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Preview – Visit – Budapest’s Museum of Military History

The Hadtörténeti Múzeum in Hungary Archives the Battlefield Debut of the AK-47 and Lets Visitors Get Hands-On with Central Europe’s Martial Past

Budapest is considered among the most picturesque of European cities. Situated on the Danube River, the capital of Hungary is actually three cities that over time have merged together: Buda, Óbuda (Old Buda), and Pest. Overlooking this modern metropolis of 1.74-million inhabitants is Buda Castle, the historic palace complex located on Castle Hill on the Buda side of the Danube River. This World Heritage Site is also much more than just the palace.

Buda Castle today actually encompasses much of the hill and is practically a city in and of itself. While the castle walls date to the 13th century, Budapest was the site of many sieges and epic battles — the most recent being the 1956 uprising against the Soviet rule.

Thus much of the beauty of Budapest has actually been recreated, as the city suffered greatly in the past 200 years. Castle Hill and the palace were heavily damaged during the Battle of Budapest at the end of World War II. The grandeur of the Habsburg Era remains, however, throughout the city. It is the Hadtörténeti Múzeum (Museum of Military History), which is situated in the northwestern part of the Buda Castle district, where the military history of the modern Hungarian people can be best understood.

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“This building was in fact the original army barracks, which were built in the 1830s,” said Mate Balogh, museum educator at the Hadtörténeti Múzeum.

There is even history in the very walls of the building. During the Hungarian Revolution of 1848, the Austrians took Pest (the capital of the Hungarian Kingdom) while the Hungarian forces held Buda (then known as Ofen in German). Hungarian forces were eventually able to force the Austrian Army to retreat from Buda and drove them back toward Vienna. The barracks were partially damaged and, according to sources, cannonballs still remain within the walls from the 1849 siege of the city.

The Occupiers
It was, of course, only with Russian help that the 1848-’49 revolution was put down, and sadly for the people of Budapest, it was not the last time the nation would face invasion from the East. The city was the site of one of the final battles of World War II, as Hungary was the only Axis Power (besides Japan) to remain an ally of Germany at the end of the war.

Today the museum chronicles the history of not only Budapest, but the Hungarian people, starting from the 1848 revolution to the founding of the dual monarchy of Austria-Hungary, through the post-World War I period of the Kingdom of Hungary to the Cold War era. Within the massive collection are many notable artifacts, including many rare Hungarian small arms.

“We’re very proud of the artifacts that offer the visitor what the fighting must have been like on the Eastern Front in the Second World War,” Balogh says. “We have tried to highlight the role that Hungary played during the war.”

This also includes a number of Soviet items, including various medals issued to soldiers of the Soviet Red Army, which came to Budapest very much as conquerors. “It remains interesting to me that the Red Army issued a Liberation of Vienna Medal, despite the fact that Vienna was part of the Third Reich,” Balogh says. “But the medal for the Battle of Budapest is for the ‘capture of Budapest.’”

The Hadtörténeti Múzeum chronicles the transformation of the Royal Hungarian Army to the Hungarian Democratic Army, which was charged with keeping peace in the post-WWII era. Initially, the army had a very British look and cut, but with the transformation to communism, the army took on a Soviet-style appearance. “The Hungarian Army was quickly converted to that of the Warsaw Pact, and many of the Democratic Army’s officers and NCOs were used to train the new People’s Republic Army, only to then be sent off to prison,” Balogh says.

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