After a long, sobering day of touring Budapest, there was one more stop that needed to be made. After everything, finally, the shoes.
It is raining. I am near Steindl Imre utca, on the Pest side of the Danube. It is a little bit hard to find the way. The path along the river is muddy. I look into the distance and I cannot see them. I check the map from the hotel, and the note I had scribbled. The ink is running in the rain. I look again. Suddenly, there they are.
They are shoes, encased in brass — old-style shoes, dozens of them. There is a small plaque, too — but that is it. Just shoes — work shoes, dress shoes, high heels, worn heels.
They are right on the edge of the bank. You can imagine them scattered there, just so, left behind after another batch of Jews had been flung into the river. Late in World War II, it was just one of the horrific means of murder practiced in Budapest by the Arrow Cross, the Nazis’ local henchmen. Some were shot on the bank and allowed to tumble down into the rushing water. Some, even more cruelly, were handcuffed together, thrown into the water and left to struggle and drown.
To stand there now is to stand amid as simple and evocative a memorial to the victims of terror as one can imagine. It is impossible, after looking out into the river and then down at the shoes, not to be touched in a way that you cannot forget.