When you walk along the Danube Promenade, next to the Hungarian Parliament Building, you will find a memorial called Shoes on the Danube Bank. The monument was conceived by Can Togay, with the help from sculptor Gyula Pauer, to remember and honor the Jews that were murdered by Arrow Cross, a fascist militia, during the last months of the Second World War in Budapest.
When you get close to the memorial, it’s easy to wonder why there are small sculptures of shoes made out of iron. They are there because those who were killed along the edge of the Danube were ordered to take off their shoes and shot at the side of the water. This way, their bodies would fall into the river and be carried away. The memorial stands where 3,500 people were shot.
This small memorial was one of the first sights that I visited during my first trip to Budapest, back in August 2018. I wanted to see it by myself and understand the reason why the Arrow Cross would shot and kill people so close to one of the most visible places in Budapest. But this is what they wanted to do. They wanted to spread terror, and this is what they did by shooting in sight of everyone.
Most of the people that are remembered with the Shoes on the Danube Bank were shot between December 1944 and January 1945. It was a cold winter, and the Soviet Army was getting close to Budapest so the members of the Arrow Cross Police started taking as many Jews as they could and executing them along the Danube. In the newly established Budapest ghetto, there were close to 20,000 Jews, and the Arrow Cross police wanted they gone before it was too late.
We don’t know the stories of many of those who died there but, during my research for a visit to the Shoes on the Danube Bank, I learned about Karoly Szabo who saved so many people from apparent death.
This story happened on a cold night in January 1945. The men from the Arrow Cross arrived into a building on Vadasz Street and forced all the people there to be brought into the Arrow Cross house where they would be kept before execution. At midnight, Karoly Szabo and 20 policemen broke into the house, pointed their guns at the Arrow Cross and rescued everyone.
Among those who were rescued, was Lars Ernster who became a board member of the Nobel Foundation and Jacob Steiner who became a professor in Jerusalem. The man who saved them was Karoly Szabo, and he was honored as Righteous among the Nation in November 2012.
Shoes on the Danube Bank can be found on the Pest side of the Danube river, south of the Hungarian Parliament Building. There are 60 shoes made of iron that are accompanied by a plaque that says, in English, Hungarian and Hebrew: To the memory of the victims shot into the Danube by Arrow Cross militiamen in 1944–45. Erected 16 April 2005.