Wander down the Pest (no, not west) side of the Danube River, and you’ll find one of Budapest’s most poignant and historically relevant memorials. What looks like a collection of old shoes is actually a tribute to the innocent Jewish Hungarians who were slaughtered by the Arrow Cross Party at the height of the Second World War.
Known as the Shoes on the Danube Bank, this memorial is a lasting reminder of the dangers of fascism, antisemitism, and xenophobia. Pay your respects to the 20,000 innocent fallen Hungarians on your next trip to Budapest.
Where Is The Shoes On The Danube Memorial?
The Shoes on the Danube is located in front of the Hungarian Parliament on the banks of the Danube River.
Budapest is split into two parts: Buda and Pest, with the Danube separating the two. There are many bridges that span the river, so you can easily cross and visit attractions on either side.
What’s The Story Behind The Memorial?
During the darkest days of the Second World War, the Arrow Cross Party rose to prominence in Hungary and began to carry out their ghoulish campaign of death and terror against Hungarian Jews.
The Shoes on the Danube memorial is a lasting way to honor the victims of the Arrow Cross Party. It’s comprised of 60 pairs of iron shoes scattered along the promenade and represents the final cruel act the Arrow Cross Party inflicted upon its victims, who were made to strip and remove their shoes before they were murdered on the riverbank.
The memorial is the result of a joint effort between artist Gyula Pauer and director Can Togay and was installed in 2005. The simple shoes are accompanied by multi-lingual signs that read: “To the memory of victims shot into the Danube by Arrow Cross militiamen in 1944-45.”
One of the most heartbreaking aspects of the memorial is that the shoes are different sizes, representing the indiscriminate killing inflicted by the Arrow Cross Party.
How To Visit Budapest’s Shoes On The Danube Memorial
The Shoes on the Danube Memorial is free and open to the public, but if you want to hear the story behind the shoes and the history of Budapest’s Jewish Quarter, there are plenty of tours available. Not every Jewish Quarter tour stops by the memorial, so check with tour operators before booking.
The Budapest Grand Walk is a phenomenal way to catch the most famous sights in the city, including the Shoes on the Danube Memorial. As its name implies, the tour involves plenty of walking, and you should plan to devote the better part of your day to the tour. Alternately, bus tours are available and are a good option for those who would prefer to do less walking.
You can also see the memorial on your own. Tram Line 2 runs right down the Pest side of the Danube. This line passes the Hungarian Parliament, and the memorial is nearby.
Note that although the area is relatively safe, petty crimes of opportunity are somewhat common in Budapest. Many thieves strike on public transportation, so keep your bag in front of you at all times and avoid tucking cash into back pockets where it can be stolen. Think twice about bringing your passport, and leave some of your bank cards at the hotel.
Apps like Smart City and Maps.me give you access to public transportation schedules and city maps offline and are a great way to keep oriented even when you don’t have Wi-Fi, so download them before heading out!
Other Notable Sights Around The Shoes On The Danube
The Danube promenade has a plethora of historic and fascinating attractions, so you can make the most of your time on the Pest side of the river. The area right around the memorial is bursting with amazing cafes and shops. Stroll between the Szechenyi Chain and Elizabeth Bridges to browse for unique souvenirs, get an afternoon pick-me-up, and pay a visit to the Little Princess statue perched on the Danube River promenade railing.
The Hungarian Parliament building, located right behind the memorial, offers a captivating glimpse into Hungarian politics. Hours and ticket prices vary, with special pricing for children. The Hungarian Parliament is able to accommodate guests with mobility concerns as well as visually impaired visitors.
The Inner-City Mother Church of the Blessed Virgin is another fantastic slice of Hungarian history. Its legacy spans nearly 2,000 years, and it shares space with an ancient Roman site known as the Contra Aquincum. You can visit both of these significant sites right off the Elizabeth Bridge.
Vigado, a celebration of neoclassical architecture, is one of Budapest’s most cherished concert halls. Its lavish halls and chambers were once filled with the original music of Franz Liszt, Johann Strauss, and Ferenc Erkel. You can attend a world-class concert or take a guided tour of Vigado’s spectacular architecture.
The Shoes on the Danube is a sobering memento of a terrible time in Hungarian and global history. It’s also a moving and special tribute, and a loving, humanizing reminder of the Arrow Cross’s victims. The Shoes on the Danube is a wonderful place to slow down and pay your respects if you find yourself in Hungary’s capital.
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