Welcome back to History Undressed, our regular first Tuesday blogger and author, Kathleen Bittner Roth! Kathleen Bittner Roth!
A HOUSE OF TERROR
The former Headquarters of Two Terrible Regimes
by Kathleen Bittner Roth
My late husband Hans, was German, born well after WWII. For whatever reason, I never asked Hans how he felt about Hitler and the people who joined in with him. About a year before my husband passed away, we were sitting in a restaurant across from each other when I finally gathered the courage to ask the question I had hesitated to ask for so long.
“I have tried to wrap my mind and heart around what it would be like to live under the radical leadership of a man like Hitler. After spending so much time in Germany and visiting your parents, I don’t understand how people could’ve let this happen. How has this terrible part of Germany’s history affected you?”
I saw pain flash through Hans’s eyes. He said, “I don’t get it either, Kathleen. How could a cultured people who raised up the likes of people like Goethe, commit such abominable acts?" He said, and rightly so, that at first the people did not know Hitler was insane, or that he was up to no good, because he’d brought Germany back from the brink of total bankruptcy, had given everybody jobs, and had rid the country of communism. By the time the people realized the truth, it was too late.
As I said, Hans was born after the war, but when he went into the first grade, he was told by the teacher that all Germans had to accept historical guilt for what Hitler had done. Frightened, Hans ran away from school. He told his parents, “I didn’t know that guy, why should I feel guilty?”
Even at the age of six, Hans knew his own mind and refused to accept responsibility for a war that was over before he was born, and for what Hitler had done. But when questioned further, Hans told me he’d always felt pain for what had occurred.
I thought of his parents, both German teenagers during the war, one living in Southern Hungary, the other in what is now northern Serbia. They were young innocents caught up in a war they wanted nothing to do with run by a political party they wanted no part of. Both of these teenagers ended up in the hands of Russians—the supposed co-liberators of the war.
His parents were sent to concentration camps not so very different from what the Nazis had set up. Shoeless during the Siberian winters, and with barely enough to eat, both nearly died of mysterious illnesses. By sheer will alone, they managed to survive years in those cold, horrid Russian camps.
We were living an idyllic life along the Adriatic Coast of Croatia when Hans took ill. We rushed him to a specialized hospital in Hungary but he passed two months later. I had to remain in Budapest to take care of legal matters. As part of my grief process, I would walk and walk around the city. I thought of the Hungarians who had it particularly rough during the Communist era, and whose population dwindled during Russia’s wieldy grip. Although there were no death camps like those the Nazis constructed, there were prisons, both the Gulag and local ones. Sadly, Russia was little different from the Nazis in her terrible rule of Eastern Europe.
There is something called The Terror Museum in Budapest which is located not far from me. It was the actual headquarters of the Nazi command, followed by the Russian command. The museum is living proof of what went on under both the Nazi and Russian rule. It took a long while for me to work up the pluck to enter that museum. I finally realized that I had a responsibility to what happened to those who died during this terrible time. I found the museum equally split between the Nazi occupation of Budapest, and the Russian occupation. Both were devastating. Judging by the name, I thought the Terror Museum would resemble a Hollywood movie, exaggerated and overdone.
I was wrong.
Everything in the museum was real, the artifacts were real, and the actual black and white films were real. So was the conference table surrounded by slick military uniforms of the Russian and German commands? I was guided to the basement where the torture rooms were left just as they were when the Russians took over from the Nazis, and left as they were when communism fell. I have Hungarian friends who were tortured down there, most for crimes against the state they never committed.
In the end, I left feeling as though I’d gone to a kind of mass that paid homage to those who died during those terrible times. I noticed that as I filed out of the building, those exiting with me appeared to be in the same state of reverence. We left in silence and continued our silence into the street. About two blocks away, I started thinking, were those angels painted on the walls as I exited? Were there statues of cherubs?
I shook my head as if to clear the cobwebs. To this day, I don’t know if I saw these seraphim and cherubim painted on the walls or if they had symbolically gathered in the reverent corridors of my mind.
Kathleen Bittner Roth thrives on creating passionate stories featuring characters who are forced to draw on their strength of spirit to overcome adversity and find unending love. Her own fairy tale wedding in a Scottish castle led her to her current residence in Budapest, Hungary, considered one of Europe’s most romantic cities. However, she still keeps one boot firmly in Texas and the other in her home state of Minnesota. A member of Romance Writers of America®, she was a finalist in the prestigious Golden Heart® contest. Find Kathleen on Facebook, Goodreads, Twitter, Pinterest and www.kathleenbittnerroth.com.
THE SEDUCTION OF SARAH MARKS is book one in Those Magnificent Malverns series: When a proper Victorian miss awakens next to a handsome stranger, she must rely on the man's benevolence as she struggles to regain her memory and hold onto her heart. ORDER YOUR COPY!