Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Day 9 - Trsice

Our day began with a short drive to Trsice. We were greeted in a traditional welcoming ceremony at the city hall which consisted of tearing off a piece of bread and dipping it into a bowl of salt before eating, followed by a sip of plum brandy [not a student option]. We were ushered into the meeting room and introductions were made. Mrs. Leona Stejsksalova was recovering from surgery and unable to be with us today, but we were well taken care of by her Deputy Mayor Antonin Glier. Our relationship with the mayor of Trsice, Mrs. Stejsksalova, continues to develop as we work collaboratively to complete the memorial project at the site of the underground hideouts that hid the Wolf family for those three unimaginable years. Our friends, Dr. Karel Brezina [a child during the war who witnessed the Wolf family entering and exiting the hideouts] and Mrs. Zdenka Calabkova [the young daughter of Marie and Oldrich Ohera who helped hide the Wolf family in their home and who we call Mrs. Ohera] also greeted us and told us their stories. A new facet to our relationship with the community of Trsice was the presentation of a special pin by Colonel Zuffa-Kunci of the Czechoslovak Legions in Olomouc, to our group’s leader Mrs. Tambuscio, in recognition of the special relationship which has developed between the Czech people in the Olomouc region and American students through the Holocaust Study Tour program.

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.

Student reflections in response to the following question: Of all the people we met today, and all the places we saw, describe one person or one place that stands out the most to you and explain why.

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.

Sarah S: Mrs. Ohera at the memorial in Zakrov - I saw her remembering her father and the look in her eyes as she was looking at her father – so upset – and after, she shook our hands and was smiling like she was really happy. I couldn’t comprehend how she could go from seeing her father’s grave, basically, to being all happy. I felt the connection she had with her father - and practically on the anniversary of his death.

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.

Michelle - Mrs. Ohera - she was such a young girl and it was such a horrible story and she was sharing it with us. I felt as if I was in her place. You can't find that in a textbook. I felt the same I did when I was near the hideout walking through the narrow woods and finding the two holes. I couldn't imagine hiding at all, no less three years.

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.


  1. Another amazing day for all of you!!
    Mrs T what happened to the plaque for Trsice? Was there a glitch in getting it finished?
    I understand you all get to read the posts the following morning, so Happy Birthday Cherilyn. Wednesday is going to be a difficult day for all of you. Not quite the best way to celebrate your birthday but I am sure it is one you will never forget. We love you very much and we cant wait to hear every last detail about the trip. Im sure you are taking hundreds of pictures! We are very proud of ALL of the students on this once in a lifetime trip. Thanks is just not enough for you T, there really are no words any of us can come up with to describe the debt we owe you. You are and have affected the lives of so many young adults.

  2. We can only understand through your words what you are experiencing, but as Sara said a museum or textbook can't tell that raw story or fact and cause that emotion. So it is with what you tell all of us. We will never truly know ALL that you are experiencing and learning unless we too could hear words spoken by survivors and see their faces. You are such a lucky group because future groups may not get this very personal relationship with all of the witnesses and survivors as you are getting.
    Happy 17th Birthday to my dear daughter Cherilyn who I love so very much. You will never forget where you were on this 17th birthday!
    Love Diane

  3. In class we have watched many movies about how so many people were killed in the Holocaust. The numbers are so big and you know how terrible it was, but it is just a very big number.

    But when you hear real people tell the stories about their relatives and point out exactly where the Wolf family hid, it makes their story more meaningful to me.

    To see pictures of the forest where the Wolf family hid must have been very scary for the group. When Mrs. Ohera was speaking it had to be very emotional to listen to.

    The group must be very excited and nervous about going to Auschwitz tomorrow.

    -Dashawn Harden

  4. Seeing the hideout where the Wolf family hid and the woods surrounding seems like it'd be surreal. In class we've seen pictures of the hideout, but seeing it in person would be completely different.
    Can't wait to hear all about your trip to Auschwitz tomorrow!

    Abby Coplen

  5. What a wonderful arrival with hand shakes, open arms and hugs as well as a welcome ritual, and what I am sure was a great meal. It sounds like the whole town came out to greet you!!
    Of Mrs. Ohera -- I am amazed by her strength and bravery to retell her childhood horrifying story to you. To bring you to places of immense hurt and pain for her. Yet her willingness still.. to tell the story so it lives on through all of you. That part of your journey today touches me the most. That here was a young girl, who didn't know of her family and neighbor's courage to hide the Wolf's -- then to see and know her father, and the town's men were taken away, tortured and executed.... how could she have been made to understand that they were doing the right thing? And where does she find the strength to walk you all through it... I admire her deeply.
    Tomorrow... I can't imagine what full spectrum of emotions you will all encounter. But remember -- no one's emotional experience is wrong. If someone is quiet and can't talk, or withdraws... or if another cries uncontrollably.. or becomes angry, or inconsolable, just be there for each other. It could be a fellow student, old friend, new found friend, guide or teacher -- support one another.... I send blessings to all of you tomorrow. Frankie -- I am there inside of you. At all times. And I love you forever.
    Lastly, Happy Birthday Cherilyn.... Rejoice in that happiness.
    Love to all, and a very strong heartfelt hug and kiss for my Frankie. Be strong baby girl (or not).. just know that I love you. Celeste

