Out of all my posts on this blog (there are well over 300), my review of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington D.C. continues to have the most page views. I’m not sure why this is but it inspired me to write a post on Holocaust memorials in Europe. (However, as an aside, I am glad that people are clearly interested in learning more about one of the most horrific events in modern history.) I wanted to mention those memorials that are not necessarily as well known as Auschwitz Concentration Camp in Poland or the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe in Berlin, Germany, but still equally important and moving.
1.) Shoes on the Danube Promenade-Budapest, Hungary
It wasn’t until almost the end of the Second World War that Adolf Hitler and the Nazis caught up with the Jews of Hungary. After they occupied the country in 1944, the outcome was devastating for the Jewish population there. Historians estimate that more than half a million of Hungary’s Jewish population was killed in the Holocaust. Shoes on the Danube Promenade is a memorial created to honor the Jews who became victims of the fascist Arrow Cross Militiamen in Budapest during the war. The brigade would line up as many Jews as possible and shoot them on the river’s bank; this saved them the “work” of having to bury the bodies. As shoes were a valuable belonging at the time, the victims had to take their shoes off. The shoes today represent all those that were killed.
2.) Babi Yar Memorials-Ukraine
Babi Yar was the name of a ravine near the capital of Kiev that was the site of what is believed to be the largest shooting massacre during the Holocaust. On September 29-30, 1941, over 33,000 Jews were killed in a single operation; this was considered to be the best documented and most heinous of the massacres that occurred here. Memorials to the victims were not erected until the late 1970s, due to the policy of the Soviet Union of which the Ukraine was a part. In fact, it wasn’t until the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991 that the Ukrainian government allowed the creation of a separate memorial specifically identifying the Jewish victims. Soviet leadership had discouraged stressing the Jewish face of the Babi Yar massacre, instead presenting the shootings as a crime committed against the Soviet people, even though the Jews were by far the largest number of those killed there. The Jewish memorial is in the shape of a menorah.
3.) Drancy Memorial-Drancy, France
During the Holocaust, Drancy served as the transit camp for French Jews arrested by the French police and German forces. It was also the departure point for Auschwitz Concentration Camp; 77,000 French Jews were deported. Of 11,204 children sent to concentration camps from France, only 2,500 came back. Today, Drancy is home to refugee and immigrant populations, along with a variety of memorials to the Jewish victims. In 1973 a sculpture memorial was designed by the artist Shelomo Selinger, and in 1988 a solitary train car, similar to those used to deport Jews to camps in the east, was added with a rail leading down from Selinger’s memorial.
4.) National Monument to the Jewish Martyrs of Belgium-Brussels, Belgium
In Anderlecht, a residential district of Brussels, far from the touristy Grande Place and the Mannekin Pis statue, is the National Monument to the Jewish Martyrs of Belgium. It consists of a platform centering on a menorah made of chins and a wall bearing the names of the 22,838 Belgian Jews killed in the Holocaust. The gardens surrounding the monument include a flower in the shape of a Star of David. Nearby there is a smaller memorial to the Jews who fought in the Belgian resistance.
5.) Velodrome d’Hiver Roundup Memorial-Paris, France
Were it not for the novel Sarah’s Key, many people would probably not be aware of Paris’ significance in the Holocaust. During the Vel d’Hiv roundup of 1942, French police arrested more than 13,000 French Jews, interning them at the Velodrome d’Hiver, a cycling stadium in the 15th Arrondissement, amid squalid conditions before transferring them to transit camps. A fire destroyed part of the stadium in 1959 and the rest was demolished. It wasn’t until 1994 that a monument to the Vel d’Hiv victims was erected. It stands on a curved base to represent the cycle track on the edge of the Quai de Grenelle. The statue represents all deportees but especially those of the Vel d’Hiv. The sculpture includes children, a pregnant woman, and a sick person. As it is, it’s still a memorial many people are not aware of even though it’s quite near to the city’s most famous landmark, the Eiffel Tower. I personally learned of the memorial only recently and on my next trip to Paris, I will be sure to visit it.