Columbus resident recounts life under Nazis in Czech Odyssey

Published 11:20 am Friday, October 2, 2009

&dquo;Who would want to read my story?&dquo; This is the question that Columbus resident Rose Hofman asked her writing group a year ago. The response was unanimous, &dquo;Everyone who cares anything about history, the truth, and human lives.&dquo; &bsp;

With the urging of the instructor and later her editor, Don McKay, Hofman began the painful process of recalling and recording past memories of the 10 years she lived in Kout na Sumave, Czechoslovakia under Nazi occupation. &bsp;

The members of the writing group used several boxes of tissue as they laughed and cried during the reading of each chapter.&bsp; They all encouraged Hofman to keep writing even when it became almost unbearable for her to do so.

Sign up for our daily email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

On Friday at 2 p.m. she will hold a meet-the-author session and book signing at LaurelHurst Retirement Apartments for her book called &dquo;Czech Odyssey.&dquo; The program will be followed by a reception and refreshments.&bsp; LaurelHurst is located on Hwy. 108 across from St. Luke&squo;s Hospital.

The book includes a section of photographs that Rose managed to keep safe through the years. &bsp;

The following is a summary of some of the highlights of her story.

Hofman had the spunk and determination to survive the deprivation and oppression of the Gestapo. On one occasion, as a scrawny teenager, she outran an SS officer while carrying two heavy suitcases packed with food items that she was taking via train to her aunt and uncle in Prague.&bsp; Her uncle was a well-known radiologist in a hospital in Prague.&bsp; Ordinarily, that would have assured him a modicum of safety; however, he was Jewish. After the Nazi invasion, Uncle Zuckerman was stripped of his position at the hospital and his offices and apartment were taken over by a German doctor. Priceless artwork had to be left hanging on the walls and of course, was never seen again. With her head held high, Rose would board the first class section of the train and never be asked to show her papers. The inspectors automatically assumed she was German along with the other passengers.&bsp; Neither her aunt nor uncle could persuade Rose to stop risking her own safety for the sake of a couple bags of food.

The people in Rose&squo;s village were forced to turn over much of their own food to help with the &dquo;war effort.&dquo; Eggs were especially precious. One evening as Rose&squo;s mother helplessly asked what was she going to prepare for supper, her father brought out the bowl of eggs intended for the collection agent and began breaking them into a frying pan as he announced, &dquo;Tonight, we eat like human beings!&dquo; He ignored the protests of his wife and children and continued to cook a wonderful omelet. This action resulted in his going to jail for three months. &bsp;

Rose managed to continue her education although she was never permitted to attend the university in Prague to study voice. A famous opera star, Miroslav Jenik, was a friend of her uncle and had been her singing instructor. Rose loved books and also painted. One of her paintings of a Czech mountain scene bears a striking resemblance to the landscape surrounding her present home at LaurelHurst. Some people have asked her if the painting is of Hogback Mountain.

On May 5, 1945 the sounds of tanks, trucks, and American Jeeps could be heard in the distance and everyone knew that the long-awaited day of freedom had arrived. People cheered and showered the soldiers with flowers and blossoms. Several soldiers riding atop a tank reached down for Rose and called out, &dquo;Baby.&dquo;

In the next instant, she was riding on the tank, too! Her family invited the American boys into their home where they participated in sport events, shared in picnics and sang the songs of Glenn Miller. One handsome young man with soft eyes caught Rose&squo;s attention and as the saying goes, &dquo;Their eyes met and it was love at first sight. &dquo;

&bsp;Joe eventually proposed and their wedding was announced over the loudspeakers at the American headquarters. The ceremony was performed by the U.S. Army Chaplain and the local priest. The Army Band played at the reception and there was free beer for everyone, courtesy of the local brewery.

Rose had to wait a few months before she could travel to America to join her new husband. She was in one of the first groups of &dquo;war brides&dquo; to make the difficult ocean voyage aboard the Henry Gibson, which was actually a military transport ship.

Contact Donna Simpson for further information about the book signing at 894-3900.

‐ article submitted