Updated: Apr 19, 2020
My late father was a veteran of the Second World War in Europe. He was quartermaster of Company B of the 242nd Infantry Regiment, 42nd Division, US Army – the famed Rainbow Division. As a prisoner of the Germans, he survived the American defeat at Hatten in Alsace-Lorraine in January 1945. He was reported Missing-In-Action and presumed dead.
Marched over snow covered roads, hungry and cold and fearing for his life, through POW camps, then under personal guard through Bavaria, including Dachau, he was liberated somewhere in the Austrian Alps by an American tank battalion in May 1945.
I wish I’d queried my father more about his wartime service, but one comment of his sticks in my mind even today. I recently came across historical photos on Pinterest depicting the many thousands of adult shoes stockpiled at the Dachau concentration camp. There is another photo of an equal number of children’s shoes stockpiled at Auschwitz. One assumes that each of the Third Reich’s killing centres had a similar repository of footwear, a consequence of the millions of innocent human beings processed into matter in these places.
My father’s complaint was that the Germans confiscated his sturdy GI boots and instead gave him a worn-out pair of civilian dress shoes, causing a great deal of discomfort during his months in captivity, given that winter in Germany isn’t the best time of year to go around poorly shod. These shoes came from the murdered at Dachau. If the shoes could talk, I imagine them recounting a tale even more compelling than my father's. In the end, he walked hundreds of miles in a dead man's shoes.
Did he ever reflect on the fate of the shoes’ previous occupant? I suppose he was glad to have any footwear at all. When the Rainbow Division, along with the 45th Division, later liberated the concentration camp at Dachau, many of the inmates there were shoeless. Despite a deluge of medical supplies, food and other essential materials shipped into the place after liberation, it’s victims continued to die in droves due to their previous maltreatment.
Having discovered the pictures on Pinterest, I often think of my father whenever I change from my comfortable slippers into my stylish street shoes. My son has 42 pairs of the most fashionable footwear and my wife has even more.
It’s all relative, right?
For a fictional account of Dachau, check out my novel A TYRANNY OF GOD at https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/730571 and other ebook retailers (Amazon, Apple, Barnes & Noble, etc.).
Download sample chapters from all my novels and short stories from my website at www.francescorizzuto.com.