  6. Very insightful reactions from all of you. When Kasandra mentioned seeing tears in Mrs. Ohera eyes and sarah & Sammy both mentioned the look on her face when she spoke of her past it made tears come to my eyes. BE STRONG in your experiences to day (I know you are actually THERE as I'm writing this)..but be there for each other after experiencing Auschwitz..this will really be a tough day for everyone.
    We miss all of you, but know that this is something that needs to be done...we need you coming back and spreading the word about everything you're learning so the reality of history isn't lost as the years go by!
    Love to all, Susan

    Cherilyn...Happy Birthday...I thought of YOU first thing this morning when I realized it was the 20th...YOUR special day!!! xoxo

  7. One of my favorite stories that we learned about in class was the story of Otto Wolf and his family. I found their story very interesting and amazing of what they went through to hide themselves. I could never imagine going to the actual hideout that the family stayed in. And being able meet Mrs.Ohera and hear her side of the story must have been very remarkable too. Enjoy the rest of your trip!

  8. What strength for all who experienced the horror and to those who are learning through the memories. As reading and trying to put myself in the places where they were is so touching. The walk in the woods must have been an exciting yet chilling moment , to see and feel the wind, the sun, and the surroundings of current and past memories. Much thanks again to this blog. And much thanks in sharing...

    Enjoy and Never Forget.

  9. Our day in Trsice was quite incredible and I think you all can see from the student comments that they were profoundly affected by their generosity, warmth and sincerity. Each student made incredible personal connections to the individuals they met in Trsice which I know they will come back and share with you all. The memorial project was unable to be completed this year as the permit had expired shortly before our trip. In the end it works out fine because Eva (Lici's daughter) has promised that she will be with us next year for the dedication.

  10. It is incredible to hear and see the pictures of the Wolf family. It really makes Otto Wolf's diary come to life. To see the forest they lived in, and to hear about how you guys visited the house that the Wolf family lived in before they went into hiding is incredible. It also must have been incredible to hear from Mrs. Ohera, to hear about her memories. Even though she did not know the Wolf family, it must have been incredible to hear her memories of the night of April 18, 1945.

    I look forward to hearing about the rest of your travels!

  11. http://www.respectandtolerance.com/index.php/en/media/press-releases/97-restaurovani-loticke-synagogy-a-knihovna-otty-wolfa some information from Mohelnice ;)

  12. I am so jealous you all got to hear first hand accounts of the Wolf family story. That must have been truely emotional. Seeing where they actually hid in the woods must have been an unbeliable sight, I know I can hardly believe it, I can only imagine what seeing it first hand would be like.
    Meghan McAllister

  13. Mrs. Bauman, the Wolf Family story has intrigued me from the first time you shared their story with our class. Hiding for three years in the woods and in such a small space is unimaginable. The terror the Wolf family must have felt for the entirety of their years in hiding is a lot to handle for parents trying to take care of their children. Mrs. Ohera's firsthand account as a young child during the war would have been amazing to hear. Even an innocent child with an optimistic outlook on life recalls the terror she felt growing up. Today would have been a very moving story. I'm so excited for next year's Holocaust Study Tour group to present the memorial to Trsice for its rescue efforts during the war.

    The pin presented by Colonel Zuffa-Kunci is such a huge honor for your entire group. It is very much deserved for all you guys taking time to experience history from firsthand accounts. Your tour group has made history by signing the large book and having your photo added for future visitors to see and learn about your story. Lunch sounds delicious! It made me hungry just reading about it!

    I'm glad today offered a small glimpse of hope about how one town did so much to help Jewish families during the war. Enjoy your next few days!

    -Laura Negley

  14. The WOlf story was one of my absolutley favorite stories we learned about in class! I'm jealous you got to go to the hide out and the surrounding woods.

    I hope you all are having fun!!!

    -Daniel Ecklund

  15. The holes that the Wolf family hid inside of must've been so tiny just as you all described, and it really expresses how drastic measures were made by the persecuted to not only stay safe but alive. It is crazy to believe that Mrs. Ohera had no idea that the Wolf family was being hid in her house. Mrs. Ohera sounds like a very strong women seeing as she was capable of telling the story of not only her father's capture but many other men. That night must’ve turned her whole world upside and to talk about it with people she barely knows shows her strength and courage. I'm sure this event brings tears to her eye every time she discusses it. The people who protected and helped the Wolf family are true hero’s.

  16. I wish I could have gone on this trip! Ms. Sussman showed us pictures of Trsice from her pervious trip and the people she and her students had encountered the trip before. Such a small town with so much history behind it. There is debate on whether or not the town should be acknowledged for helping the Wolf family, but I believe they should be because it is an important time of history that should not be forgotten. When reading Otto Wolf's diary passage and how he and his family hid out in the woods, I imagined it to be someone magical with actual caves to hid in and huge trees that would protect them, but that was not the case. What they really had were just small dirt/mud caves that would protect them from being found. I wish I could have gone on this trip and hope that the last couple of days are amazing.

  17. it must have been incredible to see the hideout where the Wolf family hid. Reading about it in class can't compare to what it must actually be like to see it in person and hear their story from people close to them.

    -Clare Drilling

  18. Hi I'm Nick and this trip looks really cool. I can't wait to go on this trip. Everything looks really cool. I hope you have a lot of fun