Saturday, April 12, 2014

Day 8: Lostice - Olomouc



This morning we said goodbye to Prague and headed east to our next hotel stop, Olomouc. We had said goodbye to Kamila last night after our dinner at Nebozizek overlooking Prague, and this morning we said hello to our new guide, Ilona, who will be accompanying us from Prague to Olomouc and Trsice, and will be leaving us when we get to Poland. On the way we stopped in the town of Lostice, a town of about 3,000 people, where town historian and director of the Respect and Tolerance program in Lostice, Ludek Stipl, met us at the former Lostice synagogue. The mayor of Lostice gave us the history of the Jews in Lostice.We learned that the Jews of Lostice were very much assimilated into the community and that there had been an atmosphere of cooperation between the Jewish community and the Catholics. During World War II, 59 Jews from Lostice had been sent to concentration camps and after the war, only 3 returned. 




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We were honored to listen to the story of Holocaust survivor Jiri Fiser, born in 1936 and deported to Terezin and later the Czech family camp in Auschwitz.  Because he was a twin, he was chosen by Dr. Mengele for medical experiments.  He and his brother survived and he was eight years old when he was liberated.  Today he is a member of the Olomouc Jewish Community and his story was filmed and is at Yad Vashem.

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In 2006 the restoration of the synagogue by Mr. Stipl’s organization was begun and they completed it in 2011. No longer a functioning synagogue, it is now a center of learning for schools, teachers, and community members, all with the goal of preserving memory. The pews in the center are from the Olomouc synagogue, destroyed by the Nazis in 1939. Each of the 21 seats is dedicated to victims of the Holocaust from Lostice and surrounding towns. Each of the seats had a compartment dedicated to one of more families, and inside the compartment were everyday objects from the period and photos which were somehow linked to the people to whom that box was dedicated. 

 


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In the box for Otto Wolf there were several items including pages from his diary, photos of his family and a spoon. We were all fascinated by these compartments and we spent some time looking through them. Mr. Stipl explained how these objects were used to teach both the history of the Jews in the area and the history of the Holocaust to children.

Upstairs we were shown the Otto Wolf library which had been established because of donations from Eva and Tony Vavrecka and is an integral part of the educational programs which the center sponsors for students and teachers. 

Next we were shown the documentary film which the Respect and Tolerance program produced with portions of Otto Wolf’s diary read by Czech students in English. We were all extremely impressed with what Mr. Stipl had been able to establish in such a short period of time, using the most current best practices in education. 
Leaving the synagogue we traveled to the Jewish cemetery which had been used since the 15th century until the last burial in May 1942, one month before the deportation transports left from this area. We noticed how many of the Jewish headstones in the 19th century were written in German, which we were able to connect to the point made many times earlier about how the Jews were trying to assimilate and absorb German language and culture.



 

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We said goodbye to our new friend, Mr. Stipl and headed on to Olomouc. After checking into our hotel rooms, we went to the Jewish Community Center and were met by Petr Papousek, the head of the Jewish Federation of the Czech Republic and the leader of the Olomouc Jewish community. Grandson of our dear friend, Milos Dobry, of blessed memory, Petr showed our group the small synagogue in the Jewish center, the prayer blanket which was used for Torah readings which was donated after the war by Otto Wolf’s father in memory of his sons, Kurt and Otto, and spoke to us about the slow but steady growth of the Jewish community in the area. Petr answered questions from our students before walking with us to dinner at a lovely, local restaurant.


Student Reflections:

Sarah says:
Today while visiting Lostice and Olomouc I experienced the resilience of the Jewish community. In Lostice, a town where only 3 of the 57 Jewish residents survived the Holocaust, the synagogue has been transformed into an educational center where survivors such as Jiri Fisher come to share their stories in hopes of ensuring that nothing like the Holocaust ever happens again. In Olomouc the head of the Jewish community, Peter Papousek, talked about his experience rebuilding the Jewish community in Olomouc, which now has 150 members. I greatly admire the efforts of the Lostice and Olomouc communities to honor the lives of those lost in the Holocaust and to rebuild and rejuvenate Jewish life throughout Europe.


