglow with pride, the City of Haifa has let its glorious past go like an abandoned has-been.
from the January 2011 of the Jewish Magazine