By Maryrose Dollard
Within Hungary’s capital city Budapest, there is a museum dedicated to the tragedies that Hungarian citizens have faced throughout the 20th century, named the House of Terror. Even though the museum is dedicated to the victims of the Nazi regime and communism, there is little within the museum to demonstrate that. There is also a monument in Budapest, Hungary that lacks a sense of accountability on Hungary’s part, as well as a lack of empathy for the victim it is intended to commemorate. The monument is the Memorial to the Victims of the German Invasion, designed by Károly Antal. These are two among other examples of monuments, memorials, and museums in
The lead up to World War II was a culmination of almost two decades of economic and legislative disasters in Hungary. After World War I, the Austro-Hungarian Empire fell apart due as an outcome of the Treaty of Versailles. The empire had been a dual monarchy, ruled by a single emperor with two parliaments – one in Vienna, the other in Budapest. After the Empire fell, Hungary gained independence, but had lost 71% of its land. In this early interwar period, the government changed from democracy, to Soviet-Backed communism to a constitutional monarchy. Between the wars, Hungary suffered due to a major economic crisis within its borders after WWI. There were restrictions on trade worldwide and capital flow decreased significantly. Throughout the world there was a suspicion of foreigners and immigration. All these factors prompted the Great Depression that was happening in the United States. After the United States entered the Great Depression, the whole world was affected (Amadeo, 2019). Hungary was not immune to those affects either.
As WWII neared, in 1938, Hungary enacted multiple anti-Jewish laws limiting Jewish participation in the economic life of the country. Other laws resembled the Nuremberg laws in Germany. These laws classified Jewish people under racial terms and put restriction on their everyday lives. Marriages between Jewish people and non-Jewish people were forbidden. The laws also restricted what profession Jewish people could have and restricted their opportunities to prosper economically. After WWII had begun, the prime minister wanted Hungary to remain out of Germany’s control. To his dismay the country aided Germany during their invasion of Yugoslavia. In an article dedicated to the time of WWII in Hungary, it says “Hungarian troops took part in the Nazi invasion and partition of Yugoslavia in 1941. In January 1942 they conducted brutal anti-Partisan raids in which they killed up to 4,000 civilians, mostly Serbs and Jews, in the Novi Sad region”(Palfi, 2015). As the war progressed, efforts were made to get Hungary out of the war. In order to appeal to the Allied powers, Hungary refused to deport Hungarian Jews to concentration camps. In 1944, Hungary sought to make peace with the Soviets, which was the reason that Germany invaded Hungary in 1944 (Palfi, 2015). Between the years 1944 and 1945, two thirds of the Hungary’s Jewish population had been killed, “Although Hungary was fighting on the side of the Third Reich, the country had resisted the mass deportation of Jews; until 1944 the number of Hungarian Jewish victims of the Holocaust, while still numbering in tens of thousands, was relatively low compared to other Nazi-occupied nations” (Palfi,2015). Hungary had a larger number of its population deported to Auschwitz than any other country after Germany invaded in March 1944.
The siege of Budapest on October 29, 1944 marked the beginning of the transition from Nazism to communism in Hungary. The battle lasted for more than 100 days between the Red Army and the Nazi Soldiers. Although the Red Army won and Hungarians were no longer under the influence of the Germans, the Soviets that invaded were not showing mercy. During this time of communist rule, “Half a million Hungarians were transported to Soviet labour camps and tens of thousands of women and girls were raped. The war had ended for Hungary but another, longer period of suffering was beginning” (Palfi, 2015). In an article dedicated to the communist rule in Hungary, there is a quote that says, “Hungarian leaders had close ties to high-ranking Soviet leaders. Government became increasingly unpopular, leading finally to the 1956 Revolution” (Glimpse of Communism). During the uprising, protests were led by students in multiple cities in Hungary. The demands were also written up by students although thousands of other protesters joined them. The 1956 uprising lasted for two and a half weeks between October and November. It was to protest the Soviet policies and the Hungarian People’s Republic as a whole. Although the revolution only lasted for two weeks it was a culmination of years’ worth of oppression. The thousands of protesters in the streets wanted a more democratic state.
