A tunnel that was dug up by Jews to escape from a Nazi extermination camp was discovered in Lithuania, according to a team of archaeologists from Canada, Israel and the United States.
The team of researchers used mineral and oil exploration scanning technology, called electrical resistivity tomography to locate the more than 100-foot-long tunnel located in the Ponar forest about 10 kilometers from Vilnius, Lithuania.
An estimated 100,000 people were executed by the Nazis at Ponar, 70,000 of which were Jews between July 1941 and July 1944. Other victims of the executions included Russian prisoners of war and Polish intellectuals. The area around Vilnius was a cultural center for Jews.
The prisoners were brought over from Stutthof concentration camp towards the end of the war, in what is now part of Poland, to dig up graves in Ponary. They were ordered to take the bodies of mostly Jews and dump them into pyres and burn them to hide the bodies from advancing Soviet forces. They were known as the “Burning Brigade.”
According to accounts, the prisoner who organized the escape, Isaac Dogim recognized his own wife and family when he was piling bodies onto the pyres. He recognized his wife by the medallion he had given her for their wedding.
Prisoners held in a pit at the Ponary killing fields outside Vilnius, Lithuania dug the tunnel in 1944. For 76 nights, prisoners dug the tunnel using spoons, bare hands and any improvised tool they could get their hands.
Eighty prisoners attempted to make the escape through the tunnel on April 15, 1944. Nazi guards quickly learned of their escape attempt and shot many of them. Eleven of the prisoners managed to escape the tunnel and make it to the forest and river outside of the camp and survive the war.
“As an Israeli whose family originated in Lithuania, I was reduced to tears on the discovery of the escape tunnel at Ponar. This discovery is a heartwarming witness to the victory of hope over desperation. The exposure of the tunnel enables us to present, not only the horrors of the Holocaust, but also the yearning of life,” Jon Seligman of the Israel Antiquities Authority told Jewish Business News.