The Secret of Priest's Grotto: A Holocaust Survival Story

The Secret of Priest's Grotto: A Holocaust Survival Story

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by Peter Lane Taylor, Christos Nicola

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

Through dramatic contemporary and period photographs and an articulate, hardhitting narrative, this volume relays the tale of 38 Ukrainian Jews who sought refuge in a local cave to escape the invading Nazis in fall of 1942 and remained there for 344 days-reportedly longer than any other known human has ever lived underground. After Nicola, a veteran American caver, viewed evidence of human habitation while exploring the labyrinthine cave known as Popowa Yama, or Priest's Grotto, he was inspired to investigate the story behind these artifacts. A request for information he posted on a Web site finally brought a response from the son-in-law of one of the wartime cave residents, who in turn directed Nicola to fellow survivors, his cousins in Montreal. Drawing on heartrending conversations with these individuals and a privately published memoir by Esther Stermer, the stalwart matriarch who insisted that her family "would not let the Germans have their way easily," the authors share the details of the clan's harrowing ordeal, which demanded near superhuman physical and emotional endurance, courage, loyalty and unity. In tandem with this historical tale, Nicola and Taylor (a writer, photographer and filmmaker) reveal in words and photos their recent explorations of the 70-foot-deep cave, and their discoveries of the survival tools and belongings the inhabitants left behind. At once sobering and uplifting, this is an astounding story of survival, powerfully told. Ages 10-up. (Apr.)

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Children's Literature - Debbie Levy
This is a book about two stories. First, it is the story of a small group of Jewish families who survived the Holocaust by hiding out from 1942 to 1944 deep underground in caves in the western Ukraine. The ingenuity and courage of these survivors, their fear and suffering, is moving. Their accomplishment—surviving underground longer than anyone else on record—is amazing. Much of the information in this story is based on a memoir that one of the survivors, Esther Stermer, published privately more than 30 years ago. The second story in this book is about the explorations of the authors, both cavers, into the saga of the Jewish families who hid in the caves. Here the book takes turns into natural history and investigative journalism. Taylor and Nicola recount both their exploits in the Ukrainian caves and their interactions with the Jewish survivors, now living in Canada and the United States. They refer to themselves in the third person, which gives portions of the book the feel of a television documentary. Weaving together the two very different stories—Holocaust survival and archaeological discovery—is no easy task. The narratives, which jump back and forth in time and in point of view, can be confusing at times. The authors' process of investigation is certainly interesting, and their accomplishment is significant. But the Holocaust survival story at the heart of this book would pack a greater emotional and historical wallop if it had been allowed to carry the narrative in a more straightforward manner. Vintage and modern photographs bring both strands of the book to life.
VOYA - Kevin Beach
Although most Holocaust memoirs are riveting, this one is unique for its setting and the cleverness of the survivors. In 1942 as the Nazis rounded up Jews in Western Ukraine, a few brave families hid in the local gypsum caves to avoid deportation. The authors, an adventurous journalist and an avid caver, had heard the rumors and wanted to learn of the refugees' fate. They discovered that many survivors reside in the United States and that the family matriarch had self-published an account of their time in the caves. What follows is an extraordinary tale of courage as they developed escape routes and water and food supplies within their dark refuge. Nazis raided and sealed the cave, but the families ventured deeper into the cave and eventually dug out a new exit. To avoid discovery, they moved into a lesser-known cave, the Priest's Grotto. Dangerous night outings to forage for wood and raid nearby crops kept them from the brink of starvation. At one point, only a wedged-in bag of potatoes at a tunnel entrance prevented discovery and death. After living underground longer than anyone in recorded history, the exhausted families emerged from the dark when the Russians drove the Nazis out of the area. Expeditions have discovered many artifacts from their ordeal and now a documentary and a movie are in the works. This well-illustrated, accessible, and exciting tale relates one clan's daily hardships and a testament to their indomitable spirit.

Product Details

Lerner Publishing Group
Publication date:
Heinemann The Holocaust Series
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
10.30(w) x 8.70(h) x 0.30(d)
Age Range:
10 - 14 Years

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The Secret of Priest's Grotto : A Holocaust Survival Story 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
Lindy99 More than 1 year ago
Surprisingly, this turned out to be a delightful read. I was expecting it to be very dry and academic. Instead, it was written like a suspense novella with interesting graphics and photos. I also expected it to be depressing, as many Holocaust books are (for good reason). Instead, it was uplifting, and even charming at times. The current photo showing one of the surviving families with all their children and grandchildren is triumphant.