There exists an unusual destination in the heart of Budapest, a reminder of the darkest hours of Hungary’s wartime past. It is not a place for the faint of heart. This edifice, so popular among tourists, is menacing and iron-fisted. Here, at 60 Andrassy Avenue, it once occupied an entire block and was filled with prisoners hauled to and fro through a labyrinth of subterranean tunnels. I owed it to myself to visit this reign of terror from the days of the Iron Curtain. http://www.terrorhaza.hu
Originally, the building was the headquarters of the Arrow Cross (the Hungarian Nazis), and it was dubbed the House of Loyalty. After World War II, the communist machinery renamed it the House of Terror, in an attempt to threaten all who came near. So, where Nazis once ruled, the communist Secret Service Police now governed this “place of no return.” The AVO police (Hungary’s State Security Agency) purportedly carried out unspeakable tortures, forcing innocents to confess to false crimes and false information.
I paid my admission to witness this tragic era in my ancestors’ history. I was told that photography was forbidden, and so I surrendered my camera along with my coat. Too bad, I thought. Again, the truths of the past were to be held to the ransom of profit rather than shared for the world to see. And too bad that I have no photos of the inside of this terrible place.
With or without a camera, I was eager to wade through the exhibit. In one of the larger rooms, I was caught off guard and felt like my shoes were stuck to the floor. All around me, wall after wall, were giant TV screens, each one blaring the story of someone’s tragedy during the reign of terror. Some of the people telling their stories were old, others were young. The eyes of some filled with tears, the voices of others trembled. They all spoke at once, and I didn’t know which way to turn, which person to listen to. I realized that this was intentional. The exhibit had been designed so that visitors like me would experience the chaos, the fear, the paranoia that consumed the prisoners at the hands of the Secret Service Police. The room spoke volumes.