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

book_grotto.jpgHow did they get food and water? How did they deal with the ever-present darkness? How did they bathe? Cook? Get enough oxygen? Not lose their minds??

 

 

 

 

 

By Peter Lane Taylor and Christos Nicola
Kar-Ben Publishing

Of the many dramatic stories of Jews somehow managing to elude the Nazis and survive the Holocaust years, the tale of 38 Jews who hid 70 feet underground in a Ukrainian cave for more than a year is wild, even by comparison.

How did they get food and water? How did they deal with the ever-present darkness? How did they bathe? Cook? Get enough oxygen? Not lose their minds??

And when you read the book that chronicles their surreal underground exile, The Secret of Priest’s Grotto: A Holocaust Survival Story, you learn how much more they had to contend with. The young men made daring midnight runs across the icy fields for firewood, food and supplies, and then slinked back to the cave. The Nazi law of "Judenfrei" meant that anyone and everyone was encouraged to shoot a Jew on sight. Allies were few, and fear was constant. At one point, a group of Ukrainian villagers, acting on a tip, got together and sealed off the exit/entrance to the cave, trapping the Jews. A morbidly terrifying search for another exit point took weeks before a path to the surface was found. The horror is unimaginable.

The Nazis themselves discovered the Jews several times. During these nightmarish confrontations, the Jews sprinted deeper intro the huge, 77-mile-long cave system, trying to outrun the bullets and stay together. Later, the survivors of these raids would have to find another habitable portion of the cave and tunnel out another escape path to the surface—without causing a cave-in.

The Secret of Priest’s Grotto is the result of interviews with survivors from the year underground. It’s a testament to the human will to survive by any means necessary. A photo near the end of the book, depicting several generations of descendents of the hardy cave-dwellers, makes clear several lesson from the Holocaust—the millions of people exterminated by the Nazis would have given birth to billions more. It’s a crime that extends on to forever. And, just as importantly, the descendents of the 38 Priest’s Grotto survivors owe their lives to the tough, crafty Jews determined to outlast the Reich. Every life saved means many, many more that are destined to spring from it.

The book’s large format, great color photos, and simple language are designed to appeal to (older) children as well as adults.  | Byron Kerman

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