A new initiative, titled “From Soul to Sole,” is undertaking the critical mission of preserving the shoes of the mostly Jewish children who were murdered in the Nazi death camp Auschwitz.
More than 8,000 shoes on display or stored at the camp were found to be rapidly disintegrating with the passage of time.
The International March of the Living, in partnership with the Auschwitz-Birkenau Foundation and the Auschwitz Memorial, launched the global campaign this month. The Auschwitz-Birkenau Foundation announced that, without immediate conservation, “these shoes are in danger of disappearing as historic documentation of life and death.”
The conservation project is expected to spread over the course of two years. The initiative received initial funding from the Neishlos Foundation, yet still requires additional financial support and is asking for donations on its website.
“In so many cases, the tiny shoes left at Auschwitz are all that is left of young Jewish children murdered by the Nazis,” said Eitan Neishlos, the grandson of Holocaust survivors, who serves as founder and ambassador of the March of the Living organization in the Gulf states.
Neishlos revealed the project in an interview with ALL ISRAEL NEWS, emphasizing its importance “to ensure that Holocaust-deniers can never bury the truth.”
“In these shoes, they took their final steps, as they were ripped from their mothers’ arms and led to their slaughter. Their shoes were stripped from them mercilessly, as were their names, their dreams and futures,” he said. “By preserving these iconic shoes, we are preserving the memory of Jewish children who were the victims of perhaps the Nazis’ most harrowing cruelty. It is our responsibility as the next generation to keep their memories alive and give them a voice from the darkness.”
One of those children was Holocaust survivor Arie Pinsker, 92, who lost his entire family in the gas chambers of Auschwitz II-Birkenau, except for his older brother who saved his life. Pinsker was part of an experiment the Germans conducted on Jewish children in the camp; of the 1,000 children in his barrack who were part of the experiments, only four survived the war.
During a recent ceremony at the Auschwitz Memorial, Pinsker burst into tears at the sight of the tiny shoes and said: “It’s so hard for me to look at these shoes. I see them and think how maybe my twin sisters’ shoes are here too.”
International March of the Living chairman Shmuel Rosenman refers to the conservation of the shoes as “a moral obligation.”
The organization noted that approximately 1.1 million people from across German-occupied Europe were murdered in Auschwitz-Birkenau. Among the 1.3 million people deported to Auschwitz, there were some 232,000 children.
The largest numbers of children arrived at the camp in the second half of 1942. The majority of them were Jewish and immediately were murdered in gas chambers upon their arrival.
When Soviet troops liberated Auschwitz on Jan. 27, 1945, only about 500 children under the age of 15 were left in the camp, with all suffering from diseases and malnutrition.
Tal Heinrich is a senior correspondent for both ALL ISRAEL NEWS and ALL ARAB NEWS. She is currently based in New York City. Tal also provides reports and analysis for Israeli Hebrew media Channel 14 News.