, 2022-08-10 18:22:00,
REGIONAL- Writer Bill Durbin has become adept at bringing history to life for young adult readers. His earliest books were set in northeastern Minnesota, chronicling the fur trade, iron mining, and timber trade, along with the lives of the many immigrants who settled in our area.
But his newest book, co-written with his wife Barbara, is set in Ukraine during World War II, and is based on the true-life stories of Jewish families who lived in an underground cave for almost two years, as Nazi soldiers and Ukrainian sympathizers were systematically killing off the country’s Jewish population.
Historians estimate that more than a million Jews living in the Soviet Union, mostly in Ukraine, were killed as part of Nazi Germany’s “Final Solution,” often with the help of local Ukrainian collaborators. The most notorious episode was at Babi Yar, a ravine situated outside of Kyiv, where 33,771 Jews were killed over the course of two days in September of 1941.
A retired teacher, Bill taught at the Cook High School for almost 30 years, and then at Mesabi Community College, and he also spends a lot of time doing writer’s workshops with schools across the country. Barbara is also a retired teacher, and while she has always been her husband’s first reader, she has taken a more active, collaborative role in Bill’s writing since her retirement. The couple lives on Lake Vermilion in the summer and in Duluth in the winter where they are closer to their grandchildren who live in Duluth and the Twin Cities.
How their newest title ended up to mesh with current events is a story to itself.
“The connection to Ukraine is just a coincidence,” he said. “Kids were always asking me if I was going to write a book about World War II.”
The idea was just in the back of his mind when he found an article in an old National Geographic magazine written by a cave explorer, Christos Nicola, who was living in New York.
“He had traveled to Ukraine to research his genealogy,” said Bill, “and he went to explore some caves outside of the village he was visiting.”
In 1993, Nicola went exploring in the gypsum caverns and found evidence that people had been living deep underground.
“He found all kinds of artifacts and some writing,” Bill said.
But Nicola couldn’t get any people he talked to in the nearby village to speak to him about what might have happened.
“Many had turned in Jewish families and were…
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