Arbeit macht frei 

Our shoes. Our shoes are better navigators than our eyes. They go where we tell them too. They collect relics without us asking. Souvenirs from the places we have been. They keep them safe, nestled between the cracks in our soles. Our shoes. Our shoes safely place the memories of where we’ve been along side streets, in our friend’s homes, in the local market. Leaving behind  dust, dirt, and gravel wherever they see fit. Our shoes. Our shoes are omniscient. They know when to take and when to let go.

I wonder if their shoes knew that they were leading the way to their deaths.

We walk through the “Arbeit Macht Frei” sign and all falls silent. The cruel letters pierce through the silence. No one speaks. There are no birds chirping. There is no noise except for the sound of  gravel crunching under our feet. A cruel reminder of what is to come.

 The guide explains that even after seventy years, the ashes still remain. They have settled along the path, inside the individual buildings,  on the bottom of shoes. 

The stairs within the buildings are emaciated. The ashes have wore them down, gutting them to their core. The concave, crescents they have become serve as a reminder of the two million feet that had once passed over them. 

How can we sit and listen to the horrors that took place among these walls and not fall to our knees? How do we feel the ashes crowding under our toes and not run out kicking and screaming? How can we look out at the sea of barbed wire wrapping around the camp and not feel our own throat closing in, imprisoned by our own timid emotion? 

The human mind is astonishing. The sheer capacity to uphold such depth within our own imagination allows us to take in all the evil present, hold it in our hands, and kiss it away without shedding a tear. 

There is a wall that holds the names, faces, births, and deaths of over two hundred prisoners. In comparison to the statistics, these are all an insignificant amount. Some share the same expressions, anger dancing across their browlines, their faces furrowed and their mouths trusted in; some sit wide-eyed, a blank expression. However, one woman in particular shares a face I have never seen before. Her hair is gone. It lays in uneven patches. Her eyes are hollow. Her cheekbones are sunken. The hope that once help them in place, that lifted her eyes into a smile is gone. She will never smile. She will never laugh, again. 

 The guide keeps leading us into different rooms. All revealing the same horrors. With each turn of a corridor, it only grows harder to walk. My feet grow heavy and I have to force myself to keep going. 

We walk into the biggest room in the building. From each corner of the wall, tan, white, and brown specks litter the insides, behind a pane of glass. For a minute, I cannot distinguish what they are. Finally, as I make my way around the room, I realize. Shoes. They are shoes. 

Years have aged them. They are flat and thin. Their soles have been gutted. The souls that once held them are long gone. All that remains are the tattered corners and edges of the old leather. 

I try to imagine the names and faces. Their families. Where their shoes brought them before they were here. I imagine the woman with the hollow eyes. What shoes she must have worn or if they are here among the other forgotten shoes. The other forgotten faces. 

I wonder if their shoes knew that they were leading the way to their deaths.


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