Two weeks ago I traveled to Budapest to see the sights, walk around a bit and be an unabashed tourist.
Over breakfast on our second day, my flatmate and I we’re discussing what to do for the day as we lazily reclined on couches in our hostel’s common room. A girl piped up from the corner of the room and suggested that we go to the “Terror House”. I immediately conjured images of some deranged Eastern European haunted house but snapped back to attention when the girl began describing that it is more of a museum or a monument to remind people of the dangers of sweeping discrimination.
The Terror House is a museum on the corner of Andrassy (a main road in Budapest) that served as the headquarters of the Hungarian Arrow Cross Party (Nazi Party) between 1944 and 1945 then as Communist Party Headquarters from 1945 to 1956.
The period of double occupation resulted in widespread atrocities throughout Hungary (as it did in a number of Eastern European Countries). The museum is a testament to the unimaginable suffering that “dissidents” faced under the two regimes. In reality, these dissidents where ordinary Hungarian Citizens persecuted for there ethnic or physical differences (i.e. Jews, Roma, disabled persons, etc.) or those that simply wouldn’t cave in to the occupation of their home land.
As I wondered through the museum I poured over countless artifacts, uniforms and furniture from the party officials that had inhabited the premises. However, I was profoundly struck by the numerous video displays of actual footage. Human bodies treated as nothing more than a pile of trash being bulldozed into mass un-marked graves, the tightening of a nose around a dissident’s neck on the hanging pole in front of a manically cheering crowd waving miniature flags and countless others filled with the same black and white grainy images of desperation and suffering.
The basement of the terror house was even more chilling than the building’s three upper levels; it had served as a prison for political prisoners during both regimes. A plaque displayed at the entrace described that it had been restored to resemble the original conditions, but walking through the cells, interrogation rooms and solitary confinement spaces I could tell that little needed to be refurbished.
The chipped paint, rust stains and musty smell could not be faked and the cordoned off “exhibits” such as the hanging post were identified as unchanged.
After climbing out of the basement and emerging into modern society I felt the freshness of these wounds. I had a new understanding of the problem of extremists and neo-nazis in Europe. The Terror house marked not a single period in history but served as a constant reminder of the struggles of minority groups today.
I’ve been fond of explaining to my European aquintances that Americans have amnesia. We forget the past all too quickly, many times along with the lessons taught. However, to many Central and Eastern Europeans the era of Nazi and Communist occupation was not a distant relic of the past. The fight against extremism in Europe is a never ending struggle.
Here in the Czech Republic I occasionally hear of Neo-Nazi marchs (which often turn into a brawl with Anarchist factions) and even more terrifying, I hear of Neo-Nazi attacks on Roma encampments. Making these tragic sporadic events even worse is the lack of attention paid to such events in the media.
One week ago, Ivan came into the office in a particularly solemn mood. An “incident” as he put it, had occured near the German border involving Neo-Nazis and a Roma settlement. He was in no mood to discuss and I didn’t press him as he embarked for the small village to assess the situation and see how he could assist. I combed the internet searching for the story in all of the Czech papers but it was not reported nor would it be in a future addition.
The Czech Republic, in its freshly independent state (the Velvet Revolution marking the end of communism occured less than 20 years ago) is already in danger of lossing the lessons of its recent past. Every oppressed group in every country needs its own metaphorical terror house to remind people of how mass tragedy can quickly spiral away from isolated incidents of discrimination and neglect.
Posted By Colby Pacheco
Posted Jul 28th, 2008