Conservation effort saves shoes of children killed at Auschwitz
The MOTL Shoes Preservation Project. Credit: Auschwitz Museum.

More than 200,000 children were murdered in the German death camp.

JNS Staff Report
June 28, 2024

Following more than a year of conservation work, over 3,000 of approximately 8,000 shoes belonging to children murdered at Auschwitz have returned to display, the Auschwitz Memorial, the Auschwitz-Birkenau Foundation and the International March of the Living announced on Thursday.

In September 2023, the Auschwitz-Birkenau Foundation issued a call to raise half a million dollars for the conservation of children’s shoes, which risked not being preserved for future generations. The International March of the Living, which has been conducting marches between Auschwitz I and Birkenau for 36 years, took on the mission out of commitment to Holocaust remembrance.

The required amount was reached within a few months, with thousands contributing to the campaign, including businessman and philanthropist Eitan Neishlos, a third-generation Holocaust survivor, who made the initial major contribution. The largest single donation, which completed the fundraising project, was given by Mati Kochavi, creator of the Eva.Stories project, along with his daughter Maya Kochavi.

“Preserving the last remaining evidence of the children who were murdered at Auschwitz has even more meaning today, as the Jewish people around the world experience rampant antisemitism,” Neishlos stated. “We must all come together to make sure that no one will be able to deny or distort the horrors the Jewish people endured in the Holocaust.”

Among the 1.3 million people deported to the Auschwitz camp were some 232,000 children up to the age of 18, the majority of whom were Jews. About 500 children under the age of 15 remained alive in Auschwitz when it was liberated on Jan. 27, 1945.

The conservation project began in April 2023 and is being carried out by the Conservation Laboratories and the Collections of the Auschwitz Museum. The main problems faced by the conservators were damage to the leather in the form of red and black corrosion to the shoes’ metal parts; the fragility of the leather and its delamination; corrosion of metal elements and its effect on other materials; and mechanical damage to shoes.

“The tragedy of the more than 200,000 children murdered at KL [Konzentrationslager] Auschwitz seems to represent the darkest area of the history of this extermination center. This is where all the innocence, trust, helplessness, and goodness of children are juxtaposed with the ruthlessness of the German Nazi murderers,” said Piotr Cywiński, director of the Auschwitz Museum.

“This is the apex of crimes of an ideology built on hatred. Very often the only thing left of these children are the shoes. And just as every human step leaves a mark, so these shoes remain today the footprints of child victims,” he added.

Children’s shoes on display at Auschwitz. Credit: Auschwitz Museum.

Memory forever

Dr. Shmuel Rosenman and Phyllis Greenberg Heideman, respectively chair and president of the March of the Living, added: “The project to conserve the shoes of children murdered in Auschwitz is a historic project that is crucial for preserving the evidence of German crimes during the Holocaust. It also has educational importance, allowing active participation in preserving the memory of children who were brutally murdered. We, who march every year in their memory along the path of death they walked, have been privileged to involve many in this project and ensure the preservation of the children’s shoes for another hundred years.”

Auschwitz survivors Arie Pinsker (center) and Bogdan Barnikowski (second from right) hold the shoes of child victims of the Nazis in the Conservation Lab in Auschwitz, joined by representatives of March of the Living, the Neishlos Foundation and the Auschwitz-Birkenau Foundation. Photo by Tali Natapov/Neishlos Foundation.

Holocaust survivors Naftali Furst and Arie Pinsker, who survived the camp as children and were forced to partake in the death marches, came to the Auschwitz conservation lab last year to launch the project.

“This is a full circle moment. When I stood in front of the mountain of shoes at the Auschwitz Memorial, holding the crumbling children’s shoes, I thought of my family who were murdered there and of all the innocent children brutally killed by the Germans in the Holocaust. We must preserve their memory forever,” Pinsker said.

Furst said: “I want to express my utmost gratitude to everyone who is involved in this sacred project to preserve the memory of the children and ensure that this evidence of Nazi crimes remains forever. I will forever be grateful that I took part in this effort.”

  • Post category:News
  • Post comments:0 Comments

Leave a Reply