My first visit to Budapest was a frosty sojourn in January 2013. I tried to be either inside or in the toasty warm thermal baths at all times. I learned a lot about Budapest’s cafe culture. And when I went outside, I walked around the city with my head wrapped in hats and scarves. Budapest possesses Europe’s second oldest subway–which I learned to use efficiently. l attended some grade A classical music concerts. Most of all I made a lot of mental notes to ‘look up’ the significance of what I saw, and explore more in detail should I ever return.
I have returned.
One of the things that I saw on my January walkabout was several pairs of cast iron shoes pointing towards the river. Interesting, yes, but what is it’s significance.
I only snapped the one photo because…cold, and frostbitten fingers were a very real possibility.
Interesting…curious….something I’d like to investigate further. It’s hard to look at a monuments like this. Sometimes called ‘dark tourism’ but I think it’s important to look at them, ponder the significance, and reflect on the meaning. Budapest, in 1944 was not a place you wanted to be if you were Jewish. But then again, most of central Europe was not a place you wanted to be either.
Significance of the shoes
Rusted cast iron looks like real, used leather. These shoes in all shapes and styles represent some of the victims of the Holocaust. In the winter of 1944, Budapest Jews were rounded up and stripped completely naked on the banks of the Danube. That would have be torture enough. January in Budapest is not balmy. Trust me, I was there in January and nearly froze to death despite my wool hat and coat. These Jews–men, women, and children– were told to face the river. A firing squad shot the prisoners-of-war at close enough range so that their bodies would fall into the icy Danube and be washed away from the city. If the gunshot didn’t kill them, the river most certainly would.
Leather was such a precious commodity that even shoes were taken from the victims. After the victims fell into the river, the shoes were rounded up, either re-distributed or the leather re-worked into something else. Today there are 60 pairs of cast iron shoes modeled after 1940’s footwear lined up on the Pest side of the Danube. The memorial was commissioned in 2005.
A common saying is ‘don’t judge a man until you’ve walked a mile in his shoes’. J Lo wrote a song about it called Mile in These Shoes