Karen Greene

Monday May 19, 2008

"Dzien Dobry, Distinguished Guests, Family and Friends,

My name is Karen Greene, only daughter of Sam Greene who is here today with his sweetheart Thelma Becker. My husband Jim has made the trip with me as have two of my three brothers - Harlan Greene, with his partner Jonathan, and Tom Greene.

I can't say I've been looking forward to this day for years. Honestly, I never thought I would set foot on Polish soil. Both of my parents were very adamant about not "going back." So when my dad mentioned, "Looks like I will need to go to Poland," my ears picked up and here we are.

I'd like to thank all of the people - from the US, Canada, Israel, UK, Warsaw and Slawatycze - who are involved in this cemetery restoration and re-dedication. You made this trip a reality for me. And I'd like to thank my father for being my dad. He made it happen too".

This is what I would have said if called on to say something at the cemetery ceremony. But it
wasn't my place to make a speech or my turn to have a say. No, the ceremony was for them - the native Slawatyczen, including my father - who suffered unbelievable terror on this very soil.

Perhaps the restoration of the Jewish cemetery in the small shtetl (village) can serve as an end to a horrific chapter and the beginning of a more beautiful future. I think this is what they
meant to accomplish and why so many had traveled so many miles across time to gather here today.

Sławatycze - foto: Karen Greene
Henry Gitelman reading his speech in Polish.
Krzysztof Gruszkowski sitting on chair, Philip Garen & Willie Greenspan standing on his left.
Slawatycze, Poland on the Bug River. It has been over 60 years since my father has walked the streets of his hometown (my older brother Lenny is 61!). No reason to return, really, to a town that turned its back on atrocities committed on its Jewish neighbors; or, even worse, actively participated in the unbelievable horror. No reason to return except to close the book of bad memory and open their arms and minds and hearts to a new beginning.
Sławatycze - foto: Karen Greene
Shoshanah Repkowski-Afel observing horse drawn wagon in Slawatycze.

And it was a fine beginning, the writing of this new chapter. The townspeople began to come out, one by one - on foot, on bicycle, out of their doorways and from behind their fences - until there was a crowd pulling the "tourists" along down a long memory lane.

Sławatycze - foto: Karen Greene
Slawatycze ladies at the gathering.
Sławatycze - foto: Karen Greene
Slawatycze lady observing the visitors

"You must come talk to my father. He is 91 and remembers you all".
""Do you remember Kiva?"
"Do you remember Chaim?"
"Of course!"
"I'm his little brother."
"Chaim was my older brother."

Sławatycze - foto: Karen Greene
Sam Greene and Philip Garen, both born in Slawatycze speaking with a local man.
Names like Gitelman, Greenspan, Grynblat, Grynberg, Metnik, Repkowski, Waserman. They
wanted to talk - they had to talk. And our townsmen who made the trip they had to see and hear and feel for themselves that it was time to heal old wounds.
Sławatycze - foto: Karen Greene
Willie Greenspan delivering his speech. Sam Greene is in front of the gate.

The speeches talked of old tortures and hate and called for new bridges over differences. Henry spoke of friendships to promote harmonious relations among Poles of all faiths. Sigmund was 5 years old in 1942 when he first heard the shooting. Willie presented the courageous family who risked their lives to hide his father. "My father owes them his life." And when the war took a turn for the worse and they asked the Jewish family to leave, they rescinded. "What happens to you happens to us," they had said.

Sławatycze - foto: Karen Greene
Philip Garen delivering his speech.

Phillip was beyond emotion. "My brothers were killed by the Nazis in 1939", he began. "They didn't do anything wrong. They were good people.I am the only survivor. I am out of Slawatycze but Slawatycze is not out of me. The city is still in my heart."

The representative of the local governor from Lublin was there along with representation from the Catholic Church and the chairman of the local city council. The villagers, current and former, called for reconciliation and healing without demanding forgiveness, which may be impossible to do.

And there is hope in the new generation when we witness the children carrying a headstone they'd found and saved for this day. They place it carefully, on their own, in the bare cemetery. Now there is a place for any other headstones to be found. And there is promise when the locals walk Phillip down to pay his respects to policeman Funk's grave in the Catholic cemetery, so beautifully maintained.

Sławatycze - foto: Karen Greene
One of matzevot

Unequal in life, unequal in death. One cemetery over-flowing with flowers and shiny grave markers. Another desolate, void of the headstones marking the buried, headstones destroyed purposefully and utilized for building materials, road paving, anything.

Gone all the same.

Sławatycze - foto: Karen Greene
The cemetery and a broken matzevah

Promises to respect and care for the unmarked Jewish dead, just opposite the Catholics buried in their manicured memorials. It's a small patch - one car wide - separating the two cemeteries. Separate still but maybe equal now. It's a step forward.

For my father, with much love from his daughter. Father's Day June 15, 2008
Karen Greene
Sławatycze - foto: Karen Greene
Monika Krawczyk of FODZ and Jadwiga Grynberg-Krawczyk taking a walk.