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Alfred Hajos-Guttmann (1878-1955), Jewish Hungarian Olympic swimmer, 1896

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Alfred Hajos-Guttmann (1878-1955), born in Hungary he was
Winner of Olympic gold medals for the 100m and 1200m swimming competition in 1896. In 1924 he won an Olympic medal for designing sports facilities.
(The Oster Visual Documentation Center, Beit Hatfutsot,
courtesy of Dr. Moshe Scher, Haifa)
Photo period:
1896
ID Number:
145342
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Hungary

Magyarország

A country in central Europe, member of the European Union (EU). 

21st Century

Estimated Jewish population in 2018: 47,000 out of 9,800,000 (0.4%).  Hungary has the largest Jewish population in central and eastern Europe. Most Jews live in Budapest, with a minority living in a number of other communities of them the largest are located in Debrecen, Szeged, and Miskolc. The umbrella organization of the Jewish communities:

Mazsihisz
Phone: 36 1 413 55 00
Email: info@mazsihisz.com
Website: www.mazsihisz.hu

 

HISTORY

The Jews of Hungary

1251 | In the Land of Hagar

In the second half of the 11th century, some Jews migrated from the regions of Bohemia and Moravia, in today's Czech Republic, and settled in a part of the Pannonia region located in what is now Hungary. Documents from the time show that the local church issued edicts prohibiting marriages between Christians and Jews, as well as employing Jews at festivals and fairs.
This attitude changed in 1251 when King Bela IV issued a bill of rights that regulated trade relations between Jews and Christians and protected the Jews from harassment by Christians. This royal act caused Jews from all over Europe to start immigrating to Hungary, “Land of Hagar”, as it was called in Rabbinical literature of the Middle Ages.
But not all was rosy in the land of goulash and blintzes. The reign of King Lajos I saw a rise in the influence of the Catholic Church, which was displeased with the rights given to the Jews, and in 1360 this king decreed that the Jews be expelled from his kingdom. Four years later the decree was annulled due to financial reasons, but many of those expelled never returned.

1526 | Three States for One People

In the 16th and 17th centuries the Hungarians, Turks and Habsburg emperors all fought over the coveted Hungarian real-estate. The people of Hungary – and the Jews among them – passed from hand to hand and from sovereign to sovereign like second-rate goods at a country fair.
The story begins with the Battle of Mohacs, which took place in 1526 and ended with a fateful defeat for the Hungarians at the hands of the Turks. Following this clash Hungary was divided into three parts: The southeastern part fell into Turkish control, the northwestern part under the rule of the Habsburgs, while the eastern part – the region of Transylvania, which remained under Turkish sovereignty (but not Turkish rule) – became an independent principality.
The Jews who lived under Turkish rule enjoyed relative freedom. The most significant community in this area lived in the city of Buda (later to become part of modern-day Budapest). This was a community of Jews from the west and east alike, and the blend of cultures enriched the Torah life of Buda Jews thanks to the fruitful mixture of the study techniques perfected by the sages of Spain and the Ashkenazi principles of 'pilpul' – the nuanced legalistic mechanism of Talmud study.
The economic situation of the Jews in the city, which sat on a major trade route, on the banks of the Danube, was likewise improved, and they traded in all goods – from hides and rugs to cattle and liquor.
The Jews living in the eastern part of the country – as explained, under Turkish sovereignty but not direct Turkish rule – enjoyed relative prosperity, influenced by the Calvinists of the Hungarian Reform Church, who were more tolerant than their Catholic predecessors were.
The state of the Jews who lived under the Habsburgs, however, went from bad to worse, and many of them were expelled from the Crown cities.

1781 | The Edict of Toleration

Many historians mark the day on which Emperor Joseph II issued the “Edict of Toleration” for the Jews as the day on which the walls of the ghetto came down, at least metaphorically, and Jews began to integrate into the European sphere. The edict, issued in the year 1781, abolished the residential restriction that had been placed on the Jews, granted them freedom of movement throughout the empire and allowed them to take part in commerce and the economy, to enroll in institutions of general studies and practice free professions.
At the same time, the edict prohibited the operation of synagogues, as well as the use of Yiddish and Hebrew in official documents. Jews lacking formal education were not allowed to marry until age 25, as a way to encourage education.
But despite the restrictions on religious freedom, many Jews immigrated to Hungary, mostly from the regions of Galicia (now southern Poland) and Moravia (now in the Czech Republic). In time, the Jewish community of Hungary would split into two opposite schools: most of the Jews arriving from Moravia were enamored with the ideas of progress and adopted the values of the Enlightenment, and within 100 years they produced many thinkers and intellectuals, among them Theodore (Binyamin Zeev) Herzl, many of whom left an indelible impression on European culture.
The Jews who came from Galicia, on the other hand, adhered to their traditional Judaism, and in time founded the Hasidic courts of Satmar, Munkacs and others.

