A True House of Terror

Terror Háza: a name that no longer holds secrets and translates succinctly to English.

This corner building on historic Andrássy út was much more chilling than anything my mind could conjure up, but it wouldn’t come to full realization until I had reached the end of the tour in the dank, dark basement.

There are many sites around the world where the spirit of past immense suffering is felt. I have written about several of these, including Auschwitz, Terezin and Hỏa Lò Prison. These historical places exude feelings of sadness and death. This place, in particular, is different – it reeks of evil.

In Budapest – not far from the Hungarian Parliament building, opera house and St. Stephen’s Basilica – lies the House of Terror Museum. Terror Háza boasts an unassuming grey exterior but holds horrors that most in the free world are lucky to have never encountered. The metal overhang on the top of the building projects a shadow TERROR on the building when the sun is out. We were there on a gray and gloomy day. The weather matched the atmosphere of the building.

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I learned about the site while taking the hop on, hop off bus through the city on our first day in Budapest. My family was a bit overwhelmed with the number of sites as the tour guide spoke and the bus made multiple stops. It seemed that every block had numerous places to visit. We had walked around the parliament building, seen the Hungarian State Opera House, visited Millenniumi emlékmű (Heroes Square), Dohány Street Synagogue (the Great Synagogue) and Széchenyi Thermal Bath. Although Terror Háza Museum was not an official stop on the route, it was within walking distance of the other sites and knew it wouldn’t take long to get there on foot.

We were told Terror Háza was a historical site, where Nazi and Communist officials kept and tortured prisoners during the Nazi and Soviet occupations of the city. That’s all it took to pique my interest. Count me in.

Entering the museum, you’re greeted on the ground floor by a WWII era Soviet tank and photos of prisoners who were interrogated and subjected to torture within the building. There is not much else on this floor, other than the sales counter for tickets and brochures (there is not much selection in English.)

Most of the exhibits in the museum are symbolic in nature. They portray the suffering Hungarians endured under the Nazi occupation by the Arrow Cross Party and by the Communist Soviets once the war ended. The symbolism is emblazoned on the metal overhang of the building with arrow cross and communist star cutouts.

The museum is comprised of three floors and the cellar. The self-guided tour starts at the top and works its way down. The start of the self-tour begins with rooms unlovingly devoted to the Arrow Cross, a Hungarian fascist organization responsible for many atrocities during WWII (another site nearby memorializes the spot where Hungarian Jews were forced into the Danube River by party members.) Uniforms of the Arrow Cross Party are on display with full insignia in the Arrow Cross exhibition hall on this floor.

Moving from room to room, a transition slowly takes place in the museum; one from fascism to one of communism. The ‘Changing Clothes’ room depicts the transfer of power from the national socialists to the communist political police. Uniforms of two very evil regimes are displayed as two sides of the same coin – a very accurate description of the two extremes.  Behind the uniforms is a set of lockers, characterizing the transfer of authoritarian government rule.

Other rooms on this floor include The Soviet Advisors room. This room contains art and memorabilia from the era of the 1940’s and 1950’s when advisors were sent from the U.S.S.R. to oversee the work of Hungarian political elites and police. Other rooms symbolically portray resistance movements, political prisoners sent to the gulags and the Hungarian people who were stripped of their culture and traditions.

On the second floor, there are relics of the Cold War. A black 1950’s era car, like many used to kidnap political enemies of the ruling communists. There’s a room with the pictures of the leaders of the communist police. The ‘Reflective Room’ displays some of the torture devices used on political prisoners.

Two rooms on the second floor contain propaganda posters from the time period of communist rule. In one of these rooms, the walls are covered with propaganda posters that were meant to give the appearance that Hungary under communism was a happy, egalitarian society.  Another room contains items that represent economic “treasures” taken from the Hungarians under an economic agreement between the Hungarian Communists and the Soviet Union. These mining resources include silver, aluminum, titanium and uranium ore.

From the second floor, visitors take a very slow elevator to the cellar. A video plays on a monitor as the elevator creeps to the bottom. The star of the video describes the torture techniques used on political prisoners once housed there.

The windows in the basement are blocked out. Individual cells show where prisoners spent their days and nights, often tortured in the process. Hot irons and filaments sit on a table that was likely used by many of the torturers whose photographs hang on the upper floors.

Many of these prison cells give off vibes of torture and death which everyone in our small group felt. No, this isn’t a place that features B movie horror films, nor is a haunted house that is only open in October. This is a place where, sadly, political nightmares came true for many Hungarians.

Rating:4.5 out of 5 stars (4.5 / 5)
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Oskar Schindler and the Enamel Factory

Oskar Schindler left a legacy. From Krakow to Jerusalem, he is remembered for his kind, humanitarian acts during WWII. He is arguably the kindest Nazi who ever lived and I have crossed historical paths with this legendary man on two occasions.

