Snowdapest: Terror

imre nagy

Imre Nagy stands eerily alone near Parliament.

The opening sequence of Zero Dark Thirty echoes exchanges more typical of what we would expect between a serial killer and victim, rather than interrogation. Implied ownership, humiliation and cruelty to another human being is inexcusable under any circumstances. The most dehumanizing part is shoving another human being into a tiny box, as “punishment” for whatever the victor thinks is honesty. The ultimate horror is that the victim never will be free, will never really see the light of day.

After a failed anticommunist coup attempt on 24 June, Kun organized a response in the form of the Red Terror via the secret police, revolutionary tribunals and semiregular detachments like Tibor Szamuely’s bodyguards, the Lenin Boys. Their victims were estimated to range in number from 370 to about 600 persons executed; most sources list 590 proven killings. It has been argued that the major limiting factor on this repression were the former Social Democrats such as József Pogány, relatively moderate supports of Kun.


DSC_0017 terrorThis is wired into my brain, as I sit and recall the Terror Háza (House of Terror) at Andrássy út 60 in Budapest, Hungary. As a typically dumb American, not really sensing a real grasp of history outside our borders, and brought up in a cold world era–perhaps, error–I begin to investigate a part of the world terribly damaged after WWI, one of the splinters of the Austria-Hungary Empire. Suffering defeat, land loses, reparations, Hungary was the only European nation to establish a short-lived “red” government under Bela Kun after WWI. This eventually led to Miklós Horthy regime which danced with Hitler, and through it’s alignment and capitulation, led to its downfall in WWII and the death of hundreds of thousands of Hungarian Jews.

donany street synagogue2The beautiful Dohány utcai zsinagóga (Dohany Street synagogue) is one of the largest in the world. It has been said that it was Hitler’s plan to blow it up.

Thus, begins the story of the pro-Hitler Hungarian Iron Cross regime’s House of Terror, responsible for hundreds of deaths during WWII, and then the arrival of Hungarian Communists who continued similar operations at its same address.

DSC_0826 Wall of heroes who died for youWall of heroes who died for you 1956, displayed outside

The House of Terror is less a recreation of the workings of what went on inside, but more like an interpretation of many factors of these chamber of horrors nestled in between the most stylish street in Pest. The fact, that it was filled with average Hungarians on that snowy day, including many adolescents on field trips, shows how alive the memory of those awful years still are.

In 1963, Godard once described what his vision of a film of concentration camps might be in Cahiers du cinéma: “How to get a two-meter body into a fifty-centimeter truck? How to dispose of ten tons of arms and legs in a three-ton truck? How to burn a hundred women with only gasoline enough for ten? One would also have to show the typists typing out lists of everything. What would be unbearable would not be the horror aroused by such scenes, but, on the contrary, their perfectly normal and human aspect.” It is with this awful aspect, how normal this might seem, which to the rest of us is bizarre and horrible.

60 andrassy


The ground floor has an open courtyard and a tank, the only thing you are allowed to photograph. We are instructed to take an elevator up to the second floor and begin an ascent down. This one is a no photo affair, and in this I was sorry. While some of it is a little on the artsy side, documentary footage is often clipped and eerie. There are plenty of English subtitles to explain things and each room has a sheet to explain the aspect of the room you are in.

Hall of the 1956 revolution

Hall of the 1956 revolution handout.

The areas I remember most:

1. A man describes how men were hung, in a very straightaway fashion. Later in the basement one is in the execution chamber with this coatstand like contraption. It is both eerie and disturbing.

2. There is a room which looks like a town hall room or a church in which hundreds of sheets of official documents are plastered all over the place. There playing is a “propaganda” film about the Imre Nagy trial. Nagy, always, coming from an oblique angle, pleads not guilty and begins to legally argue, drowned out by the narrator. I think of him when I see #1.

3. Bars of soap line a pathway through a roomway. An old Hungarian woman in the countryside speaks without translation. An American man who has some working knowledge of Hungarian (learned from his family?) explains to his wife (?) that the woman is speaking about hardships suffered under the Communists.

4. There is a cell with bars and a barred door. The first thing that catches my eye is a spigot coming out of the wall and a drain in the center of the floor. There is (or I image there is) a chair dead center back to the cell door. On the wall are various instruments, probably to torture with. I imagine becoming conscious in this room, a chill goes up my spine. It is scarey, and unnerving.

5. The smell of the basement is awful. There is something lingering in it. The ordinariness of adolescents looking around in the cells is creepy.

reconstructed prison cells

Reconstructed prison cells handout

DSC_0020 wall of


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