Shoes That Made Me Cry by
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Prompted By Shoes

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Budapest, July of 2014: On the 70th anniversary of the mass deportation of Hungary’s Jews to die in concentration camps, we happened upon a protest called Eleven Emlekmu Living Memorial. We asked our Hungarian guide what it meant and she replied it was controversial — some believed the monument under construction in Freedom Square implied Hungary was also a victim of Nazi aggression during WWII while others thought Hungary was a collaborator and should acknowledge its role in sending countless Jews to their deaths.

As one of our guides said, “They disappeared.” Only their shoes remained behind. Some of them were so tiny.

The monument was hardly controversial to those who had been quietly protesting for 75 days. There were signs reminding visitors to never forget the six million Jews who were murdered in the Holocaust. Their makeshift memorial, the featured image for this story, included photos, candles, letters, stones (part of the Jewish tradition of leaving a stone when visiting a grave) — and there were old, broken shoes.

We walked to the banks of the Danube — more shoes. These bronzed shoes were a memorial to remind visitors that between 1944-45, Jews were told to remove their shoes and then shot and pushed into the river. As one of our guides said, “They disappeared.” Only their shoes remained behind. Some of them were so tiny.

I thought about the sweetness of a child’s shoe. In a photo of my mother from 1924, I am drawn to her scuffed Mary Jane shoes.

I look my bronzed baby shoes sitting on a shelf in my office. My son’s saddle shoes were all the rage in the 70s.

I remember my grandchildren toddling in their Robeez.

It is only luck that separates me from those who perished. My mother’s shoes could have become part of the Living Memorial. No bronzed baby shoes, saddle shoes, or sweet Robeez would have followed for our family.

Life is as fragile and precious as a child’s shoe. And the current generation of children, in Budapest or Baltimore, need to know that such evil happened. This is the only way we have a prayer that it will not happen again.

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Profile photo of Laurie Levy Laurie Levy
Boomer. Educator. Advocate. Eclectic topics: grandkids, special needs, values, aging, loss, & whatever. Author: Terribly Strange and Wonderfully Real.

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Characterizations: moving, well written


  1. And here I thought you were talking about the pain of wearing high heels. Such a profound image, Laurie, those shoes, reminding me of the piles of shoes, watches, hair, glasses re-mounted in the Holocaust Museums. Another moment when so much of humanity was suffering or causing others to suffer. The baby shoes served as needed comic relief!

  2. Betsy Pfau says:

    Very moving story, Laurie. I read a horrifying statistic recently. A huge number of American school children had never heard of the Holocaust. And too many didn’t believe it was true.

    “Those who do not study history are doomed to repeat it”. Too many in our nation and, indeed, the world, pride themselves on their own ignorance (taking the lead from our “Leader”, who has the “best brain”, is smarter than his generals, etc. There has been a move to denigrate and look down on the highly educated. Populism is on the rise. It dooms us all.

  3. Suzy says:

    Laurie, this story made me cry. The shoes on the banks of the Danube were very powerful, even more so than the featured image, although I’m sure seeing that makeshift memorial in person would have been heartbreaking.

    I disagree with Charles’ comment about the baby shoes, they are not comic, they are poignant, reminding us, as you say, that only luck separates us from those who perished.

    • Laurie Levy says:

      Thank, Suzy, for understanding my point. I cropped those out of photos of my mother, my son, and my granddaughter, so they felt very personal to me. When I looked at those shoes on the Danube, I felt both sorrow and gratitude that I was lucky my parents’ shoes weren’t among them. It was hard to capture the impact of the bronzed shies in a photo because they were spread out in a thin line and lots of people were there. That’s why I focused on the one pair of child’s shoes.

  4. Even though you made me cry, I’m so glad you posted this moving story, Laurie…it’s a sober complement to some of our more light-hearted stories.

  5. Thanx Laurie.
    There but for the grace of God go I.

  6. Marian says:

    Heart-rending story, Laurie, but one that needs to be told. I cried when I saw the shoes near the Danube. In the Holocaust Museum in Washington, DC, there is a large round container that, when you look over its top, you see piles of children’s shoes. Although I soldiered through the rest of the museum, at that point I broke down. A ray of hope on Holocaust education. Hadassah, the ADL, and other organizations have worked with Congress to enact a law that requires Holocaust education. This just happened a week or so ago.

  7. Your title made me instantly think of the pile of children’s shoes at the Holocaust Museum. Your story is very powerful. I love the line, “Life is as fragile and precious as a child’s shoe.”

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