The Auschwitz Museum, the Auschwitz-Birkenau Foundation and the International March of the Living have signed a declaration to finance the conservation of some 8,000 children's shoes in the Memorial Collections, a moving symbol of the suffering of the youngest victims of the German Nazi camp.
Two Auschwitz survivors incarcerated in the camp in 1944 were present at the signing of the declaration at the Museum Conservation Laboratories on 20 September: Arye Pinsker (born 1930), deported in transports of Jews from Hungary, and Bogdan Bartnikowski (born 1932), deported in transports of Poles during the Warsaw Uprising.
‘It's so hard for me to look at these shoes. I see them and think hoe maybe my twin sisters' shoes are here too,’ said Arye Pinsker.
‘It is an extremely tragic sight, but I am glad that these shoes will be preserved for eternity as proof that thousands of children were murdered in Auschwitz,’ said Bogdan Bartnikowski.
The director of the Auschwitz Museum Dr. Piotr M. A. Cywiński said that 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, 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.’
The first donation for the International March of the Living (IMOL) to the conservation project was received from Eitan Neishlos, grandson of Holocaust survivors and chairman of the Neishlos Foundation. The March also announced the launch of a fundraising campaign for the cause - “From Soul to Sole”.
‘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 is 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,’ said Phyllis Greenberg Heideman, President of March of the Living International.
‘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’ shoes that the Museum takes care of. 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,’ said Wojciech Soczewica, director general of the Auschwitz-Birkenau Foundation.
The project to conserve the children's shoes at the Auschwitz Museum Conservation Laboratories is planned to last approximately two years.
‘The conservation of the entire collection of children's shoes will be a multi-stage undertaking. Each object of this large group will be treated on a case-by-case basis. Although they belong to the same group of objects and share a common part of history, they each have individual characteristics, constructed from similar materials but with distinct details that are significant in the conservation process. Each of these objects is unique because it contains traces of another person's life. Therefore, the conservation of these objects cannot be approached collectively, repetitively and mechanically,’ said Nel Jastrzębiowska of the Museum's Conservation Laboratories.
It is estimated, basing on the approximate data, that over 232,000 children and young people were deported to the German Nazi camp Auschwitz, of whom 216,000 were Jews, 11,000 Roma, about 3,000 Poles, more than 1,000 Belarusians, and several hundred Russians, Ukrainians, and others. A total of about 23,000 children and young people were registered in the camp. Slightly more than 700 were liberated on the territory of Auschwitz in January 1945.