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. 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. There must be many ways to retain these experiences as historical working knowledge. Human rights, equitable treatment, and 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 ensue. Zyklon B showers began with cruel deceptions— with slogans in several languages – “Clean is Good,” Lice can kill,” and “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 so crucial 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 Nazis wanted to recycle the leather? Whatever the reason, this one of untold numbers of humiliations enacted by Nazis facilitated physical proof of some of their crimes. With knowledge comes responsibility and action.

Exhibition: [Re]Telling, Curated by Robyn Awend, Director of Visual Arts, sponsored by Center for Holocaust & Genocide Studies, University of Minnesota, & Yad Vashem
Tychman Shapiro Gallery
4330 S. Cedar Lake Road
Minneapolis, MN 55416