The Story of the Monument
Our First Initiative
“She Wouldn’t Take Off Her Boots”
North Carolina’s First Women’s Holocaust Monument
“She Wouldn’t Take Off Her Boots”
In Honor of Brave Mothers EVA WEINER and SOFIA GURAlNIK
Building upon the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz and the end of the Holocaust, “She Wouldn’t Take Off Her Boots” will be North Carolina’s First Women’s Holocaust Monument. This original sculpture by artist Victoria Milstein will honor the strength and resilience of all women.
The Monument will be beautifully situated in one of Greensboro’s downtown parks, becoming a place for the community to remember the Holocaust and have the impactful opportunity to be a witness to history. The monument will honor those who perished and make a statement against the murder of women and children, antisemitism, and all genocide. It will educate new generations about how the past can inform the present and future.
This initiative can serve as a resource for North Carolina’s Holocaust Education Act, which requires the State Board of Education to include instruction of the Holocaust and genocide. Situated near cultural and educational institutions and in the heart of downtown, the monument will offer visual tools for scholars and Holocaust educators. A portion of the monument will be made from EConcrete, an Israeli based technology, that will serve to tie the monument to the land of Israel.
We are proud that the site of this monument will be in Greensboro, a city that recognizes the diversity of our community and is committed to using the Arts as a vehicle to educate and unite in the pursuit of social justice.
A Bronze Monument
Carolina Bronze Sculpture, the East coast’s premier art foundry, located close to Greensboro in Seagrove, NC, will be working with Victoria in the bronze fabrication of the maquette.
In Liepāja, Latvia, on December 15-17, 1941, Nazis apprehended 2,750 victims in Liepāja. After a selection process they brought the victims to the dunes of the fishing village of Šķēde, north of Liepāja where they were forced to strip to their underclothes and shot dead in groups of 10. Many of the victims were photographed in their final moments by a Nazi photographer. One such photograph serves as the inspiration for our first Monument, “She Wouldn’t Take Off Her Boots”.
Historians believe the identity of the women is, from right to left: Malka-Mia Epstein, Nomy-Naima Jankelowitz, Fruma Purvie, Miriam Purvie, Roza Epstein, Sorella Epstein
The murders in the dunes at Skede on the Baltic shore, some fifteen kilometers north of the city and about a kilometer from the road towards the sea, began as early as July 1941. Some 200 Jews were murdered there.
During a three-day massacre on December 15-17, 1941, German and Latvian units killed 2,749 Jews, more than half of Liepaja’s Jewish population. Preparations for the operation began some days before. On December 13, 1941, Liepaja Police Chief Obersturmbannfuehrer Fritz Diedrich placed an announcement in the Latvian newspaper Kurzemes Vards stating that Jews were forbidden to leave their living quarters on Monday, December 15, and Tuesday, December 16.
On the night of December 13, Latvian police forces began to arrest Liepaja’s Jews not yet concentrated in the ghetto. The victims were brought to the Women’s Prison, where Jews of all ages were crammed into the courtyard. The Jews were ordered to stand with their faces towards the wall, and warned not to move or look around for relatives or at the watchmen. Some were transported to Skede on the evening of the following day and crowded into a barn (a wooden structure, described also as a garage).
In the early morning of December 15, a column of victims was driven from Liepaja by Latvian policemen, under the supervision of the German SD, to the same barn in Skede where Jews from the prison had been taken. They were taken in groups of twenty to a site forty to fifty meters from a deep ditch dug in the dunes nearby, parallel to the shore. The ditch was about three meters wide and 100 meters long. There they were forced to lie face down on the ground. Groups of ten were then ordered to stand up and, apart from the children, to undress, at first to their underwear and then, when taken near the ditch, completely. They were shot by a German unit, the Latvian SD Platoon headed by Lt. Peteris Galins, and a Latvian Schutzmannschaften team.
During the murder operation, the Jews were placed along the side of the ditch nearest the sea, facing the water. The killing squad was positioned across the ditch, with two marksmen shooting at the same victim. Children who could walk were treated as adults, but babies were held by their mothers and killed with them. A “kicker” rolled in those corpses that did not fall directly into the ditch. After each volley, a German SD man stepped into the ditch to inspect the bodies and finish off anyone who showed signs of life.
The clothes were piled up in heaps and taken away by German military trucks. During the murder operation, Strott and another officer, Erich Handke, took pictures with a Minox, and senior Wehrmacht and navy officers visited the site.
The murder operations in Skede continued until December 1942. On February 15, 1942, the Germans planned to murder 500 Jews in Skede. However, on the way to the murder site a group of 22 Jews pounced on the drunken Latvian guards and managed to escape.
In 1943, chlorine was poured over the corpses.
Information from Yad Vashem.
In Her Words
We see the strength and the humility of generations of Jewish women from Liepaja, moments before they were murdered by Nazis in 1941. They stand in their innocence; their only crime was that they were Jews. The photo I used as inspiration for the monument was taken by a Nazi photographer to document the victories of the Nazi regime as propaganda for its German citizens. My hope is that each time one views the monument from that perspective, one becomes witness to exactly the opposite of what the Nazi photographer intended to document.
Standing arm-in-arm are five women in their last act, looking straight at us today, with grace, humanity and defiance. The older woman, asked to strip, stands in the center with her boots on as she clutches onto the arms of generations of women in her family. The two figures on the end of the grouping bring us physically into the sculpture, revealing an emotional narrative of their impending death. With a snap of the camera we almost can’t comprehend the innocence that we see. One sees the subtle emotions of fear, disbelief, terror and even hope. The youngest, with her head bent, clutches her fists, communicating the human horror of the Holocaust and reminding us of the several million children that were exterminated.
I was very influenced by Rodin’s sculpture of the “The Burghers of Calais” where each figure communicates the emotional journey of their impending death. When I first saw the photograph, I saw my sisters, Jewish women, and it changed me forever. You can’t un-see what you have seen.
For information about Victoria and the studio please visit VCM Studio.
Watch Victoria’s TEDxGreensboro Talk.
16-inch in-process maquette (study) of what will be in bronze
Letters of Support
We have tremendous community support from state, federal and community leadership.
North Carolina Holocaust Council
I believe the Holocaust Monument, “She Wouldn’t Take Off Her Boots” is critical to further racial and ethnic understanding in North Carolina. I feel the monument will prompt North Carolinians to study the impact of bigotry and intolerance on society similar to the Woolworth’s lunch counter at the International Civil Rights Center & Museum.
The Holocaust occurred because good people did not take action against hate. This monument will prompt individuals to consider how their behavior affects others and will motivate individuals to work together with the goal to eliminate the negative misconceptions we have of each other…
The monument will serve as a focal point where individuals and classes can initiate frank and honest dialogue about pluralism, tolerance and acceptance. A key lesson of the Holocaust is that hate will thrive when ignorance and indifference exist in a community.
International Civil Rights Center & Museum
John L. Swaine, CEO
…Greensboro has a widely respected reputation as a place with a long history of social justice activities on behalf of recognizing the dignity of every human being. It is the most fitting place that I can imagine for expanding the civil and human rights dialog that might be focused on such a powerful monument. The opportunity for a prominent placement of the sensitively conceived sculpture adds to the potentially enlightening character of internationally recognized conversations, enriched with reminders of Greensboro’s lesson to the rest of the world and its status as a “Civil Rights City.”
517 S Elm St.
Greensboro, NC 27406