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March of Living raises $500,000 to conserve 8,000 shoes at Auschwitz museum

Part of one of the most powerful displays at the former concentration camp, the varied footwear of children has fallen into disrepair.

Shoes displayed at Auschwitz-Birkenau in 2018. Photo by Menachem Wecker.
Shoes displayed at Auschwitz-Birkenau in 2018. Photo by Menachem Wecker.

The International March of the Living announced meeting the first “Soul to Sole” crowdfunding goal to conserve 8,000 shoes belonging to Jewish children who perished at Auschwitz-Birkenau.

The group is partnering in the endeavor with the Auschwitz-Birkenau Foundation and the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum in Poland. The Nazis murdered more than 1.1 million people, including more than 200,000 Jewish children, at the concentration camp and death camp.

“With the passage of time, these shoes have sadly deteriorated, threatening the last testament of the Jewish children who were deported to the camp and murdered there by Nazi Germany,” per an announcement.

It costs about $50 per shoe for restoration, and the group aimed to raise $500,000 in the campaign. “The conservation process will begin soon and will last for about two years,” Revital Yakin Krakovsky, deputy CEO of March of the Living, told JNS.

“The shoes are a symbol of a life lost, and every shoe represents a story that is the whole world,” said Eitan Neishlos, founder and president of an eponymous foundation, who donated to the campaign. “As the grandson of a Holocaust survivor, I will continue to do everything to make sure that the memory of the Holocaust will stay alive.”

Supporter Mati Kochavi, the creator of the Eva’s Story Instagram project, said “the heart aches at the sight of the shoes of the 2-year-old child, who was proud of his first shoes; the mischievous 4-year-old, who climbs on the slippery slide; and the 10-year-old boy, who kept his shoes for a football match.” 

“We are left only with the great sadness of the Shoah and honored to participate in the preservation of the shoes of innocent children who perished,” he added.

At Auschwitz-Birkenau, shoes are displayed behind glass, but in the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, where they are out in the open, a powerful smell confronts visitors, making the objects even more poignant. In both displays, the shoes have mostly blackened.

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