Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Day 9 - Trsice

Today, we had another great hotel buffet breakfast and then checked out of our hotel in Olomouc.  

Before heading back to Trsice, we stopped at the Zakladni School near the railway station where last night Petr had told us during our visit to the Jewish Federation, that they had recently installed a stolper schwelle or ‘threshhold” denoting this building as where local Jews were housed during 1942 while Nazis rounded up additional Jews until they had 1,000. Then they would send a full transport to the East.  There is also a plaque on the school wall placed by the Jewish Federation in 1996 which lists the transports and the fate of the local Jews.  From the more than 4,000 Jews deported, only 288 survived.

Next our bus took us back 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 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. 

Last night we had hosted Mayor Leona, her deputies,  Zedenka  Ohera Calabkova [we call her Mrs. Ohera] and her sister Ludmilla, and young members of the Czech scout troop at the local horse farm, Jezdécky Aréal, for dinner.

Today we were the guests of Mayor Leona and the town 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 Trsice we walked into 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.  and 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 her Mrs. Ohera and her sister, whose family helped hide the family of Otto Wolf, as well as the young members of the Czech Scout troop we had met last night and their scout leader, Jan Pecinka.

Inside the building we were officially greeted by Mayor Leona in the Ceremonial Hall who presented the teachers with a new book about Trsice and the students with Trsice notebooks.  She then introduced Milan Mahdal, a middle school teacher and historian for the town.  Professor Mahdal told us the story of how residents of Trsice and Zákřov provided shelter and assistance to the Wolf family for 3 years, at great personal risk.  He told us that every day they 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. 

He then introduced Mrs. Ohera who told her story, against translated by Kamila.  Her family had provided food and shelter for the Wolfs and she told of her memories.  When the Wolf family left the Zboril family home in late 1944 when the Nazis established an office in a house next door and appeared on their doorstep one night, Mrs. Ohera said her family chose to offer them shelter.  Mrs. Ohera was 8 years old, her sister Ludmilla was 5, and they had a 15-month old brother. 

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 shot in the leg.  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.  She told us how they, along with her father and others, 19  men in all, were then randomly arrested.  The men were all tortured, but no one gave up any information about the Wolfs in hiding.   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.  While telling her story, Mrs. Ohera had become quite emotional as these difficult childhood memories of pain and fear and loss came flooding back, and she ended her story by saying “I wish you all a life of peace.  I hope nothing this terrible happens to you.”

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 battle.  The Wolf family, who had been living in Olomouc when they received their deportation notices, then fleeing to Trsice to hide, returned to the town of Olomouc. 

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 Trsice had protected this Jewish family.

We climbed aboard our bus with the scouts to take us to the entrance to the forest to visit the memorial at the hideouts.   Arriving at the memorial we saw the damage which had been done this winter because of storms..  Also, many trees had had to be cut down because of a tree disease which was contagious.  Kamilla told us that they will soon be replanting trees in the area. 

By the memorial one of the Czech scouts read a diary entry from Otto’s diary, the scouts sang their scout hymn, and then we took a group picture before hiking out of the forest.   

Next we visited 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 Zakřov, 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 stopped by 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.

After a wonderful lunch with Mayor Leona, the Deputy Mayors, Mrs. Ohera. her sister Ludmilla and her grandson, and the Czech scouts.  After lunch we said goodbye to our Trsice friends until next year and boarded our bus for a four hour ride to our next stop, Dabrowa Tarnowska in Poland, where we will have to say goodbye to our Kamila and meet our new Polish local guide, Lidia.  We will check into our hotel and have dinner with Jurek and Yola, two high school teachers we met several years ago who helped spearhead the restoration of  the Jewish synagogue..  Tomorrow we will be spending the day with these teachers at their school and visiting the synagogue. 

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