Oct 22, 2013

12th Annual Kristallnacht Film Forum to Screen “No Place on Earth” with Cave Discoverer and Survivors, and Honor the Kwal Family

Featuring another powerful, poignant Holocaust-related film, the 12th annual Kristallnacht Film Forum (KFF) will also honor three generations of a local family for their service and generosity to the Jewish community and people. “No Place on Earth,” a new film in English, is the story of 38 Ukrainian Jews who survived the Holocaust by hiding from the Nazis deep inside massive caves.

“No Place on Earth” will be screened on Sunday, November 3, 2013 at 3:00 p.m. and 7:30 p.m., in Zinman Hall on the Jewish Federation of South Palm Beach County campus west of Boca Raton. American caver Chris Nicola, who “discovered” the caves’ unusual use and captured this remarkable story, will speak at each viewing, along with survivors of the experience.

Presented annually by the Federation and the March of the Living, the Forum commemorates Kristallnacht, which many consider the true beginning of the Holocaust. The Forum also raises dollars to enable to local high school students to join the March of the Living, a unique Holocaust education experience capped by travel to Poland and Israel.

Individual film tickets are available in advance for a $10 donation or $7 with a valid student ID, or for $18 at the door. To purchase tickets or make a donation to the March of the Living Scholarship Fund, visit jewishboca.org/kff, call 561.852.3126 or email kff@bocafed.org.

“In another powerful untold story from the Holocaust, ’No Place on Earth’ brings to light how five families of Ukrainian Jews survived by living in pitch-black caves for eighteen months to escape the Nazis,” said Lori Fineman, KFF Chair.

While mapping out the largest cave system in the Ukraine, Chris Nicola discovered household items in the Priest’s Grotto Cave and unraveled the mystery. He led four of the survivors back to the cave 67 years after they emerged. After participating in the filmmaking and writing a book, he now runs a genocide awareness project, bringing together the grandchildren of those who lived in the cave with the grandchildren of those who lived above. (See additional information about the film and Nicola below.)

“This film is an extraordinary testament to ingenuity, willpower and endurance against all odds,” said Fineman. “By keeping this story alive for future generations, he – and we – hope to prevent such genocides as the Holocaust from ever happening again.”

Between the two film screenings, a private Donor’s Reception will honor three generations of the local Kwal family at 5:00 pm in the Federation’s Lester and Sally Entin Holocaust Pavilion. Donors who contribute a minimum $180 contribution level may attend the reception and will receive two tickets to the film.

Richard Kwal, his daughter Rachel and his mother, Holocaust survivor Roslyn Zalztrager Kwal traveled on the March in 2003. Richard’s wife Dr. Gail Rubin Kwal traveled with their daughter Jaclyn in 2010.

“We are privileged to honor the Kwals for their profound commitment to the March of the Living among many other Jewish causes,” said Deborah Rudmann, who co-chairs the local March of the Living Committee with Phyllis Gutmann. “They have assured that local Holocaust survivors will be able to accompany our students on the March. The family’s time, effort and generosity sustain and promote vital Jewish values, memories, wisdom and wellbeing as they inspire those around them.”

“The March takes today’s Jewish youth and thousands of their peers from around the globe from the concentration camps in Poland where our ancestors were sent to die, through the March from Auschwitz to Birkenau on Yom HaShoah, Holocaust Memorial Day, to the joys of Yom HaAtzmaut, Israel Independence Day, in the homeland of our people,” said Phyllis Gutmann, South Palm Beach County March of the Living Co-chair. “Lifelong Jewish identity is forged into the souls of participants of the March of the Living, and it is our responsibility to see that our local Marchers are not limited only to those who can afford it outright. By featuring quality Holocaust films and commemorating Kristallnacht, KFF is a powerful vehicle to raise funds while educating the public.”

For more information about the Kristallnacht Film Forum or March of the Living sponsorships, visit jewishboca.org/kff, call 561.852.3126 or email kff@bocafed.org.


In 1942, 38 men, women and children slide down a cold, muddy hole in the ground, seeking refuge from the war above in a pitch-black underground world where no human had gone before. These five Ukrainian Jewish families created their own society where young men bravely ventured into the harrowing night to collect food, supplies and chop firewood. The girls and women never left; surviving underground longer than anyone in recorded history. Held together by an iron-willed matriarch, after 511 days, the cave dwellers, ages 2 to 76, emerged at war’s end in tattered clothes, blinded by a sun some children forgot existed. Despite all odds, they had survived.

The remarkable true story of “No Place on Earth” starts out as a mystery. While exploring some of the longest caves in the world in southwestern Ukraine in the 1990s, American caver Chris Nicola stumbled onto unusual objects…an antique ladies shoe and comb, old buttons, an old world key. Was the vague rumor true, that some Jews had hid in this cave during WWII and if so, had any survived to tell their tale? 67 years later, Chris leads four of the survivors back to Ukraine to say thank you to “the cave."


I learned the Holocaust isn't one story of how six million people perished; it's six million individual stories.
– Chris Nicola, cave explorer.

Chris Nicola was born in England in 1951. He and his family immigrated to the US settling ultimately in New York City. Chris is currently working as a Senior Investigator for New York State. Other jobs have included that of a union organizer, a police officer in Washington D.C., a bar manager and bouncer, adjunct lecturer, bodyguard, undercover investigator in the NYC schools, and civilian operative for the FBI.

As a graduate of 3 state police academies and recipient of specialized training from the FBI and NYPD his law enforcement career has spanned 37 years. He has earned undergraduate degrees in Criminal Justice, Physics, and Forensic Psychology; an MA in Criminology; completed post-graduate work while enrolled in a Criminology PhD program, and is currently pursuing a Forensic Science MS and Film BA.

In the Mid 70’s Nicola began his life as an explorer by scuba diving in the caves of central Florida, in conjunction with 10 years of ocean diving, spending many hours on the wrecks off of North Carolina. To date, he has participated, organized and/or lead over 40 caving expeditions in the Americas, Oceana, Africa, Caribbean and Europe.

Today he spends most of his free time caving, being a public speaker, and further developing a story that he first heard as a rumor in Ukraine 20 years ago; a story of how a group of Jews survived the Holocaust by living in a cave for over a year. To date, he has confirmed the story by locating 14 of the original 38 cave dwellers, co-authored a book that led to the making of a documentary about their experiences.

Nicola runs the Priest’s Grotto Heritage Project; a genocide awareness project in which the grandchildren of those who lived in Priest’s Grotto Cave during the Holocaust will be working hand-in-hand with the grandchildren of those who lived above the cave in building an exhibit to honor what those courageous 38 did so long ago, and hopefully, by keeping this story alive for future generations, prevent such genocides as the Holocaust from ever happening again. This month, Chris Nicola will receive a Citation of Merit from the Explorer’s Club for his work bringing the Priest’s Grotto story to light. Further details can be found at chrisnicola.com.