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

4.04  ·  Rating details ·  152 Ratings  ·  48 Reviews
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.
Paperback, 64 pages
Published April 1st 2007 by Kar-Ben Pub (first published February 2006)
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Krista the Krazy Kataloguer
This was one of the most fascinating Holocaust survival stories I’ve ever read. Can you imagine living in a series of caves deep underground for 344 days, without once seeing the sun? That is what a group of Jewish villagers, all related by blood or marriage, did to escape from the Nazis during World War II in Ukraine. The details of their life underground are described by the survivors, whom Taylor tracked down and interviewed. He then went to the Ukraine and joined a team of spelunkers to vent ...more
Sep 01, 2017 rated it really liked it
Recommended to Michael by: Alissa
Amazing story of survival, great photos. I wish that Esther Stermer's book We Fight to Survive was more readily available. (The cheapest used price I can find online is $500.) I would love to read it.
Mar 12, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: ya, j, history, nf
Four stars for being an AMAZING story with a historical and modern thread - the historical about the extended family that hid in two caves, one barely explored, during WWII, and the modern about researcher-spelunkers who investigated the second of the caves and found out just how far the historical family had travelled and how they lived for so long underground. This book is appealing for being about WWII survival, for being about caves, for being about living underground, and for having incredi ...more
Jan 08, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Recommended to Alicia by: Amazon - because it took place in Ukraine
Bought this picture book to add to our collection of books set in Ukraine/Russia. Summary: "Two explorers survey caves in the Western Ukraine and relate the story of how an extended Jewish family, fleeing persecution by the Nazis, lived for two years in a large cave, Popowa Yama, and survived the war."

The author talked to survivors, gathered old photos, talked to the modern-day cave explorers, and described day-to-day life underground. 36 people lived in this cave system for over a year. Those w
Jan 17, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Another amazing story from the Holocaust about an extended family who survives for nearly a year hidden in caves underground. It is a dual story told from the perspective of cavers who discover this cave and set out to learn about this family. One of the family members in the cave wrote her story which I also read titled "We fight to survive". It is not widely published but I found it through the Queensborough Community College in NYC and through inter-library loan was able to read it. It was no ...more
Pyrate Queen
An extraordinary tale of how several Jewish families hid for a year and a half in the caves of Western Ukraine and survived on what the land could give them, never knowing it their next venture above ground at night would be their last breath of free air.
Kim Straub
Feb 03, 2018 rated it liked it
This was an interesting account of Holocaust survival in a cave complete with pictures of artifacts found years later by cavers who researched and proved the survivors' story.
Oct 31, 2017 rated it really liked it
A friend shared this with me and I found it so interesting. Caves have always been fascinating. The Holocaust story was chilling and a story of a group survival that is extraordinary.
L Frost
Feb 28, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
Amazing little known story. Great pictures in a short book that summarizes this discovery and the story of survival behind it. Excellent addition to any study of the Holocaust, WW II and the Eastern Front. Recommended for anyone. Looking forward to a motion picture of this story.
Karen Ball
Feb 13, 2011 rated it really liked it
After the fall of the Soviet Union, Chris Nicola traveled to the Ukraine to explore the gypsum caves of the region, which had not previously been open to Americans. On one of the trips, he heard locals telling stories about Jews who had gone into a cave during World War II, but no one was sure what happened to them. In his explorations, he found man-made walls and artifacts, and began to search for information. Nearly ten years later, there was an email from the neighbor of Sol Wexler, who was o ...more
Sarah Wilbern
Oct 08, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: libs-642-2
Taylor, P. & Nicola C. (2007). The Secret of Priest's Groto: A Holocaust Survival Story. Minnesota: Kar-Ben Publishing.

2008 NCSS Notable Social Studies Trade Book for Young People.

Informational Book Choice.

