DVD & Blu-ray Reviews

No Place On Earth, Blu-ray (2013)

A very emotionally-moving contribution to Holocaust cinema.

Published on September 5, 2013

No Place On Earth, Blu-ray (2013)

Cast: Chris Nicola, Susan Werbe
Director: Janet Tobias
Studio: Magnolia Home Entertainment [8/20/13]
Video: 1.78:1 for 16:9 1080p HD color
Audio: English DTS-HD MA 5.1
Subtitles: English SDH
Extras: The Stermers After the War, Korolawka Before the War, More About Life in the Cave, Food, The Children, The Holocaust Story of Sima’s husband, The Holocaust Story of Sonia’s husband, Caving in Slovakia, Caving in the U.S., Photo galleries, Theatrical trailer, BD Live
Length: 83 minutes
Rating: ****

I didn’t think I could take another Holocaust film (I still have Shoah here, waiting to view again when I have time) but this documentary is quite different and unique. In an inspiring tale of physical endurance, two families of Jews lived in two caves in the Ukraine during the Second World War to avoid being caught by the Nazis, and stayed there for over a year and a half in the longest recorded uninterrupted underground survival ever. There is some similarity to a pair of films about Jewish resistance fighters in the Warsaw sewers (Kanal) and about Jews in Lvov living over a year in the sewer system (In Darkness), but these were in caves.

What is even more incredible is that this has only come to light recently by accident. Chris Nicola is an NYPD officer and cave explorer who lives in New York City. He knew of the many “gypsy caves” in the western Ukraine and wanted to explore some of them and to learn something his own heritage in that area. Instead, he stumbled on some remnant cups, a primitive grinder for flour, a woman’s shoe and other things left behind inside one of the caves. He asked some of the people now in the area and got little information from them. (The Ukrainians were on the Nazi side during the war and only about 5% of the Jews in the region survived.) After a couple years investigation he had almost given up when he got an email from one of the cave survivors, who turned out to live only seven miles away from him. Thru him Nicola learned the full story and met some of the survivors (now as old as 95), who generally had only discussed the experience among themselves, not mentioning it to others.

All told, 38 people in two families, from babies to the very old, tried to survive in first one and then a more secure cave nearby, in spite of lack of food, water, no help from their former neighbors, and in the face of pursuit by the Nazis and Ukrainian police. There is one harrowing scene where the Nazis come into the first cave and take some of the Jews. Dramatizations of their life in the caves are intercut with interviews with some of the survivors, and at the end of the film Nicola and a few of the survivors journey back to the caves to revisit their terrible experience. The extras go into the lives of the survivors since the war. They live in both Montreal and New York City, and one of them founded a successful construction business in the first city.

—John Sunier




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