The first time I subbed for Alan “Woody” Morawiec at Trickum Middle, I was taken by his myriad collections, Mr. Potato Heads, SpongeBobs, Sheriff Woody dolls, you name it and how they helped him connect with his students. But the collection that really caught my eye, and several times my toes, was the huge pile of shoes spread out on the floor.
Morawiec explained, “My father was from the town of Kobryn, Poland. Out of Kobryn’s 14,000 residents, about 7,000 were Jews. After the Holocaust, only two Jews survived. My father, Chaim Morawiec, was one of them.”
“In the year 2000, I wanted to teach my students and community about the Holocaust and other genocides. What came to mind was shoes. When the allied troops liberated the concentration camps after WWII, they found thousands of shoes in heaping piles. The shoes had belonged to those who had lost their lives under the Nazi regime.”
Some of those shoes very likely belonged to members of Chaim’s family.
Inspired by Anne Frank’s words, “How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world,” Morawiec started his Holocaust Shoe Project to “Tie the World Together, One Pair of Shoes at a Time.”
“It provides a lesson to turn human cruelty into redemptive acts of loving kindness,” he said.
So far he’s collected over 38,000 pairs of shoes and has tied in with the needy in Mexico, Iraq, Belarus, Haiti and Africa. Last year shoes went to the Lilburn Co-op and the Atlanta Mission.
And Morawiec continues to tie together his local community. After a presentation at The Village at Deaton Creek in Hoschton, residents donated 309 pairs of shoes.
“There was a woman there that told me her grandparents were also from my father’s town of Kobryn, which is now in Belarus,” he said. “A woman came up to me crying and hugged me, thanking me for what I’m doing, that her family was killed in the Holocaust as well. Many connections were made and will be made from Deaton Village.”
One connection was with Beth Murphy, a resident’s daughter who teaches World History at Flowery Branch High School.
“We were starting our WWII unit and my student teacher, Rebecca Taras contacted Mr. Morawiec. It was great opportunity to have the students hear Mr. Morawiec’s father’s story. It put a face and a name to history. The students were intrigued with the story and asked many questions afterward. They collected 185 pairs of shoes for the project.”
Gabrielle Malcom, a 10th-grader, said, “It was good that he took something so tragic from so long ago and made it relevant to students today.”
I wrote this column to tie in with Holocaust Remembrance Day, which is today. Morawiec spends every day of his life connecting with and tying together as many people as he can. If you would like to connect, visit www.holocaustshoeproject.org.
Susan Larson is a writer from Lilburn. Email her at email@example.com.