International March of the Living has partnered with the Auschwitz-Birkenau Foundation and Auschwitz Memorial to preserve 8,000 displayed shoes belonging to children in a global ‘SOUL to SOUL campaign.
Most of the children were murdered at the Nazi concentration camp Auschwitz.
Immediate conservation is necessary as the shoes are in danger of disappearing as a historic documentation of the atrocities committed by the Nazi regime.
An initial donation from the Neishlos Foundation has enabled work to begin. The global initiative will support the ongoing project.
Auschwitz-Birkenau survivors Arie Pinsker and Bogdan Barnikowski were children at the camp and participated in a ceremony at the Conservation Laboratories at the Auschwitz Memorial.
Arie recalled how he lost his entire family in the gas chambers except for his older brother who saved his life. Of 1,000 children in his barrack enduring experiments, only four survived.
The conservation project will continue for two years. International MOTL said there was a moral obligation to preserve the shoes.
The organisation’s president Phyllis Greenberg Heideman said, “We see the conservation of the shoes of these innocent children as an eternal testimony to the brutality of the Nazi regime as well as a significant educational initiative.”
Foundation president Eitan Nieshlos is the grandson of Holocaust survivors.
He said, “In so many cases, the tiny shoes left at Auschwitz are all that is left of young Jewish children murdered by the Nazis. 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.”
Dr. Piotr M. A. Cywinski, Auschwitz Memorial director, commented, “For many people one of the places that moves them most is the room where several thousand shoes belonging to the youngest victims are displayed. The murder of over 200,000 children at Auschwitz is impossible to comprehend. The contrast between the cruelty and callousness of the adult world is perhaps most vividly illustrated in Auschwitz precisely in the juxtaposition with the trusting, curious, innocent and defenceless children who were thrown into a world they could not understand. And this world is preserved in every single shoe. Only these shoes remained after so many children. That is why we must do everything to preserve them for as long as possible.”
Wojciech Soczewica, Auschwitz Foundation director general added, “The tiny shoes of the youngest victims of Auschwitz are a special symbol of the crimes perpetrated there. They require preservation, like all other personal items saved by the Museum’s conservators, but they evoke a sense of even greater responsibility on the part of our generation to preserve them for the future.”
Among 1.3 million people deported to Auschwitz were 232,000 children up to the age of 18.
The largest numbers of children arrived at the camp in the second half of 1942. The majority were Jewish and immediately murdered on arrival.
When Soviet troops liberated Auschwitz in 1945, only about 500 children under 15 years of age were left in the camp, all suffering from diseases and malnutrition.