It was my summer vacation in 2013. It was about a year after my army service and I was thrilled to plan my vacation with a good Polish friend I met while travelling.
We decided to meet in Budapest, Hungary. Two Israeli girls and two Polish girls, quite a combination.
You can imagine that travelling in a group of four, 20-ish-year-old girls, we did not really focus on sightseeing. So one day I had to declare- no more shopping, we are going to see the Hungarian Parliament. Actually, I knew exactly where I wanted to go right after, the Holocaust Memorial Monument, named Shoes on the Danube, located right next to the Parliament.
It was a warm afternoon and my friends were quiet, tired, and lazy. So after a stroll in the Parliament, only one of them wanted to join me for the monument, and it was not an Israeli. It was Ola, the friend of my Polish friend, a nice girl I met only a few days earlier, but she already felt like a good friend.
We could not find the entrance to the monument, the heat of the sun was heavy, so we decided to stop the search and stand behind a fence about 300 meters from the Danube river.
I was stretching out, leaning forward, eagerly trying to look for the shoes. At last, they appeared, next to the water and under the shining sun, standing in perfect order and in a somewhat obeying position.
The shoes were in all sizes and styles. For men, women and children, symbolizing the shoes of the Jewish victims who were shot dead, falling into the river at the exact same spot, leaving their shoes onshore.
We were standing there quietly, in our own thoughts. I remember thinking that these shoes were still waiting for all of the victims who were murdered in different horrifying ways. I was shocked and moved to tears all at the same time.
I was also wondering what Ola was thinking at that moment, looking at the shoes. She is a Polish Christian girl, who grew up in a completely different background, but surely in a country which has a significant history with WW2.
After taking some photos we silently turned back, heading to meet the other Israeli-Polish pair. As we walked, the shoes disappeared in the distance behind us. Ola turned to me and in a quiet voice said: “my grandfather was a Righteous Among the Nations” (Hasid Umot Olam).
This photo was taken while Ola and I were standing there on that day.
This is just one example of the important work produced YaLa’s citizen journalists, a program funded by the European Union’s Peacebuilding Initiative in order to enable young leaders from across the Middle East and North Africa to document and share their experiences of the region.