Hungary was a rich country for a long time. A lot of gold was being found in the mines so obviously other countries including Russia, Turkey, and Germany wanted this wealth. To gain this wealth, they invaded. Due to the fact that Hungary is so old (over 1000 years), Hungary has been invaded and has gone through so many hardships. Even if people’s plans weren’t to destroy Hungary, Hungary and its citizens still suffered because Hungary is located in the center of Europe so anyone passing through had to go through there first. However, Hungary pushed on even when they didn’t have any help from surrounding countries and lost much of their wealth.
One of the invasions Hungary had was by the Germans in March 1944. In October, the Germans overthrew Horthy Miklós and brought Szálasi Ferenc to power along with his Arrow Cross militiamen. This introduced a reign of terror. The Arrow Cross ran through the streets and beat, plundered, and killed Hungarian Jews on the streets publicly. During the winter of 1944-1945, these militiamen rounded up Jews, forced them to strip naked along the banks of the Danube River, and face the water. Sometimes they took the laces out of children’s shoes and tied the prisoners together. The firing squad shot the prisoners at close range so they would fall into the river and be conveniently carried away. If they didn’t die immediately, the militiamen either shot them in the water or they later died from hypothermia because the water was bone chilling.
Their clothes and shoes were taken by the firing squad so the German forces could use them or trade them on the black market. Shoes and clothing, after all, were very valuable during World War II. It didn’t matter if you were a child, woman, or man… if you were Jewish and unlucky enough to be rounded up by this group, you would be shot. The Danube during this dark period was known as “The Jewish Cemetery.”
Today, you can see a touching memorial for the men, women, and children who gave their lives during that grief-filled winter. Artists/sculptors Pauer Gyula and Can Togay János created “The Shoes on the Danube Promenade.” In front of the Parliament building, lined up on the bank of the Danube are 60 rusted cast iron shoes from that period. They are all different sizes and styles that represent the people who were shot there. I myself found it extremely emotional to realize that no one was spared from the Arrow Cross’ brutality. Behind this memorial, there are three plaques along the walkway that are written in Hungarian, English, and Hebrew. They read: “To the memory of the victims shot into the Danube by Arrow Cross Militiamen in 1944-45. Erected 16th April, 2005.” It is very common for people to lay down flowers, wreaths, or light candles to honor the victims.
The shooting of many innocent Hungarian Jews is one of many tragic events Hungary’s citizens faced over the years. “The Shoes on the Danube Promenade” is a great place to visit to reflect on how fortunate we all are. Yes, Hungarians have faced more than their share of tragedies, but they are strong and continue to defend their country and I am one of them.
Allyson Szabo attends Trumbull (CT) High School, plays the flute and is a member of the school’s marching band, which has been ranked second in the nation. She is the granddaughter of our webmaster Karolina Tima Szabo. Allyson wrote this piece following a trip to Hungary with her parents in 2016.