I went to Poland to see Auschwitz. My sister, who accompanied me, had gone on to other places, visiting Slawatycze, the shtetl of our mother's parents. Her photos showed a neglected empty space that had been the Jewish cemetery. The anger and sadness I had experienced at Auschwitz merged with what I was feeling about the Slawatycze cemetery devoid of the matzevot. Imagining what must have happened in Slawatycze along with seeing and knowing what had happened at Auschwitz and doing nothing about the place that literally held our DNA in the ground and consciously choosing to turn a blind eye was simply wrong. I felt that we had to do something about the cemetery -- that I had to do something about the cemetery.
To have chosen to do nothing was to accept what Hitler and the Germans had done; to destroy all presence and memory of the Jews, to turn us and memory of us into dirt and ashes.
Four years later, with landsmen and mishpocha from Israel, Canada, England, and the US, I participated in a ceremony rededicating the cleaned and partially restored cemetery. We entered the grounds through a new brick-and wrought-iron gate we commissioned to mark and acknowledge the presence of the Jewish community that had existed in this village for over 300 years.
Photo by Jon Sharlin