Of all the iconic images of the devastation of the Holocaust, the heaps of shoes taken from concentration camp victims may be the most powerful. The shoes are here, but the Jews who wore them are not. Their journeys in this world were cut tragically short; their feet had taken them on one last trip to their deaths al kiddush Hashem.
But not every shoe symbolizes the end of the road. For some, it was just the beginning. The Ettlinger family lived in Frankfurt, Germany, during the rise of the Nazi Party. As early as 1933, the Ettlingers saw the imminent danger of remaining in Germany, and they fled to the Netherlands. Their quest for freedom was not over, however, and they attempted to obtain visas to immigrate to the United States.
In 1937, they were granted the long-awaited papers and the Ettlinger family set sail for the US, where they settled in Kansas City, Missouri. Their child, Hans Dovid, was just a year and a half old when he and his family embarked on this voyage to begin anew in a foreign land. His small shoe, pictured on the opposite page, represents the first step forward made by Jewish survivors in their quest to live and rebuild.
Amud Aish’s new exhibition “Hidden Children of the Holocaust” focuses on the plight of children during the Holocaust. The Nazis and their collaborators murdered 1.1 million Jewish children. The survival rate for Jewish adults was one out of three people, but among children only six out of 100 survived. Those who survived lived in ghettos, were imprisoned in concentration camps, or were hiding in gentile homes or institutions.
Many examples of resilience and expressions of faith emerge. The exhibit and its related workshops examine those actions and impart a deeper understanding of the resiliency of Jewish children during the war. Viewers witness Simcha Felsenburg sending precious food parcels to his parents in the Noé concentration camp. They follow Tuky Gestetner’s separation from her parents and her charge, at eight years old, to care for her younger brother when they had to pose as non-Jews. One imagines Moshe Shulewitz on a Kindertransport from Fürth, Germany, clutching the navy blue tallis bag his father made for him—a precious link to the family he left behind, as well as to his mesorah. We are similarly moved at the thought of Moshe Lonner, on a ship headed to America without his family, grasping the small Tehillim his parents had bequeathed to him with the inscription “Hashem will watch over you.”
All of these children shared a common value; they had little knowledge of what the future would bring, but they were committed to preserving their way of life—the life that Hitler, ym”s, was determined to extinguish. With limited resources but unlimited spirit, they forged ahead one step at a time, blazing a path for generations to come.