You are now entering the Jewish Currents archive.

September 26: The Escape Tunnel

September 26, 2014
Some 250 Byelorussian Jews in a Nazi labor camp in Novogrudok escaped on this date in 1943 through a tunnel, 1.5 meters underground, 250 meters long, and sixty centimeters in diameter, that dozens had been digging for four months. According to Leonid Smilovitsky of Tel Aviv University, eighty people “died at the hands of the Nazis” during this period, “but not one betrayed the operation.” The escape night was “stormy, moonless... as if made to order,” writes Jack Kagans at a Novogrudok website. “We assembled in the loft, very quietly, and waited in a very orderly manner. At 9 p.m. the line started moving forward. Fresh air could be coming in from the tunnel as we broke through to the outside world. We made a big mistake, however, by leaving on the lights in the tunnel. Coming out into terrible darkness, some became disorientated and ran towards the camp. The guards, not knowing what had happened, started shooting in all direction. But most of us ran towards the forest and freedom. Of those who escaped, about 170 made it to the partisans, and about eighty were caught and killed.” Many of the escapees joined the Bielski family’s partisan camp. For a detailed account of the tunnel’s construction and the escape, click here. tunnelpath2“Ten elderly people had hidden in a specially built hiding place in the loft, thinking that they were too weak to escape through the tunnel. Five days later, after the labor camp had been abandoned by the Germans, they simply walked out of the main gates and were able to join the partisans.” —Jack Kagans