Shoes on the Danube Bank, Budapest.

Shoes On The Danube is a shocking and sad reminder of the 1940’s and WWII. Despite the severity and bleakness of it, we still wanted to visit with our kids & explain the significance of it to them. If you’re visiting Budapest in Hungary and wondering if the shoes are appropriate for you or your kids, we’ll explain how we felt about it and what we did.

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Shoes on the Danube Budapest
Shoes on the Danube Budapest

For Us, It Didn’t Start Out Well

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; we’d already driven 6,000km, the thermal baths we planned to visit didn’t allow children and then we mistakenly went to the wrong side of the bridge in search of the shoes on the Danube!

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 10 am but instead arrived at ‘Shoes on the Danube’ at 1 pm when it was HOT and crammed pack with other people.

So you don’t make the same mistake, here’s the location.

Understanding 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.

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), claimed that their buildings were extraterritorial and tried to protect and house the Jewish residents.

Sadly all 400 people who were housed in those buildings 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 fell into the water and were carried away. It is estimated some 3,500 people were killed in this way.

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Walking across the Danube

The 60 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.”

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Explaining to the kids why the shoes are there

The Memorial Is Pretty Haunting

Much like the memorials and bullet holes in Berlin the shoes on the Danube left a haunting feeling.

Our youngest kids were 6 and 8 when we visited and 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 just didn’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 in some countries.

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.

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Shoes on the Danube

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Children’s shoes on the banks of the Danube River

Watching The River

The river is incredibly fast-flowing and pretty murky. Looking at the tiny boots on the quayside is a truly horrible feeling especially if you have kids with similar shoe sizes. Even if you don’t, it’s still a shocking reminder of the brutality of the regime in place at the time.

I found myself wondering if I was wounded by shooting, how long could I hold my breath for until the current had washed me away. Could I get away with pretending to die and would I even survive the waters? I think the reality is that people who were brought here would not have survived and that’s a harsh reminder of how much we need to fight the current wave of fascism.

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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.

Want To Stay In Budapest

Budapest is divided by the River Danube into Buda (on the west) and Pest (In the east). We stayed in a house on the Buda side of Budapest which was handy for the spas.

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