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Hungarian family

Expat Life, Personal Stories

Follow in my Grandfather’s Frightening Footsteps at the House of Terror

February 26, 2018
Grandpa

Yesterday, Sunday, February 25th, was the Memorial Day for the Victims of Communism. My husband is still learning about the older Hungarian relatives in my family – as am I. To mark this sombre occasion here in Budapest, we decided to follow in my Grandfather’s frightening footsteps at the House of Terror Museum in Budapest.

60 Andrássy Avenue

Hungary survived two terror regimes – Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union.  By the early 2000’s, the time had come for Hungary to erect a fitting memorial to the victims.  As well as a memorial, the museum presents a picture of what life was like for Hungarians during those times.

House of Terror Museum Building

House of Terror Museum Building.  The facade that casts the shadow of terror onto the sidewalk below.

The House of Terror Museum opened on February 24th, 2002. The museum is located at 60 Andrássy Avenue.  It is the only one of its kind. It is a monument to the memory of those held captive, tortured and killed in this building. My grandfather, János Légrády, was one of them.

Janos Legrady

My grandfather, János Légrády, and grandmother with my father when he was just a toddler.

The House of Terror Museum

The museum starts on the second floor and finishes in the basement. Each level has a typical classic apartment block layout with a full size T-54 Russian tank in the courtyard. The three floors are full of black and white pictures of the Nazi and communist occupations’ victims. Many rooms have simple black walls with silver text, black and white television screens, dim lighting and bone-chilling music.

To get to the basement level, you take a slow moving elevator that brings you down to hell on earth. The elevator displays a video describing the torture.  This was my second visit to these dungeons – and I felt physically sick.  The different cells leave no doubt about the creativity of evil in humanity.

Basement Level

A view from inside a cell looking out in the basement level of the Terror House.

When you leave the museum, you see both the memorial Wall of Tears, as well as a wall that lists the perpetrators. And let me be clear, this includes everyone from the delivery boy to those that held the highest offices.

NOTE: A vast majority of the information written on the walls of the museum is in Hungarian only.  However, each room has printed sheets with detailed information available in English.  Many of the television screens do include English subtitles (some of it poorly translated). You can also get a guided tour or an audio headphones self-guided tour in a variety of languages.

Arrow Cross and AVH

The building was used by both the Arrow Cross Facist Party (Nazis) and the AVH (State Protection Authority). The Nazi occupation of 1944 was short but disastrous. Within two months, 437,402 Hungarian Jews were transported to death camps.

On August 27, 1944, Soviet Troops crossed the Hungarian border. And while the fascist regime lasted less than a year, the Hungarian Communist regime lasted for 40 years. The AVH were the communist secret police of Hungary very similar to the KGB. Furthermore, the AVH had a reputation for extreme brutality.  It was this under this authority that my grandfather was taken.

house-of-terror

Faces of the Victims on the walls at the House of Terror Museum in Budapest, Hungary.

János Légrády

In the mid-fifties my father came home from school to discover his father was missing.  After 3 days, they were able to figure out he had been taken to the AVH Headquarters.

My grandfather was allegedly held in a cell in the basement for 3 weeks. During this time he was routinely beaten until it was discovered that he was innocent of the charges against him. Upon his release, much of his hair had turned white.

My grandfather’s recovery from this ordeal took 9 months. While János was offered back his previous job, he took a new one instead.  My grandfather didn’t go back because he felt he had been betrayed.  He was one of the “lucky” ones.

My grandfather died here in Budapest in 1977.  When visiting from Canada, my family still regularly visits his grave.

Janos and Otto

My grandfather and my father during his only visit to Canada in 1969.

“As long as my finite mental and physical strength will allow me, I will fight. I will never be indifferent, weak-hearted or unconcerned. Should I find myself alone here – I still won’t give up.”  Imre Nagy (1896-1958)

Details

The House of Terror Museum is located at 60 Andrássy Avenue in the 6th District of Budapest.  It is open from Tuesday to Sunday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. A full price ticket is 3000 HUF. There is a reduced rate of 1500 HUF for people aged between 6-25 or 62-70 (citizens of the EEA).

I highly recommend a visit to this museum – especially for expats that live in Budapest. It is vitally important to not forget this very recent history.