A few weeks ago, I wrote a blog post about My Problem With Traveling Throughout Europe, which addressed my fear of visiting any Holocaust related locations and countries. It’s a subject that’s very dear to my heart and I have been running away from it, through past visits to Europe. My recent trip to Budapest however, made me stare my fears straight in the eye by accident.
It’s almost hard for me to write about this experience, because I feel like I’m reliving it and it was quite traumatizing. But as a travel blogger, I think it’s important to share both the good, the bad and all life changing experiences.
Budapest is a beautiful beautiful city! I was completely shocked at just how gorgeous it was, it seriously blew me away. Normally on most of my travels, I like to get a little idea of what there is to do in a city and when I get there, figure out the rest in more details. Asking the locals for recommendations of the must see attractions, is something I like to do often.
So only after booking my flight and hotel to Budapest, did I realize that there was an actual concentration camp in the heart of the city. I research some more and came to find out, that right before World War II was over, the Nazis took 20,000 Jews, shot them and threw their bodies in the Danube River. Being a Jew and born in Israel, I was completely mortified after reading this! To make matters worse, I booked my stay at The Budapest Marriott Hotel, which was right on the Danube River. It’s a beautiful five star hotel and I originally loved that every room in the hotel had a view of the Danube River. Later when I found out about this whole story, did I realize how not “so cool” it would be to stay there.
When traveling solo, your imagination goes wild and wonders off to places that you never really experience on a normal day base. I feared that I would get into a weird mood and start picturing dead bodies floating on the Danube River! I know that sounds crazy, but I’m just keeping it real.
I had an amazing day exploring Budapest!
I was on a strict time schedule, I had to catch a train to Vienna midday. I wanted to check out the beautiful Parliament Building before I left the city, which was a short walk from my hotel by foot. How can anyone go to Budapest and not see the Parliament Building?!
I started making my way along the Danube River boardwalk, thinking to myself what an amazing day I had, what a beautiful city Budapest really was. One of the bridges I past reminded me of the Brooklyn Bridge in New York City and I was a happy girl, just walking around loving life. I was in such a great mood, that nothing in the world could have changed that. Then it happened…I was walking and looking at the Danube River on my left hand side, thinking to myself how sad and horrible it is that all those Jews were killed and thrown into the river. I started freaking myself out, since I was walking alone and said to myself, “STOP! Don’t think about that right now! Enjoy the beautiful moment”.
I guess you can say that I have a sixth sense or something because the moment I looked straight ahead of me, IT REALLY HAPPENED!
I saw something strange. At first I couldn’t make out, what I was looking at and then realized it was hundreds of shoes. My heart started beating faster and faster and I got this really bad feeling! HOLY SHIT! Was I about to walk through a Holocaust Memorial?! I took a few more steps and saw a plaque on the floor with something written in Hebrew (the plaque was also translated later into Hungarian and English)! My heart literally dropped! I started getting heat flashes, this was DEFINITELY a Holocaust Memorial!
I’m not the greatest at reading Hebrew, since I left Israel at the age of 8. I tried to slowly read what it said, but it got even harder with the stress and fear that was taking over my body. I did make out some of the words and the moment I read “Murdered Jews”, I quickly started power walking and wouldn’t stop saying out loud “OH MY GOSH! OH MY GOSH! OH MY GOSH!” on repeat.
On one hand, I was fascinated and curious and on the other hand, I felt like if I stood there any longer, I would get a heart attack.
These were real shoes of women, men and children, seconds before their death all lined up on the edge of the pavement. There wasn’t just a few, there were hundreds! There were flowers and memorial candles lit. It COMPLETELY creeped me out! I have never been good at dealing with death or going to the cemetery, to visit past family members and I definitely wasn’t about to start now!
Maybe it wouldn’t have been so scary to me, if the shoes weren’t there and all it said was something on the floor. But the fact that these were real shoes, was more than I can handle!
You see, people might say that the Holocaust happened a long time ago, but it really didn’t. Genocide and hatred still exist, even nowadays.
On the exact days that I was visiting Budapest, January 7th to January 9th, a tragic terrorist attack happened on the streets of Paris. The second attack was caused at a Jewish market. Anti-Semitism still exist all over the world and my fears as a Jew, are just as real as they were 70 years ago during World War II. We clearly can’t change the world, only thing we can do, is change ourselves. So those Holocaust memorial are just as important today as ever, although I’d just prefer, not to walk into one. But it’s a daily reminder to the world that history does repeat itself.
For years, I have heard people say in World War II documentaries, that they had NO idea that millions of people were being murdered. Some say, they had no idea anything was going on. In all honesty, I think it’s the biggest load of shit I have ever heard.
I now visited many European countries and cities. On this trip alone I drove past the concentration camps in Amsterdam, Budapest and Prague. These locations weren’t hidden or far away from major cities, these concentration camps were literally in the heart of each city! They were in the heart of Time Square, if you wanna take a more popular destinations that most know, for that example. You can’t tell me that if you built a concentration camp 4 blocks from Time Square, that no one would know about it!
I did manage to get myself past the memorial and to the Parliament Building, which is only a few feet away. Those images honestly haunted me for the rest of the day and a few days after. I guess I could have simply turned around the moment I saw the shoes and headed back to my hotel. But sometimes as people, we have to face our fears and appear even for a few moments, fearless and brave to ourselves.
I absolutely LOVE Budapest and hope to be back there in the future, I just now know, where NOT to go.
As a traveler you’re always faced with many things outside of your comfort zone. But what you gotta remember is, these are the moments that make you revalue yourself and the great life you were given. These moments should only humble you and always make you a stronger person.