To travel is to live intensely. You are constantly inundated by new sights, new sounds, new smells, new languages, and new experiences. To travel is to learn intensely. History leaves the pages when you see the places, walk in the footsteps, visualize the realities of the people who lived their lives in times that shaped the world.
Travel can elicit intense emotions, especially when you encounter memorials. In Europe, you’ll pass a memorial in nearly every town. There are war memorials, memorials to Christian Martyrs, memorials to victims of plague, to victims of communism, and to victims of the holocaust. There are large memorials, and small memorials, memorials that are well-known and well-attended, and memorials that are all but forgotten.
The travel theme this week at Where’s My Backpack? is intense, and I wanted to focus on one of the most intense memorials I’ve observed. The story behind the memorial is a lesser known event in the history of World War II, intense in its callousness. The memorial itself is simple, and the intensity lies in the simplicity of design, of what is given to you to interpret. The memorial is Budapest’s Shoes on the Danube.
Within sight of the Chain Bridge, in the shadow of the Hungarian Parliament Building and the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, sixty pairs of metal shoes line the banks of the Danube. They remain a silent reminder of a horrific period of history. The monument was erected in 2005, conceived by film-maker Can Togay and sculptor Gyula Pauer to honor the memories of the Hungarian Jews who were lined up and shot by the Arrow Cross Militia on the banks of the Danube River between 1944 and 1945. The location was chosen to allow the Danube to sweep away the bodies – after the victims removed their shoes.
The memorial includes shoes in all sizes and styles. There are men’s shoes, women’s shoes, and children’s shoes. There are work shoes, and dress shoes, old shoes and new. Standing before this row of shoes you are forced to consider not only the individuals who faced such an undeserved death, but the perpetrators of such a crime. Intense indeed.
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