In this lesson students will learn about the complicated details of life in hiding during the Holocaust by reading selections from Otto Wolf’s diary. They will read about the logistics of survival, and learn about the unexpected problems and issues that those in hiding faced.
Educators and students are encouraged to read the introduction to Otto Wolf’s diary in Salvaged Pages, pages 122–29. It provides valuable information about the writer’s life and historical context for reading the diary.
This lesson was initially drafted by Holocaust educator Colleen Tambuscio.
Core diary entries from Salvaged Pages used in this lesson: Otto Wolf, June 24 and 25, 1942, July 4, 1942, August 25, 1942, April 19-27, 1945
During the Holocaust, some Jews went into hiding to try to survive. Anne Frank and her family’s story is the most well known example of this. For two years she and seven others, including her immediate family, lived in an annex building in Amsterdam only to eventually be betrayed and deported.
For most, hiding was a decision of last resort involving extraordinary risks. It required extreme caution, complex logistics, and constant vigilance. Those in hiding depended on helpers to supply food, provisions, shelter, and most importantly, to keep their secret. In his lengthy diary, Otto Wolf records his family’s experience of hiding in the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia (occupied Czechoslovakia). They were in hiding for almost three years from June 1942 to May 1945. His account offers a rare picture of the very real everyday and emotional challenges that those in hiding constantly faced.
- Consider the role of ingenuity and imagination for those in hiding. How did these abilities play a role in survival?
- Those in hiding always had to find a balance between risk and caution. In what instances might it have been necessary or advisable to take a risk? What were the consequences?
- What effect did such intense and long-standing stress have on people? How did they cope?
Opener: Read a Diary Entry from Otto Wolf
We depart Tršice at 2 P.M. en route to Olomouc. We are being moved out. Josef Lón takes us, because Mrs. Zdražilová could not get anyone else. Farewells are tough, and we are all quite upset. We make good time, and got to Olomouc around 4 P.M. Before we left for Tršice, I turned in our apartment key at the district office, and also got identification papers for Licka [Felicitas, Otto’s sister]. We get off in Olomouc-Hodolany and tell Lón that we are going to see a doctor and some friends. We enter an apartment building. Just to make it look legitimate, Dad asks where Mr. Hanzlík lives. We rip the stars from our clothes right away. Around 4:30 P.M., we leave Olomouc-Hodolany to go back to Tršice. Lón had turned in the packages at the school, and we go on foot. We march tirelessly until 11:45 P.M.—we only take about an hour of rest en route. We go through Veliký Týnec around 7 P.M. Anyway, we reach the forest around midnight. Slavék had already been here with the backpacks, but because we are so late, he had gone back with them and then they carted the sewing machine and the box with stuff that has been prepared to the house of Zdar̆il the painter. We don’t sleep much—we just lie there. We feel like we’d been whipped.1
Discuss the following text-dependent questions:
What did Otto mean when he opened this entry with “We are being moved out.”?
What did Otto and his family try to make “look legitimate”?
Why did they rip the stars off their clothing as they leave Olomouc for Tršice?
Who is introduced in this entry as an aid provider for the Wolf family?
What do we learn about going into hiding from Otto Wolf’s first diary entry?
What are the specific emotional and everyday challenges he mentions?
How did they feel upon arrival in the forest?
What questions do you have from this entry?
It is important for students to know about the relationship between Germany and Czechoslovakia at this time so the family’s decision to go into hiding is understood in context. If the class needs additional help solidifying their understanding of this time and place, read together a summary from the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum website.
Main Activity: Life in Hiding - Close Reading for Historical Understanding
One way to help students of all abilities relate to the entries and understand the complexity of the situation is through a process called close reading. As the term is used in many state standards, close reading allows students to purposefully and slowly reread text to deepen their understanding. This helps them focus their attention on the meaning of the individual words and sentences as well as the overall development of historical events and ideas. Close reading for historical understanding is based upon the same premise. It focuses the aim of the reader on discovering and learning new historical knowledge through this process.
This process also involves text-dependent questions. These call on students to analyze the text so that they can draw meaningful conclusions based on significant evidence. Students synthesize their learning and gain important content knowledge. They can then communicate their understanding to their peers or an outside audience.
The Close Reading Protocol can be used to facilitate the following close reading for historical understanding:
View Felicitas Wolf's Deportation Notice. Explain that these deportation summons for Lici and Berthold Wolf (Otto’s father) prompted the family to go into hiding. What details do students notice from this document?
Introduce students to portraits of the Wolf family in the gallery below.
Have students do a close read of Otto Wolf's Diary Entries on Life during the Holocaust from June 24 and 25, 1942, July 4, 1942, and August 25, 1942. Ask students to share words or ideas that were unfamiliar, and then discuss in small groups how these entries offer insight into life in hiding.
Show students Home Where Wolf Family Hid during the Holocaust and Wolf Family's Outdoor Hiding Place, two photographs of different hiding sites for the Wolf family. Ask students how seeing these images enhances their overall understanding of the experience of hiding.
Have students answer the following text dependent questions:
Where in the text do we see evidence that ingenuity and imagination was used in the Wolfs attempt to survive?
What were the immediate challenges that Otto Wolf recorded? How did they address these problems while still remaining in hiding?
How does Otto write about their balance between risk and caution? In what instances was it necessary for the Wolf family to take risks?
How does Otto Wolf write about the intense stress hiding had on his family? How did they cope?
Life in hiding for Otto Wolf and his family required them to take extraordinary precautions, yet nothing they could do would guarantee their safety. The Wolfs lived with the constant fear of being caught. Closely read Diary Entry on Otto Wolf's Arrest, April 129, 1945 and discuss with students the following questions:
What events does this entry recall?
What is different in this entry compared to previous entries?
What details stand out? What questions does this entry illicit?
How does this particular entry help them understand life in hiding during the Holocaust?
Have students write about the experience of going into hiding based upon Otto Wolf’s entries. They may choose a poem, a narrative description, a diary style entry, or an essay for this assignment.
Have the students do the following:
Include at least one or two direct lines from Otto Wolf’s diary.
Choose two of the text-dependent questions to focus their writing and describe Otto Wolf’s hiding experience based upon his diary entries.
Deeper Exploration: Creating a Parallel Historical Timeline
Although there is not a heavy historical narrative in Otto’s diary, it is apparent that he was aware of key events that occurred while the family was in hiding.
To deepen students’ knowledge of this unfolding history, have them create a timeline of historical events and those that Otto explicitly recorded or indirectly referenced in his diary. This educators’ chronology of these events can help inform this activity.
If students need further reference material, direct them to the timeline from the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.