“The Holocaust story has been
told and retold so many times.”
I didn’t really want to visit too many memorials while I visit Budapest, but there was 3 on my list: Carl Lutz, Raoul Wallenberg Holocaust Memorial Park and Shoes on the Donau Bank. Did them all.
Carl Lutz and Raoul Wallenberg memorial was only 1 and 2 block from my hotel … but the famous shoe memorial I jumped on bus #16 for a couple of stops. I got off by the famous Chain bridge abutment and walked against the beautiful parliament building. It was quite a walk for my sore feet and the promenade along Donau wasn’t the best – most shingle.
First I went in the wrong direction and met some lovely Italian tourist that didn’t speak one word of English, but together we figured out where the memorial was and we walked there together. It was a very foggy morning.
The Shoes on the Danube Bank is a memorial in Budapest, Hungary. Conceived to honour the people who were killed by fascist Arrow Cross militiamen in Budapest during World War II. They were ordered to take off their shoes, and were shot at the edge of the water so that their bodies fell into the river and were carried away. It represents their shoes left behind on the bank.
The composition titled ‘Shoes on the Danube Bank’ gives remembrance to the 3,500 people, 800 of them Jews, who were 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.”
During World War II, Valdemar Langlet, head of Svedan Red Cross in Budapest, with his wife Nina, and later the diplomat 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.
Lars and Edith Ernster, Jacob Steiner, and many others were housed at the Swedish Embassy in Budapest on Üllői Street 2-4 and 32 other buildings throughout the city which Wallenberg had rented and declared as extraterritorially Swedish to try to safeguard the residents.
Italian Giorgio Perlasca did the same, sheltering Jews in the Spanish Embassy.
On the night of 8 January 1945, an Arrow Cross execution brigade forced all the inhabitants of the building on Vadasz Street to the banks of the Danube. At midnight, Karoly Szabo and 20 policemen with drawn bayonets broke into the Arrow Cross house and rescued everyone.
Among those saved were Lars Ernster, who fled to Sweden and became a member of the board of the Nobel Foundation from 1977 to 1988, and Jacob Steiner, who fled to Israel and became a professor at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Steiner’s father had been shot dead by Arrow Cross militiamen 25 December 1944, and fell into the Danube. His father had been an officer in World War I and spent four years as a prisoner of war in Russia.
In September 2014, the Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz reported that several bronze shoes were stolen from the Danube Holocaust memorial, citing the Budapest Beacon. Ha’aretz noted that “it was not immediately clear whether the theft in Budapest, not far from the Hungarian parliament building, was an anti-Semitic act or a meaningless prank. Police said they were not investigating the case because no crime has been reported, said Hungarian newspaper Nepszabadsag.
In memory of those who lost their lives during the Arrow Cross rule, the “Shoes on the Danube” memorial was erected in April, 2005. Created by film director Can Togay and sculptor Gyula Pauer, it takes the form of shoes cast in iron and anchored to the ground. Different styles and sizes can be seen, showing that nobody was safe – not men, women or children.