Budapest

It’s a summer evening in Budapest and I am standing on the banks of the Danube.
Stretching before me is Pauer and Togay’s monument to the victims shot by the Arrow Cross in 1944-5 – the Shoes on the Danube Promenade Memorial. Sixty pairs of cast iron shoes are abandoned on the edge of the river, placed as if their owners had just stepped out of them.

There is an intimacy and immediacy to this memorial that is striking. The shoes are worn and it’s easy to imagine the people whose feet have shaped them and the moment of their death. Unusually this memorial allows us to contemplate both the individual victim and the wider idea of genocide.

But, there are lots of tourists in town, and as I stand watching I notice that none of them are reading the nearby plaque which states what this memorial is commemorating. Instead, they seem thrilled at finding a piece of public art they can interact with. They slip off their trainers and slide their feet into the shoes of the murdered to pose for photographs…their experience of the memorial providing a digitalised memory of their evening rather than a contemplation of the memory of the owners of the shoes.

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5 Responses to Budapest

  1. Ivan Fišer says:

    Interesting posting. You may be right to suggest that the young couple had failed to read the nearby plaque. However, I am concerned that they, in spite of having read it, have an ‘imagination’ (possibly shaped by inadequate formal/informal education) without any capacity to appreciate the historic moment this monument is dedicated to. This is, perhaps, another argument in support of your important project.

  2. Tessa says:

    When I went to Auschwitz and the site of the World Trade Centre, there were tourists in both places smiling gleefully for the camera. It really upsets me that people don’t understand the atrocity of these places, and instead take a picture for their latest Facebook profile pic…

  3. Thank you for this! I wish history classes taught memorial etiquette. Granted, this couple may not have known that this was a memorial, but I too have seen people smiling and looking cute as they pose in places or museums that mark horrific tragedies and loss of life. It’s so disrespectful!

    • Annie says:

      I was sicken when I first saw these pictures. When I saw the shoes (and knew of the story), I couldn’t speak for several minutes. These young people my not know the significance (yet how could they miss it with the plaque that told the story and the candles). However, you raise a good point that surely the history classes should apparently need to include the etiquette. However, common sense would tell you this isn’t the place to laugh or pose for the sake of a picture. It’s a place to cry and pay tribute to those that suffered in such a brutal way.

  4. Kody says:

    I visited the sight recently as well and was aware of the history. A friend who was with me was not and said “cool”. Since I appeared to be having a different emotional interpretation I pointed out the plaque and they read it and naturally adjusted their reactions and also experienced a different emotional interpretation. I also unfortunately saw the smiling selfies being taken at Auschwitz and could not fathom the reasoning.

    In all fairness, at “Shoes” the plaque is inconspicuously placed and easy to miss. I can see someone not understanding the content of the memorial if they do not see the plaque, approach the display from the other end (away from the plaque) or have not done their research and just happen to stumble upon it. In addition, the plaque is only written in English, and not all may have the ability to read English.

    I guess it is a good reminder to always approach art and public displays with respect and maybe not always filter our actions and behaviors through the “I hope I get Facebook likes” lense.