Installed along the bank of the Danube River in Budapest in 2005, the Shoes on the Danube Promenade, is perhaps the most chilling Holocaust memorial in the world. The monument, consists of 60 pairs of 1940s-style shoes and sculpted in iron, stand as witnesses to one of Budapest’s most somber moments during World War II, reflecting a little chapter of the war history and its helpless victims during that time. Created by film director Can Togay and sculptor Gyula Pauer, the memorial symbolizes the shoes left behind by the thousands of Jews who were indiscriminately murdered by the Arrow Cross Party.
The shoes, which include a man’s work boot, a business man’s loafer, a woman’s pair of heels and the tiny shoes of a child – were specifically chosen to elaborately illustrate how regardless of age, gender or occupation, ordinary people were eliminated mercilessly. Placed in a casual fashion, as if the people just stepped out of them, these little statues are a grim remembrance of the souls who once used them.
In the month of October 1944, Hitler overthrew the leader of the Hungarian government, Miklos Horthy and replaced him with Ferenc Szalasi, a blind follower of Hitler’s ideology. Without any delay, he established the Arrow Cross Party, a fascist, anti-Semitic organization that brutally and publicly terrorized the Jews in Budapest by beating and killing them mercilessly. Within no time, around 80,000 Jews were expelled from Hungary in a death march to the Austrian border and approximately 20,000 Jews were brutally shot along the banks of the Danube River. During these horrible winter days of 1944-1945, the Danube was called ‘the Jewish Cemetery.’ The victims were forced to remove their shoes at gunpoint, as shoes were a valuable commodity during World War II and the murderers intended to trade the shoes in the black market or wear them themselves. After that, the victims had to face their executioner before they were shot without mercy, falling over the edge to be washed away by the freezing waters.
Installed on 16 April 2995, the Shoes on the Danube Promenade were dedicated to the memory of the victims shot into the Danube by Arrow Cross gunners during 1944-1945. Behind the iron shoes lies a 1,300-yard-long, 28-inch-high stone bench for the visitors. Apart from the visitors, the memorial is also frequented by the relatives and friends of the fallen victims, who lay flowers and wreaths and light candles to honor those unfortunate departed souls.