Communism fell in Hungary in 1989. Viktor Orban has been twice the Prime Minister of Hungary, first in 1998 until 2002, and then from 2010 to the present. He can be described as “[…] an economic populist who carves out a strong role for the state, and also a social conservative. He invokes “Christian values,” and makes clear his contempt for the “corruption, sex and violence” of Western societies” (Bauvir, 2015). His politics helped to shape Hungary into the country it is today. As you can see, Hungary had a broad and long history between the end of the first World War to now. It is easy to see that Hungary fought on the “wrong side” in many situations. The government does not want to reconcile the past or apologies though, instead they built the House of Terror and the Memorial to the Victims of the German Invasion.
The Hungarian government wanted the House of Terror to be a museum that focused not on their wrongdoings during the 20th century but only on the events that terrorized them. The museum was opened in February 2002, a year after construction began. The House of Terror was organized to represent the victims of fascist and communist regimes, at the same time, it only represents Hungary as a victim. The museum leaves out key pieces of information that would help the visitor to understand the history in full context. From my experience in the museum, it fails to tell people that Hungary was an Axis power when Germany invaded them. Hungary benefited greatly from their alliance with Germany by gaining new land and ending their depression era. Although Hungarian Jews were not transported to Nazi camps before Germany’s invasion, Hungary did have anti-Semitic laws in place beforehand. In my opinion, the museum, which is funded by the state, focuses mostly on the parts of history where the Hungarians and Hungarian governments were not involved. If there is anything in the museum that has to do with the Hungarians acting wrongly, it is merely skimmed over.
Throughout the whole museum, there was an ominous soundtrack that featured an orchestra in the background. In an article titled Terror on Andrassy Boulevard, the author Andras Szanto talks about critiques of the museum. He brings up a point saying “ […] The razzle-dazzle packaging represents a triumph of Disney-esque artifice over blunt historical fact” (Szanto,2003). He also mentions “[…] the museum is a case study in how design can become a smoke screen for ideological obfuscation” (Szanto, 2003). Every room has a new gimmick and catches the eye of the visitor immediately. In my opinion, the curator was focused more on shocking viewers with the theatrics inside the museum than the accuracy of the history. On the museum website there is a statement that reads, “Having survived two terror regimes, it was felt that the time had come for Hungary to erect a fitting memorial to the victims, and at the same time to present a picture of what life was like for Hungarians in those times” (The History of the Museum). Although Hungarians did suffer during the 20th century, it is not entirely because of another country’s villainy. As a previous visitor to the museum, I can say that I was too distracted by the dramatic exhibitions to focus on the history it was supposed to represent and what the tour guide was saying. A key piece of history that I felt was missing from the House of Terror was brought up in an article by Creede Newton; He said, “Nazi Germany did not invade Hungary until March 1944, little more than a year before the war ended. The Horthy regime, in power from 1920-44, maintained an alliance with Nazi Germany, going so far as to implement laws mirroring the anti-Jewish Nuremberg laws” (Newton, 2014). The curators failed to mention this pertinent information within the museum. During my tour within the House of Terror, I don’t remember the guide sharing this information with the group. It then becomes the responsibility of the visitor to either have that background knowledge before entering the museum or to do more research after leaving. Not everyone is in the same position I was in when I went into the museum. I had the honor of being previously educated about this topic through school and my abroad program. Most visitors may not have the same background information that I had when in the House of Terror. The museum should make the information accessible to all visitors. The intention of a museum should be to educate the public with unbiased information. From the same article there was another quote I found interesting; it goes, “After the Nazi invasion, Horthy was allowed to remain the head of state. A government sympathetic to the Nazis was appointed and the mass deportation of Jewish Hungarians began. By July 1944, approximately 440,000 Jewish Hungarians had been deported to Auschwitz.” (Newton, 2014). Miklos Horthy served as Regent to the Kingdom of Hungary from WWI to WWII (1920-1944). He led an authoritarian government intending to gain back lost territories and lead the country with nationalistic ideals. In total, almost 500,000 Hungarians were victims to Nazi death camps, including Jews and the Roma. Another piece of information that I feel is missing from the museum is any mention of Jewish victims. The only tribute to Jewish victims in the whole museum is a projected picture of icy water with the sound of dripping water played over speakers. This is supposed to represent the Jewish victims that were led to the Danube river to be killed. There is no plaque or information that I saw anywhere near that exhibit to clarify the intended purpose.
