Categories: HistoryHolocaustmuseum object

As Shirley writes:

Let me begin with a rather industrial item from the collection of Down County Museum. It is a shoe-making machine, donated to the Museum in 2016.

This photo shows the Chair of Down District Council, Gillian Fitzpatrick, Madeleine McAllister, Assistant Keeper of Collections and me, officially accepting the donation. Had it only been a shoe-making machine, the Museum may not have added it to its collection. However, it was added because of where it came from- its provenance in museum terms!  I remember being excited by its arrival as I had learned much about the place it came from and met some of the people who lived there. I felt I was literally touching an important piece of our past.

What makes this shoe machine special are the people who have used it, as it originally came from a Jewish refugee farm near Millisle, Co Down.

In spring 1939, a seventy-acre farm at Ballyrolly, outside Millisle, was leased by members of the Belfast Jewish community. Children, teenagers and adults previously living in a crowded hostel in North Belfast were moved there.

As the community tried to settle into their new lives and make a living, shoe production became one of their enterprises and was even mentioned in a local newspaper article.

Most of the refugees who were children had come to Britain on Kindertransports. Crossing Europe by rail the Kindertransports helped 10,000 unaccompanied children evacuate to Britain after November 1938 as their families attempted to flee Hitler’s advancing armies. One of the children who lived for a time on the farm was Walter Kammerling.

Walter, as a teenager, had arrived in Harwich, England on a Kindertransport on 12th December 1938. In the spring of 1939, he was brought to the farm in Millisle. He recalls this time being difficult for himself and his peers as being reunited with their families was their main concern. Although they were well looked after the absence of their parents and possibly siblings as well was difficult to bear and affected their daily lives.

Walter went back to visit the Millisle farm in 2016 and shared many memories of his time there. He remembered Moshe, the cobbler, who worked in one of the buildings at the top of the long lane leading to the farm. Unfortunately, we do not know what happened to Moshe after the war.

Walter settled in England and married his wife Herta who was a fellow Kindertransportee. They went on to have two sons. He dedicated his later life to speaking about his experience to educate others and work against the effects of prejudice, racism and injustice of every type.

You can read more about Walter’s life at

At first glance the shoe machine in Down County Museum may seem unremarkable but it provides a tangible link to this important piece of our local past. It makes me think about an image I’m sure many would recognise which I saw in person at Auschwitz a few years ago. Piles of shoes, taken from prisoners before their lives were taken in the gas chambers. No-one should forget that each pair marks a life that was taken. It’s strange to think of the little farm in County Down where a Jewish refugee industriously produced similar pairs for local people.

It mirrors the moving memorial to victims of the Holocaust in Budapest erected on 16th April 2005. Made of sixty iron pairs of shoes it’s called ‘The Shoes on the Danube Bank’. Conceived by the film director Can Togay along with sculptor Gyula Pauer, it honours the Jewish people who were murdered on the banks of the Danube river during the Second World War. As with the victims at Auschwitz, their shoes were considered valuable as they could be resold. After their shoes had been removed, they were shot, and their bodies were left to fall into the river to be carried away. The memorial serves as a reminder of the people who once walked in the shoes left on the banks.  

Walking a mile in someone’s else’s shoes reminds us to practice empathy and kindness to others. When you put on your shoes today, will you join me in reflecting on those who have been and still are being impacted by racism, oppression, and injustice this Holocaust Memorial Day?  Will you take action to combat injustice in whatever way you can? 

I will leave you with this poem by Moshe Szulsztein:

We are the shoes, we are the last witnesses.

We are shoes from grandchildren and grandfathers

From Prague, Paris and Amsterdam,

And because we are only made of fabric and leather

And not of blood and flesh,

Each one of us avoided the hellfire.

Shirley Lennon, Northern Ireland Support Worker, Holocaust Memorial Day Trust

‘As communities across Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK come together to remember those who were murdered, and to honour those who survived, we do so not only to commemorate but also to commit collectively to standing together against bigotry, hatred and racism.

We can individually and collectively choose to stand up and take action where we see freedoms being eroded or communities and individuals being subjected to bigotry, hatred or racism. We can choose to show empathy, we can choose to bring our communities together, and in doing so provide a fitting tribute to all those we remember this Holocaust Memorial Day.’

Olivia Marks-Woldman OBE Chief Executive, Holocaust Memorial Day Trust 

To contact HMDT, please email or call 020 7785 7029.