Barney Greenman’s shoes

What can we see?

We can see a pair of worn, brown leather child’s shoes. We can also see that the soles are made from thick rubber.

Look closely, what can you see?

What do we know?

This pair of shoes belonged to Barnett (Barney) Greenman. Barney was born in Rotterdam to Leon and Esther (Else) Greenman on 17 March 1940. He was born two months before the Netherlands was invaded by the Nazis.  Leon repaired the soles of these shoes with rubber tyres because the Nazis didn’t allow him, as a Jew, to work and he had no money to pay the cobbler to repair them.  In his oral testimony, Leon described these shoes as Barney’s “knockabout” shoes.

These shoes, together with other personal items belonging to the Greenmans, were given by Leon to neighbours for safekeeping.

The story of Leon Greenman, OBE and his family is told in the Museum’s Holocaust Gallery. Leon was born in the East End of London and was living in Netherlands when it was invaded by the Nazis.  Unable to prove their British nationality, Leon and his family were deported by the Nazis because they were Jewish.  Barney, his son, and Else, his wife, were murdered at Auschwitz.

Leon survived 18 months of concentration and labour camps until liberated in April 1945. From 1946, he started to speak about his experiences in the camps. Leon spoke to school groups and accompanied groups to Auschwitz-Birkenau to tell his story. In February 1998, Leon received an OBE for his services to education.  On 7 March 2008, Leon passed away, aged 97.

What do we wonder?

We might wonder what was Barney doing the last time he wore these shoes? Was he playing outside?  Was he walking with Leon and Else? We might also wonder where did Leon get the rubber tyre to repair the soles of Barney’s shoes? Rubber tyres would have been a precious commodity in Rotterdam by 1942.

What do you wonder?

Object file

Object Name: Pair of leather shoes belonging to Barnett (Barney) Greenman

Date: 1938-1942

Catalogue Number: 2008.88

Material(s): Leather and rubber

On display in the Jewish Museum: Yes- in the Holocaust Gallery

On 10 May 1940, Germany invaded the Netherlands. Four days later,  the port of Rotterdam, where Leon Greenman lived with his wife Else and son Barney, was bombed extensively by the Germans.  When the smoke from the bombs cleared, 80,000 people had lost their homes and between 600 and 900 people had died. On the same day, the Netherlands surrendered to the Germans.

After German occupation began, life got steadily harder for the Greenmans and the other 140,000 Jews in the Netherlands.   Measures to persecute and isolate Jews occurred at a very fast pace. Within two years, in July 1942, the Nazis began deporting Dutch Jews from the Westerbork transit camp to  Auschwitz-Birkenau and other death camps.

Leon, Else and Barney were taken out of their home in Rotterdam on October 8, 1942 and sent to Westerbork. From there, they were put on a train to Auschwitz-Birkenau where Else and Barney were murdered.

During the Holocaust, 6 million Jews were murdered of which 1.5 million were children, including Barney Greenman.  In the Netherlands, less than one quarter of Dutch Jews survived the Holocaust.

Created by Sophie Goodall

Ask us anything

We’re all friends here. Get answers to those nagging questions you’ve always had - you can get a private answer if you prefer.
Ask Us Your Question