This book was very interesting. It told the story of how a couple of families stuck together to live during WWII and the Holocaust. One of the main Families talked about their experience during WWII and the Holocaust. They were scared for their lives, they didn't know if they were going t
Feb 12, 2009 rated it really liked it
The Secret of Priest’s Grotto relates the story of how several Jewish families survived the Holocaust of WWII by hiding in the caves of western Ukraine for over 300 days. The explorations of caving enthusiasts, Taylor and Nicola unravel the remarkable story of survival with contemporary and historical photographs, survivor interviews and excerpts from the unpublished memoir of matriarch Esther Stermer.

The recollection of the survivor’s harrowing experience is alternated with the present day expe
Feb 16, 2008 rated it liked it
While exploring in Ukraine, caver Christos Nicola first visits Priest’s Grotto, the ninth-longest cave in the world. While researching the cave, he uncovers its fascinating history—38 people hid and survived there for almost a year during the Jewish Holocaust.

Nicola, along with photographer Peter Lane Taylor, recounts the survivors’ experiences in the children’s book The Secret of Priest’s Grotto: A Holocaust Survival Story.

Their story is interspersed with the authors’ experiences working in the
May 08, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Fascinating story of how Christos Nicola, a cave explorer, heard stories of Jews hiding and surviving in the Popwa Yama cave in Ukraine during World War II. He was able to find some of the survivors and hear their story along with in 2003 making a trip to the cave to explore where he found artifacts and evidence of their amazing story. They survived underground for over a year and a half in a different cave and this one until the war was over. The book is a mixture of the survivors' first hand a ...more
May 20, 2013 rated it it was amazing
This book was really good. I liked how it showed how they found out about these people showing the old shoes, keys and other artifacts they found, while exploring the cave in first person. I also like how the narrator shows the people while they where hiding in the cave from the nazis. This book did change my perspective I thought a cave would be impossible for people to find them easy to survive in cause it under ground and shelter from the weather but I was wrong. During this book I found out ...more
Sep 29, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Being somewhat claustrophobic, the idea of spending nearly a year in a dank, underground grotto in the Ukraine is unfathomable. Yet, during World War II, that is just what a small band of Eastern European Jews did to survive. To date, no other persons have come close to living underground in the conditions they did for so many continuous days, enduring sensory deprivation, near starvation, and physical and psychological discomfort.
This book details the methods by which the caves were explored
Rock Angel
2012 documentary "No Place On Earth"

