A chilling monument in the former Nazi death camp Auschwitz-Birkenau is slowly eroding due to exposure to the elements and now the foundation running the memorial site is seeking to raise 500,000 euros for its preservation.
According to the Auschwitz-Birkenau Foundation, the state of a massif of 8,000 children's shoes belonging to former inmates is deteriorating and officials fear that it would cease to exist without preservation efforts.
The massive piles of worn-out shoes taken from men, women and children on the way to their deaths are one of the recognizable symbols of the horror of Auschwitz.
Many victims of the Holocaust remain unknown, and the shoes, clothes and luggage are the silent, authentic and only testament to their existence.
"The shoes are crumbling, and we don't have time to wait years. We need to preserve them now," said Auschwitz-Birkenau Foundation Director-General Wojciech Soczewica, who was on a visit to Israel.
The operation to save the shoes, he says, will last about two years.
"Only a small part of the shoes is on display nowadays, and most of them are in storage. After we save them all, they will be presented to the public in a new exhibition. Every victim is a tragedy, but more so are the children. These shoes are material evidence of the crimes committed against them."
Soczewica says once the foundation launched its crowdfunding campaign, it received a 50,000 euro donation from a German shoe manufacturer.
"This is the first time in history the foundation received a donation from a private company from Germany," he reveals. "It has a historical connection and we are happy that a German company agreed to do this. Our challenge now is to raise another 400,000 euros."
He voiced his concern that the decay of the shoes would erase the last material evidence of many of those who perished at the camp.
"Although the shoes are stored in good conditions, it only slows down their decay, not stop it. That is our mission," Soczewica says.
"This is what the survivors tell us. We're not here to make things look pretty, we want them to look like they did in 1945, so we can't use chemicals to clean them.
Little by little, they are disappearing, and our mission is to slow down this process so that future generations can experience the horrors seen in these displays. In most cases, each object is the last material evidence of a prisoner in Auschwitz, who has no name or trace."