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Gone to underground
February 22, 2006 10:12 PM   Subscribe

The real Jewish Underground — During the Nazi occupation of World War II, hundreds of thousands of Ukrainian Jews were killed or transported to Nazi concentration camps. In 1942 and 1943, thirty-eight men, women, and children aged 4 to 74 years survived by living underground in two caves for nearly two years (their 344 day stay in Priest's Grotto beat Michel Siffre's 1972 NASA research study.) Emerging at night to cut firewood and steal food, these unwilling troglodytes returned to the cave before dawn to avoid capture. Spelunker Chris Nicola first discovered their survival story (PDF, pp. 6-12) in 1993.
posted by cenoxo (23 comments total) 4 users marked this as a favorite

 
This is a fantastic post, cenoxo. I'm still in the middle of the NSS article (the PDF), which is simply gripping.
posted by dhartung at 11:20 PM on February 22, 2006


Seconded. Great post.
posted by JakeEXTREME at 11:27 PM on February 22, 2006


Thank you for this post. I stumbled across "Babi Yar" as a nine year old precocious reader and have never quite been the same since. The entire period of history is one of horror and inhumanity. About four years ago, I was honored to be permitted to attend a remembrance in Pittsburgh and to listen to the stories of some of the last remaining survivors of Auschwitz. May they rest in peace.
posted by infini at 11:30 PM on February 22, 2006


Incredible story, thanks for the post.
posted by man835 at 11:57 PM on February 22, 2006


Excellent post. I had never heard of this, it is fascinating on so many levels - caving, darkness, the Holocaust, endurance, archaeology....
posted by Rumple at 12:41 AM on February 23, 2006


What an amazing episode; absolutely riveting. Good work.
posted by rhymer at 1:02 AM on February 23, 2006


The group had no special experience or equipment. What they did have was each other, a few helpful friends above ground, and the will to survive. In the end it would be enough.

I imagine Osama bin Laden in a cave in Pakistan.

Outstanding post cenoxo. A Number One. Fascinating subject and well-researched links.
posted by three blind mice at 1:31 AM on February 23, 2006


thank you for this
posted by matteo at 2:42 AM on February 23, 2006


A post like this is why I love Metafilter. Thank you!!!
posted by matty at 5:30 AM on February 23, 2006


This is one of the most remarkable things I've seen on MeFi. Many thanks for the post.

My mother decided, we're not going there. She told my brother, 'Go to the forest, find some place for us.'


A remarkable woman. More people should be like that.
posted by languagehat at 6:25 AM on February 23, 2006


Well done, cenoxo.
Anyone recall/know of a novel/short story based on these people?
posted by shoepal at 6:33 AM on February 23, 2006


Thanks for putting this up, cenoxo.

Here are the Coral Cache equivalents in case the Priest's Grotto and Chris Nicola Geocities links are balky.
posted by hangashore at 6:52 AM on February 23, 2006


Excellent post. Their will to survive was amazing; I only hope I could be half as strong.
posted by amro at 7:04 AM on February 23, 2006


Wow. This is absolutely riveting.

In Hebrew School we studied and read a lot about the Holocaust. We heard horror stories and we heard amazing stories of survival. None, however, were quite like this. Truly remarkable.
posted by SisterHavana at 7:10 AM on February 23, 2006


amazing... thanks, cenoxo!
posted by amberglow at 7:55 AM on February 23, 2006


Exellent reading, thanks!
posted by Smedleyman at 8:43 AM on February 23, 2006


Excellent work.
posted by boo_radley at 8:46 AM on February 23, 2006


I've read this story in print somewhere -- probably the NSS news, and was utterly fascinated by it. As to Siffre, I've been to the cave where he did his long stay in '72, and know a few folks that were on the support team. It's really one beautiful cave. (WARNING: SELF LINK!) Here's some pics I took there in '95.
posted by Devils Rancher at 10:13 AM on February 23, 2006


Great FPP.
posted by dejah420 at 12:21 PM on February 23, 2006


(DR, Thanks for the great photos.)

The story of Michel Siffre's Midnight Cave experiment, Six Months Alone in a Cave, is in the March 1975 National Geographic. It was sponsored by NASA to study biological and psychological effects of long space flights.

Although Siffre spoke by phone with his support team on the surface, he was completely alone inside the cave, without physical human contact or any artificial way to count time. He had plenty of food and water, electric light, books, and experimental chores (including self-portraits), but isolation took its toll as noted in his journal:
156th Day (July 18, Cycle 130)

Panic! Stark, unreasoning panic! Today—what a mockery of a word in this timeless cave!—I scrape the mildew from a magazine and read that bat urine and saliva can transmit rabies through the air. I am in no such danger from the long-vanished bats, but I don't know that at the time. And for the eternity I have spent in Midnight Cave, I've been absorbing the foul ash of their droppings with every breath.
...
In my journal I scrawl this disorganized—but true—sentence:

"When you find yourself alone, isolated in a world totally without time, face-to-face with yourself, all the masks that you hide behind—those to preserve your own illusions, those that project them before others—finally fall, sometimes brutally."
Siffre came out when he thought 175 days (counted as sleep-wake cycles) had passed, but in reality he spent 205 full days underground. How this affected his natural biorhythms is explained in his 1987 article, The Time of Our Lives.
posted by cenoxo at 12:29 PM on February 23, 2006


thank you so much for your post! it's a fascinating story of survival is such a desperate time. wonder why it's not a movie yet?
posted by annieb at 5:33 PM on February 23, 2006


Apparently a movie is being developed, and slide shows can be scheduled.
posted by cenoxo at 8:38 PM on February 23, 2006


thank you, cenoxo! much obliged for your trouble!
posted by annieb at 5:51 PM on February 24, 2006


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