A Monument That Actually Invites Historical Reflection

I made this image in May on the Pest side of the Danube in Budapest. The iron shoes represent the 20,000 or so human beings who were lined up along the river by the Hungarian fascists allied with Hitler, then made to remove their shoes —which were in short supply in Hungary in 1944 — and turn to face their killers. They then were shot, their bodies falling into the freezing water. Most, of course, were Jews, but far more Hungarian Jews were simply herded to the Austrian border where they were sent to the extermination camps.

I submit, with whatever respect is due, that the monuments to Confederate “heroes” in the United States are very unlike “Shoes on the Danube” in one important way: They were erected to cover the truth rather than to lay it bare. They were erected to venerate a culture that ought to be condemned utterly so we can move on as a nation.

As a friend of mine wrote on Facebook recently, there are plenty of wonderful things to venerate and celebrate about the South. There are treasures that have been contributed by all of the people of the South of all ethnicities, religions, genders, and the rest. These things should not be conflated with the slave culture about which the Civil War was fought.

Most of the Confederate monuments were erected not immediately after the Civil War, but during the ascendance of Jim Crow. They were erected to send a message. They were erected to send a message that white rule was still the order of the day. Whatever they teach can be taught in other ways. Move them to museums. They don’t belong on courthouse lawns or in town centers.

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