yad vashem

5 September 2015

Every day I see thousands of people. They look down at me as I sit among my brothers and sisters. Their faces are sombre and some have tears in their eyes. I don’t understand because I am just a shoe. I am black and plain and now I am old. I used to belong to a young girl named Lily, the knowledge of which often draws more tears from my spectators. There is one person who sees me. She is a young woman with tears in her eyes, but she has something else too – a kind of wonder and an understanding that this is more than just a pit of black leather. She sees me hidden in the crowd of other shoes who had other owners who were now beneath soot and grass instead of strong sturdy glass. Just like Lily must be.

I remember when I first met Lily. It was 1938 and I had just been delivered to a local store in a small town in Poland. I had been sitting there for weeks and weeks, having people shove their feet inside of me before twirling around and eventually deciding that I wasn’t the one for them. That is, until Lily came in. She browsed the shoes carefully, lightly touching each one and inspecting it with the shrewd eye of a ten year old. Finally, she came to me and I saw her eyes light up. A smile came to her lips and she turned to her mama. Mama, ikh viln di shikhlekh! I didn’t know what she had said, but I quickly found out – in seconds, she had pulled me off of the shelf and placed her feet inside of my comforting soles. It was a perfect fit.

I was new then, my leather was fresh and shiny. Now it is torn and weathered. My laces are missing and the soles have peeled up from the base of me. I am a quick aside under a thick bolt of glass in a sad place where people cry and wonder every time they see me.

Perhaps this makes it all much worse, I do not know, but Lily never cried. All she did was run and laugh. Even when the soldiers came in and put us in a flat with twenty other people, Lily would click her heels together and smile and run around outside. Even when the guards came in and put us on a train, Lily would whisper to me all the good things we were about to discover in some strange, beautiful new place. The car did pull up to a strange beautiful place, but it was not good things we were to discover.

Almost immediately, we were parted and I was thrown into a vat of threadbare black shoes, much like the place where I sit now. I was sorted and transferred and worn and eventually collected once more to be made a record of. And now I see thousands of people every day. Some simply stare, some hold back tears and most let their tears fall freely. I am black and plain but I have a story. It is overwhelmingly sad and it brings me pain every time I think about it for too long. But there is something more to my story besides the explicit pain and loss.

There are all of those times when Lily laughed and whispered and ran and wandered. Amidst the deep vat of black hatred, there was a little girl who did not know that she could die. And thus she did not act like a child about to die. She continued laughing and whispering and reading and running and singing and wandering.

Some say that ignorance is bliss and some say that that is a stupid thing to say. I cannot know because I am just a shoe.

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