(RNS) Esia Baran Friedman‘s mother hid her from the Nazis in an attic.
One night, she could hide her 10-year-old daughter no more. She hugged her tight, lifted her to the window of their cramped flat in the ghetto of Vilnius, Lithuania, and pushed her out.
Her parting words to her daughter were her last — she did not survive the Holocaust — and they are words Friedman, who now lives in Connecticut, remembers across 70-plus years:
“Never forget, my child, that you are Jewish.”
Friedman tells her tale in “Holocaust Escape Tunnel,” a new episode of the science series “Nova” that will air on most PBS stations April 19. It follows the work of an American archaeologist hunting for evidence of Jewish survival in and around Vilnius — where 95 percent of the Jewish population was murdered by the Nazis.
“People think archaeology is about walls or coins or glass, but archaeology is about people,” said Richard Freund, an archaeologist and professor of Jewish history at University of Hartford who leads the digs featured in the show. “What you want is to understand the people behind these artifacts.”
Freund traveled with a team of archaeologists from the U.S., Israel and Lithuania last summer. At two separate digs, they sought remnants of Vilnius’ Great Synagogue, a 16th-century complex that covered the area of two football fields that was sacked by the Nazis and leveled by the Russians, and a hand-dug tunnel, described only in oral histories, that Jews dug beneath a nearby forest to escape Nazi death squads.
by Kimberly Winston