As he brought his official visit to Hungary to an end Thursday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stopped at the “Shoes on the Danube Bank” Holocaust memorial in Budapest where he laid a small stone he had brought with him from Jerusalem.
The memorial consists of 60 pairs of period shoes made out of iron to commemorate the hundreds of Jews who were brought to the spot by members of the Arrow Cross, a Hungarian fascist movement at the time. They were ordered to remove their shoes and then were shot so that their bodies fell into the river.
Netanyahu visited the site on his way from Budapest to the airport ahead of his flight back to Israel at the end of his three-day visit. The prime minister was accompanied by his wife and United Torah Judaism party MK Yisrael Eichler, who read a chapter of Psalms.
“This place expresses in such a tragic but also a clear way, the change in Jewish fate,” Netanyahu said. He explained he had brought a stone from Mount Herzl cemetery in Jerusalem, named after Theodor Herzl, the Austrian-Hungarian journalist considered the father of modern Zionism and whose tomb lies at the site in the Israeli capital.
“I brought a stone here from Mount Herzl, (Herzl) who was born in this city, and brought about the rebirth of Israel, and this stone, from Mount Herzl, from Israel, in memory of the victims here, symbolizes the rebirth of Israel and our absolute commitment that this disaster will never fall upon us again,” he said.
The laying of stones at graves and memorial locations is a Jewish tradition dating back centuries and is intended, among other things, to indicate that a visitor had been at the site.
(Hungary’s Nazi-allied regime instituted anti-Semitic laws modeled on Germany’s Nuremberg laws beginning in 1938. After German tanks rolled into Budapest in 1944, Nazi-installed Hungarian leaders ordered the mass deportation of Jews to Auschwitz. Some 600,000 Hungarian Jews were killed during the war, through deportation to death camps or in massacres on Hungarian soil.)
Earlier in the day Netanyahu met leaders of the Hungarian Jewish community.
Netanyahu “expressed his gratitude for their warm welcome and reaffirmed that Jews everywhere have the right to live in safety and security,” the Prime Minister’s Office said in a statement.
The prime minister told representatives from ultra-Orthodox, Reform, and liberal streams of Hungarian Jewry that he believed his visit to their country would strengthen their ties with Israel. Netanyahu also told the representatives that the Hungarian government was committed to maintaining a thriving Jewish community in the country.