The escape of the last remaining prisoners of the Novogrudok Ghetto after two years of Nazi occupation took place on September 26, 1943. It was organized from the residential barracks of the closed-type ghetto through a 200-metre-long tunnel which the prisoners dug themselves.
It took just over four months to dig the tunnel under the noses of the Nazi guards in a ghetto that was closely watched day and night by 24 local policemen. Some of these policemen were not all bad and there were those who even assisted with a few escapes. One night in July, when the digging of the tunnel was in progress, all the guards left to join the partisans who were operating in the surrounding forests, but none of the prisoners left with them. They continued to dig the tunnel.
About fifty of the younger men in the ghetto were selected to dig and the rest were involved in the tunnel project in some way or other. After the war Daniel Ostashinsky, the chairman of the Judenrat in the ghetto, wrote in his testimony:
Those who could not dig for health reasons or because they were at that time in the workshops, had to perform other duties or compensate in any way that would help advance the tunnel construction. People who dug in shifts received larger portions of food from the common kitchen. The work was going pretty fast which surprised everyone in the ghetto. Everyone knew about it. It was a kind of open secret.
It was a tunnel for all in every sense, both in terms of construction and when it came to the escape. According to Eliyahu Berkovitz:
Within one hour all the Jews were out. The last were the members of the fighting organization. All in all 232 Jews got out which was almost the entire population of the ghetto. A few ‘clever’ people hid in the ghetto.
Among those who went through the tunnel were children, women, and the elderly. It was the longest tunnel ever built from a ghetto and definitely the most successful escape through any tunnel during the Holocaust. In all, 125 who went through the tunnel survived the escape.
This is an extraordinary true yet little known Holocaust story of bravery and defiance. Jews who were close to death, had lost everything, were being starved, humiliated and exploited did the impossible.
This year as we run up to the 80th anniversary of the tunnel escape – we will be bringing a series of online talks about the tunnel – which will include personal testimonies. How did such a daring feat come about, how did they dig the tunnel and what did they use, how did they organise themselves, how did they decide the order of escapees, what happened on the day of the escape? Let us shed some light on this incredible story.
The first online talk ‘Tunnel for All’ by Tamara Vershitskaya, Heritage Specialist at The Together Plan (Novogroduk, Belarus) will take place on March 26th at 7.30pm GMT, 2.30pm EST, 11:30am PST, 8:30pm Israel, 9:30pm Belarus.
To book tickets click here
The following talk ‘Against All Odds’ will be given by Susan Bach (North Carolina, USA), on Sunday April 30th 8.00 – 9.30pm BST.
Against All Odds: The Novogroduk Tunnel of Hope – a story of resistance, escape, and survival
Determination to survive against all odds is the theme of the true experiences of Joseph and Chaim Abramowitz. After suffering the loss of their families, each in his own way managed to escape from the ghetto in Novogrudok, Poland and join the fight against the Nazis.
About Susan Bach:
As a Second Generation Holocaust Survivor, Susan Abrams (nee Abramowicz) Bach immigrated as a baby with her parents to America. While her parents rarely discussed their hardships and losses, these were of great interest to Susan because she wanted to understand her parents and how the events of their lives defined who she became as an adult.
Through stories her parents eventually shared, her own research, and travel to Belarus and Italy where she was born in a Displaced Person’s Camp, Susan is fortunate to have gathered information about her parents’ experiences. She has presented these stories in synagogues, to teachers of the Holocaust, and students across a number of grade levels. Additionally, Susan volunteered for many years at the Orlando, Florida Holocaust Memorial and Educational Resource Center, where she launched and facilitated a book club that built a regular attendance of Jewish and non-Jewish participants.
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