Left to right: Wojciech Soczewica, Director General of Auschwitz-Birkenau Foundation; Revital Yakin Krakovsky, Deputy CEO of the International March of the Living; and Holocaust survivor Naftali Furst at Auschwitz conservation lab (Credit: Pawel Dziedzic)

International March of Living Calls for Preservation of Children’s Shoes at Auschwitz

Camp survivor Naftali Furst, who survived the Death March as a child: “The children’s shoes are the symbol of the tragedy of European Jewry. Preserving them is holy work.”

International March of the Living: “The memories of the victims need our help. With just $180,000, we can begin the preservation of the shoes of children who were murdered at Auschwitz, for many, the last testament of their lives.” 

Oswiecim, Poland, 27 January, 2023 – Marking the 78th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, and International Holocaust Memorial Day, the International March of the Living, in partnership with the Auschwitz-Birkenau Foundation and the Auschwitz Memorial has issued an urgent call to secure the funds 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. The Auschwitz Foundation announced that, without immediate conservation, these shoes are in danger of disappearing as historic documentation of life and death. 

The global fundraising campaign launched last September, entitled “From SOUL to SOLE”, has so far raised more than half of the estimated funds needed for the preservation, about $500,000, including an initial contribution from Eitan Neishlos, founder and President of the Neishlos Foundation, and the grandson of Holocaust survivors. Also contributing to the funds have been thousands of people across the world – members of the public, Jews and non-Jews – who have contributed to the project through the website, https://www.motl.org/soultosole/, many doing so in memory of a victim of the Holocaust, or in the names of their own children to help educate the next generation of the crimes of the Holocaust.  

In order to begin the conservation project within the next few weeks a further $180,000 (US) needs to be raised.  

A child shoe in desperate need of conservation (Credit: Pawel Dziedzic)

Wojciech Soczewica, Director General of Auschwitz-Birkenau Foundation said that, with the completion of the fundraising project, the preservation will begin in the next few weeks and will last around two years. “The conservators of the Museum will be able to begin their work in the coming weeks, after all the funds have been raised. The work on preserving the children’s shoes will last for two years, but our work of preserving the testimonies and the evidence of the Nazi-Germany crimes will continue forever.”   

“I am alive thanks to my shoes, which I succeeded in maintaining while at Auschwitz. Without them I wouldn’t have survived the Death March,” said Holocaust survivor Naftali Furst last week at the Conservation Laboratories set up at the Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial and Museum, to conserve all surviving historical objects, including the shoes that belonged to children deported to the camp.  

He added, “I went to Auschwitz together with my family from a prison camp in Slovakia (Sered) towards the end of the war, in November 1944, when I was 12 years old. The Death March was the hardest thing for us. We marched through hell, we walked for three days in the freezing cold, without food, without being able to stop, seeing the so many who could not continue to march and died near us until we reached an open train in the snow, which took us on the days long, freezing cold journey to Buchenwald.”  

Naftali and his brother Samuel marched together, were released together, and miraculously succeeded in reuniting with their parents after the war. They went on to reach Israel. 

While holding the shoes of children who were murdered at Auschwitz, Naftali said: “Preserving the shoes of children who were murdered during the Holocaust is holy work. I am so moved to be here and to see how the work is being done, and I think about my family that was murdered – their shoes could be here.”      

International March of the Living Deputy CEO Revital Yakin Krakovsky said that March of the Living was established as a symbolic response, as a victory photo, to the death marches, in which Naftali and many others participated. “Each year March of the Living brings thousands to march in the footsteps of those cursed death marches. We hold high the torch of memory and work to keep the voices of the victims alive and heard in our times. When we learned about the need to preserve the shoes of children who were murdered at Auschwitz, most of whom were murdered the day they arrived at the camp, it was clear that we had a one-time opportunity to preserve this tangible evidence of Nazi crimes, and to increase awareness of the cruel murder of children during the Holocaust.” 

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. 

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