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Shoes bear witness to Nazi horrors

Museum a powerful reminder: Never again

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WASHINGTON, D.C. -- There are pictures, videos and reams of information and items on display at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C., yet somehow nothing seems more powerful than a room full of dusty, abandoned shoes.

There are thousands of pairs -- some had heels, some were sandals -- but all covered the feet of Jewish men, women and children before they were sent to the Nazi gas chambers. A visitor gets chills thinking of so many people obeying the command to remove their footwear, likely not knowing what was about to happen to them.

One of the signature attractions in D.C., the Holocaust Museum has three storeys of gut-wrenching exhibits, pictures, video and actual items taken from the Nazi concentration camps.

Not far from the shoes is a train car used to transport Jews from ghettos to the camps. It's difficult to fathom the conditions -- 100 people crammed in for a journey that could take several days without seats, air flow or washrooms.

"We want people to take these lessons and make sure that nothing like this ever happens again," said museum spokeswoman Kristy Buechner.

Even people who are not well versed in the events of the Holocaust will recognize certain aspects of the museum.

One display is dedicated to Anne Frank, the 15-year-old girl who became arguably the Nazis' best-known victim after her diaries were discovered and published after the war. She died of typhus in a concentration camp in 1945, just weeks before it was liberated.

There is also a large display highlighting the survivors and the many hundreds of heroes across Europe who risked their own lives to shelter Jews from Hitler's henchmen. One of them is Oskar Schindler, the German industrialist, spy and member of the Nazi party, who was credited with saving the lives of 1,200 Jews. He was the central figure in the 1993 Steven Spielberg film, Schindler's List.

Then there's the Tower of Faces, which features several storeys of pictures of the residents of a small town in Lithuania, photos taken by the aunt and uncle of one of the survivors.

"It's really striking. You see all these Jewish folks living very ordinary lives... They were very happy, living family-oriented lives that were completely wiped out," Buechner said.

The Holocaust Museum and the Canadian Museum for Human Rights were designed by Ralph Appelbaum & Associates, the largest exhibit-design firm in the world. One of the featured galleries at the CMHR, which is scheduled to open in less than four months, will be about the Holocaust.

Corey Timpson, director of exhibitions and digital media at the CMHR, said while some of the subject matter is the same, the approach of the two museums will be decidedly different.

"We encourage our visitors to engage in a dialogue. The Holocaust Museum is about reflecting on this event that took place. Conceptually, ours is in a very different place in how it addresses the audience and the intent of the exhibition," he said.

Museum spokeswoman Angela Cassie said: "It's a broader range of experiences. It's resilience, perseverance and people who have taken action. We hope our visitors leave inspired and are empowered," she said.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 30, 2014 A4


Updated on Friday, May 30, 2014 at 6:59 AM CDT: Replaces photo

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