Dana says:
Jiri’s story of being sent to Theresienstadt camp when he was 4 years old and then sent to Auschwitz where he was liberated when he was 8 amazed me. What helped him survive was that he had a twin brother – they were too young to use for medical experiments but they were fed more and treated better to keep them alive. He started sharing his story in the 1970’s when he believed that he needed to share his story, and since his brother died two years ago, he has continued to educate people about the Holocaust.

Greg says:
Jiri Fiser represents one of the brave Jews who chose to return home after liberation. Peter Papousek’s small but strong community of Jews in Olomouc also demonstrates this desire to remain here. Instead of moving away as most survivors did, Jiri and the people of Peter’s Jewish community came back and continue to practice their religion, showing the resilience of the Jewish people.

 

Tara says:
Past experiences and shared knowledge allow people to connect with others at different levels, something I saw today when in the Lostice memorial looking at an old clarinet that a person just like me, a girl who plays the flute, could have owned. Even in a temple unlike any I had seen before, I still felt a connection, as I could read the Hebrew prayers and could relate to some of the temple's problems, such as a lack of incoming members,  that were similar to the ones at my temple. 



Nicole says:
Meeting Jiri Fiser today, an Auschwitz Holocaust survivor, really impacted me. Hearing him talk about being a survivor of twin experiments at Auschwitz really hit me hard. I had not understood the level of experimentation on children until I hear Mr. Fiser talk about his experience.

Gayle says:
In Lostice today we watched a new short documentary on the diary of Otto Wolf. I learned while in hiding during Yom Kippur the family went to look for food after fasting and they could not find food because they feared the Nazi activity in the area. I cannot imagine not eating after Yom Kippur and this made what happened to this family seem more real and relevant to my own life.

Shane says:
The survivor we met today Lostice today, Jiri Fiser, was used in horrible experiments by the Nazi doctor Mengele. His story of perseverance through something beyond our comprehension is one that is truly touching.

Trevor says:
Today´s experience with Jiri Fiser and Petr Papousek allowed me to make a connection between Jews of the wartime and the present. They both showed me the effect of the Holocaust on Jews in the past and on a small number of remaining Jews in present day Olomouc.

Raquel says:
The personal survival story of Jiri Fiser strongly impacted me today. Learning about the experiments that he had to endure as a child, seemed unreal to me. I cannot imagine how difficult this was for him and his twin brother.

Mackenzie says:
Today we watched a short film on Otto Wolf and his families experience during the Holocaust. The conditions were harsh and almost unbearable. The weather was below zero, the food was scarce and there were rats everywhere. It was tough to hear such an innocent family go through such a terrible experience.

Kyle says:
Today we met another survivor, Jiri Fiser, who only spoke Czech so Illona our guide translated his words into English. It really surprised me at his willingness to answer all of our questions considering they brought back such a tortuous past.

Kiefer says:
Today was powerful, getting the opportunity to meet another Holocaust survivor who lived  for the lone reason that he was used for scientific studies by Doctor Mengele. We were able to see a synagogue that went from a hall of prayer, to a storage hall, to a place of learning, and is now a museum showing the families lost from the town of Lostice.  

Jane says:
When meeting with Peter Papousek at the Jewish Center of Olomouc the discussion of what defines someone as a Jew intrigued me.  It did not make sense to me how one can be defined as Jewish if they had one JewIsh grandparent. Hearing this made me realize now meaningful being Jewish is to me for my heritage and to my family.

Matt says:
The synagogue in Lostice has been turned into a learning center to teach people about Czech Jews from Lostice whose lives had been taken away. With their synagogues, memorials, and welcoming Jewish communities, Czech cities are doing everything they can to keep their Jewish history alive.

Nick says:
What's amazing about Jiri is that he is one of the boys in an iconic image of liberated prisoners from the Auschwitz that many people recognize. He refused to talk about his experiences until the 1970s when he correctly concluded that the world needed his knowledge. 


10 comments:

  1. I love reading about all of the new learning opportunities that are added to this trip each year. The synagogue with all of the artifacts and remembrances of those that have passes away from the area sounds like an amazing place to visit. It is also very nice to read all of the students reflection of what they have learned and how Jiri Fiser impacted them.

