Shoes on the Danube Promenade, Budapest, Hungary

Shoes on the Danube

Shoes on the Danube

Among the many sights and sounds I’ve experienced in Budapest, the most compelling thus far has been the Shoes on the Danube installation.  A sculptural permanent art exhibit, it consists of iron shoes scattered along the river wall.  From afar, it simply looks as if people have left their shoes behind.  As you get closer, you begin to realize something much more poignant is afoot.

In fact, it is  a memorial created by Gyula Pauer and Can Togay to the Jews who lost their lives when the Danube ran red. It is located on the Pest side of the Danube Promenade, about 300 m south of the Hungarian Parliament and near the Hungarian Academy of Sciences.

If this doesn't cause a lump in your throat, nothing will.

“The composition entitled Shoes on the Danube Bank gives remembrance to the people shot into the Danube during the time of the Arrow Cross terror. The sculptor created sixty pairs of period-appropriate shoes out of iron. The shoes are attached to the stone embankment, and behind them lies a 40 meter long, 70 cm high stone bench. At three points are cast iron signs, with the following text in Hungarian, English, and Hebrew:  “To the memory of the victims shot into the Danube by Arrow Cross militiamen in 1944-45. Erected 16 April 2005” (source: MTI, Saturday, April 16, 2005.)

Child's Shoes

This is the site where many Jewish men, women, and children lost their lives. They were shot and thrown into the icy winter waters as a means of extermination only after they removed their shoes, which were quite valuable in those days.  I found the children’s shoes particularly difficult to see.
While many did lose their lives here, there was one story of Hungarian perserverance and determination along the river.  According to Wikipedia and other accounts, “During World War II, Raoul Wallenberg and 250 coworkers were working around the clock to save the Jewish population from being sent to Nazi concentration camps; this figure later rose to approximately 400.  On the night of January 8, 1945, all of the inhabitants of the building on Üllöi Street were rounded up and dragged away to the banks of the Danube by an Arrow Cross execution brigade. At midnight, Karoly Szabo and 20 policemen with drawn bayonets broke into the Arrow Cross house and rescued everyone there.”
Even when on holiday it is good to take time to pause, reflect, give reverence, and be thankful for all we have.
PS
I’ve since put two and two together and realized this sculpture is dedicated to Mr. Wallenberg’s efforts:

Metallic Weeping Willow Memorial

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