The House of Terror

It was a rough day — the constant noise level last night triggered my hyperacusis symptoms, and I was left with a terrible headache, pains throughout my body, and the feeling that I couldn’t get enough air. Naturally, this all made sleeping very difficult, so I did little of it. 

Fast forward to today, when we had to get up early and then stand through a five hour tour. Pain was shooting up both of my legs and around my body, but I would still say that the overall trip was worth it. We went to the Terror House, which “contains exhibits related to the fascist and communist dictatorial regimes in 20th century Hungary and is also a memorial to the victims of these regimes, including those detained, interrogated, tortured or killed in the building.” Kind of like an Auschwitz memorial museum, but different. 

Unfortunately (but understandably), no one is allowed to take pictures or video while inside, so I’ve got nothing fancy to show you. We went through rooms showing videos of Hitler’s dynamic speeches, bombings, and parades of soldiers, to name only a few. The museum was huge. 

The rooms were all very aesthetically thought out, from one corridor with wooden plank walls to simulate the feeling of being a prisoner carried in a cattle car to another room with a floor map of Europe, conical tables rising from the ground to display remnants of jewelry, Bibles, letters, and other items from the concentration camps located where the tables were standing on the carpet-map. 

We saw propaganda posters, wiretapping devices, and even the meeting room for the secret police in Budapest. I ran my fingers over the uniforms of communists (the jackets were much flimsier than I had imagined) and even watched a video in which a normal civilian changes in only a few moments into the convincing clothes of the secret police. 

Down in the basement, we walked through a recreated underground jail carved into the stone, saw the torture chambers and the places where people were hanged, and even saw the “wet room,” filled ankle-deep with water. There was a genuine Soviet tank perched on a ledge, its gun barrel jutting forward like an outstretched arm ready to seize new victims. There was a labyrinthine room made of blocks of lard, and hundreds of photos of co-conspirators lined the walls. There was even a Soviet police car in the middle of a room. One exhibit which caught my eye contained a single hat — you know, the woolen kind with the flaps that come down over your ears. It appeared (to me, at least) to have a bullet hole in it. 

I believe the most striking of the exhibits, however, were the testimonies of the real people who lived through the oppression of the time. One man, whose job during the regime was to clean the gallows platform, described in great detail the process of hanging. He said, “There were no last requests, no games like that.” He went on to describe how the gallows was constructed with an overhead beam and a wheel through which the rope was strung. Apparently, when a person was hanged, his head would snap sideways due to the way in which the rope was woven through the wheel. I am not sure of the reason for this.

A similar theme framed all of the eyewitness testimonies from the women — they all said that their husbands volunteered to go to the camps, the men saying, “I can last two days, even in the worst conditions.” But the women all said that “it was not just two days.” Some cried as they admitted that their husbands never came back, others were just quiet. “Gone forever” — that’s how they described it. Most were left with many children. One elderly woman said, “I don’t know how I raised four children [without a husband], the hard way I guess.” Some women had as many as eight children to provide for. 

When the men who survived spoke about the camps, tears were common. One man, weeping loudly, said of the journey to the camp, “And I thought, when will I ever go down this road again?” He believed that he would not be coming back. 

The most moving testimony was the story told by another man who survived. He explained that he had made a very close friend in the camp named Norbi. One day, he just could not find his friend anywhere. “And I cried out, ‘Norbi, Norbi!’ but he didn’t answer. I walked from person to person, hoping to recognize his face. From behind me, Norbi grabbed my hand and held it. I asked if he was all right, and he did not say anything. Then, he kissed me on the mouth.” Suddenly, the man realized that Norbi had been holding partially melted sugar cubes in his mouth, and used the kiss to give them over. When asked how he felt about the sugar cubes, the man was ecstatic — “It was the best thing anyone had ever done for me.” 

Norbi, also a survivor, was standing next to his friend as he told the story. Norbi put his hand on the other man’s shoulder as the man began to cry, smiling at the same time. His appreciation for his friend, Norbi, was undeniably clear. 

*****

After the museum, we all parted ways. I went across the street and got a French hotdog — it had so much mayonnaise, ketchup, and Dijon mustard that it was more like eating a soup with a piece of meat in it than eating a hot dog. It was good, though!

Then, I headed to Karoli Gaspar Egyetem for my orientation before classes next week. We do not get to register now, but we did get to meet the teachers. I was very disappointed to learn that the Irish language class is taught in Hungarian. I have faith in my Hungarian skills, but I’m not that confident!

Back at the dorm now, it’s nice to finally be resting and letting my pain subside. Hopefully tonight everyone will be quieter so that I can actually get some sleep and recover. As for tomorrow…who knows?

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