Sylvia Green lived in Winchester for more than six decades.
She and her husband, Jake, owned The Hub on Main Street. She raised two children. She volunteered at the local hospital.
Almost no one knew what Sylvia had lived through before she arrived in town in 1949.
About 60 years later, she finally told her story of surviving one of the worst atrocities in human history, the Holocaust against Jews throughout Europe led by Adolf Hitler and the Nazis.
Green was included in an oral history project published in 2009 titled, “This Is Home Now,” which included the stories of nine Holocaust survivors living in Kentucky.
“I wanted future generations to have something to know about it,” Green said in a 2009 interview with The Winchester Sun. “Maybe the next generation, they’ll know something. Down the road, I don’t want it to be completely forgotten.”
Green, who was born in Germany, was 9 years old when Adolf Hitler took power. In 1938, her father was deported to Poland. Her parents decided to send her brother, Bernard, to live with a family in England. Eventually, Green and her mother followed and reunited at her aunt’s house in Poland, but it was not to last.
When the ghetto in Krakow was liquidated in 1943, her father was killed while he was in a hospital. Green never knew what happened to her mother.
Green and her aunt Mina were shuffled through several concentration camps including Auschwitz and Bergen-Belsen, a starvation camp where she stayed until liberation occurred April 14, 1945.
After the war, she reunited with Bernard and they emigrated to the U.S.
“I wanted to live in New York, but he said no,” Green said in 2009. “He said, ‘We’re going to (re-establish) our family in Kentucky. Lexington is a very nice place to live.’”
In 1949, she married Jake Green, moved to Winchester and settled into life. Green said they didn’t talk about her survival until she was pregnant with her first child.
Nightmares started, which took her straight back to the horrors she witnessed in the concentration camps.
“The door would not stay shut when I got pregnant,” she said. “Then it all came back, the nightmares and screaming in my dreams. The nightmare was the Germans came to take my baby away and kill it, because I saw many babies killed and they just threw them against the wall, because they couldn’t waste bullets. Jake would wake me up, and he would come in with dry, clean pajamas and a towel. So, that’s when we talked. We would sit on the couch in the living room, and many nights we never went back to sleep. And all the time I lived with that man, his ear was always there.”
Green said she deliberately lived her life in the present moment, focusing on business and her family.
“I did not want to raise (my children) full of hatred … I (wanted) to raise them healthy, happy … Because I did set a goal for myself that if I fail, then Hitler had won out, and he didn’t because they are loving children.”
Green and her husband kept the secret for decades. In the 1980s, a University of Kentucky professor told his students the Holocaust never happened, which helped fuel the denial movement.
Green and other survivors were persuaded to tell their stories for a documentary on KET. In the 1990s, she recorded her story for the Kentucky Historical Society and the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum.
In 2009, her account was published, along with those of eight other Holocaust survivors living in Kentucky,
Though she shared her history more, it never got easier.
“It’s still a very hard subject,” she said in 2009. “If I start talking about it, I go right back there. It’s never going away until I go away.”
Jake died in 1997, and Green focused on her children and grandchildren.
She was recently featured in an exhibit at the Bluegrass Heritage Museum, which contributed information.
Sylvia Green died in January 2017, but her story and legacy as a survivor remain. §