I visited Schindler’s Grave the first time I went to Israel in 2006. His grave is easy to find at the Mount Zion Catholic Cemetery in Jerusalem and well worth visiting. Then I visited Krakow, Poland in 2013. This presented the opportunity to visit the Enamel Factory owned by Schindler during WWII.

Krakow has many local tour guides that can take you to sites around the city. These tour guides drive around in vehicles that look like a cross between a golf cart and the popemobile. Equipped with a sound system, the tour guide can let a recording narrate the history behind sites while he can stay focused on driving.

Our small group of three was able to see many sites around the city in a short amount of time at a reasonable cost. Prices were firm and most of the tour guides and drivers were not willing to negotiate on pricing.

The Schindler factory lies near the Vistula River in a commercial area of town. It is an area surrounded by natural beauty but still has some of the less appealing conditions common to urban areas.  On the drive from the area around the Main Square, I could see anti-Semitic graffiti along the sides of the road. Apparently, I am not the only one to notice this; other tourists have noted seeing this as well.

There is a certain sense of irony that a place that brings in millions of tourist dollars because of the extreme suffering that occurred there is still resentful of Jews. This wasn’t the case after WWII but it seems to be the case today, even with a very small Jewish population within the country.

But many Poles have been compassionate to Jews. Schindler will likely be remembered as the most sympathetic even though there have been others like Tadeusz Pankiewicz. Thankfully, Pankiewicz’s pharmacy is also recognized on Krakow city tours.

The enamel factory itself is not much of a factory at all these days. Renovated in 2010 as a museum, it looks more like an office building than a factory – clean and plain white with symmetrical glass windows. Aside from a large, clear display case full of pots and pans, there isn’t much to see in regard to what was manufactured there or how the factory operated with Jewish labor.

The main exhibit is Krakow Under Nazi Occupation 1939 – 1945. It is not centered entirely on the Schindler’s factory and includes many exhibits of life in Krakow under Nazi rule for Jews and non-Jewish Poles alike. Most of the displays are done in a timeline fashion and are designed as a coordinated maze to get you to follow walkways that lead to connecting rooms.

DSC_0278Historical information is segmented around common themes. Most of the displays are artful in nature and include numerous photographs, historical notes, and items from the time period.

DSC_0277One display, in particular, is a room with nothing but black and white photos and swastikas on every floor tile.

Some other displays play out the occupation with paper mache dolls. There wasn’t much information about the displays – at least not in English – but it was easy to get the gist of the message.

 

The bookstore inside the museum is amazing. I love historical books and I have an extreme weakness to books with lots of photos from the era. The store is small but contains many books on the subject of the Nazi occupation of Krakow. I didn’t want to buy anything there because I thought it would be hard to pack it in my luggage. Krakow was the first stop on a two-week vacation.

I made note of titles and ISBNs with hopes of purchasing these books upon my return to the U.S. I still have not been able to find the books for purchase here. These are not common books that are found on Amazon. The museum bookstore will sell to various nationalities but unfortunately, for now, most of these books cannot be shipped by the bookstore outside of Poland.

Rating:4.5 out of 5 stars (4.5 / 5)

Value of Frontsight Membership

Ugly Tourists

Let’s face it. Tourists are annoying. So annoying, in fact, that some parts of Europe have had enough with disorderly tourists.

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Most travelers wish the destinations and sites they visit were unoccupied by everyone but themselves. I know I do. I’m just not willing to spend the extra money required to be with groups that are smaller in size.

Although not unique to specific nationalities, Americans are often associated with irritating behaviors. Some of the most common irritations include these:

  • Complaining that things are not like America (indoor temperatures, fussy food requests, etc.)
  • Expectation for everyone to speak English
  • An assumption that U.S. dollars can be used anywhere
  • Disrespect for local cultures and customs
  • Appearance and dress of a tourist
  • Thinking the rules do not apply to them

Celebrities are also well-known for their loathsome behavior abroad. Justin Beiber is one such repeat offender. Whether he’s having his bodyguards carry him to the top of the Great Wall of China, or saying Anne Frank would be a Belieber if she were alive today, Beiber has offended many across the globe.

It is no surprise that some parts of Europe are inundated with tourists. Southern Europe has beautiful, warm beaches that are popular destinations for tourists and are frequently visited by British citizens on holiday.

DSC_0516There has been a noticeable uptick in tourism from Asia, where large crowds are much more common, but the biggest problem appears to be tourists from other regions of Europe. So much so, protests by natives against tourists are becoming increasingly common in some countries in the south.

Part of the problem may stem from ports in locations where cruise ships dock. The large influx of visitors can easily overwhelm popular destinations which are already saturated with tourists from land and air. Many do not have the infrastructure in place to handle such numbers.

