Shoes on the Danube Bank, Budapest.

I’ll start by saying that our trip to Budapest, Hungary (July 2016) wasn’t a huge success. Lots of things went wrong; it was very hot; we’d spent far too long in the car because of engine failure; despite our best efforts we’d spent too much money in Norway & Berlin & were a bit short; we’d already driven 6,000km, the thermal baths we planned to visit didn’t allow children and then Richard mistakenly took us to the wrong side of the bridge in search of the shoes on the Danube!

Of course as I write this in bleak winter, I am dreaming of that sun on my back but at the time, 40 degrees with 3 dehydrated and grumpy children, it was not ideal. I seem to recall we may have used ‘positive behavioural reinforcement’ AKA bribery, to get them to even walk. And, I’ll make no excuses for them – this is sometimes what kids do. Sometimes it’s inappropriate, sometimes it’s frustrating but I am a firm believer that children’s behaviour should be seen as an inability to cope with a current situation and that as adults (and parents) we have a responsibility to help them.

Children’s behaviour should be seen as an inability to cope with a current situation rather than naughtiness

It was fair to say that we were all thirsty and tired and making the children walk across the Szechenyi Chain Bridge in the midday sun was not our best idea. We’d planned to get there at 10am but instead arrived at ‘Shoes on the Danube’ at 1pm when it was HOT and crammed pack with other people.  We won’t make that mistake again!

budapest’s History

Budapest is a fantastic city for history and architecture. The buildings are enormous, not only dwarfing you but leaving you standing in awe at their presence.

Hungary has a tumultuous history that pre-dates the Ottoman empire and much of its history centres around bloody reigns, disputes and wars.

WWII

During WWII Jewish Hungarians were frequently rounded up for Nazi concentration camps. Both the Swedish, Italian and Spanish embassies (and 32 other buildings they had purchased), claiming their buildings were extraterritorial, tried to protect and house the Jewish residents.

Sadly all 400 people who were housed there were forced out one night by the Arrow Cross Militiamen and removing their shoes were lined up on the banks of the Danube and shot. Their bodies falling into the water were carried away.

It is estimated some 3,500 people were killed in this way.

Shoes on the Danube

Opposite the Hungarian Parliament, the shoes give remembrance to those people who were shot into the river. The sixty shoes are made out of iron and behind them the memorial reads

 To the memory of the victims shot into the Danube by Arrow Cross militiamen in 1944–45. Erected 16 April 2005.

Haunting

Much like the memorials and bullet holes in Berlin the shoes on the Danube leave a haunting feeling. I discussed in length on that post how much information about WWII we were prepared to tell our youngest kids, who are 6 and 8, and here was no different.

We laid out the facts in an age appropriate manner and told them that people were discriminated against because of their creed and were shot.  They still can’t understand it. They just don’t understand racism because it’s so totally alien to them. The concept of not liking someone based on skin colour makes no sense to a liberally raised, eight year old boy whose favourite colour is pink and sees gender as nothing more than a toilet sign!

Despite the heat of Hungary’s summer, I remember shivering and watching the dirty, fast flowing waters and wondering just how we allowed so many people to die. I wondered how we could be (less than fifty years later) in a similar predicament.

The failures of humanity never cease to amaze me. I just hope somehow, we can teach the next generation enough empathy and respect to not want to bomb the crap out of each other or wipe out whole civilisations. I live in hope!

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Walking across the Danube

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Explaining to the kids why the shoes are there

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Shoes on the Danube

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Children’s shoes on the banks of the Danube River

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Cast iron shoes on the banks of the Danube in Hungary

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Memorial to the people who were shot from the banks of the Danube river.

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