No Place on Earth (2012)


(director/writer: Janet Tobias; screenwriter: Paul Laikin; cinematographers: Cesar Charlone/Eduard Grau/Sean Kirby/Peter Simonite; editors: Deirdre Slevin/Claus Wehlisch; music: John Piscitello; cast: Saul Stermer, Sam Stermer, Sonia Dodyk, Sima Dodyk, Yetta Stermer, Sol Wexler, Christopher Nicola; Runtime: 83; MPAA Rating: PG-13; producers: Janet Tobias/Rafael Marmor/Paul Laikin/Nadav Schirman/Susan Barnett/Zita Kisgergely; Magnolia Pictures; 2012-USA/UK/Germany-in English)

It plays out as a unique real-life adventure Holocaust story, that touches the heart strings.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Janet Tobias, who previously directed a series for TV’s Frontline, directs this harrowing miracle-like Holocaust survival pic of two Jewish Ukrainian families, who on October 1942 hid in a dark and dank cave for nearly a year and a half (511 days) to survive the Nazis and unfriendly locals during the German occupation of their small town. The historical drama mixes documentary styled interviews with actor re-enactments. It plays out as a unique real-life Holocaust adventure story, that touches the heart strings.

It’s framed around a NYC investigator and amateur spelunker, Chris Nicola, who in 1993, after the breakup of the Soviet Union, treks on vacation to the western Ukraine to trace his heritage and explore the world renown cave in the region, Verteba, in the Bilche Zlota Valley. While exploring the large cave, Chris comes across clothing but is told only by the town locals “Maybe some Jews lived there.” Concerned with who lived there and sensing a story, Chris eventually found someone in the Bronx who possessed the diaries of a remarkable woman named Esther Stermer and through those references and interviews with those still alive traced with Tobias how 38 members of the Stermer and Wexler clans lived in the above mentioned cave during the war. Aside from their difficulty of getting food and living in such harsh conditions, we learn that one day the Germans showed up in their cave and they were marched out but escaped their execution by slipping down the many passages in the cave’s labyrinths.

It’s still horrifying to learn of such Holocaust tales, and this unknown story, kept guarded by the families, adds another valuable chapter to Holocaust movies about those historical events.