Updated: May 23, 2019
by Tim Haworth
It is the shoes.
4,000 of them to be exact. They were left behind. No longer needed. And now they are displayed haphazardly in giant piles. Dress shoes, work shoes and boots, slippers, high heels – shoes of every size and description. Shoes for every age – adult shoes, children’s shoes and even baby shoes.
Each shoe was worn by someone who no longer exists on this earth except in memories. These were the shoes left behind by some of the millions of men, women, children and babies as they were led into concentration camp gas chambers and murdered.
Each time I visit the U.S. Holocaust Memorial and Museum in Washington, DC it is the shoe room that always breaks my heart. Stepping into this room, walking along a narrow pathway and looking down at all those shoes makes things seem very real. Suddenly this atrocity of monstrous proportions becomes very simple. Very human.
I think about the woman wearing those high heels. The man in the work boots believing that he was going to a work facility. The baby wearing the booties being carried by her perhaps unsuspecting mother to the gas chambers. My heart breaks.
Leaving that room I think of another group of people. The perpetrators of this crime. How do human beings do this to their fellow human beings? Germany was one of the most enlightened countries on the planet. They excelled in science, theology, philosophy and music. All that genius turned to evil and hatred.
It could happen again. The perpetrators were people just like us. They wore shoes too. Put them on one foot at a time. Just like us.
We must never forget that we are all kin of equal standing before God. No one can claim superiority based on their race, creed, nationality, gender or sexual orientation. We are ALL God’s beloved. We need to remember that.
We also need to remember what we humans are capable of and the cost of silently looking away when faced with evil.
Yesterday, May 2, was Holocaust Remembrance Day (Yom Hashoah in Hebrew). Let us continue to join our Jewish cousins in remembering this tragedy. Let all God’s people not just remember the horror of what was done, but also stand united in a love that will always defeat hatred and darkness. A love that brings hope and peace.