After the presentations we stopped briefly in the town’s museum and met with its curator, Mr. Sehmalek. In a large book, students were asked to sign their names under their school name so that the town could add pictures and a story about our visit. In this small museum is also a display about the Wolf family and as we studied the photograph of Lici Wolf, we noted the striking resemblance between Lici and her grand-daughter, Helen, who we had met in Prague a few days earlier.
We next walked to the restaurant where the town hosted a lunch for the entire group which consisted of Czech meatball noodle soup followed by steak with gravy and an egg on top, fries, ham, and purple and white cabbage. During the lunch they gave every one of us a present: a light blue T-shirt sporting the Trsice frog, the town symbol, which is derived from the name of the landlord of the area whose name in Czech translates to “frog”.
Our next stop was the house where the Wolf family lived before the war. Mr. Wolf had done accounting work in Trsice and he decided to move his family there in 1939. Crossing the bridge over the stream where the Wolf family washed their clothes while hiding in the forest, we climbed the steep path into the woods. Although some timber has been cleared in the last four years since our group first saw the hiding place, we still get a sense of how dense the trees once were and how this frequently became a dark and secluded hideout for the Wolf family. We had the sense of how scary it must have been for the Wolf family at night to hike out to get food and water and wash their clothes; how physically close it is to the village but how, when you are in the forest, you feel totally isolated.
Our final stop in the area was the small town just next to Trsice, Zakrov, where the Wolf family was hidden by several families during the war, including Mrs. Ohera’s family. As we stood before one of the windows of her childhood home, Mrs. Ohera explained that as a child even she had not known that her parents were hiding the Wolf family. She also described the night of April 18, 1945, when soldiers raided the town and rounded up nineteen men, including Otto Wolf, her father, and her future father-in-law, as a response to increased partisan activity in the area. These men were tortured over the next two days and then were driven into a nearby forest on April 20th and executed. Zakrov does not have its own cemetery so the victims are buried in the cemetery of Trsice, but the town erected a memorial to these victims. Each of the names is listed on the memorial with a photograph, and we noticed the resemblance between Otto Wolf and his niece, Eva, who had spoken to us in Prague earlier, about her mother, Lici.
Throughout the entire day, our Czech guide Ilona Zahradnikova from Prague, was indispensable. As the sole interpreter for the group, she did yeoman’s duty as she translated stories and questions from Czech into English and English into Czech.
We bid farewell to our hosts, promising to return next year to establish the memorial to the town of Trsice for its rescue efforts, and climbed on the bus for a three hour ride to our next destination: Oswiecim, where tomorrow we will visit Auschwitz.
Ashley: Mrs. Ohera - because even though there was a language barrier, it didn’t matter because through her emotion and her voice you could hear. It was a tragic time for her and she remembers specific details to the point that it didn’t matter …you got the gist of it.
Sadie: The hideout in the woods – because my perception was that we weren’t going to really see anything, but when we got there we saw the two giant gaping holes where the Wolf family hid. And the fact that they hid here for three years was so strange and hard to believe for me.
Lily: The pathway to the hideout - because I compared it to a pretty girl who has been through hardships; within is dark terror, but people still say she’s pretty. You have to look within – for example with people, you don’t know what’s going on in their minds or their homes; people go through many obstacles in life. The same is true with the woods; it’s a regular forest but within there’s a history and past terror
Cherilyn: The woods around the hideout – because I kind of picture myself in the Wolfs’ place, walking where they once walked, and it’s remarkable to me.
Reagan: When Mrs. Ohera took us back to the spot where she had lived, and went through every detail of this traumatic event in her life. It’s really rare; takes strength to go to the place where her father was captured and tortured and recount every detail so we could understand what it was like. It was so moving, chilling, listening to those details.
Kassandra: Mrs. Ohera – because she went through such terror and fear. I tried to put myself in her shoes but couldn’t – to be able to tell such a story. When at the house where she lived, I saw tears on her face, and couldn’t stop listening. It was so overwhelming at such a young age to go through that.
