Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Soles and Souls on the Danube

The Danube River is closely identified with the city through which it runs, Budapest, Hungary. Yet that river was defiled in late 1944.

On March 19, 1944, the German army conquered Hungary’s capital city, Budapest. Two months later, the Germans began deporting Hungarian Jews, and by July, 437,000 Hungarian Jews had been deported, the vast majority of whom perished at Auschwitz. The rest of Budapest’s Jews were concentrated in homes within the city, all identified by a Jewish star. It was then, that the heroic righteous gentile, Raoul Wallenberg, sprung into action to help save Hungarian Jewry by issuing Swedish diplomatic documents claiming Hungarian Jews to be under protection of Sweden, a neutral country. (Wallenberg’s mission began on June 6, 1944, the very same day that the Allies invaded Europe, and D-Day, was launched).

The deportations ceased in July. However, October brought a new pro-Nazi fascist regime to rule over Hungary, led by Ferenc Szalasi. Within the regime’s first days, 600 Budapest Jews were murdered, and many others were drafted to build fortifications to defend from the approaching Soviet Red Army. On November 8, 1944, corresponding to the 22nd of Cheshvan, the deportations resumed, and five days later, a Jewish ghetto was established in Budapest.

By December 2, 1944, the majority of Budapest’s Jews who were not in possession of Wallenberg papers, were concentrated into the ghetto. In December and January, between ten and twenty thousand Jews were murdered by members of the ruling “Arrow Cross” party, ceasing only when Budapest was liberated in January. 565,000 Hungarian Jews died in the Holocaust between March and December, 1944, and only 120,000 Budapest Jews survived.

Many of the murders took place when the members of Arrow Cross lined the Jews up on the banks of the Danube River and shot them, so their bodies would fall into the river. To commemorate the Jews murdered on the banks of the Danube, on April 16, 2005, the Hungarian Government dedicated along the riverside, “Shoes on the Danube Bank,” which was the brainchild of film director Can Togay, and features the sculpture art of Gyula Pauer. The memorial is situated on the east side of the Danube Promenade in line with where Zoltan Street would meet the Danube, about 300 meters south of the Hungarian Parliament building. The memorial calls attention to the 3,500 people, 800 of them Jews, who were murdered at that spot by Arrow Cross. They were ordered to remove their shoes before being shot .

In January 2019, Israeli Interior Minister, Aryeh D’eri, announced, in Budapest, that Israeli agents will scour the waters of the Danube for remains, and those fragments would be brought to burial in the Land of Israel. The Israeli volunteer organization, Zaka, intends to send divers with sonar devices that can reach a depth of 150 meters, and scan within 130 meters to identify any remains of the victims.

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