Hand-dug Holocaust escape tunnel discovered in Lithuania

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The Jewish prisoners used spoons and their bare hands to dig the tunnel in Lithuania’s Ponar forest during World War II, hoping it would lead them to freedom.

In the end, 15 managed to escape — but only 11 survived.

Now, a group of researchers using ground-penetrating radar has found the 100-foot tunnel, a discovery one called a “witness to the victory of hope over desperation.”

The team included experts from the Israel Antiquities Authority, Vilna Gaon State Jewish Museum, and the universities of Hartford and Calgary.

More than 100,00 people, including 70,000 Lithuanian Jews were massacred in the Ponar forest during World War II.

Eighty prisoners were forced to perform the grim task of piling the thousands of bodies together and burning them to hide traces of the genocide.

Knowing they faced certain death once their work was complete, the prisoners dug the tunnel over a period of three months. On the night of April 15, 1944 they made their escape.

After cutting their leg shackles with a nail file, 40 of them crawled through the narrow tunnel. But they were quickly discovered by guards. Fifteen escaped into the forest, but only 11 eventually reached partisan forces and survived the war.

One Ponar escapee said the scenes of the extermination still haunt him every single day.

The discovery of the tunnel comes after many attempts over decades to locate it.

One of the leaders of the archaeology team, Dr. Jon Seligman, said he couldn’t hold back his emotion when they realized what they’d found.

“As an Israeli whose family originated in Lithuania, I was reduced to tears on the discovery of the escape tunnel at Ponar,” Seligman said. “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 for life.”