Light in darkness

Chris Nicola in a scene from “No Place on Earth” as he descends into the cave system where 38 Ukranian Jews escaped Nazi persecution for more than 500 days.

The human will to survive can lead to unimaginable acts of endurance. The stories of Holocaust survivors attest to that. The 2013 docudrama film, “No Place on Earth,” tells another tale of endurance by chronicling the experiences of 38 Ukrainian Jews who literally went underground to escape Nazi persecution.

The Greater Phoenix Jewish Film Festival, Phoenix Holocaust Survivors Association, Generations After – Descendants of Holocaust Survivors in Greater Phoenix and the Arizona Jewish Historical Society will be hosting the Southwest premiere of “No Place On Earth” at 2 p.m. Sunday, May 7, at the Cutler-Plotkin Jewish Heritage Center, 122 E. Culver St., Phoenix.

There had been rumors for decades that members of five Jewish families had lived for more than 500 days during World War II in parts of the dark and dank cave system under Ukraine, particularly Verteba Cave and Priest’s Grotto. In the 1990s, as American explorer and investigator Chris Nicola was mapping out the cave system in Ukraine, he discovered tin cups, combs and buttons – evidence that finally confirmed the rumors. The families’ ordeal has been described as the “longest uninterrupted underground survival in recorded human history.”

The film, directed by Janet Tobias, features interviews by Nicola, as well as some of the remaining survivors, who returned to the caves’ location. The survivors’ stories are at times re-enacted by actors.

At the Phoenix screening, Nicola will discuss his experiences and answer questions from the audience. Nicola now runs the Priest’s Grotto Heritage Project, a genocide awareness project in which the grandchildren of those who lived in Priest’s Grotto Cave during the Holocaust work hand-in-hand with the grandchildren of those who lived above the cave. They are working to build an exhibit to honor the people who escaped the darkness of the Nazis above by finding shelter in the darkness of nature below.