Tony Paterson: A museum with a selective memory


Related Topics

The "House of Terror" is a daunting and at times horrific museum devoted to Hungary's recent totalitarian past.

The light-blue, turn-of-the-century building on Andrassy Boulevard was used as a headquarters by the secret police of the country's fascist Arrow Cross party, installed by the Nazis during the closing stages of the Second World War. After the Soviet invasion, the same building was used for almost identical purposes by the feared communist state security police or AVO. The subterranean prison cells where anti-fascists and anti-communists were routinely tortured, are now exhibits on a well-trodden tourist track providing a grim warning to visitors. After the Soviet Union crushed Hungary's 1956 uprising against communist rule, the building was even rumoured to have contained a giant meat grinder, supposedly used to dispose of murdered regime opponents. It's hardly surprising that the " House of Terror" is nowadays topped by a large and ominous black frame.

The museum is an attempt to lump together the evils of Fascism and Communism in one building. The entrance hall contains an imposing sculpture which tries to set the message in stone by combining Hungary's fascist arrow symbol with the communist red star. Yet even the museum's official guides seem to recognise that the experiment doesn't quite work. They appear embarrassed about the lack of space devoted to the country's role in the mass extermination of the Jews. "Er, we don't deal much with the Holocaust here," explained a tour operator to a group of slightly bewildered English visitors last week. "We leave that to the Holocaust museum which is in another part of the city."

The guide was certainly right. Apart from a collection of black and white photographs and a few black uniforms of the Arrow Cross party, the museum virtually side-steps the brief but appalling purge of Jews which began after Adolf Eichmann, the chief architect of the Holocaust, arrived in Budapest in March 1944. Instead, the visitors are shown what amounts to an anti-communist shrine. Room after room is packed with Soviet-era propaganda and filmed accounts of the sufferings endured as a result of communist brutality delivered first hand by the victims. In the cellars schoolchildren take turns to push each other into the brutal"standing room only" cells, used to break the will of regime critics.

There are shocking accounts of the com-munist persecution of Hungary's Kulak peasant farmers and of the show trials used to dispense with the 1956 rebels. As you arrive and leave, you are confronted by a non stop film in the lobby which shows a man weeping over young men and boys, some only 16, who were hanged for taking part in the 1956 uprising. "They were just kids – this was their socialism," he says. But the figures alone demand a more balanced explanation.

An estimated 2,500 Hungarian opponents of Soviet rule died in 1956. Eichmann sent a staggering 550,000 Hungarian Jews to the death camps in just seven weeks between March and July 1944. Most historians are convinced that such a feat of barbarity would simply not have been possible without the collaboration of large sections of the Hungarian population and the police. I don't think Michael Miller, a historian at Budapest's Central European University is exaggerating when he says that Hungary's contribution to the Holocaust "has not been examined sufficiently".

Roma bashing gets a constitutional nod

Failure to address Nazi war crimes adequately, or equating Hitler's genocide with the evils of Communism are disturbing enough for a country which currently holds the EU presidency, but the issues causing concern do not end there. "Roma bashing" is the now on the agenda in the eastern Hungarian village of Gyongyospata where far-right vigilante groups recently forced nearly 300 Romany Gypsies to flee their homes.Many in Hungary have linked the vigilantes to the country's far-right, racist Jobbik party which recently gained seats in the national parliament. Jobbik denies any involvement, but its message is clear. "There has been terror by gypsies in Hungary, but it's not Jobbik's responsibility, it's a direct consequence of the past 20 years," one of the party's MPs was quoted as saying.

If Amnesty International is to be believed, the unsavoury nature of Hungarian politics, currently dominated by the nationalist conservative Fidesz party, runs deeper than that. The government has just ratified a new constitution which Amnesty has criticised for "violating international and European human rights standards." With a preamble which lays great emphasis on concepts such as the "Fatherland", traditional family values and the "Holy Crown of Hungary", critics ague that it discriminates against minority groups. It also proclaims that Hungary lost its self-determination when Hitler's forces invaded in 1944 and thus provides a convenient tool to avoid examining the issue of Nazi collaboration.

Justice finally beckons for one Budapest pensioner

Given this background, the Hungarian justice authorities ought to be congratulated for stemming current trends. Ten days ago a Hungarian court took the courageous decision to put 97-year-old Sandor Kepiro on trial. As a Hungarian army captain, Kepiro is suspected of complicity in the massacre of some 1,200 Serbs and Jews in the Serbian town of Novi Sad in 1942. One of the country's last surviving war crimes suspects, he had been living quietly in Budapest since 1996. If it does nothing else, his trial will begin to focus attention on one of the most shameful chapters in Hungarian history.

React Now

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Web Designer / Front End Developer

£28000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast expanding web managem...

Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey / South West London

£22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey/ South West London

£22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

Ashdown Group: Recruitment Consultant / Account Manager - Surrey / SW London

£40000 per annum + realistic targets: Ashdown Group: A thriving recruitment co...

Day In a Page

Read Next

i Editor's Letter: Why it won’t be the i wot won it – our promise to you

Oliver Duff Oliver Duff
A relative of dead Bangladeshi blogger Washiqur Rahman reacts after seeing his body at Dhaka Medical College in Dhaka on March 30,  

Atheists are being hacked to death in Bangladesh, and soon there will be none left

Rory Fenton
No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor