When I first started writing this post, I’d been in Budapest, Hungary a few days prior, where I visited a memorial that really moved me, called “Shoes on the Danube”. The memorial is dedicated to the thousands of people that were executed by firing squad along the Danube riverbank during World War II. Their lifeless bodies fell into the river and were washed away by the current, leaving behind only the clothes and shoes that they were forced to remove before they were murdered.
Memorials like “Shoes on the Danube” are present all around the world, such as the site of Auschwitz-Birkenau in Poland or the 9/11 Memorial in New York City, commemorating the innocent lives taken in some of the world’s darkest periods of history, tragic events and cruellest acts. Making the time to see such places of commemoration on our travels is so important to ensure we always remember the innocent lives lost and the brave, courageous heroes. More often than I’d like, many memorials also make us understand that there are many evils at play in our great wide world, but above that how strong we, as local or global communities, can be when we come together.
When I travel, my experiences are not just about seeing the “pretty things”. When I’m visiting a country that has significant history or involvement in some of the world’s darkest times, I want to understand how each place has moved on from their past and how, in doing so, their history has shaped each society into how it exists today.
When I learn about all of these different histories, right as I’m standing in the places that these tragic events took place, it transcends another key reminder; to always keep an open-mind and to be as kind as possible to each and every person I encounter.
These sites are also reminder, to those that truly engage during their visit, that the world is far from perfect. When you travel, I can guarantee that not everything you experience is going to fill you with joy and excitement. Sometimes you will see things that you won’t like seeing, you’ll experience things that will make you feel uncomfortable and some things might even make you want to cry.
Visiting memorials like “Shoes on the Danube” is a reminder for me of how fortunate I am to be able to travel to see such places and, similar to most of you, how fortunate I am to live – and to hope to continue living – a life without ever having to experience something as evil as the Holocaust or a terrorist attack. Most importantly, it’s about mourning those lost and trying to wrap my head around, but never, ever truly grasping, what horrors they must have gone through.
To most of us, memorials are built as a special place to remember the lives of those we’ve lost to evils that we will never comprehend. To me, memorials also stand as a symbol that no matter how dark a history (of a place or group) may be, when people educate themselves and stand together to make a change to better the lives of all human beings, that’s when societies and the perspectives they share can evolve to slowly make the world just a little less imperfect.