House of Terror
The House of Terror is a horrifying place everybody wants to see but no one wants to see it really. The House of Terror was once the headquarters of the Arrow Cross Party in 1945, which were the Hungarian Nazis and then became the dreadful communist State Security Authority under Soviet occupation.
As if nothing to fear, the house of Nazis and communist horror stands right on Andrássy Boulevard, in the middle of beautiful apartment buildings from the turn of the 19th century.
Just like the Gestapo headquarters in my home-town Cologne in Germany, it is a lavish residence, standing in the centre of the city. A symbol of past terror, that saw no need to hide.
Location: 60 Andrássy Ave. , www.terrorhaza.hu
Under the ideology of fascism, Marxism-Leninism and Stalinism, every idea or view that did not conform was regarded as hostile, to be eradicated or broken – in one of the torture rooms, prison cells and interrogation chambers. Many did not survive.
In mass deportations innocent people were taken, to work in Soviet labour and concentration camps. The Gulags are indicated on the floor map.
Everyday life was dictated by the tyrannical regimes. After the Nazi rule, socialism spread over the economy, cultural life and education. Private ownership was abolished, political debate and parliamentary government ceased to exist, daily life was militarized. No one felt safe.
“9,000 employees of the Arrow Cross Party fought with 41,000 agents against 1,300,000 registered enemies.” Under the guidance of the Soviet occupiers, Hungarian informers watched people at work, universities, theatres and churches, noting down any ‘suspicious‘ behaviour.
Voting was a parody in a one-party system, without any chance of change. It was the fight of many brave men and women against two regimes that brought about personal and political freedom. It is good to know that even the biggest oppressors eventually fall with rising resistance, taking their symbols and statues of dictatorship with them.
The church tried to maintain national catholic culture and to defend its institutions against communist agenda. Priests were imprisoned, monks and nuns mistreated, church schools eventually nationalized.
Food shortage was the result of communist centralised economy which bankrupted the country. These walls are made of ‘bricks’ of lard, for which people had to queue up for hours. But despite socialist ideology, not everyone was treated the same. The functionaries and leaders were not affected.
Food was rationed through food coupons. Tomek, who grew up in communist Poland, still remembers the times of empty shop shelves well. How he had to wait in long lines to get food as a kid. One time he grew tired of standing in line for sugar and came back home with empty hands. Tomek is the most patient person in the world but when it comes to queues, he avoids them like the plague!
Each leaflet tells the sad story of one victim of the House of Terror. Many were my age and younger.
I felt close and empathic to the fate of Hungarians in this tragic period of the 20th century, who have suffered from the Nazi regime, only to be ‘liberated’ by the Soviets, which gave way to another chapter of oppression and terror during the communist era in Hungary – just as it did in Poland after WWII.
I am fortunate that my parents decided to escape communism in 1981 and fled Poland with their three year old daughter (me!). I am forever grateful that I grew up comfortably without political persecution, like my parents, or without the loss of family members and religious persecution, like my grandpa with what he called liberal Jewish ancestry. Without being forced to work in German labour camps as a teenager, like my grandma.
Despite ongoing persecution, grandpa converted to Catholicism, changed his name and decided to stay in Poland, at the same time keeping western contacts for research as a medical professor and private matters with friends in countries behind the iron curtain, which made him and grandma solid candidates for numerous interrogations by Polish communist Intelligence, who also decided to confiscate grandpas overseas correspondence.
Because dad was afraid to go back to Poland during communist terror, we met my grandparents in Italy for many years until the regime fell. This is me, grandma and grandpa in Italy, playing cards.
Freedom is a luxury and I am lucky to be able to take full advantage of it in democratic systems. Once a spoiled only child and now a grown up white middle class women in her thirties, who typically cries at the atrocities of the world but does nothing about it. I was never put in a situation where I had to defend privileges that I take for granted, with my life. I asked myself, how far I would go to defend freedom and independence. How far would you go?