It’s silent but for the recording of an unearthly child’s voice reciting the names of those who perished in this dim and dreary basement. “Sándor Kovács…István Szabó…” The voice naturally conveys an eerie unsettling tone appropriate to this modern-era dungeon. Yet, it’s not the voice of the breathlessly enthusiastic neighbor child who slurs out sentences in randomly broken clauses. The monotone speech has an everso slight buzzing resonance that mimics the poor recording quality of decades past. The tourists milling through these corridors whisper in hushed tones – if they speak at all. Are they showing respect, or do they fear that they will stir the restless apparitions that surely reside within these battleship gray walls? The thick rough concrete walls served to absorb so many screams and so much sorrow that one imagines they must have became saturated with terror.
What vile and tormented mind could engineer these cells and chambers? One cell, like a casket stood up on its end, allowed no repose. Another, like a cave, provided no light and only musty air that stank of mildew to the occupant forced to move on all-fours within it. In a particularly devious stroke of evil genius, another chamber had walls that angled into a shallow pool so that the prisoner could only stay dry by squatting precariously on a steeply sloping surface.
Torture was conducted in an open space at the end of the hall that looked like a subdued workshop replete with a workbench and racks for the hose sections, pokers and skewers that were the tools of this diabolical trade. Not enclosing the torture chamber subjected the prisoners locked behind heavy olive colored doors to a steady stream of grotesque sounds: shouts, slaps, gasps and screams. These noises reverberated through the cavernous halls and, in doing so, were as effective as a twisted hook in evoking terror. Those with cells adjacent to the torture chamber would surely have been subjected to the metallic scent of blood that crept in under their doors. In this manner, every inmate’s torture became one’s own so as to multiply the misery.
An in-house gallows allowed the jailers to exterminate the mothers, fathers, brothers, and sisters who had been confined here. Thus the condemned, in a final act of cruelty, were denied even one deep breath of fresh air before parting this world. Their families, too, were robbed of the ability to exhale, and let go of the hope that they tensely caged in minds beleaguered by uncertainty. The low hangman’s noose taunted the executed because the prisoner’s foot was so close to the slick cold concrete floor. Almost close enough to be reached, and thus be saved. A tall man might scrape the toe of his shoe on the firmament, or might kick the hard slab in the throes of asphyxiation.
What are tourists doing in this monument to the nadir of inhumanity? They are drawn to the tragedy of days gone by. The elderly woman with the flower-print dress and thick glasses once occupied one of these cells, and wishes to confront the specters of her tormentors and maybe apologize to the specters of the executed for the mere act of survival. The middle-aged man in the blue suit and paisley tie is inspecting each cell for the vestige of a message carved in the wall by a father who never returned home from work on a lovely spring day three decades ago.
Most, however, are drawn to it in the same macabre manner as bystanders compelled to stare at a fatal traffic accident. If one sees and touches the stark confines of those condemned souls, can a modicum of their pain be felt? That’s what a trip to the Terror Museum is all about; it’s about trying to vicariously experience the vapor of fear and rage that wafts through its halls. Not to experience the emotion in full, mind you, but just enough to put a gust in the doldrums of a life spent in a cubicle on the twelfth floor of an insurance office.