Visitors frequently report that the sight and smell of the 4,000 shoes is the most searing memory from their time in the Permanent Exhibition. Shoes were just one category of belongings the Nazis systematically confiscated from their victims at the killing centers of Bełżec, Sobibór, Treblinka, Chełmno, Majdanek, and Auschwitz-Birkenau. Vast quantities of clothing, eyeglasses, kitchen utensils, hair- and toothbrushes—every kind of personal item—were seized and shipped to Germany or distributed to the local populations. Leather goods, including shoes, were to be repaired by concentration camp prisoners or broken down to be recycled for other purposes.
When Soviet troops liberated the Auschwitz-Birkenau and Majdanek camps, they discovered huge mounds of shoes, hundreds of thousands of pairs, but very few living prisoners. At the sight of these inanimate witnesses, veteran CBS News correspondent Edward R. Murrow commented, “One shoe, two shoes, a dozen shoes, yes. But how can you describe several thousand shoes?”
The 4,000 shoes displayed in the Permanent Exhibition are on loan from the State Museum of Majdanek in Lublin, Poland, and represent a tiny fraction of those found at Majdanek in 1944.
Location: Middle Floor
Learn more about the themes covered on this floor of the exhibition