Brenton: The Colonel from the Czechoslovak Legion – So many things go through your mind like the Nazis being in uniform and though the Czech uniform was different I thought of the role of the military.
DaiQuan: Lunchtime – because I felt like we were all part of the Wolf family. We all came together to eat a meal after they told us the story; it was like a family.
Jordan: The hideout - because being there and knowing what they went through in the tunnels and the luck with meeting all the right people who could help them – that was amazing!
Nick: When Mrs. Ohera took us to her childhood house – because the image of how the soldiers were sticking guns in her mom’s face and her mom holding their hands hit me. I thought of my mom and me and my brother holding her hand – I wouldn’t know what to do in a similar situation.
Celina: Hiking through the forest - because I saw a guy in a WW2 outfit on the hill against the background of the forest and I thought, “that’s how it would look when the Wolf family was there”. I know the guy was actually wearing a Czech uniform, but they were similar. It was kind of surreal – I almost felt like I was there watching a soldier looking for the Wolfs.
Sarah P: A series of moments resonated for me. In the beginning Mrs. T greeted Mrs. Ohera and I saw her face when she was doing that; I hadn’t understood how important it was for her [Mrs. Ohera] to bring students to hear her story, and later, by her house, when she was telling us things that had happened to her family. A museum or textbook can’t tell that raw story or fact and cause that emotion. You could really see and feel it with her.
Frankie: The Holes in the side of the hill - because I couldn’t imagine being in there at all, and they got locked in there. And I thought of Dr. Brezina because in a way he also saved them; because he saw them going in and out and didn’t say anything. God forbid he did because he could have turned them in.
Sammy: Getting off the bus and seeing how happy they were to see us even though they didn’t know any of us [students]. I pictured it every other place we had been - - welcoming but I didn’t really feel warm like here. Here I felt like she was my grandma. When she was shaking our hands - she shook my hand and she was really holding on to it. Also seeing how eager she was and wanting to tell her story to get it out there. What really amazes me was how excited she was and when she was telling her story, I was listening to Ilona but looking at her to see how she was reacting to it – the look in her eyes when she would jog her memory; going far back in her mind. I couldn’t do that because nothing like that has happened to me – yet she remembers it perfectly.
Casey: The Hideout – because of the walk through the woods – it was so pretty and then you got there and saw two holes caving in and there used to be people living there; they had to hide there. It put into perspective how hard it was.
Greg: Walk through the woods – because it felt almost like a weight on me because I knew what was in there. As we went further in the forest it gets darker and darker just like when you look at something pretty but inside it’s not so pretty. Like when I fell into a thornbush - I still see the marks on my hands and I almost hope they scar a little because I want to have a physical memory – pictures don’t do it justice – for it to be my memory of when the Wolfs lost people and the town lost people
Deanne: I looked back to my past - and with her she didn’t know where he father was going. I thought about my family and how this would have affected me.
Mackenzie: The hideout - because I felt I connected with the Wolf family. No book, test or movie can prepare you, and I related it the Anne Frank’s house – you can’t understand until you have been to her house. And also as other people were talking of Mrs. Ohera, I thought of my own grandparents who were kidnapped and held hostage during the Iran-Iraq war for 6 months. And I thought about how her father had been taken and felt connected. Luckily my grandparents survived their captivity but I kind of knew what it was like to have family locked up and tortured.
Theresa: Mrs. Ohera’s description of the night of the raid - I thought of Mrs. Ohera’s mother with a gun pointed to her head and I thought of my own mother, and even if we fight, thinking about her like that – if that were to happen to her, kills me. I can see it in her face and can’t wait to see my mom and give her a big hug.
Jessica: Mrs. Ohera’s smile - I didn’t know what to expect when we arrived. And then she came up running to us and hugging you guys and I thought, “This is nice”. And later at her house she wanted us to know so badly - pointing to the memorial “That’s my father” . She didn’t have the same language as us but she wanted us to know so much and she opened up to us and invited us to share her story.