“How many times must a man look up, before he can see the sky?
Yes, ‘n’ how many ears must one man have before he can hear people cry?
Yes, ‘n’ how many deaths will it take till he knows that too many people have died?
Yes, ‘n’ how many years can some people exist before they’re allowed to be free?
Yes, ‘n’ how many times can a man turn his head, pretending he just doesn’t see?”
We are in Pest, on Andrássy Street, a World Heritage Site. At number 60, to be exact.
At the corner of the street there is a tall black building. It has a small iron canopy, where a clear, immediate inscription is carved in large letters: Terror.
The gaze lowers, follows that wall, until you meet the black and white photos, worn by time, of those who have lost their lives here.
For a destroyed freedom, for a freedom to be regained.
This is the first, strong impact with the Budapest House of Terror.
A violent impact, as if that black wall and that writing hits you right in the face.
It is a crude visit, which spares you nothing.
It wants to show the true side of dictatorships, of any political color. In fact, both black and red dominate everywhere.
Red like spilled blood, black like the death, queen of those years.
The harshness of the visit serves not to make people forget. It is still a fresh wound in the country, a knife that has stopped turning in the wound from too little time for the pain to stop.
The music that accompanies each room is deep, slow, heavy. The music of a funeral, the funeral of freedom, of humanity.
10 dollars (3000 Hungarian Forints) and the visit begins.
A T54 tank welcomes you inside the Museum. Those who most resisted the urban guerrilla.
Those who invaded the streets of Budapest and Hungary in 1956, to stop the revolution.
In February 1956, Krushchev, First Secretary of the Communist Party, brought to light the human crimes of the Stalin era, so on October 23 of the same year, many cities in Hungary filled with demonstrations led by students from any social class. The police in the service of the few remaining Communists opened fire on the unarmed crowds, the fights began and soon became a true war for freedom. The population fought tooth and nail against the Soviet dictatorship, confronting Russian and Hungarian soldiers until it forced them to retreat. The government dissolved the State Protection Authority (AVO), accomplice of the regime’s worst crimes, and promised free elections.
The USSR declaimed its desire to review relations with socialist countries, but only 24 hours later it ordered the Hungarians’ fight for freedom to be bloodily suppressed. Thus, on November 4, Soviet troops crossed the country’s borders, flooding the streets with tanks and soldiers.
20,000 injured, 2,500 dead, 200,000 people fleeing the country, 5,000 arrests, 450 protesters shot in the streets, 15,000 people convicted and 229 executed.
This is what that single tank at the entrance tells us: that there are no small countries, only powerless ones.
And that’s just the entrance.
The visit continues. We walk through the memories of the double occupation, which saw Hungary crushed between the two great powers of the Second World War: Nazi Germany and Communist Russia. It went through the Russian first bombings in 1941, against which it was declared a state of war, but in March 1944 it found itself under the Nazi occupation, which immediately implemented the anti-Semitic laws, applied by the Judenkommando. In August of the same year, the Soviet troops crossed the Hungarian borders, and the country was the scene of a very cruel war, until Germany was wiped out.
Soviet laws were imposed, which would remain to rule the country for decades.
Just as the Nazis deported Jews to concentration camps, the Communists deported anyone of German descent, or anyone considered an enemy of the regime, to the gulags. The last Soviet POW returned home in 2000.
What they did to the prisoners can be seen and read in the soap corridor.
In the 1950s, borders were closed and undermined, political parties were banned, all ideologies that went against the party were outlawed, the constitution was changed, the country was driven into bankruptcy by a closed and centralized economic system. The store shelves were empty, bread and sugar were rationed, everything was politicized, even nursery schools. In the workplace, faith in the regime had to be continually confirmed, everyone was forced to participate in seminars and volunteer Saturdays, the Hungarian anthem was eliminated and the Soviet anthem or the International was played in its place.
Trials were summary, people were jailed and sentenced even if they didn’t applause enough.
Here, in Andrássy Street, was the headquarters of the AVO, the regime’s control police, a true terror machine. Anyone who passed outside could hear the screams coming from the dungeons, where the prisons were. Screams that could be heard at any time of the day or night. These were not simple prisons, but real places of torture which were almost impossible to survive to.
Still today you can smell stuffy air and hear the drops of water falling in the distance, in who knows what hole. The dirge that, even then, accompanied the screams and groans of the prisoners.
After the cells, the coup de grace: a room with red and black walls in which all the photos of the torturers, Nazis and Communists are hung.
Many of them are still alive… and anger is felt inside. One wonders how one can still live with himself after having done so much harm, after having been accomplice in a massacre, in a crime against humanity so great, so serious, so crude.
Once out of the House of Terror in Budapest, it is not easy to walk the streets of the city… you look at everything with different eyes.