An unnamed poet once said that the death of a child is the loss of infinite possibility. During the Holocaust, approximately one and a half million Jewish children under the age of fifteen were murdered by the Nazis and their collaborators. If the death of just one child reflects the loss of infinite possibilities, it is completely beyond human comprehension to consider the loss humanity suffered with the death of so many Jewish infants, toddlers, youths and teenagers. Unlimited potential was snuffed out with little more thought than when someone snuffs out a candle.
The loss of what might have come to this world from the children murdered during the Holocaust can be epitomized by a pair of small baby shoes held in the Yad Vashem collection. The tiny shoes powerfully illustrate the loss of innocence and humanity that occurred during the Holocaust. One can only guess at the great things the child who once wore those shoes might have brought to this world.
The shoes belonged to little Hinda Cohen, born January 18, 1942 to Jewish parents, Tzipporah and Dov Cohen. She was born while her parents were incarcerated in the Kovno Ghetto in Lithuania. Despite the hardships of laboring to build an airstrip out of frozen ground or in sweltering heat for the Nazis near the ghetto, they returned to the ghetto each night and saw their little Hinda. Clearly, she was loved: her mother, despite deprivations and shortages forced upon the residents of the ghetto, managed to create a pair of little blue gloves for Hinda to wear in the wintertime.
With a cruelness that was a consistent part of the Nazi occupation, on March 27, 1944, the Germans sent trucks into the ghetto while the parents were at work. Only a few adults and elderly were there to watch over the children. During this Children’s Aktion, approximately 2,000 of the ghetto’s children and elderly, including little Hinda, were loaded onto the trucks for deportation to Auschwitz, approximately 500 miles away. Here was a little two-year-old girl, sick with chicken pox, snatched from her bed and piled into a train full of other deportees. If Hinda somehow managed to survive the train ride, she would have been immediately murdered upon reaching Auschwitz, since she was a child, and what the Nazis considered a “useless eater.”
When the Cohens arrived home that night, they found the shoes still tucked under her bed, left behind as she was swooped up, barefoot, into the arms of evil. One can only imagine the terror of finding only scraps of material possessions where just that morning a beautiful little girl had been. Looking at those tiny shoes, we have to wonder how the parents were able to continue. How does a grieving parent continue to remember to breathe, when such an important part of their very being is no longer there? It is a parent’s responsibility to protect their children. Yet the Nazis made it impossible for parents to protect their young.
One has to wonder how many nights Tzipporah fell asleep holding those shoes. Dov Cohen, in his grief, engraved the date of the deportation on the bottom of one of the shoes. Was it put there as a reminder for the parents, or was it perhaps a cry from him that if he and his wife did not survive, there would be some evidence of what had happened to their little girl – that she had existed? Both Dov and Tzipporah survived. They kept Hinda’s shoes and gloves close to them as they tried to get on with their lives, eventually moving to Israel. Tzipporah, even though she later had another daughter, could not part with Hinda’s shoes. She kept them until her death, and it was her granddaughter who donated them to Yad Vashem for their collection.
Despite the fact that Hinda only lived two years, there is no doubt that she was loved very much by her family. There may not be pictures of the little girl who was born at the wrong time and in the wrong place; but her memory lives on not only with her surviving relatives, but with anyone who sees the shoes and reads about them at the exhibit online or at Yad Vashem.
Representations of the Holocaust, March 31, 2016