This is a blog dedicated to a personal interpretation of political news of the day. I attempt to be as knowledgeable as possible before commenting and committing my thoughts to a day's communication.

Friday, July 01, 2016

The Will Was There, The Way Was Found

"It's a small tunnel, 70 by 60 centimetres. But the story behind it, the will to survive, the resiliency, the courage, the drive to live and to fight back -- this tunnel brings to light, almost 75 years after it was built, the knowledge of what happened in Lithuania. The longer I was there and the more I thought about the escape the more powerful it all became to me."
Paul Bauman, Calgary geophysicist
Pit used to hold victims. Ponar forest
Ezra Wolfinger, Israel Antiquities Authority, via AP  -- Prisoners dug the tunnel in a pit they were kept in

What happened in Lithuania happened also elsewhere, like Latvia. Estonia. This was fertile ground for Jew-hatred of such an intensity that the Nazis knew full well the plan they were still in the process of fully formulating, to destroy European Jewry, would never be opposed. But, as in occupied France, the fervency of the proffered assistance to the Nazi plan of extermination by the police and military of the occupied nations in Europe surprised even the Germans.

It was crude and time-consuming, the first attempts at genocide. To have the victims themselves dig the pits deep enough to accommodate the number of bodies the SS troops figured they would be dealing with. To march into the villages in eastern Europe where Jews had lived among their non-Jewish neighbours for a thousand years, to round up and assemble the Jewish men, women and children, sometimes herding them into synagogues which would then be set on fire.

Alternately, to march them into nearby forests where the pits had been dug, to order them to line themselves up in neat orderly rows, because it was more efficient that way and the Germans were above all, efficiency experts. And then to shoot them so the bodies would tumble into the pits, one after another, ten at a time, it was tiring, gruelling work, and so irritating to hear the piteous cries and moans from the still-living.

Scanning at Ponar site
Ezra Wolfinger/Nova -- Ground scanning was used to pinpoint the tunnel

Lithuania appeared to the Nazis to be ideal for initiating this laborious extermination attempt pre-dating the death camps, the far more efficient gas chambers and the ovens. Still in the experimental stage the idea of mass pits seemed appealing. Recently a site in a Lithuanian forest where five such huge pits existed, was found to be the site of a narrow tunnel. It is estimated than over 100,000 people were killed at the Ponar forest site.

A group of Jewish prisoners was set aside for a special task assigned to them. They were to burn the bodies that were piled into the pits. In the process of doing that, some of the 80 recognized their own family members among the slain. That discovery reduced their own will to live, but for the imperative to live and inform the outside world of what had taken place, in the quaint belief that the outside world really wanted to know.

But knowing what they knew, and knowing that everyone they loved and cared for was dead, removed the emotion of personal fear from the minds of the special prisoners. They began to collectively dig a tunnel, using any implement, however small, at hand for the purpose. It took them 75 days to tunnel 35 metres and on the last day of Passover, 1944 symbolically signifying !freedom! the escape occurred.

When the Nazis became aware of the break-out they responded. The escapees came up against another barbed wire fence that slowed them down, and then a minefield. Some were shot, some were blown up in exploding mines and others were chased down by dogs. The escapees placed no trust in the thought that villagers would give them aid, and they weren't disappointed.

Those who survived wandered for days, and the dozen who succeeded in their escape to a precarious freedom and managed to survive the effort, joined Jewish partisans in the forest to fight the Nazis and their Lithuanian helpers guerilla-style, until war's end.

Those 80 prisoners were named the "Burning Brigade", confined to Pit Six. The other five pits are full of human remains. All of them situated in a beautiful forested setting of mixed maple and oak trees, with moss growing in the damp atmosphere, and a heavy green canopy emitting very little sunlight, but the area bursting with birds and birdsong.

Adjacent the area of the pits in the forest is a train track, since of course the strategy couldn't succeed without a continual infusion of Jews packed into cattle cars, arriving full, leaving empty.


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