While mapping out the largest cave system in Ukraine, explorer and investigator Chris Nicola discovers evidence that five Jewish families spent nearly a year and a half in the pitch-black caves to escape the Nazis. This is the story of the longest uninterrupted underground survival in recorded human history. Written by
I would like to draw viewer's attention to a number of issues that are of great importance due to the delicate nature of this area, its complicated history and the need to respect all those who lived or indeed died in and around Bilche Zolote/Bilcze Zlote. This is also necessary thanks to the sudden spotlight throw onto the area by this much welcome film.
Legal context. It is important to report facts correctly, in line with international law. This area, at this time was part of Poland. It is a fact that it was occupied illegally by the Soviet Union from September 1939 on the basis of an agreement made between Hitler's Germany and Stalin's Soviet Union. Further to this internationally unrecognised agreement, the whole of eastern Poland was incorporated into the Soviet Union, including Bilcze Zlote as it was then known. The German occupation from 1942 only added a further layer of illegality. When the area was retaken by the Soviets in 1944, they forced the puppet regime in Poland, (set up by Stalin) to recognise the annexations which occurred in 1945. Lex retro non agit, therefore the area up to 1945 is legally known as Wolyn (Volhyn) and the town as Bilcze Zlote and was in (occupied) Poland. Not the Uraine. Ethnic and political context. Upon occupying eastern Poland in 1939, the Soviet authorities commenced a programme of ethnic cleansing, in fact one of the biggest in history where over 2 million Poles were deported in cattle trucks to Siberia. Only half of them survived the war. When Germany attacked Russia, its former ally in 1942, they conducted genocide primarily against the Jewish population that had been living there since their invitation to come to Poland by the king of Poland, Casimir in 15th century.
It should however also be noted that the Germans were able to mobilise nationalist factions within the Ukrainian population- The Ukrainian pro-Nazi militia staged pogroms and assisted the Nazis in executions of Poles and Jews. Ukrainian brigades were formed within the German army and the SS which later went on to actively participate in the liquidation of civilians in the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising in 1943 and the Warsaw Uprising in 1944. The Volhyn Genocide, conducted by nationalist Ukrainian forces, with the quiet acceptance of the German occupiers resulted in the massacre of 50,000 civilians, predominantly women and children.
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