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Story Publication logo May 7, 2015

A History Lesson in Budapest


Image by Jeneen Interlandi. Hungary, 2014.

A string of courtroom victories have promised to bring an end to school segregation for Roma...


My apartment in Budapest was a block away from The House of Terror, which served as headquarters for the Arrow Cross in 1944, and for the Communist secret police AVO and AVH between 1945 and 1956. During the Arrow Cross reign alone, hundreds of innocents were tortured and killed in the building's basement prison. The museum that stands there today provides a dizzying and horrific chronicle of war, occupation, torture and death.

There was no information on how many of those victims were Roma, but the Nazis classified them as "enemies of the race-based state," and they were rounded up, tortured, and killed by the hundreds of thousands.


Hungary spent most of WWII caught between two warring super-powers: Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union. The Nazis secured control in 1944, and proceeded to do what they were already doing everywhere else in Europe. From the museum literature:

During the reign of the Arrow Cross, the cellar at 60 Andrassy Boulevard became notorious throughout the city. The people rounded up by the party, the majority of whom were Jewish and thus considered open prey, were hauled off to the headquarter cellars and were brutally mistreated and tortured. Their victims, most of whom never left the building alive, were kept for shorter or longer periods in former coal cellars.


In 1945, less than a year later, the Soviets took over. They replaced fascism with communism, and concentration camps with gulags. But they kept the same headquarters, and the same predilection for torture.

The Communists practiced various types of torture—moral and physical brutality against the victims. For hours, the prisoners had to stand with their noses pushed against the wall or with their arms horizontally outstretched (often for 10-12 hours). Every day the guards beat prisoners with a rubber stick. They gave prisoners electric shocks, burnt them with cigarette butts and even used pliers as instruments of torture. The detainees could not change their underwear and were forbidden to bathe…. They had no soap, no toilet paper, no toothbrushes or toothpaste, and were constantly under light, night and day… Prisoners had to sleep on a wet plank-bed or on the ground in the cells.


There's much more to the museum tour than a recounting of 60 Andrassy's particular horrors. 70,000 Jews were massacred along the Danube—shot in their heads and backs, removed of their valuables, and pushed into the river (by Nazis). About 300,000 Hungarians—of every denomination – were sent to the gulags (by Soviets) where they died of tuberculosis and brutality and starvation. And god-only-knows-how-many peasant farmers were tormented to death by a slow and insidious bureaucracy that forced them off their lands, and led them to starvation or drove them to suicide.

What struck me most, though, was how by the end, virtually everything had bled into itself. Arrow Cross hit-men became Communist torturers. Germans were persecuted then expelled, by Jews. In fact, a Jewish tailor became the "absolute leader" of the Soviet terror mechanism in Hungary. And before all was said and done several communist leaders were tortured and executed by their own people.


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