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Shoes on the bank of the Danube: memorial to a dark period

Shoes on the bank of the DanubeBudapestGreater Budapest

Walk along the bank of the Danube near the Hungarian Parliament, one of the country’s most iconic buildings, and as well as the fabulous Budapest view you can also see something very different: 60 pairs of cast iron shoes standing abandoned as an eerie monument to the Hungarian Jews shot beside the river. Visit one of Hungary’s best known Holocaust memorials, and ponder on this dark period in history. 

Historical perspective – the story behind the shoes

Towards the end of the Second World War, the Arrow Cross Party gained power in Hungary, which, following the German example, was accompanied by the emergence of strong anti-Semitism. As a result, thousands of civilians of Jewish descent were deported and either sent to concentration camps or executed. It was not unusual for the Arrow Cross to line up Jews on the banks of the Danube and then shoot them, the bodies falling into the river. This expressive work between the Chain Bridge and Margaret Bridge is a monument to the innocent people sent to their death merely for their origin.

You can read the inscription in Hungarian, English and Hebrew at three points of the memorial site: “To the memory of the victims shot in the Danube by Arrow Cross militiamen in 1944-45. Erected 16th April 2005.”  

Why were the shoes left on the river bank?

If you take a close look at the iron shoes on the Danube Bank – created as the joint work of film director Can Togay and Kossuth-Prize winning architect Gyula Pauer – you’ll soon realise with horror that women’s and children’s shoes are present among the men’s. And sadly, the depiction is based on reality, as the Arrow Cross militiamen spared no one, brutally despatching civilian women and children to their deaths. Because shoes were of considerable value during the war, the victims received a final order to remove and leave them there, so the members of the execution squad could collect and sell them.

Visit this shocking memorial site, voted the second best public sculpture in the world in 2016. Pay your respects to the innocents who were shot by the Danube.