Shoes on the Danube - A Culmination of Europe's Dark Past and Rich History

  • 2 January 2016
  • Abby

Last Christmas, after some soul searching (and a bit of yoga too), I decided to break my inner circle's tradition of booking first-class plane tickets to Tahiti or Maldives and instead bought an economy ticket to Budapest. Don't me ask why I choose Budapest -out of all other sophisticated European cities - but, hell, I really needed something different. And, Budapest, dear readers, didn't disappoint, even one bit.

Even before you disembark, there's something about this European city that screams 'uniquely different'. I liked, for instance, how the cold urban facade of the concrete jungle melted into the bustling population of people from different ancestries and culture backgrounds to form one sizzling pot. But what caught my eye were the Shoes on the Danube.

No, I'm not talking about Salvatore Ferragamo shoes or Christian Louboutin's signature footwear. The Shoes on the Danube are forged with iron. They are about 60 pairs and, unfortunately, they are not for sale. So, sorry, if you're a footwear junkie like me. So, why again I'm I talking about the Iron Shoes on the Danube?

Take your high school atlas out and trace the Danube. Oooh, hold on, I almost forgot. Nowadays no one has paper maps anymore! We have Google Maps after all. So whichever way you choose to do it, you'll notice that the Danube River can easily be said to be Budapest's lifeline. Nowadays, it's more of a spectacular beauty haven. But the beauty is marred with one of Europe's most striking and thought-provoking memories - the Iron Shoes that litter the edge of the Danube.

"So what is it with this Iron Shoes and why are they here?" I started probing my tour guide inquisitively. He looked into the horizon and squinted as if trying to ward off a dark past that was haunting him. He heaved a sign of relief deeply and told me the following short excerpt.

The sixty pairs of iron shoes on the Danube are a reminiscence of how dark humanity can be or has been. They represent the shoes of some 60 Jewish prisoners who were shot and killed by the Arrow Cross militiamen for simply being Jews. As it was the norm those days, the unfortunate men and women had to take off their shoes before being plunged head-first into the icy waters of the Danube with the assistance of a volley of bullets. And as if that wasn't enough, the prisoners were also forced to strip down before being shot at close range in the back.

I personally shudder at the mere thought of the anticipation of death - not even death itself.

This culture of exterminating people suspected of engaging in Jewish activities was at its darkest peak in the years between 1944 and '45. And if you were attentive in history class back in middle school, then you know that it was around the same time that atrocities of the Jewish Holocaust reverberated across Europe fueled by Hitler and his minions. The Shoes on the Danube are merely a shred of the memory of the depths humanity had sunk to during the Second World War or thereabout.

The next time you're visiting Budapest, remember to take a stroll along the Danube, maybe lay a wreath of flowers or two. But most importantly, appreciate how far we've come as far as civility and tolerance for one another goes.