One Shoe Off

What’s special about these shoes is that they have tiny Darth Vaders and Storm Troopers checkered all over them. Even to a non-Star Wars fan, that’s pretty cool. Other than that, they’re unremarkable.

Comfortable. Versatile. Durable. Functional. Although only a few months old, they are scuffed and well-worn. Their white soles already marked from climbing trees and exploring parks, playgrounds and backyards. They are I’m-a-big-kid-now shoes, full of adventure, potential, growth, and a future of life and possibility. We know they won’t fit him forever, but for now, they’re perfect.

IMG_2230

The problem with these shoes is that one is lost. An active afternoon of earnest play and fun brought him home with one shoe on, and one shoe most definitely off. Gone. Tossed over the hedge. Hidden in the neighbor’s brush. Unable to be found and never to be seen again. Not even with a ladder.

The problem with shoes, all shoes, is that they’re absolutely useless when one is missing. There’s not much you can do with one shoe. Actually, there’s nothing you can do with one shoe. Shoes operate together. In a pair. Two shoes are a run on a hot beach or a walk on a snow-covered road. They’re a party, a movie or a game of tennis. They’re a small boy climbing in a tree with his friends because that’s what small boys do, or a quiet stroll with the one you love on a warm, gentle evening.

They watch us, our shoes. They bear witness to our journeys and adventures, our struggles and our joy, our fear, our pain, our elation and our weariness. They are quiet and present, completely inanimate. But if they could talk with their long, wagging tongues or the short ones that never seem to come out all the way, they would have much to share about our lives and experiences in this world.

Only if there are two.

Two shoes are how it works. One shoe is futile.

***

Last week I met someone new in my life: Dr. Andy. Dr. Andy is a wonderful doctor, kind and caring, attentive and empathic. With entertaining and honest personal stories that he loves to share. Partly, I imagine, to put his patients at ease, and also because he enjoys the opportunity to make them laugh, cry, gasp in horror or frown in concern. To hear them say, “Are you serious?” or “I’m so happy for you!” or “Oh no, I’m sorry.” He tells his stories because he wants the people he is with at that moment to share in his experiences. To offer them a way to relate to him, and probably a way for him to relate back. As is the human condition. We relate to each other. It’s how we work.

I hope I don’t have to see Dr. Andy too often, but I loved our few minutes together. He confirmed I did not have pneumonia, and told me he had been feeling similar: congested, feverish, with a nasty cough and difficulty breathing. But before he did that he told me about his father, a Holocaust survivor, whose 90-something-year-old mind and body are frail and almost incompetent.

In lucid moments the old father shares memories and stories with Dr. Andy and tells his son how proud he is of him. Andy showed me a photo of his father’s number from Auschwitz, tattooed forever into his arm. It is blurred with age and time, and the green ink screams in stark contrast to his wrinkled, harmless skin.

I don’t have a known relative who survived the Holocaust. But by the time Dr. Andy finished telling me about his beautiful father, we both had tears in our eyes. The horrific death of six million Jews and the widespread hatred, panic and desolation of the Holocaust is a close and personal experience for many. And it is also a collective experience. One we experience as Jews, as people, as humans all over the world. Never forget.

At the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington D.C. there is a permanent exhibition I have visited with my son: shoes. An enormous gray pile of 4,000 tattered shoes.

The Nazis confiscated the shoes of Holocaust victims in the killing centers of Belzec, Sobibor, Treblinka, Chelmno, Majdanek and Auschwitz-Birkenau. When Majdanek and Auschwitz-Birkenau were liberated, the troops found hundreds of thousands of pairs of shoes. And very few living prisoners.

You have never seen anything like this sea of shoes.

source: ushmm.org

source: ushmm.org

Above the awful, heart-searing collection is an excerpt from the poem “I Saw a Mountain” by Holocaust survivor and Yiddish poet Moses Schulstein z”l:

We are the shoes, we are the last witnesses.

We are shoes from grandchildren and grandfathers.

From Prague, Paris, and Amsterdam,

And because we are only made of fabric and leather

And not of blood and flesh, each one of us avoided the hellfire.

My boy’s lonely shoe will never more run down the street with his brothers nor look for snails with his friends. Not again will it witness the free, growing life of hope and possibility. It’s useless on its own.

But I’m going to hang onto it.

Never forget.

This is a Finish the Sentence Friday post, inspired by the prompt, “When it comes to the end of the world…” Hosted by Kristi from Finding Ninee, and co-hosted by me and by Jena (this week’s sentence thinker-upper) of JenaSchwartz.com. 

27 thoughts on “One Shoe Off

  1. Oh, Nicki. This is beautiful and so not what I expected when I saw the lone shoe up top. I thought to myself “Huh. How come she’s not photographed two?” And then I read on. I’ve not seen the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington D.C. however I have been to Hiroshima. Such sadness. Such waste. Never forget. Indeed.
    And yes, hang on to that shoe. I’m doing the same with one of my son’s. He came home from a work sleepover last summer with just the one. He went to it with two. Sometime during the night one of his swimmers crept up to his tent and took one shoe. It has yet to be found.

    Never forget. Indeed.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you Kelly. So much hatred and sadness in the world. And it only seems to get worse, not better. This shoe is a reminder of that, and also that we have to hang on to hope too!

      I wonder what it is about shoes… I do believe they have minds of their own and much to share if those tongues could talk.

