Shoes on the Danube Bank: A Somber Memorial in Budapest
I magine being ordered to take off your shoes at the edge of the river — only to be shot with an arrow by a marksman so that your body would easily fall into the river and be carried away by the current.
That is exactly what happened to a number of Jewish people on the Pest side of the Danube River in Budapest during World War II in 1944 and 1945 when they were shot by Arrow Cross militiamen after removing their shoes, which remained on the bank after the bodies fell into the water.
To commemorate this horrific event, a memorial was conceived by film director Can Togay with 60 pairs of shoes — representing the shoes left behind on the bank — from the 1940s casted out of iron by sculptor Gyula Pauer and erected on April 16, 2005 at the approximate location of where it occurred.
There are three plaques in cast iron embedded into the stone floor — one in Hungarian, one in Hebrew and one in English — with the following embossed text in bold letters: “To the memory of the victims shot into the Danube by Arrow Cross militiamen in 1944–45 Erected 16 April 2005”
Although this memorial is not yet ten years old, it has not only brought about awareness of this heinous act; but it is rather popular. On a mild cloudy day which appropriately and perfectly contributed to the somber ambience, I saw quite a few people gathering to satiate their curiosity, take photographs and pay their respects.
In fact, this is probably one of the best places in Budapest to simply sit and watch people. I had lost track of time; but I must have been there for at least an hour.
With all of the architecture surrounding this memorial which significantly predated the incident, it is rather easy to allow your mind to wander and imagine the incident actually happening — and then to question how human beings could even commit such an act…
…as well as wonder what was going through the minds of the victims during their last moments: fright, sadness, recollection, despair — perhaps even pride and dignity in who they were as people. We will never know.
There is no admission charge — simply walk up to the memorial and admire, reflect, think and wonder as you look upon a nasty blemish in the history of an otherwise beautiful and proud city.
The Shoes on the Danube Bank memorial is easy to find. It is located on the Danube Promenade on the east bank of the river just south of the Hungarian Parliament Building and north of the Chain Bridge. I highly recommend you visit this powerful memorial — and I defy you to not feel emotional once you are there.
Please allow my photographs to tell the rest of the story for your interpretation — which is why I purposely did not add captions to them — and hopefully you will be inspired to visit the memorial yourself one day should you find yourself in Budapest…