Sixty Years Since Breaking Out from Acco Prison

May 3, 2007

Land of My Birth – On the fourteenth of Iyar 5707 (May 4, 1947), the members of the Etzel performed a more daring and sophisticated act than had ever been attempted against the British rulers of the land. They succeeded in breaking into the best protected and most closely watched prison, where the underground fighters of the Hagannah, the Etzel, and the Lechi were being held.

The preparations for the operation were detailed and many: The Etzel bought old vehicles from British army surplus, fixed them, and painted them with the colors of the engineering brigade of the British Army, and it also acquired the proper uniforms. At the same time, explosives were smuggled into the prison, hidden in the food.

The Etzel fighters dressed up as British engineering soldiers, and they arrived in Acco disguised as a military convoy. They took ladders from one of the trucks and proceeded to act as if they were fixing the telephone lines. But in reality they attached explosive charges to the windows of the prison. Other groups set up roadblocks in front of the site of the break-in and performed actions to distract the British.

A huge explosion blew a hole in the outside wall of the prison, and the prisoners on the inside broke open the gates using more explosives, a gasoline fire, and hand grenades. In the great tumult, 41 prisoners managed to escape. The first ones to flee encountered British soldiers who had been swimming in the ocean, and they were caught and returned to the prison. The rest of the prisoners managed to escape and made their way to the central area of the land. Two of the squads making distractions were captured. The results of the operation were quite disappointing. In all, 27 prisoners managed to escape, but 9 attackers and prisoners were killed, including the commander of the escape, Dov Cohen. Six were injured, and 8 of those who escaped were caught and returned to the prison. Five of the men who had been posted as a distraction were put on trial, and three of them were executed: Yaacov Weiss, Avshalom Chaviv, and Meir Nakar. At the same time, 182 Arab criminals escaped from the prison.

The escape made a big impression in the Arab countries, as was reported from London and New York:

“The attack on Acco Prison was perceived here as a blow to British prestige … Military groups described the attack as a well thought out strategic plan. The Jews accomplished their ambitious plan, which was more difficult than anything they had done before, with perfection. The execution of the operation was described by military experts as exemplary. In the British Parliament, the question was what action would be taken as a result of the events in the Acco Prison, which had decreased the British prestige to a very low level.”

However, what the Gentiles said was much less important than the question of whether this operation was good for the Jews. The large losses incurred weighed heavily on the heroic character of the operation. Many of the people criticized the operation, which had involved such a high risk, and saw it as an irresponsible act. The Jewish Agency, which was in effect the government in formation, published an official announcement expressing doubts about the operation.

“… an irresponsible action, a suicidal act. Many of the attackers were killed, at the additional price of freeing many Arab criminals, including some who had spilled Jewish blood.”

On the other hand, the commander of the Etzel, Menachem Begin, had a message that was the opposite, both in content and in its poetic language. Here is what he broadcast on the underground radio:

“In Acco, which is populated exclusively by Arabs, surrounded on all sides by huge camps of the enemy, our soldiers attacked the ancient fortress which was guarded by hundreds of policemen. They broke through the walls of the prison, set free and brought to a safe haven dozens of Jewish fighters … Only blind chance, which can never be anticipated in advance, caused us to have casualties…

“Once again, our blood was spilled onto the soil of the hills of the Gall. But this was not the blood of victims, it was the blood of warriors and heroes, which will lead to the birth to new heroes… bringing freedom to our homeland… Let us continue on the path of war… until the day comes when we can rise up into the fortress of Acco… We will eradicate from under the skies of our land the British Bastille, that symbol of slavery, the fortress of tyranny.”

(Source: Prof. Yehuda Lapidot, at the “Daat“ website, among others)

Reprinted with permission from Zomet Institute (www.zomet.org.il).

The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.