Hungarian heroes

A memorial of shoes in Budapest along the Danube represents Hungarian Jews murdered during World War II. Groups of Jews were lined up on the banks of the Danube and shot into the river the winter of 1944-45.
A memorial of shoes in Budapest along the Danube represents Hungarian Jews murdered during World War II. Groups of Jews were lined up on the banks of the Danube and shot into the river the winter of 1944-45.

Within 10 minutes, a visitor to Budapest, Hungary, can find monuments to some of the best, and worst, of human kind.
First, 60 pairs of metal shoes in various sizes are lined up next to the Danube as it flows through Budapest. Those shoes memorialize Hungarian Jews who were shot and sent downstream in the winter of 1944-45.
But there’s another important story from Budapest – the story of incredibly courageous people who stood up to the Nazis and saved thousands, even tens of thousands, of lives. Budapest also has several memorials to those heroes.
This column comes from Budapest, where I’ve been learning more about standing up.
We like to read about historical heroes. I think we urgently need more of them now.
Most readers are familiar with the Nazi murder of millions, including Jews and others, during World War II. But the not so well known story is that all over Europe, including here in Hungary, people resisted, sometimes quietly and diplomatically, sometimes aggressively and dramatically. There were heroes who saved Jews, helped shorten and ultimately win World War II, or both.
Among them were a group of diplomats living in Budapest. They included Swedish diplomat Raoul Wallenberg, Carl Lutz, representing Switzerland, and others. These people arranged for some Jewish people to leave Hungary and others to be left alone. They wrote travel passes they weren’t authorized to write. They put local houses under the protection of their consulate. They bribed Nazis to let people go. Often risking their own lives, they represent humanity at its best.

This monument, located in the area of the former Budapest ghetto, is dedicated in memory of Carl Lutz, credited with saving tens of thousands of Jews.  Photos by Joe Nathan
This monument, located in the area of the former Budapest ghetto, is dedicated in memory of Carl Lutz, credited with saving tens of thousands of Jews.
Photos by Joe Nathan

You can read more about these brave people in a short article from the U.S. Holocaust Museum: http://bit.ly/1lKfpkK. Several Budapest memorials recognize these people. You can see memorials at http://bit.ly/1L0MVyR and http://1.usa.gov/1OCD1Gb.
We like to read about these folks. We like to praise them. I hope history lessons include opportunities for youngsters to learn about these and other heroic, courageous individuals. What made them do this? What can I do to help move humanity ahead? How much, and how often, do we act like them?
In upcoming columns I’ll talk about some situations today where courage is needed.
But for today, let’s remember and respect remarkable people who challenged oppression in Budapest and other parts of Europe. They were heroes. They deserve the designation that the Holocaust survivors have given them: “righteous among the nations.”
Joe Nathan, formerly a Minnesota public school teacher, administrator and PTA president, directs the Center for School Change. Reactions are welcome at [email protected]

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