The documentary begins with a New York spelunker discovering old household items (shoes, a comb, a stove) deep inside an underground cave in Western Ukraine. He wants to find out the story of the people who had lived in the cave, but the residents of the rural community are evasive. After years of searching, he finally connects with the living members of an extended Jewish family who survived in the subterranean cave for more than a year during World War II. They refused to go to the Jewish ghetto when they were ordered to, and thus avoided being sent to the concentration camp, but they had to hide where no one could find them. Ranging in age from age 2 to 76, they went as far underground as they could.
It’s an unbelievable story, told from first-person accounts of the survivors who were children and young people when they lived there, and reenactments of what life was like in the cave and what it took to avoid detection by the Germans. The mental and environmental conditions were extreme, added to the intense fear of being discovered, not being sure about who to trust outside, and not knowing when they might be able to come out.
No Place on Earth is an amazing tale of endurance and a terrible reminder of what humans can do to each other. Originally having one of the largest Jewish populations in Europe, less than 5 percent of the Jews in Western Ukraine survived the war. One survivor said of their story, “We spoke of it amongst ourselves, we didn’t tell it to others, because it was just too incredible.”