In this lesson, students will closely read diary entries from Otto Wolf. This will give them the opportunity to consider the complex relationships that surfaced between non-Jews and Jews living under German occupation.
Educators and students are encouraged to read the introduction to the diary of Otto Wolf in Salvaged Pages, pages 122–29. It provides valuable information about the writer’s life and historical context for a reading of the diary.
This lesson was initially drafted by Holocaust educator Colleen Tambuscio.
Core diary entries from Salvaged Pages used in this lesson: Otto Wolf, April 3, 1944
For most, hiding during the Holocaust was a decision of last resort because it involved extraordinary risks. Those in hiding depended on helpers to supply food, provisions, shelter, and most importantly, to keep their secret. These helpers risked their lives by engaging in these efforts. Sometimes helpers acted out of moral conviction and, in other cases, they exploited those they helped. In such complex circumstances, the line between taking care of people and taking advantage of them could get very blurry.
In his lengthy diary, Otto Wolf records his family’s experience of hiding in the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia (occupied Czechoslovakia) for almost three years from June 1942–May 1945. The family’s relationship with their helpers raises complicated questions about the role of rescuers. The rescuers took risks, and they sometimes gained advantages. These relationships caused tensions to all.
Hiding was dangerous. It involved risks for Jews hiding and for those providing aid or shelter.
- Consider the deprivation and stress of life in hiding under German occupation. How did this climate of fear affect an individual’s behavior and their relationship with their family and the outside community?
- During the Holocaust, what were the risks and complications of life in hiding for Jews and other targeted groups?
- Given the risks involved, why would someone help hide people from the Nazis? What did they have to gain? What was there to lose?
Opener: Read Diary Entries from Otto Wolf
Before reading diary entries that reveal some of the dynamics between the Wolf family and those who were providing help, ask students to think of possible issues or problems that could arise.
Then read the following three excerpts from 1943 revealing a range of dynamics. Be attentive to both the explicit and the implicit meaning of what Otto writes about. Compare these entries to what the class compiled.
What themes are similar or are reinforced by Otto’s diary? Have students describe their understanding of the relationship between the Wolf family, Slávek, and Pluhař. What issues should be added to this list?
March 19, 1943, Friday, 39th week.
Dad and I go for water at 1 A.M. We then go for a walk in the forest. We’re back at four—we’ve been away for three hours. We breakfast on bread and coffee (which is really just colored water, and bitter to boot). There is very little hope that Slávek will find any milk....] Purim is coming on Sunday, but Hitler isn’t hanging yet. We’re waiting for Slávek. He comes at ten with bread and croissants. He goes down below to lie down right away, and Licka says that “she’d love to drill that jerk’s teeth without anesthesia.” The weather is nice during the day, but we need rain.1
July 6, 1943. Tuesday, 55th week.
We return to the forest at half past three.[...] Around five-thirty in the afternoon, we hear rustling. I climb a little higher up and see a person. He straightens up and sees me. When he recognizes me, he comes straight to us. It is Pluhař. He promises not to tell anyone, not even his wife. Then he leaves. We theorize extensively, and are really concerned that he went to turn us in. We wait to see what will happen next. The women are down below, and Dad and I go to the clearing. We hear more rustling around 8 P.M. and conclude that he is returning with a policeman. What a surprise! He comes with a loaf of bread and a little shmaltz [chicken fat.] He is assuming that we are hungry. What an outstanding deed! Dad gives him his black pants, and he is very happy. He says that he will return in the morning and bring milk and cigarettes. we are overjoyed and thank God that that’s the way things turned out....2
July 25, 1943. Sunday, 57th week.
[...] Today, Lici will go to the Pluhařs. We go to the hut at 10 P.M. and find bread and meat in a glass. Slávek has left us a nasty letter. Lici puts on Mom’s coat and kerchief and goes from the hut to the Pluhařs. They were sleeping already but [Mrs.} Pluhařova comes to open the door anyway....They hadn’t come because Slávek had visited them and told them not to help care for us, that we have enough of everything and that he keeps bringing us baskets full of stuff. He threatened them that if anything happened, we won’t protect anyone. They should not put themselves in danger: it’s enough that he has. They’d all be shot. Well, that’s the kind of back-stabbing jerk our Slávek is!...3
One of the unique attributes of Otto’s diary is his ability to honestly record the tension and fear that he and his family experienced. This point of view, or perspective, helps the reader consider the complex relationships that existed between those in hiding and their helpers.
Begin by asking students to discuss the following terminology:
What is perspective? (It is a point of view. The point of view is composed of the experiences of the author. An experience shapes how we perceive and how we record what we perceive.)
What is voice? (Voice is the way in which points of view are expressed. We can recognize voices by tone, vocabulary, language(s) used, and the way information is presented.)
With these terms in mind, read Otto Wolf’s Diary Entry on His Family’s Helper, April 3, 1944. Remind students to pay attention to Otto Wolf’s perspective and his voice in this entry in order to discuss these later as a class.
After reading the entry, check for student understanding with the following questions:
Who is speaking?
What is happening in this entry?
How would you describe Otto Wolf’s point of view?
How would you describe his voice in this entry?
Has his point of view changed over time? How has the length of time in hiding affected what is recorded and his point of view? What evidence in the entries suggest this?
Have students respond in writing to the following prompts:
Consider the deprivation and stress of life in hiding under German occupation. How might this climate of fear affect an individual’s behavior and their relationship with their family and the outside community? What evidence of this climate is revealed in the April 3, 1944, entry?
During the Holocaust, what were some of the risks and complications of life for Jews in hiding? What can you infer from the violence between Otto’s sister Lici and Slávek and his father’s reaction?
Given the risks involved, why might someone help hide people from the Nazis? What might they have to gain or lose? What did Slávek appear to want from the Wolf family? What can be inferred from his relationship with Lici and Otto’s father? How does this dynamic further complicate our understanding of relations between Jews and non-Jews during the Holocaust?