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The Guardian / Manfred Goldberg

Jakiś czas temu informowałem o ważnym artykule w The Guardian, dotyczącym dziesiątek tysięcy butów gnijących w lesie przy muzeum obozu koncentracyjnego Stutthof. Kate Connolly napisała reportaż o tej skandalicznej sytuacji. Razem z Kate, już po publikacji tekstu, porozmawialiśmy na Zoomie z Manfredem Goldbergiem, człowiekiem, który był więźniem tego obozu i który widział góry butów na własne oczy.

Zapraszam do lektury nowego tekstu Kate, który ukazał się w dzisiejszym Guardianie i który prezentuje ten ważny głos naocznego świadka apelującego o to, aby wszystkie buty były pozbierane i ponownie wyeksponowane. Manfred mówi, że: “It is inhuman. It displays complete indifference and disrespect. Just to throw them into a forest and allow nature to do its work. […] If these shoes were recovered and treated to make them presentable again, to perhaps replace them exactly where they were found in Stutthof camp itself, it would be an astounding image for people to behold. And I think it might give it some additional international importance and impact.”

P.S. Proszę wybaczyć to wyznanie, ale mój dziadek, Józef Kwiatkowski, który był więźniem tego obozu, nie żyje już od lat, i rozmowa z Manfredem, jednym z ostatnich ocalałych, była dla mnie namiastką rozmowy z nieżyjącym już członkiem rodziny.

‘Every piece of evidence is vital’: Holocaust survivor calls for victims’ shoes to be salvaged. Manfred Goldberg, 94, urges authorities to preserve fragments of thousands of shoes left to rot at Stutthof concentration camp site.

One of the last remaining survivors of the Stutthof Nazi concentration camp has appealed to authorities to salvage fragments of tens of thousands of shoes belonging to murdered Holocaust victims that were recently discovered in a forest at the site.

Manfred Goldberg, who was imprisoned as a teenager at Stutthof, 24 miles (38km) east of Gdańsk, said he was “shocked and dismayed” to hear of the existence of the remnants, eight decades after the shoes’ owners were forced to remove them before being gassed and cremated.

Goldberg, 94, who was deported with other Jews including his mother, Rosa, and brother, Hermann, from their native city of Kassel in Germany, said he remembered seeing “mountains” of shoes at the camp.

“I remember the shoes. I also remember being told that when Jews had been selected to be gassed, as they walked to the gas chamber, they had to throw their shoes on to a heap,” he said.

In 2017, Goldberg returned to the camp for the first time, near what is now the village of Sztutowo on Poland’s Baltic coast, to accompany the then Duke and Duchess of Cambridge on a visit to the Stutthof museum. He was confronted with the sight of thousands of shoes that had been collected in a glass cabinet.

But he was horrified to learn last month that only a fraction of the prisoners’ shoes had been collected in the museum, the rest having been left in the forest where the Stutthof camp once stood. He said the failure to systematically unearth and curate them was “truly shocking and disrespectful”.

“It is inhuman. It displays complete indifference and disrespect. Just to throw them into a forest and allow nature to do its work,” Goldberg said in a Zoom interview from his home in London, the city where he found refuge aged 16 after the war.

Goldberg urged the Polish authorities to uncover the shoes and recommended reconstructing the mountain he recalled seeing as a teenage prisoner.

“If these shoes were recovered and treated to make them presentable again, to perhaps replace them exactly where they were found in Stutthof camp itself, [it] would be an astounding image for people to behold,” he said. “And I think it might give it some additional international importance and impact.”

Stutthof, built by the Nazi regime to persecute Polish political prisoners, later expanding to become an extermination camp primarily for Jews, served as a leather repair collection point for all of Nazi Germany’s concentration camps, most notably Auschwitz.

Goldberg, who has been sharing his harrowing testimony at schools and universities since 2004, uses a striking photograph in his PowerPoint presentation of a soaring mound of shoes taken by a soldier of the Red Army after it liberated the camp in June 1945.

“I include it to help people assimilate or understand the magnitude of the calamity we are speaking about,” he said. “It is otherwise hard to get a mental grip on what astronomical figures – the 6 million murdered in the Holocaust – that actually represents.

“So I ask people to look at this amount of shoes and just take on board that each pair … represents one human being who probably, minutes after having their shoes thrown on to this heap, lost their lives in a gas chamber.”

Goldberg said that just as survivors like himself were “among the last witnesses” of the Holocaust, so too were the shoes. In a time of rising antisemitism and Holocaust denial, he said, “every piece of evidence is vital”.

“We see where the disappearance of this evidence contributes to people being able to say these things did not happen,” he said.

Responses to the discovery of the Stutthof shoes, after a campaign spearheaded by a Gdańsk poet, musician and campaigner, Grzegorz Kwiatkowski, have come from across the Jewish community.

Poland’s chief rabbi, Michael Schudrich, has led calls for the convening of an international committee of experts to assist Stutthof curators in “dealing with the material legacy of the Nazis’ crimes”.

“It personalises the Holocaust, it’s what you remember. And if preserving the death camps is in large measure to ensure that people do not forget, those shoes help you not to forget,” he told Haaretz.

Michael Newman, the chief executive of the UK’s Association of Jewish Refugees, called the Stutthof shoes “poignant symbols of lost human lives”.

He said: “They personify individual suffering while at the same time throwing light on one of the darkest moments in living memory. At this time of increased antisemitism, in this country and globally, it is imperative that we teach the lessons and warnings of the Holocaust. Unearthing the full extent of the shoes is an inescapable reminder of the enormity of the Holocaust and honours the lives that were lost.”

Piotr Rypson, the newly appointed director of the Polish ministry of culture and national heritage, has announced nearly 300,000 złoty (£60,000) in funding towards “additional archaeological explorations” in the forest.

He said the ministry would also offer support for extra research into the extent to which the shoes were part of the economic aspect of the Nazis’ killing machine.

When contacted by the Guardian, the museum‘s spokesperson Łukasz Kępski said: “We would be happy to speak in person to Mr Goldberg as well as Chief Rabbi Michael Schudrich, to hear their insights, their suggestions.”

He said the museum was waiting for funds to arrive from the culture ministry. Noticeboards informing visitors what to do if they came across shoe fragments had recently been erected in the forest, he said.

For Goldberg, it is a matter of recognising the shoes for the precious objects they are before it is too late. “It just cannot be considered acceptable or honourable to leave them in the mud of the forest,” he said.

Kate Connolly, The Guardian

Józef Kwiatkowski: