Friday, October 17, 2014

House of Terror

With that title, you might think I am writing about a Halloween Haunted house, but no, this is a real house of terror here in Budapest, and in my opinion is one of the best attractions in the city.

When the Nazi army arrived to “Supervise” Hungary’s participation in Hitler’s grand plan for the world, they established their Nazi party headquarters at Andrassy ut 90. The Hungarian Nazi party was called the Arrow Cross, and they brutally controlled the population from this building.

When the USSR ‘liberated’ Hungary from the Nazi alliance, they simply moved in took over the building and continued its terrible use. This is where the secret police operated, using the building as offices, and the basement as interrogation, torture, imprisonment, and disappearance. At its worst, the building itself was the offices, but the communists took over the entire block of basements as a prison. Hundreds were locked up in the old converted coal cellars without trials and most never came out.

The building has been made into an excellent museum commemorating the victims of the terror of two different dictatorial regimes. Not for the faint-of-heart, this is a chilling thought provoking museum. As you slowly tour the exhibits, you are presented with recorded first hand videos of people who survived the terror, or accounts from loved ones who lost people to the “House of Terror”.

The House of Terror
The building itself is painted a dark foreboding charcoal, and has around the top an extended metal lip with the letters “TERROR” cut out backwards so that the sun shining through prints the words on the building. In addition, at eye level, all around the building are small pictures of people who disappeared into this dark place. In front is a large statue of rusting chain representing the Iron Curtain. Inside the building your first image is of a huge German Panzer tank with the Barrel aimed at you as you start the tour. You can easily imagine the terror this terrible building must have instilled in the population of Budapest.

Pictures of victims
All through the museum, the displays are well thought out, with excellent explanations. Each room is different with well-designed exhibits. For example the exhibit on the Russian Gulag is a large empty room with a vast map of Siberia on it showing where these dreaded “Work” camps were located, while around the perimeter black & white video screens describe the experience of victims or relatives. In contrast a room devoted to interrogation (Conversations they were called), places you in a cramped booth to listen to the videos. In the basement they have recreated some of the actual prison cells, the torture chambers and the execution room, but there is no explanation or notes; bending over to walk into the one of the tiny cells was all the explanation needed.

The Iron Curtain
It is obvious that this museum is aimed at “us”, the people in the Western, English world. The Hungarians want us to see how they lived under communist rule. Of all the attractions I visited this one was definitely geared to the English visitor. Subtitles on all videos were in English, English notes were available in every room, and the Iron Curtain statue out front was completely in English. I did not even need the English Language Audio guide; I was able to guide myself around with no difficulty.

A chilling effective exhibit – I definitely got the message.

No comments:

Post a Comment