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, who were in vast majority murdered in the German Nazi concentration and extermination camp Auschwitz during the Holocaust.
The Foundation announced that, without immediate conservation, these shoes are in danger of disappearing as historic documentation of life and death. With an initial donation from the Neishlos Foundation, work would be to conserve the shoes, while a global campaign was launched to support the ongoing project.
Auschwitz-Birkenau survivors Arie Pinsker and Bogdan Barnikowski – both of whom were children when they arrived at the camp – participated in the ceremony that took place in the Conservation Laboratories at the Auschwitz Memorial. Along 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 Nieshlos Foundation, Eitan Nieshlos.
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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. Of the 1,000 children who were in his barrack enduring the experiments, only 4 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 hoe maybe my twin sisters’ shoes are here too.”
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 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. 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.”
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 numbers 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, there were only about 500 children under 15 years of age left in the camp, all suffering from diseases and malnutrition.
THE CONSERVATION PROJECT
The conservation project will continue for two years. 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 at the 2022 March of the Living carrying with him a shoebox belonging 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. In these shoes they took their final steps 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 honour the precious living survivors.”