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  2. Oh Nicki. How do you weave your words into me every single time? Your son’s lost shoe and the Holocaust tie in is incredible. I went to the exhibit in DC with my step mother, who is Jewish. We stayed for six hours and I was flattened and horrified and embarrassed to be possibly part-German (adopted so unknown but am the blue eyed blonde haired whatever nordic girl that I am with unknown but pretty-good-guessed-at-descent).
    The shoes were what I talked about after seeing that exhibit. The shoes and the hair. Oh that people were ever that way. Oh that they are now. Oh that we cannot stop them. But also oh, that we can enlighten and brighten and bring today’s little boy, climbing a tree, with only one shoe, to perspective. I don’t even know if that made sense but damn. I love you.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I read this out loud to Mani and Aviva. By the time I reached the poem, my voice broke and the tears I’ve been sitting on all day finally came. Thank you, Nicki. As if co-hosting with you wasn’t enough, the fact that our posts seemed to speak to each other wit hour our knowing it tonight, and the way you weave the one shoe story into the huneeds of thousands of shoes–all of this moved me so deeply.

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  4. A beautiful tribute to a time that definitely feels like it was the end of the world. What I love most is the shining hope that is shoeless Jed, with his little boyness and whole life ahead of him. He, and all of our children, are the first day. xo

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you Lisa, and yes yes yes, they are! He got new shoes, with flames in turquoise and red. He was determined to have THOSE this time around. Bright, unstoppable energy. ❤

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  5. It’s kind of funny because I’m not a girly movie type of girl. The Titanic. The Notebook. Beaches. Not a tear. I tell people, “You know what movie makes me cry every time I watch it? Delta Force.” Yep. The one with Chuck Norris. But what does it is that scene where they make the German flight attendant call all the Jewish names to the front of the plane, and the first name she calls was the old man who when he held up his passport earlier in the movie, you could see a tattoo from the concentration camps. “The green ink screams in stark contrast to his wrinkled, harmless skin,” exactly describes it.

    And speaking of shoes, my daughter was wearing shoes in the car. She took them off in the car. When she went to put them back on, one was missing. We looked and looked, and i had her come in the house barefoot. Three weeks later, I find the other shoe in the house while cleaning. The one was still in the car. I have no idea how that happened.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I have not seen Delta Force, Michelle! Have to watch it now. Those numbers tattooed into the victims’ arms is surely horrific to see, to fully realize the meaning and harm.

      I don’t know what happens to shoes! I think they wander off on their own…

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  6. Oh, that enormous pile of shoes. I remember how the sight of them made me want to weep. I’ve been feeling a little like that all day. This was beautiful, Nicki – truly. I don’t know how to tell you how it made me feel , but it made me Feel. Never forget.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you Dana.
      I read on the Museum website that that exhibit affects people the most. Haunting, searing. That the Nazis kept shoes of canvas and leather, and not the lives of humans. Devastating.

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  7. So my Mother is a Holocaust survivor (but managed to avoid the camps). Her friends, from when she came to this country also were survivors. I remember the first time we went to the Museum in DC, I was quite concerned about one of my Mom’s best friends who had been in Treblinka and came with us to the Museum. She walked through the entire Museum, quietly but without a tear. I turned to her when we finished the Museum, and asked her if she was okay. She replied, with a deep sigh, “This is not real. I was there, and it is finished. I survived. That is enough.”

    She left me with a deep sense of awe, as I was in the presence of one who has survived a great evil and was still intact as a person.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Never forget indeed.

    The lone shoe made me recall something I’d heard at church earlier this year when we had a shoe drive for “Soles for Souls”. They DO need lone shoes. The reason being is that there are people who, for various reasons, only have one leg. So they can still use and greatly appreciate the one shoe. It doesn’t need to be a pair. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Katy, thank you for sharing this! Yes. Of course. So appreciate the reminder that not everything in a pair MUST be a pair in order to be useful. Thank you.

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  9. Wow. This is genius@! Seriously, I did not see where you were going, I love it. And I’m sorry I didn’t link up this week. It’s just been so crazy and I’ve been pulled in many direction – but wow, this made me stop. I will never forget. I haven’t been to them memorial in D.C. yet. But the next time, it will be my first stop.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you Allie. The Museum is an incredible place. I am so grateful we have places like it in our world so that we may never forget. This summer I plan to take my kids to Yad Vashem, the Holocaust museum in Israel. It will be their first time.

      I hear you about the craziness! I was grateful to be hosting this week – it forced me to sit down and write and remember.

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  10. What a beautiful piece that brought chills. It can be difficult to come up with new ways for the next generation to relate to what happened during the Holocaust, but this piece captures a way for all ages to relate to its horrors, without being too graphic. Your writing never ceases to amaze me. Thank you for lending it to this most important of subjects. Never Forget.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. I am speechless. I loved the story of the single shoe even before seeing the big picture. As you can maybe imagine this is touching to me on so many levels. I have a story about a shoe. A shoe that sealed the fate of my grandfather’s family. My grandfather, Moshe, had a sister, Esther. Together with their parents they were running to escape the Nazis when they invaded Warsaw. My grandfather, as my mom tells me, harboured great love for clothes, accessories, fine ties and the likes of them. His sister probably shared some of the same qualities and was wearing her high heel shoes as they were fleeing. Soon enough she realized she would have to go back home and change her shoes if she was to run from the Nazis. Her parents accompanied her. They told my grandfather to keep running. They will catch up to him. He lived to tell the story.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Oh Katia… I have chills. And tears. My G-d.
      I know first-hand accounts of the horrors of the Shoa are quickly evaporating, but stories like these will remain with our people forever. Ensuring that we never forget. Thank you for sharing your story here.

      Liked by 1 person

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