Monday, April 11, 2016
Day 9 - Trsice
**Please visit this post again tomorrow as we will be updating with more photos and video. The wifi here in Dabrowa Tarnoska was too slow to get all the material uploaded.
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] whose family helped hide the family of Otto Wolf, as well as several members of the Scout troop we had met in 2012 when the forest memorial was dedicated and have joined us every year since.
Inside the building we were officially greeted by Mayor Leona who said that she and Antonin Glil of Zakrov, had been given an award from Fighters for Freedom, and said that this was in part because of our activities with the town surrounding the diary of Otto Wolf, so she thanked us. She then introduced Milan Mahdal, a middle school teacher and historian for the town. Dr. Brezina, who was 5 when the Wolfs went into hiding and never knew Otto Wolf, but had met the surviving Wolfs after the war and had been to the hideouts, had told us the story of the Wolf family and Trsice for many years, but was ill, so Professor Mahdal was able to more than ably fill in, the story being translated for us by Kamila. He also told us how Mrs. Ohera was linked to the story. Her family had provided food and shelter for the Wolfs told of her memories. Her father was one of the 19 men who, along with her uncle, her future father-in-law, and Otto Wolf, were arrested in a random round up by the Nazis in April 1945 because of increased partisan activity in the area. They were all tortured, but no one gave up any information about the Wolfs in hiding. They were then shot and their bodies burned in a neighboring forest. The Soviets would build a monument at the site of the execution and burning, to commemorate the brutality of the Nazis. Mrs. Ohera was 8 years old.
Mrs. Ohera was asked by the Professor what message she had for the students. She said her wish was that such a thing never happen again and hoped we would all speak out in the face of discrimination and hatred. Our students asked some questions of the Professor about the town and the Wolf story, and then Mrs. Tambuscio asked a question of the scouts: The Scouts have all studied the Diary of Otto Wolf and she asked them, what the diary meant to them. Mary said it is important for a couple of reasons. First of all, it is important because it is their local history, but she said it was also important in terms of issues today, such as the current immigrant crisis in Europe. She said the diary and the story of the Wolf family teaches us that if given the chance to help someone you don’t know you should do so, just because it is the right thing to do.
Next we were taken to the town museum in the building, which is two small rooms. In one room is a section devoted to the story of Otto Wolf and his family and the 19 men murdered by the Nazis. There is a picture of the 19 men with the banner heading: “Please live for the ideals we died for.” Also in this section there is also a painting by Gayle Bart, a participant on the Holocaust Study Tour 2014 from New Milford, who then created an original artwork depicting the memorial to the Wolf family in the forest. In 2015 Mrs. Tambuscio presented the framed artwork to Mayor Leone and the town of Trsice for the Otto Wolf Museum on behalf of the students on the Holocaust Study Tour.
After a quick peek into the dungeon of the town hall, we 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. 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 ‘translated in English by Štèpán, one of the scout leaders.
Before lunch we took a short walk around the town, taking photographs with the town frog [the name of the original owner of the town was “Zabka” or ‘frog’ in Czech] and stopping by a kindergarten, talking with the teacher while the kids were taking a nap. After a wonderful lunch with Mayor Leona, the Deputy Mayor, Professor Mahdal, Mrs. Ohera 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. There had been a lively discussion as to whether or not it was advisable to hike into the forest, given the muddy conditions following three days of heavy rain, but we intrepid travelers elected to give it a go. 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.
Standing before the memorial, Štèpán fittingly read to us the last diary entry of Otto Wolf, and we lay stones at the memorial.
Shalmi then talked to us, wanting to emphasize how dramatic the Wolf story was. This one family, upon receiving their letter [which Jews referred to as an ‘invitation’] ordering them to report for deportation, not knowing exactly what that meant, chose to take their fate into their own hands and not report, but escape into the forest where they would hide for 3 years. Many specific individuals in the town would choose to help hide and support the family with food and that the town would collectively keep that secret. Could ten families have survived here in this forest? No, he said. But this family made the impossible possible.
We carefully 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 Tarnoska in Poland. Tonight we will be having dinner in our hotel with the three teachers we met a couple of 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.