Shoes & Souls, Auschwitz & Birkenau

So many shoes, so many souls


The photograph you are observing is all the shoes stolen from the inmates of Auschwitz & Birkenau. It is difficult to comprehend how many shoes are sitting here. The photograph only captures a tiny section of the ‘wall’ of shoes. There is such a variety of footwear worn by adults and children of all ages. Some shoes appear rugged and some appear new, they all tell a different story. When the Soviet Union liberated Auschwitz-Birkenau on January 27, 1945, there were 43,000 pairs of shoes in the camp.


Children of Auschwitz

It is estimated that there were about 230,000 children and young people under 18 among the approximately 1,300,000 people whom the German Nazis deported to Auschwitz from 1940-1945. The majority of 216,000 were Jewish children. Over 11,000 were Gypsy (Roma) children, and the remainder included Polish, Byelorussian, Ukrainian, and Russian children. Only slightly more than 20,000 children and young people, including 11,000 Gypsies, were entered in the camp records. 650 of them lived to see freedom when Auschwitz was liberated.


The Little Shoes of Auschwitz

Conservation work involved in the cleaning of several thousand children’s shoes found after the Red Army liberated Auschwitz Concentration Camp in January 1945 will go on through most of August. The shoes are being cleaned by a group of six graduates of the specialized “Landmarks Renovator” program at the vocational school in Oświęcim, under the supervision of experts from the Museum Preservation Department.

These young people first came to the Museum when they were students, to help clean adults’ shoes. Many of them broke off working and wept when they came across children’s shoes. Now, as then, and despite their experience at such work, the task is not an easy one. First, soft brushes are used for the preliminary removal of dust. Next, they are mechanically vacuumed, washed, and lightly oiled with a mixture of white spirit, oil, and alcohol. The purpose of this is to make the leather more pliable and to reduce its propensity to absorb moisture from the air.

During the present work, one of the shoes was found to contain a small Nivea cream tin and a fragment of a letter in Polish. During the previous cleaning of the shoes, preservationists found fragments of French, Polish, and German newspapers used as lining or padding, letters with addresses, and two Hungarian banknotes from the World War II era –


Photography Tips:

The first rule of thumb when photographing any historical place such as Auschwitz is ‘respect’. Respect the rules and regulations the governing body has set, be respectful of other people, the atmosphere and what happened here. Do not take too much equipment, Auschwitz consists of lots of walking, stairs and rugged pave ways etc. You are also required to pass all of your equipment through security, so think ahead. I personally only took Camera, one lens, bag and cleaning kit. I did not take a flash as I couldn’t see the point, there are many locations where flash is not allowed. Also the other tourists do not want to be blinded by bright flashing lights whilst visiting a place like this. Flash is no good when shooting the shoes, due to the reflections in the glass. Shoot in RAW format is possible, after-all this place is raw. Ideally you should aim to capture the detail and personality of this place.

Auschwitz & Birkenau

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