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Iconic image of piles of shoes taken from murdered inmates at Auschwitz

Nearly every morning someone would shout out that their shoes had been stolen. Good shoes were a desirable commodity. Those who had bad shoes would wait for the opportunity to take a better pair from their comrades. Those whose shoes were stolen had to make do with whatever pair was left in the block. Often they were either too big or too small. There was no opportunity to exchange them during the early morning before Appell.

For ordinary inmates the clothes store was only open after the evening Appell. Our shoes were so important to us. We were especially afraid of the torture of having to work all day in shoes that did not fit. If our heels were rubbed raw or we got blisters on our feet it became impossible for us to march in step and remain at the required distance from one another. The slightest deviation from perfect order was sufficient to attract the attention of the Kapo. The smallest injury could easily become infected. Since we were on our feet from early morning till late at night and we had to rush about all the time, a small poor-healing wound could soon become a major problem. So we all knew how important it was to guard our shoes like treasure and ensure that we did not injure our feet. Sometimes it was possible to take a dying person’s shoes and later swap them for an extra ration of soup or bread.”

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