From SOUL to SOLE - Urgent preservation of the children’s shoes at Auschwitz

More than 8,000 shoes stored at the camp were found to be rapidly disintegrating with the passage of time.

FROM SOUL TO SOLE: Preserve Memory – Defend History

The International March of the Living has partnered with the Auschwitz-Birkenau Foundation, the Auschwitz Memorial, and the Neishlos Foundation in a global campaign https://www.motl.org/soultosole/ to preserve the shoes of children murdered in Auschwitz.

The International March of the Living has announced a partnership with the Auschwitz-Birkenau Foundation and the Auschwitz Memorial to launch a global campaign to preserve some 8,000 shoes belonging to children, most of them Jewish, the vast majority of whom were murdered in the Auschwitz concentration and extermination camp. The Foundation announced that, without immediate conservation, these shoes are in danger of disappearing as historical documentation of life and death. With an initial donation from the Neishlos Foundation, work will begin to conserve the shoes, while a global campaign was launched to support the ongoing project.

Auschwitz-Birkenau survivors Arie Pinsker and Bogdan Barnikowski – children when they arrived at the camp – participated in the ceremony in the Conservation Laboratories at the Auschwitz Memorial. With them at the ceremony were the CEO of the Auschwitz-Birkenau Foundation, Wojciech Soczewica, the director of the Auschwitz Memorial, Dr. Piotr M. A. Cywiński, President of the International March of the Living, Phyllis Greenberg Heideman, and Founder and President of the Neishlos Foundation, Eitan Neishlos.

(L-R) Greg Masel, Senior Advisor, International March of the Living; Revital Yakin, Deputy CEO, International March of the Living, Dr. Piotr Cywiński, Director of Auschwitz Memorial, President of Auschwitz-Birkenau Foundation; Phyllis Greenberg Heideman, President, International March of the Living; Wojciech Soczewica, Director General of Auschwitz-Birkenau Foundation; Richard D. Heideman, Senior Counsel, Heideman Nudelman & Kalik PC. (Credit: Arkadiusz Wrzesień)(L-R) Greg Masel, Senior Advisor, International March of the Living; Revital Yakin, Deputy CEO, International March of the Living, Dr. Piotr Cywiński, Director of Auschwitz Memorial, President of Auschwitz-Birkenau Foundation; Phyllis Greenberg Heideman, President, International March of the Living; Wojciech Soczewica, Director General of Auschwitz-Birkenau Foundation; Richard D. Heideman, Senior Counsel, Heideman Nudelman & Kalik PC. (Credit: Arkadiusz Wrzesień)

As part of the ceremony, Arie Pinsker told how he lost his entire family in the gas chambers of Auschwitz II-Birkenau, except for his older brother, who saved his life. Arie was part of an experiment conducted by the Germans on Jewish children in the camp. Only four of the 1,000 children in his barracks who endured the experiments survived the war. Arie 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 that perhaps my twin sister’s shoes are here too.”

Auschwitz survivors Arie Pinsker (left center) and Bogdan Barnikowski (right center) hold the shoes of child victims of the Nazis in the Conservation Lab in Auschwitz (Credit: Tali Natapov, Neishlos Foundation)Auschwitz survivors Arie Pinsker (left center) and Bogdan Barnikowski (right center) hold the shoes of child victims of the Nazis in the Conservation Lab in Auschwitz (Credit: Tali Natapov, Neishlos Foundation)

International March of the Living Chairman Dr. Shmuel Rosenman and President Phyllis Greenberg Heideman: “When we received the request from the Auschwitz-Birkenau Foundation to preserve the shoes of children murdered in the camp, it was clear that this was a moral obligation we would take upon ourselves. 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. We believe that everyone who has ever participated in 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.”

Eitan Neishlos, President of the Neishlos Foundation; Phyllis Greenberg Heideman, President, International March of the Living;  Auschwitz survivors Bogdan Barnikowski & Arie Pinsker; Wojciech Soczewica, Director General of Auschwitz-Birkenau Foundation; Dr. Piotr Cywiński, Director of Auschwitz Memorial, President of Auschwitz-Birkenau Foundation (Credit: Arkadiusz Wrzesień)Eitan Neishlos, President of the Neishlos Foundation; Phyllis Greenberg Heideman, President, International March of the Living; Auschwitz survivors Bogdan Barnikowski & Arie Pinsker; Wojciech Soczewica, Director General of Auschwitz-Birkenau Foundation; Dr. Piotr Cywiński, Director of Auschwitz Memorial, President of Auschwitz-Birkenau Foundation (Credit: Arkadiusz Wrzesień)

Approximately 1.1 million people from across German-occupied Europe were murdered in Auschwitz-Birkenau. Among 1.3 million people deported to Auschwitz, there were some 232,000 children up to the age of 18. The largest number of children arrived at the camp in the second half of 1942. The majority of them were Jewish children who were immediately murdered in gas chambers upon their arrival.

When Soviet troops liberated Auschwitz on January 27, 1945, only about 500 children under 15 years of age were left in the camp, all suffering from disease and malnutrition.

Arno, Janett and Margot, Jewish children who were murdered at Auschwitz. (Credit: Auschwitz Memorial)Arno, Janett and Margot, Jewish children who were murdered at Auschwitz. (Credit: Auschwitz Memorial)

THE CONSERVATION PROJECT

The conservation project will continue for two years. The International March of the Living is pleased to announce and initiate a global fundraising campaign for this project under the theme "From SOUL to SOLE.”

The initial contribution to begin this initiative has been received from Eitan Neishlos, founder and President of the Neishlos Foundation and the grandson of Holocaust survivors. Eitan serves as Founder and Ambassador of the March of the Living organization in the Gulf States and represented the Third Generation of survivors at the 2022 March of the Living, carrying a shoebox that his late grandmother Tamara Zisserman left him, containing her memories of the Holocaust.

Eitan Neishlos: “In so many cases, the tiny shoes left at Auschwitz are all that is left of young Jewish children murdered by the Nazis. They took their final steps in these shoes 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. 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. Now is the time for our generation to do whatever we can to preserve the memory of the victims and honor the precious living survivors".

Dr. Piotr M. A. Cywiński, Director of Auschwitz Memorial, President of Auschwitz-Birkenau Foundation: “At the traveling exhibition “Auschwitz. Not so long ago. Not so far away," co-created by the Auschwitz Memorial, one of the objects that speaks most to the emotions of visitors is a child's shoe with a sock in it. At the Memorial itself, 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. There is nothing surprising in this, as through the tragic fate of the children in the camp, we can look into the limitless depths of human evil at Auschwitz. The murder of over 200,000 children at Auschwitz is impossible to comprehend. This cruelty and injustice cannot be explained by any politics, any ideology, or any worldview. 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. 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, Director General of the Auschwitz-Birkenau Foundation: “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. That is why the Auschwitz-Birkenau Foundation has decided to initiate this unique campaign to secure funding for the conservation process of all the children's shoes that the Museum preserves. I would like to thank the Foundation donors and, in particular, the International March of the Living for their partnership – they have been marching for over 30 years to remember the victims that were murdered in the concentration camps”.

We invite you to take an active part in preserving memory and defending history. For more information, go to: https://www.motl.org/soultosole/