Saturday, May 6, 2017

Shoes on the Danube

I am almost finished reading Amos N. Guiora's book The Crime of Complicity, The Bystander in the Holocaust. On page 169 out of 205, he mentions Raoul Wallenberg. Even the mention of this selfless man brings a pain to my heart. Very few people know who he is.

Budapest Hungary didn't start deporting and mass killing its Jewish population until March 1944--very late in the Holocaust tragedy, less than three months before the Americans, English, Canadians, Australians and the allied forces landed at Normandy. The war was essentially over, the Germans had lost; the last minute killing was as senseless as all of it. But it still happened, and it was madness.

Hungary had joined the axis powers but had maintained a certain autonomy that allowed a lesser degree of Jewish persecution, but when Germany invaded in March 1944, Adolf Eichmann visited Budapest himself to make sure the final solution was implemented. After all, Hungary was behind schedule. The Hungarian Fascist Party, the Arrow Cross, was complicit with Nazi Germany's plan.

The United States by this time was well aware of the extermination order against Jews, and President Roosevelt in January 1944 created the US War Refugee Board. The board recruited Wallenberg**, a Swedish businessman, a man of privilege to go to Budapest as a Swedish diplomat. He didn't arrive until after the first tide of deportations of 440,000 Jews, but when deportations resumed, Wallenberg worked like a pit bull to save Jews--he clamped down and didn't let go.

He issued Swedish certificates of protection, established Jewish safe houses; he learned about deportation marches and drove his car, pulling people out of the columns claiming he had certificates. The one story that sends chills up my spine and restores my faith in humanity is retold by a woman who worked in the Swedish embassy with him. She explains that one night he came to the embassy and asked who knew how to swim. Wallenberg had learned the Arrow Cross and gestapo were tying three Jews together on the banks of the Danube, then shooting one Jew who pulled the other two into the river to drown. Wallenberg and his companions positioned themselves downriver to save the people from drowning.

Shooting people at the edge of the Danube was a more common practice than I had known until reading The Crime of Complicity. In a footnote Professor Guiora mentions the Shoes on the Danube exhibit.

I rush to my computer to learn.

I am shocked by the realistic portrayal of suffering through shoes.

On the edge of the Danube are 60 pairs of period shoes cast in iron, to memorialize the loss of life at the hands of terror and evil. There's something about a person's shoes. It's a personal testament of existence. There's nothing like a pair of baby shoes to remind us that Nazi atrocities were no respecter of persons.

There's nothing like art

To show. To Evoke. To remind.

Photos taken from:

**Raoul Wallenberg issued passes to Professor Guiora's grandmother and mother.

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