Excavate History? WWII-Era Tunnel Unearths Story of Lithuania's JewsBreaking News
tags: Holocaust, WWII, Lithuania
The diary of Kazimierz Sakowicz opens with his description of a pleasant summer day in the Ponar forest, outside the Lithuanian capital of Vilnius: “July 11: Quite nice weather, warm, white clouds, windy, some shots from the forest. Probably exercises.”
The shots were not exercises, as Sakowicz would very quickly discover. The year was 1941, and the Baltics had been overrun by the Nazi war machine that June. Now the occupiers—with eager help from Lithuanians—were emptying Vilnius of its vibrant Jewish population, which had turned the dense, medieval city into the “Jerusalem of the North.”
The previous year, the Soviets had dug several large pits in the Ponar forest along a rail line leading out of Vilnius. The plan had been to install fuel tanks and build an airfield, but then Hitler broke the nonaggression pact he had signed with Stalin, invading the Soviet Union through Poland. The pits were abandoned, and the Soviets scrambled to prepare for battle against the Wehrmacht.