Not all members of the kibbutz knew about the factory. Sometimes one half of a couple would not know that his or her counterpart was involved. Those in the “dark” were referred to as “Giraffes.” That’s because a giraffe’s long neck causes its neck to be so far above the ground it is oblivious to what is going on underneath it. So too these people lacked knowledge of the secret underground activities. Only after they were considered “trustworthy” were they informed of the “bullet” operation.
The industrial unit built 25 feet below ground took three weeks (22 days) to dig out. The underground chamber has 2-foot-thick walls and ceiling.
The concealment of the factory and the tremendous noise it made was nothing less then ingenious.
Above ground on one end was a laundry room. The large state-ring below.
But, how much washing does one kibbutz have? To ensure there was enough laundry to keep the machine washing 24/7, a commercial laundry service was opened in Rechovot. The maternity facility in the city brought their dirty diapers to this shop. The laundry acquired for itself the name of a superb cleaner. Even British officials stationed in the area wanted their uniforms to be laundered in the kibbutz. To keep the soldiers away, the kibbutz members provided a pick up and delivery service for the enemy. The Brits never dreamed that the whole place was a cover-up that concealed a secret arms factory.
On the other side, there was a bakery. The huge 10-ton baking oven covered the shaft into which the necessary manufacturing machines had been lowered into the factory. In 1938, these twelve machines, (which had been used to make ammunition for WWI, 1914 -18), were purchased in Poland. In 1985 when Machon Ayalon was renovated into a museum, nine of the machines were returned. Three are still being used to make bullets today. Once upon a time, they made things to last.
The raw copper needed to manufacture the bullets was obtained from a makeup factory. When the importing authorities asked the owner why he needed so much copper, he said that women in Palestine use a lot of makeup and he needed to manufacture many kosher lipstick and powder cases to fill their needs. The explanation proved plausible especially as it was reinforced by gifts of lipstick and powder cases to British officials. Large import licenses were approved.
After the ammunition was produced, a way had to be found to smuggle it to the fighters. At first, the bullets were put in milk cans with a double wall. These proved too heavy. Later, secret compartments built in fuel trucks concealed them. Since the British did not expect explosive gunpowder-filled objects to be hidden in fuel trucks, the bullets could be dispersed without detection.
As the workers were underground so long, it was quickly realized that they would look suspiciously pale from being out of the sun. The doctor who was brought in suggested using a special sun lamp to tan the workers skin. They were also given extra portions of foods rich in Vitamin D.
The work was difficult. The place was dark, dusty and claustrophobic – and the penalty for engaging in such illegal activities during the Mandate period was death. To make sure they had no traces of their work on them, such as copper shavings or gunpowder, a thorough inspection of worker’s clothes, hair and shoes was made each day before they exited the factory. Many times copper shavings had to be scraped off the bottoms of their shoes.
There was also a risk of the bullets exploding and killing them (and their little children in the nursery school above ground). Yet these young people readily put their lives on the line. Before they had been conscripted to work in the bullet-factory they had been on the verge of creating a new settlement. Nevertheless, they agreed most readily to the Haganah’s plan and with meseerot nefesh produced bullets for three long years.
After the establishment of the State, the pioneer group from the Ayalon Institute decided to stay together and established a new kibbutz, Ma’agan Micha’el, by the sea near Zichron Yaakov in 1949.