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The Secret of Priest’s Grotto….Remarkable Story of a Group of Holocaust Survivors Who Hid in One of The World’s Largest Caves


This is truly one of the most heart-wrenching stories you will ever hear in your lifetime. It’s also one of amazing bravery, survival, and the determination a group of people can have when they stick together.

The Holocaust showed the horrors humans can inflict on one another. Yet the resilience displayed by those who lived through the Nazis’ brutal reign shows the strength of the human spirit. Those who escaped the Holocaust did so through cunning, daring, and the sheer unwillingness to give in to the evil around them.

A Jewish matriarch was so determined to protect her family from Nazi persecution, she hid herself and them in an underground cave until their country was liberated – eighteen months later.
Esther Stermer lived a peaceful, rural existence in a small Ukrainian village with her six children until the Germans invaded in late 1941.

In October 1942, Nazis began occupying eastern Europe and systematically exterminating Jewish families.

Hellbent on annihilating the Jewish people, the soldiers rounded up more than a thousand Jews and sent them to their deaths.

But Mrs Stermer and her husband Zaida were determined that their innocent family would survive, whatever it took.

So, she and five other Jewish families from the area packed up their belongings one cold October night in 1942 and fled, in the dark, to a sinkhole masking the entrance to an underground cave, five miles north of their home in Korolowka.

For almost two years, the Stermer family lived with several other Jews in underground caves in the Ukraine to avoid being captured by Nazis, a little-known yet incredible tale.

The Stermer family and several others spent 344 consecutive days living in what is known as Priest’s Grotto, a “massive underground sanctuary,” in the Ukraine during World War II, Brian Handwerk reported for National Geographic News in 2004. No serious illnesses or deaths occurred during that time, despite the cave dwellers’ having “no special experience or equipment,” Handwerk wrote.

The Stermer family’s inspirational story might have stayed a secret if not for the efforts of Chris Nicola, a “veteran caver” who was part of a team that explored Priest’s Grotto in 1993, according to the 2004 issue of National Geographic Adventure Magazine.

Nicola was exploring Priest’s Grotto, the world’s 10th-longest cave at 124 kilometers (77 mi) long. The humidity is 90 percent there, and the temperature hovers around 10 degrees Celsius (50 °F). This was supposed to be a largely untouched spot, but Nicola noticed shoes, buttons, and other signs that people had lived there. Locals said that the items had been there for decades.

Back home in Queens, New York, Nicola intensified his efforts to locate a Priest’s Grotto survivor. He added information about the story to his Web site on Ukrainian caves (, hoping that anyone searching the Internet for the topic would contact him. For four years he got no response. Then, one evening in December 2002, Nicola received an email from a man who said that his father-in-law


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