Moscow Reports Saga of Forty Vilna Jews Who Lived Ten Months in Sewers

Moscow newspapers today report how forty emaciated, tubercular Jews spent ten months in the sewers of Vilna to escape execution by the Germans.

The group, led by Mikhail Spokoiny and his brother, both engineers, decided in September, 1943, when the Nazis began to liquidate the Vilna ghetto, that the only possibility of escaping death was to retreat to “fox holes” in the sewer system which had been prepared for temporary use during German man-hunts.

Through a man-hole within the ghetto precincts several hundred Jews descended into the sewers. Most of these kept on until they reached the outskirts of the city from whence they fled to join partisan bands. The Spokoiny group, which included several children, set up primitive house-keeping in a foxhole which had been equipped by them with electricity and running water. Food was supplied by a Polish superintendent of a building located above their hiding place He also brought German newspapers for the adults and crayons and picture books for the children.

One day the superintendent notified them that their fox hole had been discovered and that they would have to flee. From then on, Spokoiny said, things grew indescribably difficult. They were out off from all light, water and food. But from reports obtained from their Polish friend of German activity in the city’s streets, they realized that the Red Army must be approaching Vilna. They determined, therefore, to hold out as long as possible.

Crouched in the sewers they heard the noise of battle above them. At one point, Spokoiny advanced to a position where he could hear the voices of Russian soldiers, but he was unable to communicate with them. Finally, after four days of severe fighting, the Germans retreated and the sewer-dwellers emerged. As a result of inactivity, they could hardly walk, Their bodies were covered with sores. Their eyes were pained by the light, and all of them spat blood.

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