Dozen members of the ‘Burning Brigade’ escaped the Nazi Death Camp by building a tunnel – legend turns into reality.
At least 80,000 people, most of them Jews, were killed (historians say the actual number is likely much higher) by the Nazis at a camp named Ponar in Lithuania, during World War II.
For several years, many spoke about how a few Ponar prisoners managed to escape the camp by building a tunnel. Many thought it was just a fictitious story, as there was never any proof – even one of the Ponar escapees who revisited the site couldn’t find any sign of the tunnel.
However, last year, researchers unearthed a 100-foot escape tunnel in Ponar, thus conforming that the stories told through the years about the tunnel were true.
Watch: Holocaust Escape Tunnel
A massive piece in Smithsonian Magazine tells the incredible story of how members of the “Burning Brigade” escaped death through sheer force of will and how an American archaeologist discovered their escape route 72 years later.
The Burning Brigade included Ponar prisoners, tasked with collecting and burning thousands of bodies a week on giant funeral pyres. They were around 80 in number. They knew that Ponar was a death sentence and so they started digging their way to freedom.
Chained together, living on stew made of ice, dirt, and potatoes, and dealing with unimaginable horror (one man discovered his wife’s corpse among the piles of bodies), the Burning Brigade nonetheless managed to tunnel 110 feet to the forest surrounding Ponar. Only a dozen of them survived the escape.
“I am here with my children, and my children had children of their own, and they are here, too. Can you see?” Motke Zeidel, the brigade’s last living member who died in 2007, said to the ruins of Ponar on his final visit there. Read the full story here.