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Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Shoes

Shoes.

Such simple things are shoes, things we have in our closet and wear every day. I must admit that my favorite shoes are my ASICS running shoes. I have four pairs in different colors, and I wear them every day.

Shoes are humble. They protect our feet from things on the ground that might hurt us, such as rocks, broken glass and hot pavement. They support our arches and help keep our knees and backs happy. Shoes also can be a fashion statement for those who care about such things. But really, who among us gives much thought to our shoes? I don't think about my shoes unless they hurt my feet.

I recently watched a program about Hermann Goring and his role in the Nazi atrocities of World War II. Two scenes in the program really struck home:  a shot of shoes from victims of the Holocaust in the concentration camp at Auschwitz, and a scene showing dolls and other toys from the child victims of the camp.

Earlier this year, I visited the concentration camps at Auschwitz and Birkenau in Poland. Among the artifacts at Auschwitz was a large glass-front display case of piles and piles of shoes taken from people who were murdered there. More than the suitcases, kitchen items and brushes displayed nearby, more even than the room filled with eyeglasses and the room piled high with the hair of 40,000 murdered souls, the room of shoes really brought home the horror of the death camps. The shoes made it personal. Most of the shoes are brown or gray, but notice in the picture above the two red shoes. Those red shoes are the final testament to somebody who wanted to stand out in a sea of brown and gray shoes. I once bought a pair of glittery red shoes just because they were so different from what I usually wear.

Each pair of shoes had been worn by somebody, a living, breathing person, each with dreams and aspirations, who was killed at Auschwitz. When I look at these photographs of the shoes, I can imagine the people who once wore them, people living in the late 1930s and early 1940s. Perhaps they wore these shoes every day as they went about their business, working and shopping. Most of the shoes look well worn. Although most of the people who wore these shoes were killed because they were Jewish, others, including  homosexuals, Gypsies and the disabled, were subject to the gas chambers as well.

It doesn't matter to whom the thousands of shoes on display had belonged. It doesn't matter whether the shoes had been worn by a wealthy person or by a poor person. It matters not whether the wearers of the shoes were Jewish or from some other 'undesirable' (to the Nazis) group. What matters is that the wearers of these shoes were murdered because of who they were. Chances are, the victims wore these shoes until they were ordered to undress for the promised 'shower' in the gas chambers that took their lives.

Shoes are personal.The shoes that fill the display case at Auschwitz are the final reminder of people who once lived, who loved and were loved, who mattered. We will, of course, never know who owned these shoes. We will never know the details of their lives. But perhaps they always will serve to remind us of the horrors that humans once visited upon other humans just because they were 'different'.