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Thousands Visit Budapest's 'House of Terror' - 2002-03-06

Thousands of Hungarians are visiting a new museum in Budapest that commemorates the victims of fascism and communism.

A long line of people is now standing in front of what was once the Communist secret police headquarters, and before that the headquarters of the Nazi Party.

It is now the "House of Terror Museum." Here, people are reminded of the suffering of the victims of both the Communist and Nazi era.

"We just [barely] survived the Communist era," said 67-year-old Emil Vertesi, who with his wife lit memorial candles outside the building.

After hours of waiting, the Vertesis joined the crowds entering the museum to recall the horrors of dictatorship.

Dramatic music accompanies the visitors in the dark neo-Renaissance building, which was used by Nazi and Communist executioners.

In the middle of the building, a tank from the former Soviet Union stands in front of a wall with pictures of thousands of people who were either killed or tortured.

The museum focuses primarily on the period from 1944, when the Hungarian Nazis came to power, until 1956, when the Soviet Union crushed the Hungarian anti-Communist revolution.

Several survivors recall memories in video presentations. In the basement are former torture rooms and jails.

It is believed that at least 6,000 people were killed and 10,000 tortured in and around the House of Terror complex.

20-year-old tour guide Agnes Kaposztas says many visitors have strong emotional reactions. "When young people come here they are terrified and they are frightened," she said. "How could it happen? But when old people come here, they tell us their stories. What happened with them here. And there are a lot of people [among them] who [have] been arrested in this building."

Museum workers say some survivors find it difficult to restrain themselves when they see pictures of those responsible for executions and torture.

The museum's research director, Gabor Kiszely, says he regrets it took more than a decade after the fall of Communism before the museum could open. "It is very late I think, because a majority of the victims and of the interrogators are old, some of them are already dead," he said.

The museum has other critics, as well.

Some Jewish representatives say too little attention is paid to the estimated 600,000 Hungarian Jews who were killed during World War II.

And the opposition Socialist Party, heir of the Soviet-backed Communist Party, says the government had political motivations in opening the museum shortly before April's general election.

Supporters of the museum say they hope many youngsters will visit and learn that they live in freedom because of those who fought and suffered for it, in places like the House of Terror.