“Recognize yourself in he and she who are not like you and me.” – Carlos Fuentes
On the east side of the Danube River in Budapest between Parlament and the Keys Bridge, are a clutter of iron shoes. Walking by this unusual site the air turns solemn reminding me of walking past the Vietnam Memorial, or The Wall, is Washington, DC. Also like The Wall people leave mementos, hand-written notes and flowers, stuffed in the shoes.
“Shoes on the Danube” is a memorial to the Hungarian Jews lined up at night and shot to fall into the river for the current to carry away. The atrocities were carried out by militiamen of the Arrow Cross, a fascist group fashioned after the Nazi Party. It is estimated that 3,500 people, many Jews, were shot into the Danube during the reign of the Arrow Cross.
I pictured a mother holding her child’s hand in the dark, or perhaps the child’s arms wrapped around her mother’s waist crying and frightened, the mother knowing their fate. The hate of the militiamen so fervent is unimaginable; more likely their ignorance and fear.
The day before I left for Eastern Europe I went to the book store to buy reading material for the long flight. In the parking lot was a black pickup truck with a conspicuously large American flag raised in the middle of the bed. After I found my books I got into line behind a large male wearing an orange tee shirt. He had a shaved head, long beard, earrings and tattoo-covered arms. I looked at the books he held, one of which was The Nazi Doctors. After he paid the cashier I watched him walk to the parking lot and climb into the black pickup and drive away. How is it, I thought, that we have a Nazi movement in America and that they’ve become more emboldened recently?
A young man roughly my children’s age guided the small group my wife and I were with around Budapest. He told us that one school day each year was dedicated to teaching young people about Hungary’s alliance with Nazi Germany and the era of Communist rule. Such a practice would serve American schoolchildren as a lesson in the perils of hate, intolerance, nationalism, fascism.