Shoes on the Danube

Pesti Alsó rakpart [map]
Pest Centre, V,
Kossuth tér (M2, T2/2a), 3 min
If you listen to anyone talking about the Second World War, and more specifically, the systematic extermination of Europe’s Jewish population, you will more-likely-than-not hear some variation on the phrase ‘Lest we forget.’

The poignant Jewish memorial on the Pest bank of the Danube is so discreet that you’re unlikely to spot it. If you try to find it from the direction of the Parliament, you may find yourself dodging cars and leaping barriers to get there. Alternatively, take the more sensible route, along the river from the Chain Bridge and you’ll find a series of shoes, cast in iron, no more than two feet from the bank.

They’re beautifully crafted and the detail is superb, right down to the stitching, eyelets, laces and grip on the soles. Styles vary: low heels, high heels, heavy boots, slip-ons, shoes with buckles, open toes, and a tiny pair of toddler’s boots. They’re not new shoes and the small patches of rust are reminiscent of scuffed leather.

Even-more discreet are three plaques, in Hebrew, Hungarian and English:

Unknowing tourists might be inclined to smile on seeing this unusual, idiosyncratic collection, and those that spot the plaque will no doubt feel a pang of guilt. Of course, they shouldn’t, but such a reaction shows what a human memorial this is: something that connects you to humans who were treated as though they were not.

Tragically, the memorial is too modest for most. I sat by the river for half an hour and watched no fewer than three quarters of the visitors lightly kick the shoes, presumably to test their composition, before shrugging and moving on. (This might explain the absence of a few pieces.)

I couldn’t help but feel that this gave
the memorial an even greater depth: the world remembers the holocaust and doesn’t so much ignore it as not understand what it meant.

The above photo was taken on May 9th 2007, when the shoes served as a focal point for „Zéró tolerancia“, a day dedicated to speaking out against racial discrimination.

If you’d like another perspective on this memorial, read SF’s entry here.

Andy Sz.

Source: 8

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