On the Pest side of the Danube in Budapest, between the Chain Bridge and the Hungarian Parliament Building, stands a row of black metal shoes: men’s work boots, women’s dress shoes and children’s footwear. They commemorate the thousands of Jews who were assembled and shot here and at other places along the river in the winter of 1944–5 by members of the Arrow Cross, the ruling Hungarian fascist party. The killings were organised to be as economical as possible. The victims were often roped together and made to line up in front of the river. One would be shot and then drag the rest into the freezing water. Before the executions the victims were ordered to take off their shoes. The gunmen then sold the shoes in the market.
I often pass the shoes memorial while riding the number 2 tram, which snakes along the riverside. It’s hard to imagine the scenes of horror that unfolded here: the shivering, terrified victims, knowing that they were living their last moments; the black, icy waters; the crowing, drunken gunmen