With over 200 museums, Israel is one of the countries with the highest number of museums per capita in the world. And Jerusalem is always a great place to start to go museum-hopping.
While Jerusalem is home to Israel Museum, one of the world’s leading museums, remember that the city has other wonderful museums to visit to learn the complex and colorful past of the country and its people. There is the Tower of David Museum in the Old City, Yad Vashem in the New City of Jerusalem (dedicated to Holocaust victims), the Bible Lands Museum, and many others.
Now, let’s move on to the other lesser-known museums that are still worth visiting. Every visitor in Israel needs to learn about the complex and intricate past and the people that became part of it, which led to Israel that it is today. One of them is the Museum of Underground Prisoners, located on Mish’ol HaGvura street in the heart of Jerusalem. The museum is dedicated to preserving the memory of the fight of the Jewish people during the period leading to the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948.
A short history about the Museum of Underground Prisoners
The museum’s building was originally built as a women’s hostel that was part of the Russian Compound (in today’s central Jerusalem) during the mid-19th century. During the reign of the British Mandate (1917 – 1948), the hostel was converted into a central prison. Alongside criminals, hundreds of people from underground groups were imprisoned there: Haganah, Irgun (also known as Etzel), and Lehi (or Lechi, also known as the Stern gang). These groups had been captured by the British on various activities while fighting against the foreign regime.
Towards the end of the British Mandate, Haganah forces conquered the Russian Compound, with the help of Irgun and Lehi during an operation on May 15, 1948. The operation is known by several names: Operation Kilshon, Operation Pitchfork, and Operation Trident.
Following the establishment of the State of Israel, the building was later used for various civic purposes (including a warehouse of the Jewish Agency). The Israeli government purchased almost the entire compound from the Russian government during the 1960s. In 1991 the Defense Ministry acquired the building, restored and converted it into a museum. It depicts the struggles of the Jewish people (“Yishuv”) for the establishment of the State of Israel through the unique narrative of the underground prisoners.
What’s in the museum?
The Museum of Underground Prisoners features the prison cell, the escape room, the solitary confinement cells, the synagogue cell, and an execution chamber. The execution chamber stood as a mute witness to the sacrifice story of Meir Feinstein and Moshe Barazani, members of Lehi and Irgun, respectively.
There’s also a bakery, “special treatment cell” (for criminals who committed relatively “light” crimes), clothes storeroom, prison yards, exercise yard, and a warden and secretariat room. There’s also a memorial room where pictures of the 13 men who were hanged during the British mandate are displayed. Like all museums, the Museum of Underground Prisoners has an information center.
Guided tours are provided through the prison cells, the introduction of the story of the underground prisoners and their fight on behalf of the Jewish people of the Land of Israel during the British rule. The tour includes a film following a new prisoner at the prison, a visit to the escape room, the solitary confinement room, and the execution chamber. It takes one-and-a-half hours to complete the tour.
There are also tours for children, which include games and family activities.
Visiting the Museum of Underground Prisoners
1 Mish’ol HaGvura Street (also known as 1 Heroic Lane Street),
Contact and information details:
Phone: (972) 26233166
Sunday to Thursday: 09:00 – 17:00
Adult: 15 NIS
Children (5 to 18 years), senior citizens, students: NIS 10
Soldiers, officers, and members: free admission
Payment in cash or by check only.
Information about the schedule and entrance fees may change without prior notice.