Tuesday, May 01, 2007

The Great Escape from the British Prison, Part 2

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The Russian Compound, Jerusalem

The hardest problem of all was: where would they dump the dirt they dug? Finding no satisfactory solution, the prisoners approached the warden and complained about how difficult it was to sweep water out of their room during the morning clean-up, because the cell was large and its floor was lower than that of the corridor... "Therefore," they told him, "we request permission that next to the doorway we dig a pool, into which we will sweep the water, and then collect this water into a bucket."

The entrance to the tunnel, hidden under an inmate's bed.

The warden responded sympathetically and affirmatively to their request, even providing the necessary tools: cement for the pool and a wheelbarrow for dirt removal. Now they even had the proper tools to realize their idea. Naturally, to each wheelbarrow of sand they dumped, they added dirt from the tunnel they were digging.

The entrance to the escape tunnel.

The work took two months. Toward its completion, the Lehi prisoners let their Irgun comrades join the effort. On the day designated for the escape, their confidant, the Municipality employee, "made sure" that the prison sewage was clogged. He brought in several Jewish workers, who had been let in on the secret, to unclog it. The workers walked past the sentry at the gate of the Russian Compound, opened and entered the manhole, where they met the prisoners crawling from the tunnel. Over their prison fatigues, the prisoners put on uniforms given them by the workers, and made their way out into the Russian compound. The sentry let them pass without any additional check, convinced that they were sewage workers.
On February 20, 1948, twelve prisoners, members of both underground organizations, managed to escape right out of the front gate before the breakout was discovered by the guards.

As British control over the political situation in the Land of Israel steadily weakened, harsher, ever more desperate measures were enacted. The British finally decided to begin executing Jewish underground prisoners in the prison.

But the first two sentenced to death decided to beat the British to the punch. Stay tuned....

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