In 1942, Jewish leaders asked a Haifa law firm to assist with a vital project: a network of defensive positions on Mount Carmel to halt the Germans if the Afrika Korps rolled into the country.
The firm offered the services of one of its lawyers, Dr. Rudolf Gottschalk. Equipped with a hoe, he worked with the Haganah prestate army and British soldiers to build the fortifications.
His son, Michael Gottschalk, now 77, remembers those days well.
"I used to come to visit him," he says. One day after work, the elder Gottschalk came home and announced: "You can't defeat the Germans with a hoe!"
A few days later, he bought his family tickets to travel by ship to South Africa, far from the threat of a German invasion. He procured visas for his entire family, but a day before they were due to set out, Gottschalk's wife changed her mind. The family unpacked their suitcases and stayed here.
The younger Gottschalk visited Mount Carmel 67 years later, in 2009, having retired from the Defense Ministry. In a hike on the mountain, he tripped and fell into a hole. It was a remnant of a bunker his father and the others had dug.
Since then, Gottschalk returns to the area a few times a week and, like his father, he comes equipped with a hoe. Gottschalk clears the bunkers and the trenches connecting them of tons of rock and earth. He has gradually uncovered the network that never had to stand the test of battle with the Germans.
Now Carmel National Park is supporting Gottschalk's efforts and will create a trail linking the bunkers, making them accessible to hikers. The project will dispel a myth about the fortifications.
The network has come to be seen as a Masada on the Carmel. Like the ancient Jews who held out against the Romans and committed suicide rather than surrender, the modern Jews would mount their last stand if Rommel's Afrika Korps swept in from the south through the Sinai. In the event, the British stopped the Nazis at El Alamein in Egypt.
But anyone strolling around the bunkers can see that the fortifications face north, evidence that the British were more worried about a Nazi invasion through Lebanon and Syria.
"Like all myths, this myth too has some basis in fact," says Prof. Yossi Ben-Artzi of the University of Haifa's Department of Land of Israel Studies.
Ben-Artzi's colleague at the university, Prof. Yoav Gelber, says the expression Masada on the Carmel had its origins in a dispute during World War II over whether Jews here should serve in the British army. Members of Faction Bet, as it was called, opposed David Ben-Gurion's call for a Jewish brigade that would fight with the British forces. The fortification plans were the proper approach to the Nazi threat, the faction said.
The myth about the bunkers was reinforced when Holocaust survivors began arriving here and asked what the pre-state Jewish community had done during the war. They were shown the fortifications, Ben-Artzi says.
The myth was furthered by the selective memories of some of those who helped build the bunkers. They didn't remember the real reason the British built them - to provide a final line against forces from the north, not as a place for a last stand by the Jews.
There were concerns about a swift Nazi advance from the north, starting in the Soviet Union. These fears were real in part because pro-Nazi Vichy French forces controlled Syria and Lebanon. The fortifications were known as Palestine Final Fortress and included defense lines in the Carmel region, on Mount Gilboa in the northeast and in what is now the northern West Bank.
The British supplied the explosives and concrete and the Haganah provided the laborers. Work on some of the bunkers was halted when the threat from the north waned after the Soviet victory over the Germans at Stalingrad.
Ben-Artzi, Gelber and a third colleague, Yigal Eyal, have surveyed all the bunkers, none of which were ever used. They were abandoned and simply filled up with earth and vegetation - until the younger Gottschalk came back. "For 28 years, I worked in a room without windows," he says. "When I retired, all I wanted was sun, and if the spot had history, it couldn't be better."
This wasn't Gottschalk's only foray into the history of the British presence here. As reported in Haaretz two months ago, he discovered the graves of the first two British soldiers killed here. He not only located the graves and made sure new gravestones were put in, he organized an unveiling ceremony attended by officials from the British police, the British Embassy and the Israel Police.
"This is where my father dug," Gottschalk says, adding that it was good the fortifications didn't have to stand the test of a Nazi invasion. "And it's good my mother told him we were staying."