A team from Israel, America, Canada and Lithuania used mineral and oil exploration scanning technology to find a 100-foot-long tunnel located in the Ponar forest about 10 kilometers from Vilnius, Lithuania the Israel Antiquities Authority announced Wednesday.

The tunnel was dug by prisoners for 76 nights using their hands, spoons and improvised tools.


Extermination pit in the Ponar forest (via USA Today)

Jon Seligman of the Israel Antiquities Authority said “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 for life.”

From July 1941 to August 1944, over 100,000 people were murdered by the Nazis in the Ponar extermination pit including 70,000 Jews.

In 1943, with Soviet forces pushing towards Lithuania, the Germans attempted to cover up the evidence of their crimes.  They ordered eighty Jewish prisoners from the nearby Stutthof concentration camp to exhume and burn the bodies buried in the extermination pit. On April 15, 1944, the last night of Passover, the prisoners attempted to escape. Around a dozen survived and made it to the forest and river past the camp. Eleven prisoners survived the war to testify.


1941 photo of executions in the Ponar extermination pit. The victims were murdered by German SD and SS units as well as Lithuanian collaborators. The site is located near the railway station of Ponary, modern day Paneriai

Richard Freund, a professor of Jewish History at the University of Hartford stated: “This project represents the new frontier for the study of archaeology and the Holocaust and the integration with national histories. Geoscience will allow testimonies of survivors—like the account of the escape through the tunnel—and many events of the Holocaust to be researched and understood in new ways for generations to come.”

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