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April 15: Escape from Ponary

April 14, 2014
9956de24-716d-4834-a560-9544c4aac8ecOn this date in 1944, seventy Jewish and ten Russian prisoners attempted to escape from the forests near Ponary, Lithuania (near Vilna) where they had been assigned to help dig up and burn the bodies of tens of thousands of people, mostly Jews, who had been murdered in those woods since 1941. “At night the prisoners were kept in a pit, and during the day they worked, with their legs in chains,” according to Yad Vashem, “removed bodies from the pits, arranged them in piles and burnt them. The prisoners knew that when they had finished working, they too would be murdered. At night they dug a 35 meter-long tunnel under the fence to a minefield.” After three months of digging, on the night of April 15th, “they filed off their chains and . . . fled through the tunnel. They were discovered by the guards and most of them were caught or shot. Fifteen of them succeeded in escaping and eleven of them reached the partisans in the Rudniki forests.” The Soviet Red Army was about to enter Lithuania, and the Nazis were feverishly trying to get rid of evidence of their crimes. An “underground newspaper, Laisve Kotovas, also reports that the Germans are exhuming Jewish corpses from mass-graves near Kaunas. The paper says that Lithuanian policemen refused to participate in the mass-executions of Jews, and were replaced by pro-Nazi Ukrainians and Russians and by members of the battalions led by the Russian commander Vlassov who deserted the Red Army and joined the Nazi forces.” -Jewish Telegraphic Agency, April 18, 1944