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  2. Having Jiri Fiser share his Holocaust survival story of Theresienstadt, Auschwitz and Dr. Mengele with you must have been amazing. He is a living piece of history and a national treasure! Also having Ludek Stipl and the mayor of Lostice there to explain the loss of all but three of their town's Jewish population, and then to be able to examine the personal effects of the families who did not survive, must have been an incredibly moving experience. Great group photo, too! :)

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  3. After reading Otto Wolf's diary in Salvaged Pages, it's made me realize a few things some have commented on this page. Otto writes about how he struggles to find hiding places, and someone to trust. He meets many families that let his family stay in their attics. From reading these posts, the video they watched about Otto Wolf seemed a lot like his diary. He and his family had little to no food at all. Just as Gayle said earlier, him and his family had little food to survive, even on special occasions. Times like these were very difficult for families to actually survive. They were scared and tried to find shelter anywhere possible. In Trsice and Zakrov, there was suspicion of instability, so Nazi officers looked for anti-Nazi activity. On April 18, 1945 there was a raid on the village Otto was staying in, Zakrov. He was taken, and his family eventually found out that he was tortured by the Gestapo, because he refused to tell them where his family was hiding. As Mackenzie said: "Today we watched a short film on Otto Wolf and his families experience during the Holocaust. The conditions were harsh and almost unbearable. The weather was below zero, the food was scarce and there were rats everywhere. It was tough to hear such an innocent family go through such a terrible experience."
    This comment truly shows how Otto and his family lived during the Holocaust.

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  4. That is very cool that the synagogue has compartments dedicated to families and Otto Wolf. The pages of his diary are in that box which would be very cool to see. Otto was only fifteen when he began his diary when his family went into hiding. He had over a thousand entries explaining the fear and elements he lived in. Otto and his family were bored during their days of hiding and writing in his diary probably helped him pass the time. His family prayed routinely every day. The prayer blanket the tour was shown was said to be donated by Otto's father in memory of his two sons. Like Jamie said in the comment above Otto was captured. Otto's family then moved out of the current attic they were in and back out into the forest. Otto's sister, Felicitas began writing in Otto's diary. The conditions in the forest wear terrible and they had very little food. Otto seems to mention when his family would eat in his diary often. This probably because food was always on his mind. Otto and hid brother Kurt both died but received honors. It is nice to see Otto still remembered today after all his family went through together. The Wolf family remained very strong during their time in hiding. They trusted each one another and the people that helped them.

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  5. I found it fascinating that the once functioning synagogue is now a place of learning for children. It's amazing to see the Holocaust being taught in other parts of the world, particularly in Olomouc, where there was once a thriving Jewish population that was decimated as a result of the Holocaust.

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  6. The sharing of Jiri Fiser took me back to high school. It was then that I first heard about the holocaust and the "twin" experiments. An exchange student from Austria spoke to us of the horrific stories passed on through his family. Thank you for helping us learn through you today.

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  7. This is absolutely overwhelming and amazing to see. This community has embraced Otto and his family's story and made it their own. So moving. I wish I were there with you. I'm so happy to read these great student reflections. It sounds like there is a lot of wonderful learning going on. xoxo to all.
    Alex

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  8. From my personal experience on the Holocaust Study Tour, it is only after returning that I realized how important Olomouc is. Coming from a suburbia, knowing that I played an influential role in establishing a memorial in the Czech Republic continues to amaze me. I can only hope that currently participating students in the tour recognize now, how amazing this opportunity truly is.

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  9. After learning so much about Otto Wolf and his family, I think it is so crazy to see in person where he actually lived. To see the actual hiding place of the Wolf's it really brings light to all the hardships and struggles Jews in hiding had to go through during the Holocaust. They had to put great trust in people to bring them food and keep their secret. Otto's diary really shows the desperation and the fact that they had to put their entire lives in the hands of another and hope they would keep their word. I can only imagine what it was like to go through each day, never knowing whether or not you would last the night. That had to be a terrible struggle. To hide for so long, almost seems impossible. On October 3, 1944 Otto said that it was their 120th week of hiding. They always had to be prepared too. He said in the same entry that someone had seen his sister Licka. They had to quickly come up with a cover story and got very lucky. To see all that people have done to remember the Wolf family, I think it really shows the good in people.

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