She’s proud of her delicate feet,

her fine ankles and shapely,

slender calves, bare below

her petticoat.


The red shoes are her favourites.

She wears them for luck,

to charm the eye of –



The journey was hell on earth.

No air, long hours

standing in darkness, jostled

by sweaty men.


But her red shoes, invisible in the

murk, gave her joy –

gave her hope. Their perky



crimson roses, smart little heels,

still clean, she hopes,

despite … But, no, she won’t

think of that.


They’re stopping now. She’s

climbing down, into

air that is fresh. Hope rewarded,

the world survives.


Trees. She sees distant trees – and,

on either side of the

railway tracks, row upon row

of chimneys, of


low buildings, like soldiers’ barracks.

Anticipation flutters.

Perhaps some gallant officer will

take a fancy to her.


She twitches the rose-sprigged fabric

of her best

summer skirt, smooths the embroidered

sleeve of her blouse.


A young woman, all lace and flowers.

She feels for

her favourite hat, tilts it

to one side,


blinks in the sun, eyes watering

after so long

without light. Dark, eyes, deep eyes.



that’s what he’d said, her fiancé,

who went before,

who never wrote. But she won’t

think about that.


Her throat tickles. It should get better,

her cough, here, in

this pure air. But with another breath

she chokes.


One clean white handkerchief still

remains, in the pocket

of her skirt. She holds it to her mouth.

Sees red spots.




No! It cannot be that! It’s just the strain.

She blames the

jolting, the close confinement. The

lack of air,


the stench of the excrement bowl. Her

dry mouth,

unwilling to drink from a bucket common

men suck from.


They’re being herded, moving. Soon she’s

close to a uniformed

man, who looks directly at her

and beckons.


She steps forward, bag straining her arm –

she packed as much

as she could carry. Perhaps he’s

taken a fancy,


this distinguished looking man?

She smiles

a beguiling smile – but his eyes

are hard.


You have a cough?


She shrugs. It’s nothing – It will pass. But she

coughs again, puts

the white square to her mouth, again. It spots,

red, with blood, again.


You are sick.


The uniformed man – a doctor – raises his arm.

Points to the right.

Rough men push and shove her.

She stumbles away,


still in her lucky shoes. A man takes her bag,

her precious bag.

Her world in a leather hold-all. Her

rose-scented soap


and talcum powder, her shawl, nightgown –

her mother’s necklace.

All she has left, they take from her.


Shower! Get clean!


With other anxious, trembling women she

strips. And now,

even her pretty summer clothes, her red

shoes are gone.


A sliver of soap in hand, she leaves a small

towel they gave her

behind, steps inside a crowded

shower block,


her naked flesh pressed against naked flesh

under shower heads.

There’s not enough room [they daren’t complain]

to soap…


When no more bodies will fit, the guards

slam the door.

Drop in the canisters. Close

the vents.


The marks of her red nails remain on

the sooty walls

where she screamed, eyes streaming,

throat burning,

crammed against the wall by

writhing, slumping,

naked bodies until she, too,



One less

of them

in the world.


I visited Auschwitz and Birkenau on January 6th, Epiphany day in the Catholic church’s calendar. Above you will find pictures showing (from the bottom):

the end of the line to Birkenau, where a uniformed doctor (Mengele, for example, who conducted his experiments in Block 10 of the Auschwitz camp) did indeed make decisions on life and death. As our guide said, “The movement of a hand, right or left, meant life or death.”

one of the remaining gas chambers, part of it a ‘changing room’ the other part the windowless death chamber with vents in the roof for dropping in the Zyklon B gas canisters

a demolished gas chamber – as the Germans realised the end was nigh for their cause they tried to hide the evidence, but failed

brick built accommodation blocks (I use that term loosely, they were dreadful inhumane places. After the war the many wooden structures were scavenged for wood for local use

chimneys of demolished blocks

a wagon such as would have been used to to transport my girl in her red shoes, and in which there was one bucket of drinking water and one bucket for use as a lavatory

luggage taken from victims as they arrived. They were told they could bring up to 50 kg of personal belongings.

the shoe that moved me to write, to bring a human  – albeit an imaginary one – to life. This and countless other shoes, including children’s sandals, were in rooms filled with human hair (from all the shaved heads and bodies, male and female) , spectacles, prosthetic limbs, shaving brushes, everyday utensils and – gas canisters.

