cate ferson

A Memorial to the Soviets, Not to Their Victims

By Cate Ferson

As Stalin and the Red Army made their victorious sweep through Central and Eastern Europe, finally ending the age of Hitler, heroes they had seemingly become. As the period of communism flourished over the coming decades, grandiose monuments of Lenin, Stalin, and the soldiers that liberated the victims of World War II were erected. After the fall of the Soviet Union in 1989, the fate of these monuments varied depending on the country. In the case of both Budapest and Berlin, statues commemorating Stalin and Lenin have been taken down. Instead, what remains, are the memorials that praise the Red Army for liberating this part of Europe from the Nazis.

All around Central Europe, you will notice that there are many monuments to the victims that perished during World War II. It became very important that the memory of the Holocaust was pointed towards the victims of this atrocity. The decades of communism that came afterwards also took many victims. Not only by the hands of the Soviet Union, but also by the hands such officers from Germany and Hungary who were killing their own people. Yet, despite the enormous amount of victims, there are no monuments that were created to preserve their memory. Rather that history was washed over. Furthermore, with all of the monuments from the Soviet occupation being removed, it also wipes out even the memory of that period of time. While there are many people alive today that lived through this time period and remember it vividly, in 100 years it will be much harder to preserve piece of history.

In Budapest, the remains of the Soviet era have diminished down to just a few notable items around the city. One of the most noticeable, as it is placed prominently in Liberty Square, right in front of the U.S. embassy. This monument is to remember the Soviet liberation from Nazi Germany. As it is placed in a high traffic area, it is a well known memorial that reminds people not of the depressive years of Soviet occupation, but rather of the heroes they were when they rescued this area from another great evil. In Berlin, we find a parallel situation. A large Soviet monument spans a park in which people can go for runs, or simply take a stroll through. Leading up to the magnificent statue of a Red Army soldier holding a baby and crushing a swastika, are rows of battle scenes bordered with quotes from Joseph Stalin. Both of these monuments are significant in stature, and draw large amounts of people towards them. This forces people to remember something good that the Soviets and the Red Army did for this area, and effectively pushes away thoughts of the events that came afterwards.

The only references in both of these cities we see towards the victims of the Soviet occupation are within museums. In Budapest, the House of Terror walks you through the occupation and does recognize the many victims that perished during this time. I would say that the big problem with this museum is that it has a sort of “Disneyland-ish” and kitschy feel to it. Not that this museum does not recognize these victims, but because of this museum feels less serious it can take away from properly remembering the victims. Especially, because this is the only place in Budapest that even acknowledges the victims of this time period. In Berlin, the Stasi prison serves as a reminder of all the political and other such prisoners that were housed in the terrible conditions there. Walking through the prison really gives you a good idea of how prisoners during Soviet occupation were treated. Furthermore, they fully recognize that this was a result of the Soviet and Communist rule.

It seems curious that there is such a huge discrepancy between how the victims of World War II and of Soviet occupation are remembered. The memory of Soviet occupation is pointed towards liberation in 1945. World War II is vividly remembered as an atrocity because an unspeakable amount of people died in such a short period of time. Stalin and his army also killed an unspeakable amount of people, but at a lower rate, and over a span of decades. In the end, a great evil destroyed another great evil. But yet, their memory is handled in very different ways.