The House of Terror Museum in Budapest stands as a stark reminder of – and a monument to – fascist and communist regimes (and their victims) leading up to and following World War II. The museum opened in 2002 in the building used by the Arrow Cross Party, AVH (Hungarian Secret Police), and Nazi Party.
Coming to Budapest, we knew that this was a museum that we really wanted to visit. Our AirBNB was located only a couple hundred meters from the museum so we had no trouble finding our way there. The museum is at Andrassy ut 60, the primary street running down the Pest side of the city towards Hero’s Square.
We decided to visit on October 23 – Day of the Republic – the 60th anniversary. The initial reasoning for this was that museums are free on national holidays, and we were on a budget. But we would come to realize a certain poignancy to our decision to visit that day. The Day of the Republic commemorates the revolution of 1956, and the overthrow of the Arrow Cross Party on November 10.
Growing up in the US attending public school, history classes rarely cover Hungary. Usually nothing more than the most generic of world history is taught if not directly related to the US. So this museum really brought to light an important and dark period of history I was completely unaware of.
Arrival to House of Terror
Our day started early, as we assumed that the museum would get crowded and that we might have to wait a while to get in. And we did. The line wrapped around the side of the building for about a hundred meters or so and slowly meandered it’s way to the front door. On the outside were pictures of victims and martyrs from the Nazi, Arrow Cross Party, and Soviet Communist Occupation.
Walking through the front entrance, ominous music played, conveying the cold Soviet demeanor that would be the motif of the museum. It took us a few minutes to get through and drop our coats and cameras at the storage area. No photography of any kind is permitted. Initially, we assumed it was busy because of the holiday, but it turns out that the museum is usually busy. So prepare for crowds.
House of Terror Exhibits
Inside, you will find that the museum consists of 3 floors and a basement. Each floor wraps around a central atrium, at the center of which is an old Soviet T-54 tank in a pool of water.
We began on the top floor and made our way down. Each exhibition takes a significant amount of time to work your way through and is excellently curated. You can find an extensive amount of information in both Hungarian and English, although there were a few sections that could use additional English explanation.
One enjoyable aspect is the abundant video footage and interviews with the Hungarian people. While dark, and not kid-friendly at times, these are very informative and far more captivating than placards on a wall.
Another nice feature, every room provided a printed information sheet in Hungarian or English to take. These are very detailed, and even multiple pages long. The information helped reinforce the message of each exhibit and allowed for visitors to peruse the exhibit without crowding around a plaque.
The museum covers the history of Hungary’s revolutions directly following and before World War II. It explores the relationships of the Hungarians with the German Nazis, USSR, and KGB. Numerous exhibitions cover arrests, gulags, imprisonments, torture, propaganda, murder, and resistance.
In the basement, they have kept the cells that were used to hold and break prisoners to the will of the communist regime. They are dark, cold, and dingy – a miserable place to be.
The experience of the museum is truly somber and sobering. It brings to light the atrocities committed and how easy it is for people to take these actions. But it also highlights the strength of the Hungarian people to resist. That pride still shows today, and especially around the time of the holiday. It shows in the Hungarian flag with a circle cut out of the center. The Hungarian people removed the communist insignia from the center of the flag during the revolution.
House of Terror Exterior Display
The museum does not allow for photography or videography inside. This limits us on what we can show here from the interior. But out front, there is an exhibition as well. Numerous plaques in English and Hungarian detail various events and individuals from the resistance. As well, a monument made of chains (the “iron curtain”) stands before the entrance.
I could say a lot more but regardless, the museum is an absolute must-see for anyone visiting Budapest. It does an excellent job displaying the history of this tumultuous time.
Visit the House of Terror
Address: Andrássy út 60, Budapest, Hungary
Hours: 10am – 6pm (Closed Mondays)
Cost: 2000 HUF (~$7.25)