A tunnel from the Holocaust era dug by escaping Jewish prisoners in Lithuania was recently discovered.
The tunnel was found at Ponar (now known as Paneriai) and Jewish prisoners dug it to escape the Nazis.
The finding was made using the latest underground predictive scanning technology normally used for oil and mineral exploration. The tunnel was discovered through joint efforts made by Antiquities Authority of Israel, the University of Hartford in Calgary, Advisian, the Canada-headquartered mining and oil consulting firm, Vilnius's Vilna Gaon State Jewish Museum and the PBS Series NOVA.
Approximately 100,000 people, which includes 70,000 Jews and 20,000 members of Polish intelligentsia and also 8,000 POWs of the Soviet Red Army, were murdered in the Ponary Massacre by the German SD and SS. Lithuanian Nazi collaborators also took part. The events occurred in a space of three years-1941 to 1943.
The German army wrested control of Vilnius in 1941. The military soon established a number of Jewish ghettos within the city. Periodic killings began at Ponar. The subsequent three years saw 95 percent of the Jewish population in Lithuania slaughtered.
By 1943, the Germans were losing ground. Soviet forces were converging on Lithuania, and the Nazis took the decision to create an 80 Jewish prisoner unit. The prisoners were taken from Stutthof concentration camp. They were given the task of covering up all evidence linked with the Ponar genocide. The special unit quickly gained the nickname “burning brigade.” The prisoners were held in a disused execution pit during nighttime and were compelled to open mass graves and burn the corpses during daytime.
About half of the members of the burning brigade plotted their escape using spoons taken from the bodies, and also with their hands dug 115 feet or 35 meters long tunnel. About 40 prisoners made an attempt to escape on the Passover night of April 15,1944. Only 11 of them could survive the Nazi guards and reach Jewish resistance forces. The ones who survived gave their testimonies about the events occurring in Ponar.
Dr. Richard Freund of Connecticut's University of Hartford said that the excavation team could find the answer to a huge problem: the uncertainty over the number of burial pits. Freund and his team members used information taken from the survivors' accounts in order to search for the location. They used noninvasive tools like ground penetrating radar and electrical resistivity tomography to investigate the place.