The grottos were located in the cold western Ukrainan forest. Several extended families hid in these caves for 1.5 years until the Russians drove out the Germans above ground in April 1944. Their ages span from 2 - 76 years old. This was one of the hardest documentary viewing experiences ever. Not only did the researcher find numerous survivors to retell their tales, their hardships were etched so indelibly that they, in turn, imprinted them upon us when we vi
Cara Stone
Taylor's photojournalism experience is evident in this book. Taylor and Nicola present the harrowing tale of Jewish families who escape to underground caves to survive the Holocaust. Told from a journalistic perspective the book contains two stories: the first being the story of curious cave explorers; the second being the story of survival. Taylor and Nicola alternate details of their modern day cave exploration (of the sites inhabited by displaced Jewish families), with the reflections and ima ...more
Jan 06, 2009 rated it really liked it
Words and photos describe the underground passages that Jews used in the Western Ukraine. Feeling that they had no other choice to escape from the Nazi and anti-Semetic Ukrainians, several families lived underground for almost a year, risking malnutrition and sensory deprivation for 344 days. Almost 50 years later, an American caver is interested in exploring particular caves in the Ukraine because of their unique geologic features and hears stories of a family who lived in the caves during the ...more
Jeanne Moran
Apr 15, 2016 rated it really liked it
At a screening of the related documentary "No Place on Earth," I had the good fortune to meet the caver who stumbled across the remnants of this harrowing true story. The book adds to the story woven by his presentation and the History Channel documentary.
The volume is thin, but chock full of photos, diagrams, and information. Best of all, it tells personal stories - of the caver and his decades-long drive to uncover the startling truths, and the remarkable stories of those who lived in the cav
Becky B
An interesting story of the heroic survival of a group of Jews in Western Ukraine who evaded the Nazis by living in caves for over a year. The book reads much like a National Geographic article (which makes sense because Peter Lane Taylor wrote an article for National Geographic on this topic), so probably best suited for use in upper grades due to the writing style (content is simple and clean for any grade). The story goes back and forth between the survival story and the story of the cave exp ...more
Jun 23, 2016 rated it it was amazing
My husband's family is from Korolowka and are mentioned a few times in Esther Stermer's memoir. The story of the caves has fascinated me ever since I started conducting genealogical research on his family, so I really enjoyed the pictures in this book and reading about the caves from a different perspective. It does fall short of the full story, but I don't think that's what this short book was trying to accomplish (for that you need to read Esther's book We Fight to Survive). Still very interes ...more
Oct 29, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I had never heard of this cave or the importance of it during World War II. Following three families that hid in the cave for almost a year as the Nazis were killing Jews, the author does a nice job of retelling their history, plus the exploration currently being done in the cave. Filled with amazing photographs and illustrations, teen/adult readers will be amazed at the courage and intelligence these people went through just to survive man's hatred. A great book to addd to your World War II col ...more
Sep 13, 2009 rated it liked it
Recommends it for: Patty, Holocaust study
Recommended to Marcia by: Holocaust muse
Shelves: middle-school
A survival tale that is extraordinary. Two American cavers set out to explore the famous Ukrainian gypsum caves to investigate the rumors they have heard that the caves sheltered several Jewish families during the Holocaust. They meet with members of the families and learn that more than 30 people spent 1 1/2 years deep underground. The book simultaneously tells the cavers' story of their 3-day expedition alongside the unbelievable story of what played out in 1943. One more heroic survival story ...more
Aug 19, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history, archaeology
An incredible tale with lots of pictures (like a National Geographic article), this book uncovers a true story of survival in a cave. It is not particularly scary, but it can cause bad dreams. The family survives the Holocaust but isn't sure if God helped them or they were just strong enough on their own. I personally think that no one survived the Holocaust who wasn't of particular interest to God for one reason or another.
Nov 03, 2013 rated it really liked it
Tells the story of an extended Jewish family that survived in caves in the Ukraine for 344 days during the Holocaust. No one has ever lived underground for that period of time before. My brain is still trying to wrap itself around the idea of living with no daylight for almost a complete entire year!! Based on photos and interviews with survivors, this is a very compelling non-fiction text. I'll definitely be adding it to my school library.
Mar 07, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Underneath the quiet, serene wheat fields in Ukraine, there lies an underground web of crystalline caves covering over 340 miles. In 2003, two American cavers arrived to explore and photograph these wonders. While there, villagers told them about how 38 Jews hid out in the caves to escape capture by the Nazis during World War II. Thus began an investigation that reads like an adventure story with a suspenseful plot and interesting characters--and it's all true!
Feb 15, 2013 rated it liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
This is a very interesting book about how a group of Jews survived living in a cave, for over a year in the Ukraine. The story is told by a cave explorer who found the remnants of their time in the cave. He visits the remaining survivors and blends their stories with the story of the cave and what he discovered. There are some great pictures and quotations from the family. It is an amazing story of the human spirt, faith and hope.
Lindsey Johnson
This was not one of my favorite books because it did not capture my mind that much. It was sad because real people had to go through miserable things in order to survive. All of the pictures are photographs none of them are paintings. I guess you can say those are interesting because you can see what they went through. I like the four photographs of a mug, shoe, plate and a key that they found and they dug up. I like how old they are and you can still tell what they were.
Oct 08, 2015 rated it it was amazing
The will to survive is one of the most basic and primal instincts we humans possess; so strong that even at the darkest times in their lives, these families prevailed against all odds,; their familial bonds remained intact, and they lived to tell about it decades afterward. An awe inspiring memoir of the boundless human spirit and the tremendous power of a mother's love for her family!
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