The Sophie knows that she can handle it. She practices Thai boxing in her free time. During the preparatory period before her trip, though, she was warned that the work at Auschwitz can bring dark moments. It’s something many other trainees have also experienced. “There is a chance I will cry when I hold the clothing of murdered children in my hands,” says Sophie. The 17-year-old has known for a long time that she wanted to spend some of her training time working at the memorial. Her strong interest is closely tied to her own family history. During the Second World War, her ancestors had to work in a German labor camp. Later, most of her family settled in Kazakhstan, while Sophie’s great-great uncle came to Canada after a period of forced labor on a German farm. “For many years the family didn’t know if their brother was alive,” says Sophie. It wasn’t until 1961 that the family was reunited. During the opening of Eastern Europe her mother and father both came to Germany, where her parents met.
“I got goosebumps when I first saw the shoes”
Day four of Sophie’s trip. A workshop at the memorial site. The 17-year-old is sitting at a table, next to her are two boxes of shoes. Sophie reaches into one of the boxes and pulls out a child’s boot. She gently taps on the sole, carefully removing fine particles and dust. Then she puts the boot in the other box, which is almost full. “I got goosebumps when I first saw the shoes,” she says. An employee of the memorial regularly picks up the boxes and brings new ones. The cleaned shoes are being preserved for display at a visitor exhibition. Mountains of shoes, glasses, brushes and suitcases are visible evidence of the extent of the crime.