Archive | January, 2018

Budapest’s Fitting Memorial

Shoes on the Danube Memorial in Budapest, Hungary (Photo by Don Knebel)

Some of the most beautiful buildings in Europe lie along the Danube River as it flows through Budapest, Hungary. Along the east bank is a haunting memorial to victims of hate.

In 1935, Hungarian Ferenc Szálasi formed a movement sympathetic to Germany’s Nazi party. The movement quickly became the Nyilaskeresztes Párt or Arrow Cross Party, using as its symbol crossed arrows suggestive of the swastika. The Arrow Cross Party, promoting German/Hungarian racial superiority, won 15 percent of the vote in parliamentary elections in 1939. After the Germans occupied Hungary in 1944, they installed Szálasi as prime minister, giving his Arrow Cross Party control of the government. The Arrow Cross government immediately set out to cleanse Budapest of its Jews and other ethnic groups it considered undesirable. Perhaps 80,000 Jews were sent to work and death camps. Between December 1944 and January 1945, groups of Arrow Cross gunmen rounded up hundreds of Jews and members of other minority groups and took them to the east bank of the Danube River that separates the Buda and Pest sections of Budapest. After forcing victims to remove their shoes, the gunmen shot them, their bodies then falling into the river. The terror stopped when the Russians took control of Budapest in February 1945.

In April 2005, Hungarian film director Can Togay and sculptor Gyula Pauer created a memorial to the Arrow Cross killings on the Danube River Promenade between the Hungarian Parliament Building and the Chain Bridge, where some victims were killed. The memorial, called simply Shoes on the Danube, consists of 60 pairs of men’s, women’s and children’s shoes, reflecting the styles of the 1940s, cast in iron and placed near the edge of the river bank. Visitors frequently fill the shoes with candles and light them in honor of the victims.

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