Dateline: 5 August 2014
|Esther Stermer (seated 2nd from left) was a "conspiracy theorist." |
She didn't believe the German government.
I have listened to them. I have read some of their literature. I think they might be right in many of their claims. HOWEVER, there is no question that a great many innocent people (primarily Jews) were severely persecuted, put in concentration camps, and died at the hands of the German government. How many died and how they died is beside the point in my mind. What the German government of that day did was an atrocity. It was reprehensible. And it should never be forgotten.
Those sentiments are in my mind after watching No Place On Earth last night. It is a documentary about how a Jewish family in rural Western Ukraine managed to survive the Nazi persecution.
I also have The Secret of Priest's Grotto, a 2007 book that I acquired a couple of years ago. The book (and the movie) tells not only the amazing story of this family's survival, but how the story was brought to light by a man in New York City (Christos Nicola) who was exploring a "newly discovered" cave in Western Ukraine (in 1993) and came upon several evidences of human habitation.
Nicola was intrigued by the discovery. He asked some of the old-timers in the village near the cave if they knew who had lived in the cave. He learned that some Jews had hid there during the war. That was it. No more information could be found.
Christos Nicola looks at the names written on the ceiling of Priest's Grotto in 1942 by the Jews who hid there.
Back in New York, Nicola started a web site to try and learn more about the story of these Jewish survivors. Four years later, he got an e-mail. It was from the son-in-law of a man who, as a young boy, had lived in the cave with his family. That e-mail led Christos Nicola to a discovery of human survival that, when you learn the details, and imagine yourself in the same situation, is absolutely amazing.
38 Jews hid in the cave for over a year. They ranged in age from two to seventy-five. It was not a pleasant existence. They barely survived.
The heroine of the story is Esther Sterner. Esther, the mother of six, was a well-read woman who, in our day and time might be considered a "conspiracy theorist." She was skeptical of the government and mainstream propaganda. The German government wanted the Jews to move into the ghettoes, which, for those who don't know, are densely populated areas of cities.
In the book, Esther's son says this of his mother…
"My mother never trusted authority." Shulim continued. "The Germans, Russians, the Ukranians. It didn't matter. She taught us early on that no matter who it was, if they told you to do one thing, you always did the opposite. If the Germans said go to the ghettoes, you'll be safe there, you went to the forest or the mountains…. You went as far away from the ghettoes as you could go."
"My mother always said 'We are not going to the ghetto. We are not going to go to the slaughterhouse." She said to my brother Nissel, 'Go into the forest, find a hole, any place. But we are not going there."
Nissel found a cave and the family lived there for several months, until the Germans found them. All but two of the Jews managed to escape the discovery. They regrouped and found another cave—a cave that almost no one else knew about.
How could 38 people survive in a muddy, cold, dark cave for over a year? Well, you'll have to watch the movie, and get a copy of the book too.
One aspect of their survival that is not discussed much is that they had a few non-Jewish friends who helped them... for awhile. If I understand the story correctly, most of the villagers turned against them, and the few friends they had stopped helping them, except one man.
The one man lived in the woods and it was he who told Nissel of the second cave. When the Germans were finally driven away by the Russian army (the battle raged for awhile on land above the cave), their single friend dropped a note on a string down into the cave entrance (a hole in the ground), letting the Jews know that it was safe to come out.
|The entrance hole to Priest's Grotto. It is in a sink hole in the Western Ukranian countryside|