Curated by Robyn Awend Director of Visual Arts,
Sponsored by Center for Holocaust & Genocide Studies, University of Minnesota
Tychman Shapiro Gallery
4330 S. Cedar Lake Road
Minneapolis, MN 55416
Exhibition information for: [Re]Telling
Title: First We Removed our Shoes
Media: Oil paint, mica powder, canvas, hollow core door.
Waves of social amnesia threaten to erase the memories of genocides including The Shoah. If that were not so, then we would not have an avowedly xenophobic American leadership. The reason for this includes, in parts, the whitewashing of history, embodied shame and fear, and the realities of what happened to be too excruciating to face. Some of our forebears tried to protect us from the horror stories by assimilation, or with silence. There must be many ways to retain these experiences as historical working knowledge to help current and future generations to be aware of what happens when we fail to continue to stand up for our liberties. Had I known as a young woman what I do now, I would have made several different choices. The current political regime reminds us that human rights, equitable treatment, natural law, though they are presumed innate, require that we actively fight for them, and when we cannot or are unable to, then such tragedies as genocide do recur, are recurring.
Zyklon B showers began by cruel deceptions— with slogans in several languages – “Clean is Good,”” Lice can kill,” “Wash Yourself, ” and the prisoners would first remove their shoes and then their clothing on the way to the showers. After their physical destruction, their murderers retained their shoes, why? The Song of Songs 7:2 reads, “How beautiful are thy feet in sandals.” Shoes were considered to be so important that Rabbi Akiva instructed his son Joshua not to go barefoot. They were signs of sensuousness, comfort, luxury and pleasure.
The Talmud (Shabbat 129a): “A person should sell the roof beams of his house to buy shoes for his feet.”
Perhaps the shoes were difficult to destroy? Or the Nazi’s wanted to recycle the leather? Whatever the reason, this one of untold numbers of humiliations enacted by Nazi’s, facilitated physical proof of some of their crimes. With knowledge comes responsibility and action.