Thursday, November 15, 2012

Terror Haza/House of Terror, Budapest

An unusual museum in Budapest is the House of Terror. The building was used by the Arrow Cross from 1939 to 1945 as a headquarters. The Arrow Cross Party was the Hungarian version of the Nazis. They called the building the "House of Faith" where loyalty of those in question was tested. The building was used not only as an administrative office but also for interrogations, torture, and murder. The communist state security police (first called AVO and later AVH) used the building for much the same purposes. They were less coy and called it the "House of Horror" from which few political prisoners returned. The museum chronicles the history of both regimes and their devastating impact on the country and on many individuals.

House of Terror, Budapest

The Nazi and the Communist terrors are remembered here

The museum doesn't allow photography so descriptions will have to do. The middle of the building is a small courtyard that looks up the four stories to a covered roof. A Soviet tank is parked in the middle. The walls of the courtyard are lined with pictures of those imprisoned, tortured, and/or executed in the building. Visitors wind their way around the courtyard up to the top where the tour starts. The exhibits follow a chronological order, documenting first the work of the Nazis with the Hungarian government through the Arrow Cross. As the war started going worse, the Nazis took over the government and thereby tried to ensure military and industrial support for their war efforts. Then the communists came in and followed many of the same policies and procedures. In addition to displaying records, uniforms, and other period pieces, video testimonies of survivors play on the walls. Some are in English, some in Hungarian. Many of the exhibits are a bit sensationalized, with music that pounds like a racing heartbeat or subdued lighting that dampens moods or minimal space that evokes claustrophobia. The museum is a bit controversial for its more modern way of displaying what happened. Also, some claim there's a lot more emphasis on the communists and not on the Nazis. It seemed fairly balanced to me considering the communists were there much longer.

The most striking part of the museum is the basement, where the torture and interrogations went on. Several of the cells have signs explaining how they were used. Some were too small to stand in or lie down in, making it uncomfortable. Some were only large enough to stand in, leaving the prisoner standing all day. Some were half full of water. Many of the cells have pictures of the prisoners who were held there. The gallows post from the front of the building is on display, as well as some of the torture devices, including a waffle iron (yikes!).

The museum does have audio guides which the ticket agents seem to discourage. I wish I had, since a lot of the exhibits came with long descriptions on paper. In addition to providing a lot of reading, many rooms had insufficient lighting to read.

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