What’s the Deal With the Shoes on the Danube?

Tim (and Julie) Wilson | Flickr

Take a trip to the Danube River, specifically where it flows through Budapest, Hungary, and you’ll see 60 pairs of iron shoes on its banks. These iron shoes tell a fascinating and tragic story that dates back to the Second World War.

During the final years of World War II, Hungary was controlled by the Arrow Cross Party, which was led by Ferenc Szálasi and shared many of the German Nazi Party’s antisemitic beliefs.

After the Arrow Cross Party took hold of the region, roughly 80,000 Jewish civilians were sent to slave labor camps and approximately 20,000 were murdered.

Many of the Hungarian Jews who were victimized during this time were rounded up on the banks of the Danube River. They were then forced to remove their shoes before Arrow Cross militiamen shot them into the river, which carried their bodies away.

The shoes left behind were sold or used by the militiamen.

Several decades later, in 2005, the iron “Shoes on the Danube Promenade” memorial was constructed by film director Can Togay and sculptor Gyula Pauer.

Photo: Dennis Jarvis | Flickr

Those who look closely at the iron shoes will see that they’re all different sizes and styles. This design choice is intentional and signifies the fact that no one was safe — men, women, and children were all murdered at the hands of the Arrow Cross Party. A plaque sits in front of the shoes and explains that they were constructed in memory of the party’s victims.

Photo: Adam Fagen | Flickr

The sculpture remains in place today, and candles are regularly placed inside the shoes. Flowers are often laid next to them as well to honor those who lost their lives during World War II.

Those who are planning a trip to Budapest can easily find the iron shoes by planning a trip to the Hungarian Parliament Building, which is a five-minute walk from the memorial.