Ghosts Along the Danube in Budapest, Hungary

When we travel the world we come face to face with history, some grand, and some that we would wish away if we could. This article is about the great stain on European history referred to as the Holocaust. There are many recorded stories about Holocaust horrors, and you may not be familiar with this one – we weren’t – until we came across a simple, poignant memorial.

Background

It was our first river cruise, and we chose Viking Cruise Line and an itinerary that sailed between Budapest and Bucharest in Eastern Europe.

Our ship, the Jarl, was docked and waiting for us in Budapest.

We were a short walk from the famous, often photographed, Hungarian Parliament Building that was inaugurated in 1896 on Hungary’s 1000th Anniversary. If you are not familiar with this magnificent structure, you may remember it as a feature of the Viking River Cruise ads on television.

After checking into our stateroom on board the Jarl, we decided to take a stroll along the Danube to photograph the Parliament Building. Along the way we encountered a small group of people pondering over some small items lining the concrete bulkhead of the river.

The subject of interest

The objects of the group’s interest were shoes. Actually, sixty pairs of old worn shoes, all sculpted in cast iron. Men’s, women’s, and children’s shoes from the 1940s, perfect in every detail.

At first we were taken aback by the oddity of the scene and the unusual sculptures. There were no conspicuously visible signs describing what we were looking at, until we noticed this small metal marker embedded in the cement:

So, this was a memorial, but who were the victims and who were the Arrow Cross Militiamen? We didn’t know, so we did some research.

The brief story

There were approximately 3,500 people shot along the Danube River in Budapest between 1944 and 1945 – mostly Jews and Gypsies. The site of the memorial was just one of several locations along the river bank used by the Arrow Cross in their executions of innocent people.

Members of The Arrow Cross were Hungarian fascists sympathetic to the Nazi cause. Adolf Hitler used them to replace the legitimate government of Hungary during the Nazi occupation. They ruled as the “Government of National Unity.” They were in power just eight months, from October 1944 to May 1945. During that time, they killed or sent to concentration camps 100,000 Hungarian Jews.

Why shoes as a monument?

Because shoes are so personal. The men, women, and children to be massacred were ordered to remove their shoes, an act that we all can relate to – and therefore, easily imagine ourselves in the terrifying situation.

After they removed their shoes, the victims were summarily shot, and their dead or wounded bodies fell into the cold rushing river. Ironically, this egregious and repugnant act took place just 1000 feet from one of man’s greatest architectural accomplishments, the beautiful Hungarian Parliament.

If you go

The memorial is simply named, “Shoes on the Danube Promenade.” Like a visit to the Ann Frank House in Amsterdam, or the Auschwitz Camp near Krakow, Poland, a visit to the shoes in Budapest, Hungary is a moving and somber experience, and a stark reminder of the cruelty that man is capable of inflicting on his fellow human beings.

Kudos

This unique remembrance of the Budapest tragedies is the idea of Hungarian film producer Can Togay and sculptor Gyula Pyauer. The display was opened to the public in 2005.

We are thankful that travel experiences generally celebrate the grandeur and beauty of our planet, and the spectacular achievements of mankind. Nevertheless, tributes like the “Shoes,” play an important role in reminding us that we must never lose sight of what can happen when evil takes the form of crimes against humanity, ethnic cleansing, and genocide.

***********

You might also enjoy reading another discovery article from our Viking River Cruise ­­­-­- click here.

************

“Get out there, but be prepared.”

Whenever we travel, we are protected by Allianz Global Assist travel insurance.

You can plan your trips with Google Maps.

The opinions expressed in our articles are the journalists’ alone, and have not been reviewed, endorsed or approved by any entity.

© 2017 Travels with Wayne and Judy Bayliff

Photos © Judy Bayliff

Advertisements

Up the Danube on a Viking Longship

After writing scores of articles about ocean cruises, we decided to see what motivates vacationers to take European river cruises. We are glad we did.

So much to choose from

There are endless selections of river cruise itineraries on the internet, so we sought the guidance of three prominent river cruise companies in Europe – Amway, Uniworld, and Viking.

Viking River Cruises comes through

Viking River Cruises was most generous with their public relations department and customer service time, so we selected their 11-day Budapest to Bucharest cruise on the Danube.

Casting off

We boarded our Viking longship, the Jarl, in Budapest. We pulled away from the dock just after dark.

