It is certainly difficult to “one up” a day like yesterday given the sites that I saw but I did try. I took a bit of a different approach today though. I focused more on the tumultuous history of the last century history as I am in Eastern Europe after all and it wasn’t all that long ago that the people of Hungary like so many others suffered at the hands of the Soviet Communist Regime and and that of the Nazi Fascists not to mention the outright murdering of 80,000 Jews and Romanians residing in Hungary when the Arrow Cross Militiamen were in control during 1944 to 1945. As such, I went to the House of Terror dedicated to those who suffered at the hands of these violent regimes. The faces and names of some of those who died decorate the exterior of this museum. Then I proceeded to the Holocaust Memorial by Imre Varga called the Weeping Willow Tree at the Jewish Synagogue on Dohany Street (the 2nd largest synagogue in the world). The tree was erected in 1989 above the mass graves of the Hungarian Jewish martyrs and on each leaf of the weeping willow you can see the name of one of the martyrs. And, of course, the Shoes on the Danube is a must see if for no other reason than to remember these atrocities and do what we can to prevent them from happening again. The Shoes on the Danube is an exhibition of 60 pairs of sculpted historically accurate shoes lined up sporadically on the Danube River across from Parliament and represents the time when the anti-Semitic Arrow Cross Socialist Party lined up Hungarian Jews, forced them to remove their shoes and then shot them so they fell into the Danube and the river swept their bodies away. Sometimes the Arrow Cross would use the shoestrings to tie two or three people together and only shoot one and as they were lined up on the Danube all three would fall into the freezing water the dead body pulling the still living victims with it and the living would either sink or freeze to death but, if not, the militiamen used the living as target practice. As a result of this practice, the Danube became known at that time as the Jewish Cemetery.
Of course, those times were undeniably horrific and it’s hard to imagine that things like this happen and that evil like this exists in the world but it does. In fact, we are watching these same kind of things occur today or, more literally, just two days ago when someone threw a homemade bomb filled with nails into a crowd targeting Hungarian police officers just a mile away from where I was. It makes you wonder sometimes whether we can ever overcome hatred and discrimination or whether we as a species will ever learn from our past but I must believe if we stand together we can and we will.
To soften the blow of the more emotional morning, I took part in the most famous of Hungarian pastimes and headed in the afternoon to the Gellert Thermal Baths for thermal therapy and a massage. It is alleged that the waters are rich in minerals and have medicinal qualities. As the thermal baths throughout Budapest are fed by over 120 hot springs, there has developed somewhat of a spa culture here that must be experienced by every visitor to this country. As such, I took part. After 2 hours, my mind, body and spirit were renewed which is good given I’m off to the train station to catch yet another overnight train to Country No. 52 – Serbia.
So that’s all for now. Lots of love from Hungary.