As lovely a place Budapest is today, you can’t help but take a journey through its dismal past, filled with war and horrible regimes. Amid the culture, the beautiful buildings, the general grandness of it all, I stepped back in time and relived the foggy memories of my old history books with a renewed sense of culture and perspective by visiting the city’s many exhibitions and memorials.
An integral part of this journey was learning about the Hungarian Revolution of 1956, which was a spontaneous nationwide revolt against the Stalinist government and its Soviet-imposed policies. The revolt began as a student demonstration and attracted thousands as it marched through central Budapest to the Parliament building and spread quickly across Hungary. During this uprising, revolutionaries cut out the Stalinist emblem of their flag and the below became the symbol of the revolution…
(photo credit: Michael Frechette)
One of these flags waves not far from the Budapest Revolution Memorial, which beautifully portrays the uprising, from the buildup to the mass of collective strength.
One of the most difficult, yet fascinating visits was to the House of Terror, a museum that was once the headquarters for the secret police of both the Nazi and Communist governments. The building was purchased by the ˝The Public Foundation for the Research of Central and East European History and Society˝ in December 2000. Their goal is to represent both terror regimes and create a memorial to the victims while painting a picture of what life was like for Hungarians during those times.
We weren’t allowed to take photos inside, but I can tell you that it was one of the most powerful historical and artistic representations I’ve ever seen. Exhibits feature interviews with those who lived during each period in black and white, propaganda, clothing, photos of victims – some of which were placed inside the very prison cells where they spent that horrible time.
Candles line the outside walls of the House of Terror lighting the photos of victims above.
On the Buda side we visited the Hospital in the Rock, which was was built during WWII and used when Budapest was under siege from 1944-45 and in 1956. In the early ’60s it was upgraded and extended to a nuclear bunker as a result of the Cold War. Today, it’s a museum that shows tourists what life was like in the hospital during some of Budapest’s darkest years.
We couldn’t take photos inside here either.
We visited the Shoes on the Danube Promenade toward the end of our trip. The monument is comprised of 60 pairs of iron shoes that dot the embankment of the river. It is a commemoration dedicated to the victims of the fascist Arrow Cross party who shot the people into the river. The victims had to take off their shoes as they were valuable belongings at the time.
Throughout our trip I realized that Budapest is a series of juxtapositions. It embraces the East and West and it acknowledges its past almost stoically, while living and breathing as one of the most cosmopolitan cities to which I’ve ever been. What I loved about Budapest is that it didn’t just open my eyes to a new culture, a new city, it brought global history – the good and the bad – to life.
Update: Since this post, the powers of blogging and social media connected me with Sandy Watson, the author of One Perfect Day: Hungary 1956, the story of Veronika Csosz, her experiences during the 1956 Hungarian Uprising and her traumatic escape. In search for a cover for her book, she came across this blog and the above photo – taken by my husband – and the rest is history… We couldn’t be more honored to have been a part of it.