Monday, January 11, 2010

The House of Terror

On our last night in Hungary Sahara and I went to the “House of Terror” which is a museum that remembers Hungary under Nazi rule and communism. The museum is housed in the former headquarters of both the Nazi and the Communist parties. We stood on where gallows that the enemies of communism stood prior to execution and saw the prison cells in which victims were tortured and left to starve. It is very striking to see images of tanks rolling down the streets that I had explored just the day before. History is viewed through a lens of the present; I will never see Budapest in the way that someone who lived in the city under communism can. During the Nazi regime all of the bridges over the Danube were destroyed so as to prevent Soviet encroachment on Nazi territory. It is hard to imagine military leaders commanding the removal of the world’s historical markers to advance a political goal… yet I know it has happened and happens under a diversity of regimes.

I will never forget the first time I saw images of Hitler standing aside the Arc of Triumph in Paris, I sight that I had admired just a week prior. The tourist traps of modern Europe occasionally allow the onlooker to forget that the Arc of Triumph means something different today than it did during the dreadful months of Hitler’s reign. I sometimes forget that monuments are more than just pieces of marble but a tangible representation of a country’s spirit, history, and identity.

I realized at the House of Terror that the fear that I have experienced in my life can never compare to the fear that so many of my brothers and sisters throughout the world experience on a daily basis. I fear things like losing friends, my teeth becoming crooked, and death- but not the loss of the American sovereignty. I can go to bed each night relatively certain that my countries will remain democracies. The only time I have ever really been afraid was September 11, 2001 when I remember asking my mother if our family would survive the Saudi bombings that in my mind were sure to occur that evening in Springfield, MO. I feel very guilty to be a citizen of a country that outsources its wars so that Americans can pretend that peace exists in the world. I feel guilty that I have never been called to military service. Yet, viewing images of World War Two creates within me a great sense of solidarity; I may have little personal relationship with Hungary but my grandfather and his brothers were fighting the same war as the Hungarians. Some of the prison cells of the museum featured photographs of the inmates who spent their finals days in each cell. One of the images looked very much like photographs I have seen of my great-uncle at a similar age. The death dates of the inmates revealed that many of them were my age; had I lived in an earlier generation they could have been my boyfriend, or my brother.

World War 2 so intrigues me because I believe it to be the last just war in history and a huge contradiction of my understanding of human nature. I wish that human abilities could be more rudimentary. With great power comes a greater sense of responsibility than mere humans can comprehend.

1 comment:

  1. I remember the Hungarian uprising. The young people attacked tanks with Molotov cocktails. They were so sure that America would help them if they showed they were willing to fight. Of course, we didn't and the USSR rolled over Hungary with even more harshness.It was only one of many bad times.