Seventy-seven years after the end of World War II, as the generation of Holocaust survivors is fast disappearing, what remains to remind the world of the tragedy? The Jerusalem Post spoke with Dr. Shmuel Rosenman, chairman of the International March of the Living, and Wojtek Soczewica, director-general of the Auschwitz-Birkenau Foundation, who described the efforts of their organizations to commemorate the Holocaust, as the generation of survivors passes into history.
The conversation was held prior to the Jerusalem Post Global Investment Forum held in Marrakech, Morocco, on Thursday, where Soczewica, Eitan Neishlos, founder and president of the Neishlos Foundation; and Revital Yakin Krakovsky, Deputy CEO of the International March of the Living; unveiled the joint initiative of the March of the Living and the Auschwitz-Birkenau Foundation, entitled “The Soul to Sole Campaign.”
“We began the International March of the Living 35 years ago,” says Rosenman, “because we knew that the story of the Holocaust had to be told by the survivors.” Bringing visitors to Auschwitz, he explains, and recreating the three-kilometer death march to the Birkenau complex together with survivors, took the experience to a different level, and ensured that participants would return to their communities around the world and tell the story of the Holocaust to their families and neighbors.
Rosenman says that today, it is even more important to conduct events like the March of the Living, given that the survivors are no longer present to provide their testimony. “The young generation living in Europe and the United States do not know about Auschwitz and the Holocaust,” he points out.
Perhaps one of the most direct reminders of the Holocaust that visitors to Auschwitz encounter, notes Rosenman, are the thousands of children’s shoes that sit behind a glass case. “There are many Holocaust deniers around the world,” he says. “There is no stronger evidence than this pile of shoes of the children, who were thrown into the crematoriums just an hour after they last wore them. One million Jewish children were murdered during the Holocaust. It is our mission to remember.”
Wojtek Soczewica, director-general of the Auschwitz-Birkenau Foundation, says that the number of people visiting the Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial and Museum is growing each year. He estimates that more than one million visitors arrived at the gates of the former camp in 2022, to learn about the horrific events that took place.
The Foundation’s main task, he explains, is in financing and facilitating the preservation of the camp’s infrastructure and the personal items of prisoners who perished in the camp. “These personal items,” he points out, “are material witnesses to the crimes committed here.” Soczewica continues, adding that “there is a fundamental logic behind our work in saving every single authentic item at the memorial, whether it was jewelry that victims brought into the camp, or photographs or shoes. They are telling the story. If we let these items perish, we are contributing, in a way, to Hitler’s mad plan to erase any trace of Jewish life in Europe or other groups targeted by this madness.”
Saving the Children’s Shoes – The Soul to Sole Campaign
“We have chosen a timeline with the March of the Living to save all 8,000 shoes and incorporate them into the main exhibit over the next two years.”Wojtek Soczewica, director-general of the Auschwitz-Birkenau Foundation
It is for this reason that the International March of the Living and the Auschwitz-Birkenau Foundation have joined in a campaign to preserve 8,000 children’s shoes at Auschwitz that are beginning to decompose. “It is a wonderful opportunity to partner with the March of the Living,” says Soczewica. “We have chosen a timeline with the March of the Living to save all 8,000 shoes and incorporate them into the main exhibit over the next two years.”
Shmuel Rosenman points out that remembering the Holocaust and educating people about its horrors carries a universal message for humanity. “If we want to prevent another Holocaust and racism, we must bring the rest of the world with us to share in this experience, and to see the piles of shoes in Auschwitz. We must fight antisemitism, and we must fight the deniers [of the Holocaust]. The only weapon we have is education.”