Frontline producer and NSNBC Executive producer Janet Tobias’s “No Place On Earth” is a suspenseful Holocaust picture.
Just when you think you know everything about the Holocaust, spelunker Chris Nicola unearths evidence of a life affirming story.
In 1993, while exploring Priest’s Grott, a deep 77 mile-long gypsum cave in Ukraine, Nicola discovered cooking platforms and utensils, shoes, even buttons. Disbelieving Nicola began asking questions, learning nothing, until a local old-timer admitted “”Maybe some Jews lived there.” It took him ten years of searching before he connected with a man in the Bronx, who with 38 people from 4 interconnected families, who survived the war underground. Five-hundred-eleven days underground. Discovered in the well-known Verterba caves, the resilient Jews move deeper and deeper underground, discovering deep secret corridors, vast cathedrals and escape routes onto and overhead field, enabling them to travel abroad at night for supplies.
Less than five percent of Ukraine’s Jews survived and none remained in Korolowka village when Nicola began his inquiry.
When Nazi’s invade and arrest their matriarch and some of their group many escape in the endless maze of corridors and live to tell the tale. Eventually he leads four of the survivors, including a grandfather and his disbelieving granddaughter back to their wartime refuge. he turns out the lights and Who sighs a satisfied sigh of recognition.
Nicola’s narrative about his amazing discovery and his amazing “cold-case” investigation is interspersed with engrossing re-enactments archival footage and photographs and interviews with the survivors of a fascinating episode of the triumph of human will and ingenuity in the face of insurmountable odds.
Historical re-enactments are often groaners in documentaries, but these artful sequences , embellished with production designer Imola Láng and costume designer Andrea Flesch’s detailed sensitive design meld with the archival images. Even the hair and make-up works.
Amateur sleuth Nicola;s local and online investigation leads him to survivors of a 38 person extended family who , like our cave -dwelling forbearers, burrowed underground and survived over a year and a half of the Nazi lead genocide of the Ukranian Jews. Surviving members of the Wexler, Stermer and Dodyk families were found In Florida, New York and Canada. Witnesses Saul Stermer, Sam Stermer, Sonia Dodyk, Sima Dodyk, Yetta Stermer, Sol Wexler appear, cleverly shot in half-light to remind the audience of their wartime environment. Esther Stermer’s autobiographical “We Fight To Survive” lead Tobias to Nicola. I’m waiting for the feature remake.