I felt this was the least I could do. Very much, the least. What I really must do – and we all must do – is ensure nothing like this happens again. Sadly there are still inhumane atrocities happening in our world, even as I write.

When will we ever learn?

The official website:

The ceiling of the cremation chamber




This entry was posted in Thinking, or ranting, or both, Travelling, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

18 Responses to Red

  1. Christa says:

    Wow! An amazing blog about a story we are so familiar with, but how clever to write something new and powerful, and VERY moving. We visited Auschwitz-Birkenau a few years ago, never to be forgotten. It should be compulsory for everyone to visit such places at least once in a lifetime. THAT is what anti-Semitism, racism, homophobia etc lead to. Your final comment is so right.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. That was a new way to tell a story that risks becoming stale – dreadful though that is. People think , yes, we know, but a post like this puts colour once again into the black and white lines.
    We…ordinary people …do know, have learned, as we are the powerless who end up with the sticky end of life’s stick all too often.
    What appalls me is that the state of Israel – with this history in its lifeline – can treat Palestinians with such cold cruelty.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Liz Ferguson says:

    Really moving , thank you ! Can’t say I enjoyed it because of the subject matter but I thought it was excellent !

    Sent from my iPad


    Liked by 1 person

  4. jilldennison says:

    Your poem … hauntingly beautiful … took my breath … brought a tear … or two. Did we learn from what happened there, or are we on a path to repeat it again? I’m not sure. Love ‘n hugs, my friend.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you so much, Jill. I wondered if you would see it. I must apologise for being an absent friend, I will email…
      I think we need to be very, very watchful. There are bad signs on both sides of this almighty pond that separates us. Love and hugs to you too, friend.

      Liked by 1 person

      • jilldennison says:

        I was nearly in shock when I saw a post from you, for it had been so long. Yes, please do email and I promise to be more prompt in answering this time!
        I agree … things are not looking good anywhere at the moment. Two years ago, I thought you guys would be fine, but these days I’m not so sure. Hang in. Hugs ‘n love! ❤

        Liked by 1 person

  5. Thel says:

    A beautiful, minimal, delicate story. So many stories, so sad.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Jenni says:

    Excellent poetry and photos to match Mary – that girl comes alive to all who read this. Thought provoking, poignant, heart-felt and utter desolation. May it NEVER happen again.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Jenni. I would like to say I don’t think it will happen again but so many dreadful examples of our cruelty have happened in the last few years I am beginning to believe we will never learn. War – what is it good for?


  7. Rosemary Reader and Writer says:

    Your poem is amazing, full of hopes and innocence, cruelly dashed. I also loved our photos of Auschwitz in the snow. I imagine that that was what it was like, for much of the time. (When we went, in August, we had angry black clouds, thunder and lightning – also very evocative.)
    (Good to hear from you again, btw.)


  8. So very sobering to really understand on a viscerally those shoes, spectacles, prosthetic limbs, shaving brushes, everyday utensils and hair belonged to real people just like everyone else until… It should never be forgotten what atrocities other real people who were also like everyone else… until… are capable of.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, sobering indeed. We cannot ever say, it will not, I will not, we will not – we just don’t know. Hence we have to be alert and prevent such things happening. If only ‘democracy’ were a safeguard…


  9. GAIL COOPER says:

    Mary, this is a beautiful piece of poetry to evoke the horror of a time in history which we have trouble believing really happened.The photos of the belongings brought the poem to life and brought a tear to my eyes when I saw the red shoes.
    I visited Dachau many years ago and was incredulous that the people in Munich nearby said that they were unaware of what happened to he people brought into the camp a short train ride away. Time marches on but we must never forget or look the other way, otherwise we are complicit.
    Thank you for bringing this to life, we need to be reminded that evil exists in this world and that civilizations need to work harder to foster a peaceful coexistence among all people.


    Liked by 1 person

    • Gail, thank you for this , thank you for reading it. I had no idea you had been to Dachau – I guess like me you had read about the horrors, seen pictures, documentaries – but still, it is being there that really shocked me to the core. You are so right, we must keep on reminding, remembering – especially in these terrible times when there are those who deny it all. Sending love, Mxx


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