Although the House of Terror is a place that stands out due to its extravagance and demeanor, it is not the only place of remembrance in Hungary that is controversial and biased. Another way that Hungary misrepresents their wrongdoing in the past is the Memorial to the Victims of German Invasion. This monument is dedicated to all the victims of Hungary’s time under German occupation. The monument was constructed in the night between July 20th and 21st. The monument has an eagle representing Germany hovering over the Archangel Gabriel representing Hungary. There was severe backlash from the Jewish community in Hungary after the monument was erected. People who protest the monument say that it lacks any mention of Hungary’s role in sending over 400,000 Jewish people to Nazi death camps. There is now a “living protest” around the monument that has fact sheets, old personal items from Jewish victims, and pictures of victims attached to the front of the monument. There was a statement made by the leader of the Democratic Coalition in Hungary, Ferenc Gyurcsany who said the monument is “confusing the murderer and the victim” and is “Falsifying the Holocaust” (Controversial Monument […]). Gyurcsany also made a statement about the Prime Minister, Viktor Orban; “He accused Orbán of dishonouring all Jewish, Roma and gay victims of the Holocaust, and added that it was “characteristic of the regime that it did not dare set up the statue of falsehood during the day” (Controversial Monument […]). I agree with his statement because I believe that it is inappropriate to generalize the victims of Germany’s occupation. With this monument, Hungary is once again presenting itself as victims and disregarding the role its own citizens played in both the German and Soviet occupations. In my opinion, the Hungarian government is covering up their participation in both regimes to make themselves look better.
The lack of mentioning of the full range of victims in the House of Terror and at the monument could be because Hungary knows that their aid to the regimes was wrong. I believe that the Hungarian government is trying to distract people from their crimes in the past and help them to focus on the fact that Hungary even has a museum and monument to victims of the regimes.
The House of Terror has the right intentions as a museum, but it does not translate into an unbiased museum dedicated to the victims and tragedies of the past. The museum’s mission statement mentions the victims of both Nazism and Communism. The statement doesn’t explicitly mention Jewish victims or Roma victims. The museum only had one exhibit that alludes to the Jewish victims and it did not provide explicit information around the tragedies they faced. During my time at the House of Terror, I felt that Hungary was portraying itself as a victim and lacked any mention of their unethical behavior during their time as an occupied country. The monument that is for all Hungarian victims inadequately mentions who the actual victims are. Hungary, along with other Central European countries fails to indicate their crimes and don’t properly memorialize the real victims of Germany and Soviet occupation.
“A Glimpse of Communism.” Visit Budapest, http://visitbudapest.travel/guide/communist-past/.
“Controversial Monument Divides Hungarians, Angers Jewish Community.” Www.euractiv.com, EURACTIV.com, 23 July 2014, https://www.euractiv.com/section/central-europe/news/controversial-monument-divides-hungarians-angers-jewish-community/.
Newton, Creede. “How Should Hungarians Remember World War II?” US & Canada | Al Jazeera, Al Jazeera, 27 May 2014, https://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/features/2014/05/how-should-hungarians-remember-world-war-ii-201452565251358783.html.
“The History of the Museum.” Terror Háza Múzeum, http://www.terrorhaza.hu/en/museum.
Amadeo, K. (2019, June 25). How World War I Changed America’s Economy. Retrieved from https://www.thebalance.com/world-war-i-4173886.
Palfi, R. (2015, May 5). How World War II shaped modern Hungary. Retrieved from https://www.euronews.com/2015/05/05/how-world-war-ii-shaped-modern-hungary.
Bauvir, E. (2015, December 2). VIKTOR ORBÁN. Retrieved from https://www.politico.eu/list/politico-28/viktor-orban/.
Szanto, Andras. 2003. “Terror on Andrassy Boulevard.” Print 57 (1): 41-47.