Friday, August 5, 2011

The Last Day in Budapest

It's almost overkill, really.  Today, we had a tour of the Hungarian Parliament building, which (in terms of beautiful design) looks suspiciously like the opera house and Cathedral -- this is not accidental.  Still, it's all kinds of stunning, and here are a few pictures of it:

Lovely, innit?  This is actually only one wing of the Parliament building -- there's another one just like it.  Hungary used to have a bicameral legislature, but now has only one house.  (They kicked the former "upper" house -- the one that was nobility -- and now only the house of elected representatives is in business.  So the Legislature does all its work in the other wing, leaving this one open for tours.  Convenient.)

Some of the night-time shots I took from the Danube were of the Parliament building.  Here it is in daylight from across the river:
And, here is the view to the left from where I was standing (on the Buda side of things) when I took that picture:
There are seven turreted ... well, stone yurts is what I think they called 'em ... that go by the name of Fishermen's Bastion.  Never actually used for defense, but they give you a terrific view of the other side of the river.

We had the afternoon free, so my mom and I went over to the House of Terror.  It's a building that is now a museum, but was once the headquarters of the Hungarian Arrow Cross (read: Hungarian Nazis) and, once the war ended, home of the Communist terror organization (during Soviet occupation).  Not a happy place -- "House of Terror" is not an overstatement.  While most of the museum is educational (what went on during the first decade of Soviet occupation of Eastern bloc countries might have gotten a sentence in my High School History textbooks, if that), everything is displayed very evocatively.  The entire basement floor of the museum is a recreation of the prison/torture cells which had been located in that very building.  Pretty intense stuff.

While the museum has a memorial to the victims of those who used the building to perpetrate evil, perhaps my favorite part was the "Perpetrators' Gallery," (located at the very end of the museum) which included names and photographs of those responsible.  I quite liked this.  It's one thing to talk about the names of the guys who put the tyrannical policies in place, but I really like the idea of identifying each and every son of a bitch responsible.  ("Just following orders," my ass.  You torture someone, you end up on the wall as a victimizer.)

I did not take any pictures.  I have here a related photo.  On the topic of memorials to victims, I was generally very impressed with the memorials we saw in Warsaw -- even the ones I haven't posted photos of had a silent eloquence.  The one memorial to Holocaust victims in Budapest (or, at least, the one that I saw) is this:

It's kind of subtle (and not at all easy to photograph from a tour bus).  Members of the Arrow Cross party rounded up Jews and shot them, letting their bodies fall into the Danube.  The victims were forced to take off their shoes before being killed -- and this memorial is 60 pairs of actual-sized bronze shoes.  (Including men's, women's, and children's shoes.)

The more I look at it, the more I like it.  At the same time, though, it sort of accentuates something our tour guide said -- there's a certain amount of Denial going on in Hungary.  In comparison to what we saw in Poland, I agree.  When we were on our initial tour (with Rafal) in Warsaw, my mother talked the post-War period as one of Soviet Occupation, and Rafal immediately corrected her -- he said that they were not occupied; their leaders were Poles.  Admittedly, they were a puppet government controlled by the Soviets, but the people running the place were decidedly local.  I don't mean to suggest here that the Soviets treated Hungary in exactly the same way they treated Poland -- there were some massive differences.  But, even when I was in the House of Terror, I got the feeling that Hungary was saying "Nazis were responsible and Soviets were responsible," without clearly saying, "Hungarian Nazis and Hungarian Communists were just as complicit."  Hell, our tour guide had to remind us that Hungary allied itself with the Axis powers in World War II.  While there is no doubt that the Hungarian people suffered a hell of a lot, there's a certain reluctance around here to admit that a lot of the suffering was caused by other Hungarians.  (Again, thank you, Perpetrators' Gallery).

I digress.  The point:  I think the shoe memorial is reflective of the whole attitude here.  The memorial is there -- but it's small, and you can easily miss it.  It doesn't grab you and say, "Look at the atrocity committed here!"  It just says, "If you look for it, we're acknowledging that an atrocity happened here."  In this way, I think the small size of this memorial is the loudest thing about it.

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