On the banks of the Danube, in Budapest, not far from the Hungarian Parliament building, 60 pairs of 1940s-style worn-out shoes pairs of shoes are lined up. There are women’s, men’s and children’s shoes, left there, close to the water, abandoned in a disorderly fashion, as if their owners had just taken them off.
However, If you look closer, you see that the shoes are rusty, made of iron, and fixed in the concrete of the pier.
It is the sad memorial in honor of the Hungarian Jews who, in the winter of 1944-45, were killed on the banks of the Danube by the militiamen of the Arrow Cross Party.
In October of 1944, Hitler overthrew the leader of the Hungarian government, Miklos Horthy, and replaced him with Ferenc Szalasi.
Szalasi, whose ideology closely followed Hitler’s, immediately established the Arrow Cross Party – a fascist, anti-semitic organization that brutally and publicly terrorized the Jews in Budapest by beating and killing them. Nearly 80,000 Jews were expelled from Hungary in a death march to the Austrian border and approximately 20,000 Jews were brutally shot along the banks of the Danube River. Shooting the Jews on the Danube was convenient, because the river carried away the bodies.
The victims were forced to remove their shoes and face their executioner before they were shot without mercy, falling over the edge to be washed away by the freezing waters. During World War II shoes were a valuable commodity to be sold on the black market.
Known as “Shoes on the Danube Promenade” is a haunting tribute to this time in history, was created in 2005 by film director Can Togay and the sculptor, Gyula Pauer.
This memorial is simple, depicting the shoes left behind by the thousands of Jews who were murdered by the Arrow Cross. The style of footwear, a man’s work boot, a business man’s loafer, a woman’s pair of heels and even the tiny shoes of a child, were chosen specifically to illustrate how no one, regardless of age, gender, or occupation was spared.
The men of the Arrow Cross faced the victims without mercy: in some cases they tied together the hands of two or three Jews – adults or children – then they shot only one of them: if they had done their job well, placing the victims on the water’s edge, they all fell together in the Danube, with the corpse that dragged the others still alive, so as to save some bullets. All the bodies, tied together by laces or cords, either went to the bottom or slipped away along the river. Those few who survived were killed by militiamen who shot from the riverbank, in a tragic and infamous target shooting.
However, most victims, especially children, died immediately because the water was icy. During these days the Danube was known as “the Jewish cemetery”.
Placed in a casual fashion, as if the people just stepped out of them, these little statues are a grim reminder of the souls who once occupied them and each represents a Jew murdered on the river bank.
At three points along the memorial 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.”
Authors’ notes: memorial is located along the edge of the Danube River, on the Pest side, just south of the Hungarian Parliament Building. Go there before sunset time because the views are fantastic, with the sun dropping down and the lights of the city coming out!
Pavel, contributed by Nathan.