6: Photographs and paintings, shoe images from Yad Vashem, the US Holocaust Memorial Museum, and Samuel Bak.
The shoe, as object, image, and symbol, is an entry point for contemplating the relationship between communal and personal Holocaust memory. Shoes are identity markers. They describe professions, hobbies, and lives lived. As Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi writes in “Why We Need Things” from History from Things: Essays on Material Culture, “the body is not large, beautiful, and permanent enough to satisfy our sense of self. We need objects to magnify our power, enhance our beauty, and extended our memory into the future” (28). Shoes signify forward motion and progress as well as the past and memory in the footprints they leave behind. They also invite ideas of the monument and stand in for absent human life. The various photographs and paintings featured here illustrate “shoes” as holders of communal and personal memory.
Suggested Activity: Ask students to consider all or some of these images and think about what makes each powerful. They can also discuss: what is the difference between seeing an artifact like a shoe in a museum and in situ? What is different about looking at a single pair versus a pile of Holocaust victims’ shoes? In what ways do these images represent the lives of individuals and communities? In what ways do they represent death and absence?
Ask students to think about the pair of Adidas shoes in Keret’s story. What do they represent to the narrator? To the narrator’s mother? Students can attempt to draw or otherwise create an image of the Adidas shoes, and see what new meaning emerges with a visual representation.
Sources: "Hinda Cohen 1942-1944," Bearing Witness: Stories Behind the Artifacts in the Yad Vashem Museum Collection, Yad Vashem, The World Holocaust Remembrance Center, http://www.yadvashem.org/yv/en/exhibitions/bearing-witness/shoe-hinda-co....
“Auschwitz women inmates sort through a huge pile of shoes from the transport of Hungarian Jews,” United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, courtesy of Yad Vashem (Public Domain), https://collections.ushmm.org/search/catalog/pa8637.
"Shoes confiscated from prisoners at Majdanek," United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, on loan from the State Museum of Majdanek, Lublin, Poland.
Samuel Bak, Absence, Oil painting, 1997. Image Courtesy of Pucker Gallery.