Read, Write, Run, Roam

Lessons Learned in The Terror House of Budapest


I travel to remind myself that I don’t know much about the world. Usually, this reminder consists of pleasant discoveries in new places. In Budapest, it was a sober lesson, courtesy of the Terror House.

The Terror House is a museum dedicated to the victims of the Arrow Cross (Hungarian Fascist movement) and AVH (Soviet-supported secret police) regimes between 1944-1956. The museum is located on Andrássy út, a famous tree-lined street that is recognized as a World Heritage Site. The location is no accident: the museum building was the former headquarters of the Nazi and AVH secret police.

While the AVH may be well-known for annihilating the Jewish community, no one was immune to interrogation, detention, or execution for being an enemy of the state. Many of these activities took place in the building’s basement, a chamber of horrors that features photographs of the people who were held there. The aboveground floors contain powerful exhibits on the 1956 Revolution, the role of churches during this period, and labor camps. Powerful video testimonials (with English subtitles) offer glimpses of life during and after this period.

Faces of victims line the outer walls of the building

The words “Arrow Cross” echoed in my head, as a half-forgotten answer on a midterm exam. It was only as we ascended the floors of this museum that I realized how much I didn’t know about this period in Hungarian history. The museum presented information in a way that was more eye-opening than macabre. The exhibits were a beautiful, eerie reminder that what happened once, and then again, should never be repeated. Traveling and living in former Hapsburg territories made me think of Hungarians as more conqueror than victim. How wrong I was.

Soviet army tank and images of victims

I know this seems like a downer of a post, but it’s not meant to be. The museum was amazing, and anyone traveling through Budapest should see it for the gorgeous architecture, important history, and the reminder that there is so much more to learn about the world.

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