by Rafaella Del Bourgo
The cruise ship slides down the River Danube,
past tree-lined banks,
small villages, each punctuated with a church spire,
and clifftop ruins of castles,
pockmarked and crumbling.
We are wending our way through a map
of bruises and scars
where flesh has been opened,
where it has been sewn shut,
opened and sewn shut,
again and again.
Hitler’s parade ground,
thousands of leather soles
crunching on gravel, squelching on grass.
Walls white as ash,
the rubble and soot have long since
been washed away.
In front of the Imperial Hotel,
where Hitler stayed in Vienna,
the local guide says
Thank you for saving us from them.
We stand in the shade of trees
where hidden sparrows
greet the morning.
Those of us who have forgiven,
but not forgotten, wonder –
who will sing us through the next war?
At the Chain Bridge in Budapest,
a Holocaust memorial –
60 pairs of bronze shoes
secured to the bank of the river.
Men’s work boots,
women’s high heels,
a small child’s lace-ups
commemorate those shot at the edge of the Danube
during the Arrow Cross terror,
their fallen bodies
polluting the water for many miles
PHOTO: Shoes on the Danube Bank Memorial, Széchenyi Chain Bridge, Budapest, Hungary. The Széchenyi Chain Bridge spans the River Danube between Buda and Pest, the western and eastern sides of Budapest. (Photo by Ilona Bradacova, used by permission.)
NOTE: The Shoes on the Danube Bank Memorial was erected on April 16 2005, in Budapest, Hungary. Film director Can Togay conceived the project, and created it on the east bank of the Danube River with sculptor Gyula Pauer. The memorial includes 60 pairs of metal shoes, which are attached to the stone embankment. Cast iron signs that are featured at intervals in Hungarian, English, and Hebrew read: To the memory of the victims shot into the Danube by Arrow Cross militiamen in 1944–45. Most of the murders took place in December 1944 and January 1945, when the members of the Hungarian Arrow Cross Party police removed as many as 20,000 Jews from the newly established Budapest ghetto and executed them along the river bank. The captors ordered the victims to take off their shoes, and then shot them at the edge of the water so that the bodies fell into the river and were swept away.
PHOTO: Sign at Shoes on the Danube Bank Memorial (Budapest, Hungary).
NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: In 2015, my husband and I took a Viking River Cruise down the Danube through Germany, Austria, and Hungary. At each of the frequent stops, a local guide gave us a tour. We saw things we never would have found on our own, and we learned a lot about the history of the region, especially WWII. Many buildings and people still bear scars from that time.
PHOTO: Aerial view of River Danube, the Szécheny Chain Bridge, and cruise boat in Budapest, Hungary. The domed St. Stephen’s Basilica appears in the background. (Photo by Karen Foley, used by permission.) Budapest is the capital and the most populous city of Hungary, with an estimated population of 1,750,000. Hungary is located in Central Europe, bordering Slovakia to the north, Ukraine to the northeast, Romania to the east and southeast, Serbia to the south, Croatia and Slovenia to the southwest, and Austria to the west.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Rafaella Del Bourgo’s writing has appeared in Puerto Del Sol, Rattle, Oberon, Nimrod, and The Bitter Oleander. She has won many awards including the League of Minnesota Poets Prize in 2009. In 2010, she won the Alan Ginsberg Poetry Award. She was also the 2010 winner of the Grandmother Earth Poetry Award. In 2012 she won the Paumanok Poetry Award. In 2013 she was the recipient of the Northern Colorado Writers first prize for poetry and in 2014, the New Millennium Prize for Poetry. In 2017 she won the Mudfish Poetry Prize and was nominated for the third time for a Pushcart Prize. Her chapbook Inexplicable Business: Poems Domestic and Wild was published by Finishing Line Press. She lives in Berkeley, California, with her husband and cat.