Another source of problems is alcohol. Tourists like to drink, and when they drink, they tend to become quite obnoxious. Laws in Italy, Spain and Croatia have started targeting these unruly visitors by banning types of behavior in which drunk tourists tend to engage (see points 4, 5 & 6 above.) Here is a partial list of recent legislation in various European countries.

Here is a partial list of recent or proposed legislation in various European countries to crack down on disorderly visitors.

Croatia

This nation appeared on the radar of tourists after the collapse of Yugoslavia in the late 1990s and has been experiencing a tourism growth spurt ever since. According to Bloomberg, tourism makes up over 20 percent of the economy, and because it is a coastal nation, it is a common destination for cruise ships.

In Dubrovnik, the local government plans to reduce the number of docked ships from six to two per day. This will lower the number of visitors by 8,000.

Hvar has also passed new local ordinances targeting tourists and will institute fines up to €650 for wearing swimsuits to the town centre. Other fines include €700 for public eating and drinking.

Spain

Spain is looking to limit new hotel construction and putting a suspension on licenses for tourist rentals to address overcrowding caused by tourism. Barcelona has threatened to fine holiday rental companies such as Airbnb and HomeAway for doing business in the city. Other cities, like Madrid, have strict DUI/DWI laws and consider a BAC of 0.05 to be legally drunk. The country also has many of the same bans Croatia has recently instituted for wearing beachwear in town squares and for public intoxication.

Italy

Tourism has had a strong effect on the local economy in Venice. Rent prices have been on the rise and there has been an upsurge of sea and air pollution. Most measures address overcrowding issues, public modesty and intoxication.

I’ll be looking into dates to see when Brits are most likely on holiday. I’m guessing this would be a good time to visit the U.K. and Australia, while their natives swarm the beaches of southern Europe.

 

 

 

 

The Strange Marketing Behavior of Front Sight Resort

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de·cep·tive
dəˈseptiv/
adjective
 
  1. giving an appearance or impression different from the true one; misleading.
     

I wrote a blog about Front Sight Resort four years ago concerning the marketing tactics practiced by its owner, Ignatius Piazza. Since then, I have gotten comments from FS members, both positive and negative, as well as from an employee of the company. I openly post these comments for all to read with exception to the comment received from their employee.

This blog is dedicated to travel experiences and I don’t want to get bogged down discussing business practices of companies unless it can serve as a warning to others. Anyone familiar with Front Sight likely has a good understanding of their marketing tactics. These include inundating you with spam trying to convince you to upgrade your membership level, much like the Church of Scientology does with “The Bridge.”

Curiously, I have discovered Front Sight goes to great lengths to convince people they are not getting ripped off. Two websites have been created to give the allusion they were created by an objective third party. The supposedly independent reviewer is unidentified, which doesn’t lend itself much credibility. Perhaps this is because these websites were created by Ignatius Piazza himself.

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Ignatius Piazza is obviously concerned about the reputation of himself and his organization. So much so that he even pays for Google ads to lead you to these websites where he answers his own questions about being a scam and a fraud. It should go without saying that honest and ethical companies do not need to create fake “independent” websites and spend money to run ads to them.

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Sitelinks take you to Front Sight’s corporate website, frontsight.com. This indicates FS owns this domain.

 

Front Sight Owner Ignatius Piazza is a Scam Artist

ignatiusLet me start by saying Front Sight has excellent instructors and the firearms training is good.

Having said that, Ignatius Piazza is a scam artist. I joined Front Sight nearly a decade ago. I purchased a Challenge membership, which allowed me to take most of the courses offered by FS for free. The price was a hefty $2,000.

Several years later I was given the “opportunity” to upgrade my membership to ‘Diamond’ status for $4,900. Piazza promised this level of membership would never be offered at this price again. He was right: It only took six years for him to offer this membership for the basement price of $250.

I can hardly think of any other service that has declined in value as much as a Front Sight membership. I got burned badly by Piazza. I knew it was extremely unfair that others were later given memberships at such a ridiculously low cost. I thought there was no way members could possibly get scammed the way I had for such low-cost memberships. I was wrong.

Piazza has decided again to screw his customer base. He is now implementing a transfer fee for all memberships.

Piazza’s marketing tactics are deceptive and unethical. Anyone thinking of joining this organization should carefully consider the history of FS before purchasing memberships. I put nothing past Piazza and his dirty tricks.

July 26, 2014
It should come as no surprise to anyone who has read this post that Piazza has come up with his next scam. Piazza would now like to offer a deluxe ‘Guardian’ membership, for an upgrade fee of course. He has been pressing this membership level for over three months now and I have received literally hundreds of emails from him. It is such a limited offer that he has to message me three times a day. This act of desperation should make anyone question what he’ll do next to get money from existing lifetime members.

Rating:2.5 out of 5 stars (2.5 / 5)