Otto Wolf was fifteen years old when he began keeping his diary in 1942. He started his writing when his family decided to go “underground” to avoid deportation. They were helped by a man named Slávek who found them a place to hide in the woods near town. The Wolfs were completely dependent on Slávek for food and also for keeping their presence a secret. This, of course, made them very uncomfortable. For his part, Slávek would be in danger if the Wolfs were caught and told who had aided them. The stress of this situation wore both sides down, and the relationship between the helper and the sheltered broke down. Slávek became less reliable with his assistance and often skipped several days between visits.
Over time, other townsfolk came to suspect that there were Jews hiding in the forest. One day, a man named Alois Pluhař found the Wolfs. Pluhař did not betray them, but brought them additional food and a warning that Slávek could no longer be trusted. This set off a strange situation which pitted rescuers against each other with Otto’s family caught in the middle. On July 25, 1943, Otto wrote, “They (the Pluhařs) hadn’t come because Slávek had visited them and told them not to help care for us… 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!” Eventually this new tension, on top of the fear of the Nazis, became unbearable and the Wolfs sought shelter elsewhere.
It is easy, but unfair, to criticize any of these people for seeming petty, mean-spirited, or ungrateful. Otto’s diary reveals that danger and stress can cause people to behave in unusual ways. Victims who are always noble and rescuers who are completely selfless exist mainly in fiction, not very often in the real world. Realistic accounts such as this do a great job of exploring the complicated problems that people faced under the brutality of Nazi rule and that goodness doesn’t always look the way we think it should.
Excerpts from Otto Wolf’s have been published in a book entitled, “Salvaged Pages: Young Writers’ Diaries of the Holocaust”. To find out what happened to Otto, and to see a copy of his last diary entry in his own handwriting, visit the documents section of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum’s website.
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