This morning, after a great buffet breakfast, we checked out of our hotel in Olomouc and our bus took us to the small town of Tršíce, population of about 1,500, which has become such an important and integral part of the Holocaust Study Tour for twelve years. We first made the connection on our Holocaust Study Tour in 2008 that Olomouc and Tršíce 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 Tršíce 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. Miloš Dobrý, the grandfather of Petr Papoušek, who we met last night at the Jewish Community Center and head of the Jewish Federation, first showed us the hideouts in the forest in 2008 and introduced us to the mayor of Tršice at that time, Leona Stejskalova.
What happened today was unexpected and amazing and will have us doing more research during the year to come as we have additional sources of information to add to the story of the family of Otto Wolf and the town of Tršice. But I will come to that in due time – to keep the story of today in chronological order.
Last night we had hosted a dinner at the local horse farm, Jezdecký Areál Hostinúv Dúl Tršice, for the new mayor of Tršice, Pavel Kováček, council member Antonin Glier, who we have known since 2008, Milan Madahl, a middle school history teacher and historian for the town, Zedenka Ohera Calábkova [we call her Mrs. Ohera], her sister Ludmilla and brother Tomaš, Jan Pečinka, the Czech Scout leader and young members of the Czech scout troop, who have been guardians of the Otto Wolf memorial in the forest since we unveiled it in 2012 and who have joined us every year spending the day with us as we visit Tršice and Zákřov.
Today we were the guests of Mayor Kováček as our students explored the sites in and around the town which are important to the story of Otto Wolf and his family. On arriving in Tršice we walked to the Town Hall, a former castle dating back to the 14th century, past the town’s symbol, the frog, Why a frog? Because the name of the man who originally settled here translates as Mr. Frog. We were greeted at the entry, by Mayor Kováček and Councilman Glier, who offered us the traditional Czech greeting: bread dipped in salt. We were also joined by Mr. Mahdal, young members of the Czech Scout troop, some of whom had joined us last night for dinner, and their scout leader, Jan Pečinka.
In the Ceremonial Hall we were officially welcomed by Mayor Kováček who then turned the program over to Professor Mahdal who told us the story of how the Wolf family came to be sheltered in this area. Berthold Wolf and his wife Růžena lived in Olomouc with their three children: Kurt, a dentist, Felicitas [Lici], and Otto. Why did they move from Olomouc to Tršice? Professor Mahdal said there were two reasons: (1) there was a strong ethnic German minority in Olomouc as well as a military base, so there was a greater chance of running into German soldiers or being turned in. It was also unpleasant because there were many restrictions that had been placed on the Jewish community and many areas had been renamed with German names, including a central square which had been renamed ‘Adolf Hitler Square’; and (2) the Nazis had introduced ration cards for food and the rations for Jewish families were significantly less than for non-Jewish families. In Tršice, it would be possible to grow your own food to supplement the ration cards. Mr. Wolf also knew Tršice well because he had worked here for twenty years before the war and had many acquaintances and contacts. So one night the family took their suitcases and walked the same way to Tršice as we had come by bus to seek shelter and assistance which the residents of Tršice and Zákřov provided for 3 years, at great personal risk. He told us that every day members of the town 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.
Professor Mahdal, also told us about the actions of the rescuers of the village. One young man, Jaroslav [Zladek] Zdařil had offered to help the Wolf family. He knew the family and was especially fond of Lici and wanted to help. Otto’s diary provided testimony of how Zladek aided the family for a very long time. He is considered the primary rescuer. The family was then housed by the Zbořil family for a while. In late 1944, when the Nazis established an office in the house next door to the Zbořil family it was deemed too dangerous for the Wolf family to remain there. The family then appeared on the doorstep one night of the Ohera family (Jan and Marie) which agreed to offer them shelter. Mrs. Ohera (Zdenka) was 8 years old, her sister Ludmilla was 5, and her brother Tomaš was 15-months old.
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. Nineteen men in all, were randomly arrested that night. The men were all tortured for several days, but no one gave up any information about the Wolfs in hiding or turned in any of their fellow townspeople who were harboring the family. 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.
Professor Mahdal then talked about how on May 8th the Wolf family met soldiers from the Soviet Red Army who liberated the area, and 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 1943 during the battle of Sokolov. The Wolf family returned to the town of Olomouc after the war.
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 Tršice had protected this Jewish family.
