Olds: How did you eat in the caves?
Sima: The men went out to find food and we never knew if the men would come back.
Saul Stermer: One day, a Sunday, we said we’re going to go out and bring back some beans.
Sam Stermer: Beans.
Saul: Some farmers there grew corn very tall. So we said we’re going there and get beans. But the sun was coming up and if they saw us they’d kill us right there. We were gone all day, till we got the two bags of beans. This was very stupid. You don’t risk your life for beans.
Olds: I have a delicate question: How did you go to the bathroom in the cave?
Saul: I’ll tell you. I have a granddaughter who told me, “You have to come and tell the story for my friends.” I went. After I told it there were questions and one boy said, “How was it with the toilet?” I told him this is a very important question. I didn’t see a piece of paper for one year. There were three rooms in the cave and we said, “Okay, make this room for that.”
Sima: We were always very, very safe inside the grotto but when the men were outside their life was always in danger and we never knew if they’d come back. I was nine then.
Sam: My mother said, “They’re risking their lives.” We were very scared. What would happen if the men didn’t come back?
Saul: We were in that grotto for six weeks when the Ukrainians came from the village. They’d discovered us. They came with sticks and shovels. We were inside and they were digging and throwing and covered the hole.
Sam: They said any people in there would die but we were specialists.
Saul: One of the boys spotted a hole in the cave like a little entrance and we walked to it.
Sam: We started to dig for three days and three nights. We came out another exit and started to go out of the exit. We came out and found a place shaped like a bell. Some family before us had made a settlement there, you put a cover and on top then you put a stone on the cover. We hid like this for six weeks, until they discovered us. We were like cat and mouse.
Sima: Esther Stermer was a brilliant lady and she was a brave lady. We have to say that our grandmother had intuition what was going to happen to us. She prepared her family and you have no idea what a brave lady this was.
Sam: She knew for the whole year when the moon is high, when the moon is low. She knew the dates of Yom Kippur and Rosh Hashana. She would tell us, “Boys, the moon is low,” and we’d come out and it was.
Saul: She would say, “Boys, it’s a full moon.” We would say, “Mom, we’d been here eight months already, how do you know about the full moon today?” and she said, “Don’t joke. It’s a full moon.” It always bothered me. How could she know? But she knew it.
Sam: She was very smart.
Saul: She was smart and she knew how many days in each month and exactly. My God, she knew. For the holiday we would fast. That’s funny now [Laughs] but it’s true.
Olds: Was there light that came in so she knew day from night?
Sam: No it was always dark. Pitch dark.
Saul: But she knew by counting. She kept it inside until we got out.
Sima: When we were caught in the first grotto, my grandmother… Did we talk about this already?
Sonia: No, nothing with this.
Sima: When the Germans—the Gestapo—came, the person at the entrance ran in and said, “The Germans are here,” and he went under my mother’s bed that Uncle Shula made. My grandmother didn’t sit down and cry. She said, “Children, try to save yourselves.” She got up and went to greet the Germans. Can you imagine such a Jewish woman? Esther Stermer she got up—she was a tall woman—and started to speak to them in German and said, “So you have found us…”
Click here for part III
“No Place on Earth” opens this week on Friday, April 5, 2013 at Film Society Lincoln Center, 144 West 65th Street. NYC. Rated PG-13. 83 minutes.