Today we checked out of our hotel in Olomouc and our bus took us to the small town of Trsice, population of just under 1,000, which has become such an important and integral part of the Holocaust Study Tour in recent years. We first made the connection on our Holocaust Study Tour in 2008 that Olomouc and Trsice were the towns Otto Wolf refers to in his diary which is one of the diaries in Salvaged Pages that we all study in our Holocaust classes. The town of Trsice hid the family of Otto Wolf for three years during World War II, bringing them food to their forest hideouts in the spring and summer and sheltering them in their homes and other buildings during the winter months. Milos Dobry, the grandfather of Petr Papousek, who we met last night at the Jewish Community Center and head of the Jewish Federation, first showed us the hideouts in the forest and introduced us to the mayor of Trsice, Leona Stejskalova.
As we arrived in Trsice and walked into the Town Hall, a former castle dating back to the 14th century, we were greeted at the entry, as we have always been, by Mayor Leona and her deputy mayor who offered us the traditional Czech greeting: bread dipped in salt. We were welcomed also by Zedenka Ohera Calabkova [we call her Mrs. Ohera] and her sister Ludmilla, whose family helped hide the family of Otto Wolf, as well as several members of the Czech Scout troop we had first met in 2012 when the forest memorial from our schools was dedicated. Every year since, Štěpán Kouřil and other scouts have joined us every year since, spending the entire day with us as we explore the life of the Wolf family and the town of Trsice during the war.
Inside the building we were officially greeted by Mayor Leona in the Ceremonial Hall who introduced Milan Mahdal, a middle school teacher and historian for the town. Professor Mahdal told us the story of how residents of Trsice and Zákřov provided shelter and assistance to the Wolf family for 3 years, at personal risk. He told us that every day they would hear on the radio the names of people who had been arrested and shot for hiding Jews. Kamila translated for us as he told us how difficult it was to protect the secret that they were hiding the Wolfs. They had to be careful walking in and out of the forest in the winter, to not leave footprints; how difficult it was to be able to supply food for an additional four people given the ration card system, and how sometimes the Wolf family would develop ‘cabin fever’ and just feel that they had to venture out of their hiding places, if only for a short time.
He then introduced Mrs. Ohera who told her story, against translated by Kamila. Her family had provided food and shelter for the Wolfs and she told of her memories. When the Wolf family left the Zboril family home in late 1944 when the Nazis established an office in a house next door and appeared on their doorstep one night, Mrs. Ohera said her family decided to offer them shelter. Mrs. Ohera was 8 years old, her sister Ludmilla was 5, and they had a 15-month old brother. In April 1945, the Nazis started having roundups in the area because of increased partisan activity. On the night of April 20, 1945, the Nazis entered the area and started shooting. Mrs. Ohera’s father, who was guarding the village, was injured. There were also a couple of fires started in the town, including one on the street where the Oheras lived. Many people went out to see what was happening and to stop the fire, including her uncle, her future father-in-law, and Otto Wolf. She told us how they, along with her father and others, 19 men in all, were then randomly arrested. The men were all tortured, but no one gave up any information about the Wolfs in hiding. They were then put in a shed in a neighboring forest and burned alive. When the remains were examined later, doctors said every bone in the bodies had been broken before death. The Soviets would build a monument at the site of the execution and burning, to commemorate the brutality of the Nazis. While telling her story, Mrs. Ohera had become quite emotional as these difficult childhood memories of pain and fear and loss came flooding back, and she ended her story by saying “There’s nothing left to say . except that such things should never happen again. So me, my sister, my little brother and I stayed alone with my mom. It was very difficult.”
Professor Mahdal then talked about how on May 8th the Wolf family met soldiers from the Soviet Red Army who liberated the area, an how within one day of their liberation, learned the fate of their two sons, Otto, and Kurt, who had joined the Soviet army to the east before the Wolf family had gone into hiding and who had been killed in battle. The Wolf family, who had been living in Olomouc when they received their deportation notices, then fleeing to Trsice to hide, returned to the town of Olomouc.
The local people felt no need to talk about what had transpired with the Wolf family and the rescue efforts of the townspeople for more than 40 years. Shortly after the war, Mrs. Wolf died and Mr. Wolf later remarried. After his death, his second wife gave Otto’s diary to the local Jewish community, but because Czechoslovakia was then under communism, nothing was done with the diary. After the Velvet Revolution and the fall of communism in 1989, the diary of Otto Wolf was published and people started to ask questions about what had happened here and why the town of Trsice had protected this Jewish family. He also mentioned, as we had heard before, that Holocaust survivors often did not share their experiences with their children, perhaps to protect them, but that they were usually more open about their life during the Holocaust with their grandchildren. He also said that Europeans were often more willing to talk about the Holocaust because they were more aware that it could happen again in different circumstances, and people need to be vigilant. This reminded us that Shalmi had also said that Americans were more innocent in that they had not experienced war to the degree of the European nations and were, therefore, often more naïve.
We took a group picture before the town’s symbol, the frog, Why a frog? Because the name of the man who originally settled here translates as Mr. Frog. We then visited the memorial in the small town park which was dedicated in 2013 to the rescuers of the Wolf family and the town in general, by the U.S. Commission for the Preservation of America’s Heritage Abroad. The three paragraphs on the memorial gave the history of the town’s protection of the Wolf family, the names of specific rescuers, who were later all given Righteous Gentile status by Yad Vashem, as well as a memorial to a Jewish family from Trsice, the Kornbluh family who were deported to Terezin in June 1942 and then in August, sent east on a transport to Riga, Lithuania where they were murdered.
We next walked to the town cemetery, marked by one of the 5 information guide markers which are placed at sites around Trsice which relate to the Wolf family. We saw the memorial to the 19 men from Trsice and Zakrov, including Otto Wolf, who had been killed in April 1945, as well as the gravesite of Jaroslav [Zladek] Zdarilova who had had a crush on Otto’s sister, Lici, and was one of the first to help hide and protect the Wolf family.
After a wonderful lunch with Mayor Leona, the Deputy Mayor, Professor Mahdal, Mrs. Ohera and her sister Ludmilla, and the Czech scouts, we climbed on the bus to take us to the entrance to the forest to visit the memorial at the hideouts. Arriving at the memorial we had the chance to imagine the conditions in which the Wolf family had to survive by surveiling the forest surroundings.
We hiked back out of the forest, said goodbye to our Trsice friends and got on the bus for a four hour ride to our next stop, Dabrowa Tarnowska in Poland. Tonight we will be having dinner in our hotel with the three teachers we met several years ago who helped restore a Jewish synagogue as an educational center. Tomorrow we will be spending time at the high school and synagogue with the teachers and students from the school.
As we were leaving Trisce we noticed a group of bikers who stopped at one of the sign posts that our group was instrumental in establishing back in 2013 which described the events which had occurred in Trsice and Zakrov during the war. We were very pleased to see that people were taking the time to stop at these signposts and perhaps learn, for the first time, this history.
Day 9 Padlet Reflections at https://padlet.com/daufiero/ds42uvihywv8