SHINING A LIGHT ON DARK TIMES
You just never know another person’s pain, the sorrow they have to contend with.
Never pre-judge, never dismiss the wrinkled brow or the sadness in the eyes.
Do not be fooled by the façade. Look what’s on the inside.
It’s like that with Andrassy Boulevard in Budapest, an avenue as grand as you could imagine.
It was designed in the 1920s to connect the country to town.
Where it ended marked the edge of the city.
Prominent musicians lived here, such as composer Franz Liszt who is remembered along with Ferenc Erkel founding father of Hungary’s national opera in the 19th century and composer of the Hymnusz, the Hungarian national anthem.
Not only are they remembered in their music but a statue outside the State Opera House in this precinct.
Andrassy is not only a boulevard that defines Hungary’s capital city of Budapest, it is deeply etched into the central European nation’s culture.
The history, the legends, the triumphs and the darkest times.
Those times when the nation wrestled with itself, its conscience as countrymen preyed upon countrymen, neighbours spied upon neighbours, friends gave up friends.
And those periods tore the fabric of society apart.
Beautiful buildings stretch along this magnificent avenue, a thoroughfare as distinctive as you could wish to walk along.
That was until the communist period immediately after World War II when everything was nationalised … residences and companies.
A UNESCO heritage site, it is common to find embassies there from so many nations.
Yet a dark and sombre house on a corner holds so many secrets.
At 60 Andrassy Boulevard, a grey three-storey museum displays parts of Hungary’s recent history.
It is a testament to the strength of the people that they could face up to the evil that was perpetrated within those cold walls.
The House of Terror is a memorial to those who suffered under Nazi and communist periods.
It contains exhibits related to the fascist and communist regimes in 20th-century Hungary and is also a memorial to the victims of these regimes, including those detained, interrogated, tortured or killed in the building.
The aim was of establishing a museum in order to commemorate these two bloody periods of Hungarian history.
The exhibition contains material on the nation’s relationships to Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union. It also contains exhibits related to Hungarian organisations such as the fascist Arrow Cross Party and the communist AVH (which was similar to the Soviet Union KGB secret police).
Part of the exhibition takes visitors to the basement, where they can see examples of the cells that the ÁVH used to break the will of their prisoners.
The German occupation and fascist regime of Ferenc Szalasi lasted less than a year, while the Hungarian Communist regime lasted for 40 years.
When the iron curtain descended in 1949, borders were completely closed. Land mines were used so no-one could get away from the Soviet controlled countries.
Political parties were abolished and a one-party system introduced.
Military discipline was progressively extended over the whole society.
Communism turned almost everybody against each other. Anyone who did not conform or applaud the new regime came under suspicion.
Terror cast it’s shadow over daily life.
The brave ones who defied the atrocious terror regime were wiped out and buried in unmarked graves because even in death they represented a threat.
The oppressive system did everything in its power to eradicate even their memories. Those who risked their lives for freedom of their country were branded spies and traitors.
We do not know the names of many of them yet they are seen as the true heroes.
There is a confronting museum to the Hungarian Holocaust less than 1km away.
Yet one of the most moving memorials is Shoes on the Danube. Sixty pairs of rusted period shoes cast out of iron, of different styles and sizes to reflect how nobody was spared from the brutality of the Arrow Cross militia.
The sculptures are in remembrance of those who were shot in the back at point blank by the Arrow Cross so that their bodies tumbled into the swift-flowing water.
When I sat in the house 60 Andrassy Boulevard and took in one old woman’s story I only smiled once.
That was when she said she’d fled to Australia with her second husband and daughter after World War II.
Her face also showed just a trace of happiness as she recounted her experiences.
This visit into Hungary’s awful past made me treasure even more Australia, and the freedoms we enjoy each day.