Global campaign begins to preserve children’s shoes at Auschwitz

The conservation project is called “From SOUL to SOLE.”

By Batya Jerenberg, World Israel News

The Auschwitz-Birkenau Foundation and Auschwitz Memorial have embarked on a global campaign to save what is arguably one of the most poignant exhibits in the most notorious concentration camp in Europe – its huge mound of children’s shoes.

The glassed-in exhibit and archives contain 8,000 pieces of footwear, which have begun to crumble 78 years after the end of World War II. The aim of the fundraising project, called “From SOUL to SOLE,” is to preserve these remnants that symbolize the unfathomable murder in Auschwitz of 200,000 Jewish youngsters among the Nazis’ estimated 1.1 million victims at the site.

Dr. Piotr M. A. Cywiński, director of the Auschwitz Memorial and president of the Auschwitz-Birkenau Foundation, stressed the importance of this specific exhibit at a ceremony kicking off the start of the project, which was enabled by an initial donation of the Neishlos Foundation.

“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,” he said. “There is nothing surprising in this, as through the tragic fate of the children in the camp we are able to look into the limitless depths of human evil at Auschwitz.”

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“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 defenseless children who were thrown into a world they could not understand. And this world is preserved in every single shoe…. That is why we must do everything to preserve them for as long as possible,” he added.

Neishlos Foundation president Eitan Neishlos, who is the grandson of Holocaust survivors, termed his organization’s donation “a responsibility” of his generation.

“By preserving these iconic shoes, we are preserving the memory of Jewish children who were the victims of perhaps the Nazis’ most harrowing cruelty,” he said. “It is our responsibility as the next generation to keep their memories alive and give them a voice from the darkness.”

In an op-ed in Thursday’s Jerusalem Post, he mentioned the shoes’ importance as “vital testimony of the crimes against our people,” especially in light of the phenomenon of Holocaust denial in general and “in the vile claims of the Iranian president or so-called academics around the world” in particular.

But just as vital was the moral angle, he wrote.

“It is also our moral obligation to remember every child who was brutally murdered and didn’t have the chance to grow up. It is our duty to ensure that none of the victims become statistics: they were people just like us and restoring these shoes will create a tangible link with their personal stories.”

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The International March of the Living is also partnering in the fundraising effort, both due to the testimonial aspect and moral reasons Neishlos outlined and “as a significant educational initiative,” said the organization’s president, Phyllis Greenberg Heideman, and chairman Shmuel Rosenman.

“We believe that everyone who has ever participated on the March of the Living and others around the world will want to take part in preserving the memory of the children and protecting these deteriorating artifacts from this dark chapter in history,” they said.

The conservation effort is projected to take two years to complete.