There's a bit of whimsy at play with this powerful memorial, a row of shoes along the Danube on the Pest side of the city.
The shoes can be found in the shadow of Hungary's impressive Parliament Building and, at first glance, seem a trifle, a bit of public art to amuse tourists and others on a stroll along the river's promenade. But the memorial's artist, award-winning sculptor Gyula Pauler, captures a dark moment in Hungary's history and makes a powerful statement with his simple design.
The story he builds around is heartbreaking. Through much of World War II, Jews in Hungary managed to hunker down and escape the wrath of the Nazi war machine. Eastern Europe was turned into a massive concentration camp and Jews from across the continent were being deported to death camps in Poland, Austria, Germany and other countries that had nurtured anti-Semitism for decades.
Inexplicably, the Jews of Hungary seemed safe. Life was tough, but not an automatic death sentence for them. In the fall of 1944, Russian troops had managed to battle their way into Hungary and peace seemed to be an idea that rested uneasily on the horizon. Sadly, in those closing days of the war, tens of thousands of Jews in the region were shipped off to the East -- Auschwitz, Dachau, Treblinka.
In Budapest, members of the Arrow Cross Party, the Nazis of Hungary, rounded up many of the remaining Jews and marched them to the Danube. They stripped them of their clothes and had them step out of their shoes on the embankment, where the men, women and children were shot and tossed into the river.
Sixty pairs of shoes, carefully sculpted by Pauler and arranged only feet from the Danube, dot the site where the Jews were murdered, and the melancholy memorial now serves as a silent prayer for the dead.