The Jewish architect of Acre prison in British Mandate Palestine gave his designs to the Jewish underground allowing them to free 27 Jewish prisoners from the jail in 1947, according to his family.
Peres Etkes was a respected British civil servant who designed and built the famous prison on the foundations of a 12th century Crusader fortress in what is today northern Israel. Its storming helped precipitate Britain’s withdrawal a year later.
For decades the mission’s success puzzled historians, but now his family has revealed that the celebrated engineer and architect gave the Jewish Irgun militia the drawings, which helped them blow a hole in the walls to free their comrades.
Gil Margulis, the great-nephew of Etkes, said: “They actually had the plans… Sometimes you need a little insider information. Well, they had a lot of insider information – they had the exact plans.”
The prison was ringed by a moat on several sides, and sited adjacent to Turkish baths, which was the vantage point they chose to blow a hole in the wall after creating a diversion elsewhere.
Etkes was a Russian Jew with American citizenship who was working for the British government at the time. He was an ardent Zionist, and viewed with dismay the British execution of four Jewish operatives three weeks before the attack on the jail.
His family recently found Etkes’s half-written memoirs, in which he said he had also used his British connections in 1921 to transfer weapons from the British-run Jaffa armoury to Jewish forces in Tel Aviv during Arab riots.