LONDON—A museum director is planning to establish a permanent space in London to show the history of terror, death, and famine under communist regimes.
“It’s quite possible this was used to kill people,” said the director of the Museum of Communist Terror, James Bartholomew, as he held a deactivated semi-automatic pistol—the type that was used by the Romanian secret service.
Such items are stored in his front room—at least, for the moment.
He hopes that one day these artefacts will be on display in London, in a museum that shows the terrors of communism—terrors that, he says, many young people don’t know about.
“I feel it’s my generation’s fault for being complacent, because when the Berlin Wall came down it seemed like communism was forgotten. Everybody knew it was terrible. The communists knew it was terrible, the people in the West knew it was terrible—everybody knew that,” he said. “But now because you’ve got a new generation come up, they don’t know about that.”
A permanent exhibition of communist terror remains an ambition rather than a reality as the project awaits a major donor, but there’s a collection of items building up in preparation. One is a portrait of Lenin, which is slightly larger than life-size.
“He’s portrayed here as a nice, kind uncle,” he said. “But he was sending out orders to tell people to be killed, to be ruthless.”
A recent acquisition: poster of Lenin slightly bigger than life-size. Lenin was 5'5" tall. 150,000 copies printed so they must have been quite widely spread around the Soviet Union. pic.twitter.com/6iSNKy9Owj
— Communist Terror (@CommunistTerror) February 20, 2019
“This is propaganda,” said Bartholomew, in reference to the posters from the Soviet Union and the Cultural Revolution.
“We’ve got to juxtapose that, with what was actually happening, which was people were, in many cases, starving to death,” he said. “If they said something out of line they could be sent to prison, or even be shot.”
Artefacts such as a prison door or a tank are difficult to find. While he searches, Bartholomew said he is building up the collection with items like posters, ration cards from Poland, and a Russian Nagant revolver.
“The museum and everything we do, aims to be objective, accurate and true,” he said. “We’re talking about the deaths of 80 [million] to 100 million people. No exaggeration or propaganda is needed. You just need to understand the facts.”
The idea of the museum came together for Bartholomew, partly because of the popularity of Labour Party Leader Jeremy Corbyn in England and Democrat Party Senator Bernie Sanders in the United States.
“There’s enormous support among young people for these people [Corbyn and Sanders], who I consider to have ideas which are dangerously similar to the communist ideas of the twentieth century,” he said.
He was also compelled to act after seeing the House of Terror Museum in Budapest, Hungary.
“You come out feeling shocked, because you’ve seen cells where people were hanged. I thought, ‘My goodness. My children know nothing about this; young people know nothing about this. They need to know, otherwise they have no intellectual defence against communism.'”
Before the physical museum materialises, the project is also organising talks, and publishing videos, which document the first-hand experiences of those who have lived under communist regimes.