Salvaged Voices: New Milford High School Holocaust Studies Tour
Students dedicate a memorial in Trsice to the Wolf family who hid underground to avoid Nazi capture for three long years.
New Milford High School teacher Colleen Tambuscio doesn't just teach Holocaust studies--she brings the horror and heroism that defined the Holocaust to life for her students.
In 1994, the State of New Jersey, mandated the study of the Holocaust in all high schools. Tambuscio, who is also a certified Special Education teacher, took up the task of teaching Holocaust and Genocide studies at New Milford High School. Tambuscio decided that in order to effectively teach the Holocaust she had to reach beyond classroom learning. In order for students to truly grasp the severity of that time, it was important that she include field experiences and the study of the Holocaust at authentic learning sites in Europe.
While traveling through Germany, Czech Republic and Poland, the students contribute to a blog that records the events of the trip for their friends and family members to read each day. The blog entries reflect the students "meaningful cultural connections" to the people and places that they visit. In turn, these connections lead them to a closer understanding of the events that led up to, and defined, the Holocaust.
This year's trip that took place in April was different, though. This year, Tambuscio and her students dedicated a memorial to the Wolf family in the woods where they hid from the Nazi's for three years.
One of the staples in Tambuscio's course is the reading of Salvaged Pages, a collection of diaries written by young people during the Holocaust, edited by Alexander Zapruder.
One story in Zapruder's book caught the attention of New Milford students -- that of Otto Wolf, a fifteen-year old who choronicled his family's survival for three years living in underground holes in the forest of Trisce to avoid Nazi capture.
In the spring of 1942, Otto Wolf, his sister, Lici, and their parents made the journey on foot from Olomouc to Trsice, in the Czech Republic, as they escaped deportation to a concentration camp and hid in the forest "living in the cold, rain and dark, pestered by vermin...combatting escalating hunger, fear, frustration and helplessness."
As Zapruder says in her book, Wolf's determination to record his family's experiences "evokes a kind of defiance" of the fact that they were forced to disappear in order to preserve themselves from almost certain extinction.
Tambuscio and the Holocaust Study Tour group first visited the hiding place of the Wolf family in 2008. Tambuscio recalled that when she first visited, there was no memorial that marked the historical significance of the place. That is when Tambuscio and her students decided that they wanted to establish a memorial.
"With the help of the local Jewish community in Olomouc, we managed to identify the family's cave-like shelter," Tambuscio said.
"No one knew why the spot wasn't marked," Tambuscio said. "It seemed to us that they just never really thought about marking that spot."
Tambuscio said, "After three years of hard work in both the United States and in the Czech Republic, (fundraising and working with the Czech Republic to obtain the appropriate approvals to move forward with the memorial) the memorial was able to be completed for this year's trip."
In addition to Zapruder, Wolf''s niece Eva Garda, (daughter of his sister Lici) and her husband Tony also joined the students at the memorial dedication.
As the dedication commenced, the mayor introduced the officials who signed an official memorandum signifying cooperation between the Jewish Community of Olomouc and the organization for the destroyed Czech villages and towns of World War II.
This memorial is a direct result of the students' visits to the Czech Repiblic and work exploring the diary of Otto Wolf and commemorating his bravery through unbelievable odds.
Prior to the dedication of the memorial, students walked into the forest to the actual location of where the Wolf family hid. More than one hundred people from local communities had come to the unveiling to pay their final resects to the Wolf family.
The new memorial to the Wolf family stands in Trsice, Czech Republic where New Milford High School’s name is, and forever will be, proudly displayed upon it.
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