Miguel A. Gayo Macías |

Oswiecim (Poland), (EFE).- A project to preserve the shoes of 8,000 children who perished in the Holocaust and to prevent the disappearance of what, in many cases, is the last material proof of their existence , was presented this week at the Auschwitz Camp.

The initiative aims to preserve, in their original condition and for as long as possible, the shoes worn by thousands of children interned in the Auschwitz extermination camp during the Second World War.

This is an action initially funded by the Neishlos Foundation and carried out in collaboration with the international organization of the March of the Living, the Aushwitz-Birkenau Foundation and the Auschwitz Museum, in whose premises the conservation work will be carried out.

Auschwitz survivor, discover the glass gallery of the museum
Auschwitz survivor Arie Pinsker looks into the glass gallery of the Auschwitz museum where there is a mountain of shoes that belonged to the victims of the camp. EFE/Miguel Angel Gayo Macias

Phyllis Greenberg Heideman, president of the organization March of the Living, explained to Efe that the project “is a moral obligation” and will provide “material testimony to the brutality of the Nazi regime” which will last for many years to come thanks to this effort.

For his part, Eitan Neishlos, who treasures in a shoebox the material memories he still has of his grandmother, Tamara Zisserman, murdered during the Holocaust, underlined during the presentation of the initiative that “in many cases, those little shoes at Auschwitz are all we have left of the Jewish children who died here.

“With these shoes they took their last steps before they were torn from their mothers’ arms,” ​​Neishlos pointed out, “and while their shoes were taken they were stripped of their names, dreams and their future”.

Thousands of shoes from Holocaust victims

Arie Pinsker, a Holocaust survivor, recounted how, at the age of 14, she arrived at Auschwitz wearing summer shoes, scared and unaware of the horror that awaited her.

Along with 1,000 other children, of whom only Pinsker and three others survived, he was subjected to experimentation by the Nazis and lost his entire family in the Holocaust except for two of his older brothers.

As his hands rest on the glass of the Museum’s gallery where thousands of Auschitz victims’ shoes lie, Pinsker cannot hold back his tears knowing that “maybe my sisters’ shoes are here.”

Bogdan Barnikowski, another Nazi horror survivor, recalled that after walking through the camp, which he described as “the gate to hell” and being registered as prisoner number 192,731, he was was transferred with his mother to the Berlin-Blankenburg labor camp and forced to remove the debris from the city.

In front of some of the children’s shoes that will be preserved, Barnikowski assured that “it is sad to look at these shoes, but at the same time I am happy to know that they will survive as a testimony to the children who died here”.

Some 232,000 children killed at Auschwitz

About 1.1 million people were murdered at Auschwitz, including some 232,000 children who arrived mostly in the second half of 1942.

Almost all were executed upon arrival at the camp and only those who appeared older or stronger were used as slaves; when Auschwitz was liberated in January 1945, only 500 children under the age of 15 remained.

Piotr Cywińsk, director of the Auschwitz museum, pointed out that “the mass murder of children is incomprehensible; such cruelty, such injustice cannot be explained by politics, ideology or opinion” and highlighted the contrast between “the cruelty and insensitivity of the adult world” and “the confident, curious, innocent and helpless, who were thrown into a world they could not understand.”

Auschwitz children through their shoes

In front of him, on a white table and in the middle of the aseptic environment of a laboratory, a small brown leather boot with a sock inside seems to symbolize the absence of so many children whose lives have been cut short by the most cruel way, but whose traces will not disappear thanks to this project.

In the rooms of the restorers and researchers of the Auschwitz museum, scientific teams photograph, catalog and meticulously describe each shoe.

Auschwitz survivors display sample shoes.
Among others, Bogdan Barnikowski, survivor of Auschwitz, Phylis Greenberg Heideman, president of the organization March of the Living, and Arie Pinsker, survivor of Auschwitz, during the performance. EFE/Miguel Angel Gayo Macias

Not only the history behind them, but also the different physical characteristics of each piece, such as the material from which they are made, the possible existence of traces allowing to locate to whom they belonged or even the existence of inscriptions , mean that they must be treated each of the shoes as a unique and relevant piece.

Each of the stories behind these pairs of shoes is one more thread in the tapestry of history, it must be known and memorized “so that it does not happen again”, concludes one of the curators.

“In this case, it is not a question of restoring, but of conserving. Because, just as history cannot be changed, the best thing to do is to show it as it was,” he insists.

Web editor: Rocio Casas

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