House of Terror is a museum containing exhibits related to the fascist and communist dictatorial regimes in 20th-century Hungary. It is also a memorial to the victims of these regimes, including those detained, interrogated, tortured or killed in the building. The museum has been a popular tourist attraction, as shown by many positive reviews and large visitor numbers, more than 1000 people a day.
Between 1937 and 1944, the building was the headquarters of the Arrow Cross Party. Shortly after this national socialist party left it, the building became the headquarters of the secret police force, ÁVH.
In December 2000 the Public Foundation for the Research of Central and East European History and Society purchased the building with the aim of establishing a museum in order to commemorate these two bloody periods of Hungarian history. It was opened on February 24, 2002.
During the year-long construction work at the beginning of the 21st century, the building was fully renovated inside and out. The internal design, the final look of the museum’s exhibition hall, and the external façade are all the work of architect Attila F. Kovács.
The reconstruction turned the exterior of the building into a monument after a fashion; the black exterior structure consisting of the decorative entablature, the blade walls, and the granite sidewalk, provides a frame for the museum, making it stand out in sharp contrast with the other buildings on Andrássy Avenue.
With regard to communism and fascism, the exhibition contains material on the nation’s relationships with Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union. It also contains exhibits related to Hungarian organisations such as the fascist Arrow Cross Party and the communist ÁVH, 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. Much of the information is in Hungarian, although each room has an extensive information sheet in both English and Hungarian. Audio guides in English and German are also available. Visitors may not take photographs or use video cameras inside of the building.
Several historians, journalists and political scientists have argued that the museum portrays Hungary too much as the victim of foreign occupiers and does not recognise enough the contribution that Hungarians themselves made to the regimes in question as well. Critics have also bemoaned the fact that far more space is given to the terror of the communist regime than the fascist one.
Answers to these critics generally revolve around the fact that, while the fascist regime of Ferenc Szálasi lasted only few months, the Hungarian communist regime lasted for forty years.
Defenders of the museum also point out that several people who are subjects of the exhibition have ties to the Alliance of Free Democrats, such as Miklós Bauer, who is the father of the parliament member Tamás Bauer. Also, the parents of Iván Pető, prominent leader of the Alliance of Free Democrats in the early 1990s, were both ÁVH agents and are noted as such by the museum.