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

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Series: Holocaust   

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Annotation: The story of how several Jewish families hid for a year and a half in the caves of western Ukraine during the Holocaust.
Genre: World history
Catalog Number: #15714
Format: Perma-Bound Edition
All Formats: Search
Common Core/STEAM: Common Core Common Core
Publisher: Kar-Ben
Copyright Date: 2007
Edition Date: c2007
Pages: 64 p.
Availability: Special Order Only - Contact Customer Service at +1 800 637-6581 or +1 217 243-5451
ISBN: Publisher: 1-580-13261-8 Perma-Bound: 0-605-13356-5
ISBN 13: Publisher: 978-1-580-13261-9 Perma-Bound: 978-0-605-13356-3
Dewey: 940.53
LCCN: 2006021709
Dimensions: 23 x 27 cm.
Language: English
Horn Book
Caver Nicola learned that Jewish families hid in a Ukrainian cave during World War II. He and fellow caver/writer Taylor interviewed survivors, and this book presents their harrowing experience living underground for 344 days. Interwoven is the present-day account of Nicola and Taylor's 2003 expedition into the cave. Striking photographs help make the experience even more tangible for readers.
Kirkus Reviews
<p>Though afflicted with hyperbolic commentary that's more of a distraction than an enhancement, this tale makes riveting reading. The authors braid together an account of how three dozen Ukrainian Jews hid from Nazis and hostile local residents by retreating into a massive complex of gypsum caves for nearly a full year; an ingenious detective story about a modern search for the scattered survivors; and a recent visit to the still-not-thoroughly-explored subterranean complex south of Kiev. The fugitives, some of whom were small children, survived isolation, malnourishment and constant danger for 344 days, and their achievement hardly needs lines like, " . . . united against a common oppressor, their will to live was unshakable," or several generic scenes of German soldiers in the field misidentified as Gestapo on a "search for escaping Jews," shoehorned into the marvelous array of underground photos and old and new family portraits. Based largely on a privately published memoir and an emotionally charged collective interview, this is a unique and absorbing addition to the library of Holocaust testimonials written for younger readers. (time line) (Nonfiction. 9-12)</p>
School Library Journal
Gr 6 Up-During World War II, as the Nazis closed in, several Jewish families disappeared into the underground labyrinths of Western Ukraine. They stayed hidden for nearly a year, facing danger of discovery, malnutrition, and the disorientation of sensory deprivation. At the end of the war, they emerged triumphant due to ingenuity and family loyalty. Now Taylor, an American writer, filmmaker, and caving enthusiast, follows Nicola's lead to document this saga of survival. The men's own explorations of the Ukrainian caves provide a firsthand account and Taylor's striking photographs bring the story to life. The addition of survivor interviews, historical and contemporary photos, and quotes from survivor Esther Stermer's published memoir, We Fight to Survive, results in an extremely thorough account of events. This overwhelming thoroughness is the book's strength and weakness. On the one hand, it is a researcher's dream of excellent documentation; on the other hand, the detailed descriptions, lists of names, and exacting chronologies weigh down the story and make it somewhat difficult for its remarkable nature to shine through. Sophisticated vocabulary may also prove a challenge for young readers. Despite these drawbacks, the uniqueness of the setting and the power of the historical and modern stories being told will attract both browsers and report writers.-Heidi Estrin, Feldman Children's Library at Congregation B'nai Israel, Boca Raton, FL Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information.
Starred Review for 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.)

Starred Review ALA Booklist
*Starred Review* Part survival adventure, part searing history, and part discovery story, this amazing account describes how three Ukrainian Jewish families survived the Holocaust by hiding in a cave near their village for 344 days. Sixty years later, in 2003, Nicola explored the cave and found signs of human habitation. His Internet searches eventually connected him with some of the survivors, now living in Canada and the U.S., from whom he learned how 38 people, including toddlers and a 75-year-old grandmother, fled the Nazis and lived in four underground rooms, sealed off from the outside world. Color photos take readers to the site and show some of the people now, while black-and-white historical ones give an idea of the past. Particularly moving are the images of the relics found at the site shoe, a mug, a key to a house left forever. Readers will want more about the Ukrainian peasant who helped the families, but there's no denying the power of the story; when they came outside after nearly a year underground, some of the people had forgotten the sun.
Voice of Youth Advocates
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.-Kevin Beach.
Word Count: 13,400
Reading Level: 8.0
Interest Level: 3-6
Accelerated Reader: reading level: 8.0 / points: 2.0 / quiz: 114796 / grade: Middle Grades

According to legend, a group of Jewish families survived the Holocaust by hiding out for months in the 77 miles of caves in Ukraine known as Priest's Grotto. Cavers Taylor and Nicola chronicle their trip to explore the caves and uncover the story of the survivors.

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