During the last week of March I was taken on a tour of the Prison in Akko. While inside I received a phone call from my best friend Nir Zlochover, he casually remarked that his great grandfather had been a freedom fighter and held at the prison in 1937-1938. I asked an employee if it would be possible to look up his file. To my surprise there was very little information on him and why he had been a prisoner. At that point I was intrigued and wanted to know more. I did not know at the time, but his life story would soon become intertwined with my own.
Akko is a city that’s located in northern Israel (western Galilee region) along the northern part of Haifa Bay, on the Mediterranean Sea. It’s one of the oldest continually inhabited places on Earth, which dates back to the time of the Egyptian Pharaohs (1500 BC). Akko came under Persian rule and for a time, was controlled by Alexander the Great. After the Roman-Jewish War (AD 66-77) and
the destruction of the Second Temple in AD 70, Muslims then took control of Akko from Christian Crusaders in AD 1291, unfortunately destroying much of the city and its surroundings.
In more modern times, the Akko Prison was built by the Bedouin Sheikh Daher el Omar, the Bedouin ruler of the Galilee in the middle of the 18th century on the remains of the Crusader Hospitaller Citadel. During the Ottoman period, Al Jazzar and the Turks restored the site. It served as a palace, a government house, and a military camp.5
Under the British Mandate for Palestine (1917-1948), the prison served as a maximum-security prison where Jewish underground fighters were jailed and many executions were subsequently carried out. The prison was the most highly guarded fortress in the country, as it’s surrounded by thick walls and a deep moat. On May 4th, 1947, the Irgun Tsvai Leumi (National Military Organization) launched an attack on the Acre fortress, freeing twenty of their comrades and seven Lehi fighters. Despite the heavy toll in human lives, foreign journalists described the action as the “greatest jail break in history,” while military circles around the world described it as a “strategic masterpiece.”
After 1948, the British Mandate ceased to exist and Akko’s Prison became a hospital for the mentally incapacitated. Recently, in 2007, the prison was converted into a museum.
The Early Years
Jacob Zlochover was born April 19th, 1901 in Darno, Hungary. He grew up hearing the stories about Palestine and its un-ending upheavals during his teenage years. When he turned 20 in 1921, Jacob made aliya and moved to Jerusalem, leaving behind a brother and 4 sisters. They would be reunited27 years later, in 1948, at the dawn of Israel’s independence.