In Lithuania in 1944, Jewish prisoners dug a tunnel for 76 nights, using only their hands and spoons, in a desperate attempt to escape death at the hands of Nazis. (Photo courtesy WCVE/PBS)
The truth, however unpleasant, eventually will out.
At 9 p.m. on Wednesday, April 19, the PBS program “NOVA” airs an episode titled “Holocaust Escape Tunnel.” The program details the recent discovery by archaeologists working near Vilnius, Lithuania, who, using technology not previously available, located a thought-to-exist tunnel used by Jews to escape from captivity and death during World War II.
Vilnius, capital city the Baltic nation of Lithuania, was for 500 years a center of Jewish culture. Successive occupations and destruction by the Nazis and then the Soviets almost wiped away not only the Jews living there, but any memory of their lives and history with the place.
In recent years, the gruesome events in and around Vilnius and Kaunas, Lithuania have independently occupied the creative talents and imaginations of several Richmond writers and artists.
Former Richmond magazine columnist and writer Nancy Wright Beasley in 2005 published “Izzy’s Fire,” which traced the lives of survivors of the Nazi regime in Lithuania. At the center of this story is the Ipson family, who came to live in Richmond, including Jay Ipson, who co-founded the Virginia Holocaust Museum in 1997. "Holocaust Escape Tunnel" was screened at the museum April 5, in a private showing for members.
Beasley's 2015 historical novel "The Little Lion" took as its protagonist a young Lithuanian Jew, a motorbike enthusiast and mechanic, who worked both as a courier and spy from his position in the Nazi garages. Richmond actor and writer Irene Ziegler adapted the book into a play successfully produced in 2016 at the Swift Creek Mill Theatre.
And, fortuitously enough, now former Richmond novelist Michele Young-Stone’s gripping and poetic 2015 work, “Above Us Only Sky,” took up not only the repressions and genocide of the Nazis in Lithuania, but the brutalities of the Soviets that replaced them. Young-Stone’s treatment didn’t shy away from the murderous events, but she also gave the multigenerational story a fantastical twist.
Thus, this story continues to tell itself through another medium.
The NOVA program repeats on the Community Idea Station’s second channel WCVW at 9 p.m. on Saturday, April 22. WCVW is channel 57.1 over the air and 57 on DirecTV, and channel 24 on Comcast and Verizon. Those who miss the airing may watch the program here.