If you have seen the Viking commercials featured on shows like Downton Abbey on PBS, you know what the Hungarian Parliament Building looks like by day. The picture above, shows it at night – it is a spectacular sight!

Our itinerary

Our chosen itinerary would take us to five eastern European countries including Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, Serbia, and Croatia.

This is the first story from our first river cruise experience.

Romania

Romania is a country steeped in mystery and shadowed folklore. Brahms Stoker never visited the country, but he borrowed from the harsh legend of Romania’s 15th century Prince Vlad Tepes of Transylvania to create his eerie and unforgettable character, Dracula.

Another famous (in Romania) real-life character was King Decebal. He was the last king of Dacia, an ancient land located in present day Romania. He is the subject of the historical curiosity in this story.

King Decebal

Decebal was a strong and popular leader who dared defy Rome and Emperor Trajan’s conquering legions. 

The thundering silence of Decebalus Rex

Decebal is immortalized in an enormous stone likeness of his solemn face gazing toward the far (now Serbia) shore of the Danube – the place where the Roman armies camped and prepared to attack – two thousand years ago.

After many years of struggle, the Romans finally crossed the Danube River and decimated the Dacian armies in circa 105 AD.

Surrounded by faceless generals of stone, Decebal’s ghostly visage stands alone to witness the final defeat that took his country, and eventually his life. He is fated to stare into the distance, and relive his humiliation, throughout time.

A giant undertaking

At 140 feet tall, the Decebalus Rex monument is the tallest rock structure in Europe. It is considerably taller than the more famous U.S. Mount Rushmore at 59 feet.

The stone monument appears ancient, but was actually just completed in 2004 after a difficult decade of site preparation and carving. The project was funded by a private Romanian citizen, Giuseppe Constantin Drăgan.

The Tabula Traiana

Just across the river on the Serbian side lies the Trajan Table. It is an ancient carved memorial at the Danube’s edge commissioned by the great Emperor Trajan to commemorate his victories over the Dacians in the first century.

Trajan considered the ending of the Dacian Wars to be one of his greatest triumphs; so important that Trajan had another monument constructed to commemorate the event – the famous Trajan’s Column in Rome.

Pressing forward

Our Viking river boat glides silently under the brooding face of Decebal and past the ancient Trajan Table, and on through the Kazan Gorge, one of the four narrow gorges that make up the legendary Iron Gate of the Danube. This is the most scenic part of a Danube river cruise.

Our next stop will be Bulgaria.

About our river cruise ship

The Jarl is one of the 60+ longships in the Viking river fleet. She’s a sleek 443 foot vessel with 95 comfortable water-view staterooms.

She has a crew of 50 and moves effortlessly and quietly through the water with a modern diesel/electric hybrid powerhouse.

Most of the Jarl’s staff is multi-lingual, and all are well trained in the nuances of excellent customer service.

On our cruise, the food was good and ample. The chef featured cuisine from the countries we visited. If you have a palate for paprika, you will be delighted.

River ship’s hierarchy

Aboard a river cruise ship, the Captain is responsible for the operation of the vessel and the safety of the passengers. Everything else is the responsibility of the Hotel Manager.

During our 11-day cruise, we changed our Captain once. Our Hotel Manager, the genial Franz Wusits, was with us the entire trip and kept the ship’s staff on their toes – everything ran smoothly.

We interviewed Franz in our Explorer Suite located at the back of the ship.

The suites aboard the Jarl are large, and well appointed without being trendy.

Franz’s “river stories,” will provide smiles in future articles about our Viking River Cruise. Stay tuned.

More to come

We will also write about several of our excellent bus excursions on the Danube trip, which by the way, are all included in the price of the cruise. A nice bonus to river cruising.

If you go

Viking River Cruises has an itinerary to please every taste. Check out their website at www.vikingrivercruises.com.

Viking made the arrangements for our flights to Budapest and back to the US from Bucharest. We appreciate the effort.

This will not be our last river cruise, and we highly recommend the experience.

As always, if you have questions, write us at the2writers@gmail.com

Happy travels!

“Get out there, but be prepared.”

Whenever we travel, we are protected by Allianz Global Assist travel insurance.

You can plan your trips with Google Maps.

The opinions expressed in our articles are the journalists’ alone, and have not been reviewed, endorsed or approved by any entity.

© 2017 Travels with Wayne and Judy Bayliff

Photos © 2017 Judy Bayliff