We next walked to the town cemetery, marked by one of the 5 information guide markers which were funded by the owner of the Horse Farm (Jezdecký Areál Hostinúv Dúl Tršice ) and which are placed at 5 sites around Tršice and Zákřov which relate to the Wolf family. In the cemetery we saw the memorial to the 19 men from Tršice and Zákřov, including Otto Wolf, who had been killed in April 1945. We reflected upon the fact that Otto, a Jew, was included in this memorial which said a great deal about the town’s mindset at the time and perhaps gave insight into their actions as rescuers. Otto was not regarded as an outsider but was included with all of the other. We also saw the gravesite of Zladek Zdařil. Every year we read Otto’s diary and have questions about this side of the story, but have never been able to connect with members of his family.
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 monument lists the rescuers as Jaroslav Zdařil, František and Marie Zbořil, Ludmila Chodilová née Tichá and Oldrich and Marie Oher. These are the 6 individuals who have been recognized by Yad Vashem as Righteous Among Nations. Petr Papoušek’s grandfather, Miloš Dobrý, was the individual who had done all the research and submitted the paperwork to Yad Vashem to have this honor accorded these people. The monument inscription then goes on “As time went on many other citizens of Tršice learned of the hiding place and kept the secret” giving credit to the entire town of Tršice for helping save three members of the Wolf family.
After a wonderful lunch with Mayor Kováček, Councilman Glier, Professor Mahdal, the Ohera family, and the Czech scouts and their leader, we climbed on the bus to take us to the entrance to the forest to visit the memorial our schools had unveiled in 2012 at the hideouts. Arriving at the memorial we saw the additional damage which had been done this year because of storms. Also, as had been the case last year, many more trees had had to be cut down because of a tree disease which was contagious.
By the memorial one of the Czech scouts read a diary entry from Otto’s diary, and two students from Bishop O’Dowd HS and New Milford HS also read entries, one of which had been written by Otto seventy-five years ago today, April 14, 1944. At that point we were startled when a voice called out “What schools are you from?”. It turned out that the woman was a niece of Zladek Zdařil who lived in the San Francisco Bay Area and who was visiting Tršice and had heard the American schools were in town and had come looking for us. She and her two cousins, one of whom still lives in Tršice, said the family had all known about Zladek’s efforts to help the Wolfs and that, in fact, the entire family had helped in the rescue effort. We exchanged contact information and are thrilled to be able to finally get additional information and answers to the questions we have had about the rescue efforts from the perspective of Zladek.
We took a group picture with the scouts before hiking out of the forest. We said goodbye to the mayor and got on the bus which took us a very short distance to the town of Zakřov where we once again met Mrs. Ohera and her brother who showed us their house which was one of the family’s winter hideouts. They would be hidden frequently in the attic but then Lici would also work in one of the rooms with a window onto the street where she would sew and could keep an eye on things. The house faces a wide open field which is bordered by the forest in which the hideouts were. We also saw where the shed had been located, next to the Ohera home, which had burned the night Otto and the other men were captured by the Nazis. Several years ago there had been the remains of that shed; now there was a new home.
We then walked to the memorial in Zakřov to the murdered 19 men for a brief visit. While there Councilman Glier noticed a couple walking toward the restaurant and said they were also members of Zladek’s family. He approached them and asked if they would talk with us for a few moments. We asked them about whether or not they had known of the story of the Wolf family and Zladek’s role and were told yes, they always knew, and the family had spoken of it quite openly. The wife said she had also been present at the large ceremony in 2012 which unveiled the memorial our schools erected in the forest to the Wolf family in 2012. Mr. Glier said he would find out more information for us for the next year.
We had a long drive to our next stop, Dąbrowa Tarnowska in Poland, so we said goodbye to our friends and began the 5 hour bus trip. As we approached our stop, Shalmi gave us some history about the Polish nation and the history of the Jewish community in Poland.
Arriving at our hotel, Cristal Park in Dabrowa Tarnoska we met our Polish guide, Paulina and after checking into our rooms, we ate dinner with Paulina and Kamila and our two guests, high school teachers , Jurek and Yola whom we had met 4 years ago through Shalmi. They had helped to restore a Jewish synagogue in the town and also ran a program for students which celebrates Jewish culture, though there are no longer any Jews in the town. Tomorrow we will be spending time at the high school and synagogue with the teachers and students from the school.