Outside the House of Terror there is an innocuous but inspiring monument. It is called “The Iron Curtain”. It’s around fifteen feet wide, ten feet tall. It is constructed of vertical lines of rusty iron links, top to bottom, both sides.
On the narrow side, no more than 12 inches wide is inscribed, in bold vertical capitals from the top down, “THE IRON CURTAIN”, dropping 1/3rd the height of the monument.
Then some smaller inscriptions:
“Shall we live as slaves or free men?” (Sandor Petofi)
“IT ISOLATED THE EAST FROM THE WEST”
“IT SPLIT EUROPE AND THE WORLD IN TWO”
“IT TOOK AWAY OUR FREEDOM”
“IT HELD US IN CAPTIVITY AND FEAR”
“IT TORMENTED AND HUMILIATED US”
“AND FINALLY WE TORE IT DOWN”
I had always been interested in ‘things’. Things like wars, conflicts, politics and religion. And how they all interlinked. Across the planet. An interest generated from my younger days when Radio Moscow was available in the UK and an opportunity to start listening and learning and question “things” I knew were simply not true. Propaganda. Over the years I began to understand how powerful a tool propaganda actually was. So in the House of Terror I knew I would find out some answers as soon as I entered the building and that a lot of this was propaganda based. I also knew jigsaw pieces of world events would begin to fit together.
So I had a choice. I could enter or I could not. My choice was determined by one single factor. I need to find the answer to my question, ‘why?’
After the mandatory welcome by a Soviet T-54 tank in the open ground floor foyer I was led to the main exhibition on the first floor. A small flight of stairs later, my first experience of the House of Terror was audio, not visual. A stomping musical sound of rhythmic death.
Then the first area, a rather ornate stand displaying related videos. On the left side, ‘The Soviet Occupation’. On the reverse side, ‘The Nazi Occupation’. The demagogues were there, led of course by Stalin and Hitler. The scene was set and I was now ready to remove any doubt that war would remain the primary weapon of zealots who, to this day, maintain an innocence of ‘it was never as bad as that, you exaggerate’, mixing their self-delusion with their propaganda. Sadly a not too uncommon belief in our world today.
Anyway I then spent the next two hours witnessing the brutality of the Nazis, the brutality of the Soviets. The brutality of the Soviets remaining after their occupation. The brutality of the crushing of the 1956 uprising. Then the ecstasy of the freedom when The Iron Curtain fell, for good, in 1986. And one thing I remember vividly; as I walked through these horrors, especially the torture rooms, the execution pedestals, the Arrow Cross Nazi uniforms, I could not stop thinking I was being shoulder tapped by George Orwell who had a single message. “Told you so”.
Two hours later I headed for a stiff drink. It was 12:30 in the afternoon, I never drink alcohol in the afternoon. Them I lost myself in the streets of Budapest for a few hours. I had to. Around 4pm I started to relax only to find a nagging feeling that wouldn’t go away. I had no doubt over the atrocities committed through these events. But something was missing. Something just as important. 1914, the end of the Austrian Hungarian empire and the start of World War 1. I knew enough of my recent history to know the carve up from WW1 gave all the toxic ingredients for the likes of Stalin, Hitler, Mussolini – not to mention Japan or Burma – to come to power, ultimately resulting in the three areas of focus in the House of Terror.
Why focus on three genocides and leave a related fourth out? No, I only had information – not an understanding of the wider picture.
I still had no answer to the ‘why?’ question.