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July 15, 2016  RSS feed
World News

Text: T T T

Tunnel used by Jews in Lithuania to escape Nazis uncovered

(JTA) – A tunnel in Lithuania used by Jewish prisoners to escape the Nazis has been uncovered by an international research team near Vilnius.

The Israel Antiquities Authority announced the discovery of the 100-foot-long tunnel at the Ponar Forest massacre site.

Forty Ponar prisoners engineered an escape through the tunnel, which was located with a new technology for finding underground structures called electrical resistivity tomography.

Along with the Israel Antiquities Authority, the tunnel was found through the efforts of the University of Hartford, Advisian, the Vilna Gaon State Jewish Museum and the PBS series Nova.

Some 100,000 people, of whom 70,000 were Jews from Vilnius and the surrounding area, were massacred and thrown into pits in the Ponar forest near the Lithuanian capital during World War II. With the retreat of the German forces on the eastern front and the advance of the Red Army, a special unit was formed to cover up the tracks of the genocide. In Ponar, the assignment was given to a group of 80 inmates from the Stutthof concentration camp.

The prisoners who were working to hide the mass graves and burn the corpses were held at night in a deep pit previously used for the execution of Vilnius Jews. Some of the workers decided to escape by digging a tunnel from the pit. For three months they dug using only spoons and their hands.

On the night of April, 15, 1944, the prisoners cut their leg shackles with a nail file, and 40 of them crawled through the narrow tunnel. They were quickly discovered by the guards and many were shot. Eleven managed to escape into the forest, reach the partisan forces and survive the war.

After World War II the location of the tunnel was lost; several attempts to find it were unsuccessful. Nova is planning to screen a documentary next year on the history of the Jews of Vilnius and the discovery of the tunnel.

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