This morning we made our way to Tršice from Olomouc, a short 25 minute drive to the village.
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.
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.
After Milan spoke, Susan Spears joined the conversation. We met Susan in 2019 when she happened to be in Tršice working on the renovation of her family home. Susan is from California and has taken on the challenge of documenting her family history. Her mother was the sister of Slavek, a main rescuer of the Wolf family. She talked about an interview she did with her mother before she passed away and it was during that interview that she realized the value of this family story of rescue that the entire family took part in. She indicated that Slavek was very much interested in Lici and begged his family to help provide for the Wolf family while they were hiding in Tršice. She said that they did this at great risk and it was necessary for Slavek to ask for help from family members. We have been to Tršice for 12 trips and this was the first time that we were able to hear from a family member of Slavek.
After Susan spoke, the mayor and council presented our group with beautiful medals with the insignia of the memorial marker we placed at the underground hideouts back in 2012. These are very special gifts that the group will cherish always.
We presented our partners here in Tršice with specially made certificates of recognition for their efforts to support our program as a remembrance of our 20th anniversary trip.
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. Susan Spears took us to her uncle Zladek (Slavek) Zdařil gravesite of which she spoke more about his life.
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.
The Mayor hosted a lovely lunch for our group and the Scouts in a local restaurant. This was a wonderful opportunity for the students to interact with one another and for us to sit with the adults and converse about community happening and the ever present history that exists in this community. We presented Mrs. Ohera and her sister with the special certificate as well for all their years of bringing our students their family story of rescue and hardship during the war.
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 school had unveiled in 2012 at the hideouts.
We were fortunate that the recent rain had allowed for an easier walk to the hideouts. Once we arrived at the top of the clearing, I could hear our students talking about the remoteness of this location, wondering how the Wolf family could stay out here deep in the forest at night, how could they move around in the evenings and how frightening it must have been to be in these conditions. Once we made it down into the ravine, we stood their in awe at the visibility of these hideouts almost 80 years old. We couldn’t help but think about the Otto’s diary and his descriptions of life hiding in this forest. The Czech Scouts read from Otto’s diary as we heard these words surrounded by the sounds of nature, the experience felt surreal.
I think it was cool how they learned about the actions of the rescuers of the village.
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The story of the Wolf family and the people who protected them during the time of Nazi rule is very interesting to learn about. It is also crazy to think that stories like this existed with many other families, their stories just may not have been as well documented as the Wolfs’.
I think its interesting how they also took the time to write about the rescuers as well
It is very interesting to learn about the story of the Wolf family and the lengths to live in concealment. Their story is full of inspiration and tenacity; especially for the people who would risk their lives to help them. The Wolf family’s story, as well as many others in hiding, serves as an example for overcoming adversity.