The real stories behind 'No Place on Earth'

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'No Place on Earth'

"No Place on Earth" film director Janet Tobias, sitting, poses for a portrait along with Holocaust survivors, from left, Sonia Dodyk Hochman, Sam Sterme, and Sima Dodyk Blitzer and cave explorer Chris Nicola, right, at Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Center in Skokie, Ill. (Anthony Souffle, Chicago Tribune / April 18, 2013)

“On the dramatization, there were a number of reasons. No. 1, most of us have maybe been to the entrance of a cave. But to imagine what it would be like to live there for 511 days? I thought that really required dramatization.”

Whether any film could capture the claustrophobia of this setting, the blackness in which the survivors subsisted most of the time, and the severe, chronic traumas of the experience is open to debate. But, alas, the re-enactments here diminish the power of the survivors' on-screen testimony.

Even so, the narrative is well worth knowing, and one has to admire the survivors who had the courage to live it and tell it.

“We always talked about the story,” says Dodyk, hastening to add that she feels her experiences were less severe than those of other survivors. “It's not like people who went through concentration camps, where it was just impossible to speak.”

What do the survivors hope will come of the film release?

“To show people that under horrendous circumstances, (victims) are still human beings,” says Sonia Dodyk, Sima's sister. “They learned professions they never had before. The ingenuity and the courage. And it's to show children that under difficult times, people can survive, and they can step up and be courageous. It's a good thing that everyone should know how we survived and how we fought and we didn't give up.

“The whole thing is not giving up.”

For caver Nicola, who says he didn't know much about the Holocaust before this work, the story proved revelatory.

“I realized the Holocaust was not one individual story,” Nicola says. “It's 6 million individual stories of how brothers, mothers, sons, daughters, classmates and lovers perished.”

And most of these stories have yet to be told.

Tribune arts critic Howard Reich is producer-writer-narrator of the PBS documentary film "Prisoner of Her Past," about his mother's hidden Holocaust past.

Twitter @howardreich

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