Janet Tobias

Janet Tobias

“No Place on Earth” offers an enthralling portrait of survival during the Holocaust. Directed by the accomplished Janet Tobias, the moving documentary is unlike previous films that have tackled the the subject matter. It follows a cave explorer named Chris Nicola, who ventured to the Ukraine and uncovered what was once an underground refuge used by a Jewish family during World War II. Astonishingly, a number of the survivors who hid in the underground location are alive today.

The film features poignant interviews with Saul and Sam Stermer, their nieces Sonia and Sima Dodyk, and Sol Wexler and shows how one woman’s immeasurable strength saved her family. Esther Stermer, the matriarch of the family led the group to the cave and refused to see them fall to the mercy of the Gestapo.

Just before the war began, Stermer work tirelessly to assure that her family would be able to flee to Canada. Yet just a week before they were set to leave their homeland, she knew that the trip would be impossible. Knowing that a terrible fate would befall her family if she agreed to move them to the ghettos as she was told, she chose to hide them.

“My grandmother, with the help of her sons, created the place for us to live (in the cave),” Dodyk said.

“She said ‘We’re not going to the ghetto. Where not going to the slaughter house.’ Everybody went to the ghetto, we did not.”

“Without Esther at the helm, they wouldn’t have made it,” said Tobias. “Everyone in the group, from her husband to her son-in -law wanted to go register and follow orders.

“She kept track of the calendar in the cave,” she continued. “She knew when it was full moon versus any other partial moon to make sure they didn’t go out unless they had to at full moon. She was the one that kept track of that day by day.”

“When the Germans discovered us,” Dodyk added, “my grandmother went out to speak to the Germans, to give us a chance to hide.”

She did so at a time when many adults were reluctant to take refuge with children, as they were often unable to remain quiet for long and therefore frequently discovered.

“She wasn’t afraid for herself. She didn’t sit and cry. She got up and she greeted the Gestapo. Can you imagine a Jewish woman going to greet the Gestapo?

“She was the most heroic woman that I have ever met.”

No Place on Earth, is currently in theaters and available on VOD.


New York-based interviewer, features writer and film critic who joined Moviehole in 2012. In her short time on the site she has already spoken to a horde of A-listers including Keira Knightley, Patrick Wilson and Meryl Streep.

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