1848 | Amen-cipation

The history of the Enlightenment and its attitude towards the Jews is complex and inconsistent. One the one hand, those upholding the values of equality, which are the very heart of the Enlightenment movement, could not exclude the Jews, lest they be accused of double standards. On the other, the ancient European aversion to the notion of the Jew as an equal among equals made it hard for the Europeans to put their ideals into practice.
Hungary was not unique in this regard. Between 1815-1840 the number of Jews in Hungary grew by approximately 80% due to accelerated immigration, stemming from the reforms of Joseph II and the Edict of Toleration. On the face of it, Jews integrated into Hungarian society and received equal treatment, but the excuses for Jew-hatred always found willing ears.
One of many examples can be found in the words of one of the leaders of the Liberal movement in the lower house of parliament regarding the production of alcohol, one of the main occupation of the Jews in that period: “Those who live in areas where every saloon is in the hands of the Jews know what danger they pose to the people […] as they constantly hold the white poison.”
Another expression of anti-Semitism which no “edict of toleration” could undo came in 1848, during the “Spring of Nations” revolution. Although Jews took an active part in the revolution, the Liberal-controlled National Assembly refused to grant them fully equal rights. Following this decision, which of course caused much disappointment, many Jews argued that this was proof that the integration into Hungarian life must be increased and Jewish national identity should be blurred.
Despite the hostile environment, in 1860 the steamroller of enlightenment overcame racism and almost all restrictions on the Jews were lifted. The revolution was completed in 1867, when the Jews were granted full equality.

1868 | The Triple thread

What does one do when one is told, one fine day, that he is free?
The ideas of Enlightenment and rationalism, which had spread through the Jewish communities in relatively short order, caused deep changes in them. While in the pre-modern era the community was the legal, political and social framework that shaped the life of the Jew, after emancipation it was left with only religious authority.
The “Problem of the Jews,” as Achad Ha'am (Asher Ginzberg) called it, was paradoxically expressed in their successful integration into European life. For now the Jewish community had to decide the greatest question of all: What shall the unique Jewish identity consist of, now that there was no ghetto? How to act when cultural and corporeal walls no longer separate Jew from Gentile?
In 1868 these questions were laid before the Jewish congress organized by the community of Pest (soon to become part of Budapest), one of the largest and most important communities in Hungary. Three major schools of thought faced off with each other at this congress: The Orthodox, who believed in religious conservatism, seclusion, and a minimum of religious reforms; the Neologists (reformists), who called to accept the social changes willingly, use the Hungarian language in sermons and open the synagogues to the winds of change blowing through the world; and the “Status Quo” group, which favored maintaining the existing arrangements.
The Neologists won the majority of the votes at the congress, representing the desire of most Hungarian Jews to integrate into general society. The other schools of thought refused to accept the result, and organized in separate communities. A Jew visiting a Hungarian city in those days could have prayed Shacharit at the Neologist temple, Mincha at an Orthodox shul, and Arvit at a synagogue affiliated with the “Status-Quo” group. Such sharp polarization among the members of a Jewish community was a phenomenon unique to Hungary, and scholars believe that the deep rift left such a lasting impression on the community that its impact continued to be felt until the community was destroyed in WW2.

1882 | Same Solution, Opposite Reasons

Before a Hungarian Jew named Theodore (Binyamin Zeev) Herzl even began to think of the first draft for his book “The State of the Jews”, another Hungarian, Victor Istoczi, a Member of Parliament from a noble family, suggested the establishment a separate state for the Jews. Unlike Herzl, who developed the idea of the Jewish state out of concern for his people, Istoczi formulated the idea due to his fear of the Jews. In other words, they both thought of the idea for the same reason: Anti-Semitism.
Istoczi argued that Judaism is not just a religious community, but a social sect which shared blood, ancient tradition, common interests as well as religion turn into a tight-knit, closed unit. To him, the Jews were nothing but clever parasites planning to take over Hungary, and the internal division among them was but a nefarious plot: The task of the Orthodox was to preserve Judaism and its religious lifestyle, whereas the Neologists were to cunningly make their way into the front lines of Hungarian politics.
Istoczi's words found receptive ears and laid the foundation for the dual experience of the Jews of Hungary: On one hand, escalating anti-Semitism that peaked in the affair of “the girl from Tisza Eszlar”, a famous blood libel that took place in 1882, in which a shamash (synagogue attendant) and a Jewish shochet (ritual slaughterer) were accused of murdering a girl (a charge of which they were acquitted at trial and on appeal as well); on the other hand, an accelerated increase in the number of Jews who moved to the cities and integrated into the general fabric of life. The lesson was unmistakable: Hungarian society was unwilling to accept the Jews as they were. In order to integrate into it, they must renounce their social and religious uniqueness and adapt to the ways and customs of the non-Jewish population.

1886 | The Hungarian-Jewish International

One of the common responses to the non-acceptance of Jews in Hungarian society was that of assimilation. But in accordance with the famous observation by French philosopher Sartre, that “A Jew is one recognized as a Jew,” the fact that they had assimilated among the Hungarians didn't really help the Jews. The prevalent view was that the Jew was a foreign race in Europe and even if he really wanted, he could not become one with the Slavic races. “Judaism is a malignant infection everywhere,” a respectable Catholic journal declared in those days, “and it ruins the mores most particularly in the world of trade, degrades morality and turns corruption into a general fashion.”
One of the solutions for the catch-22 in which the Jews found themselves was to be found in a new ideology that began to spread in Europe at the end of the 19th century: Socialism.
Socialist thought stated that national and religious categories are a capitalist invention designed to obfuscate the gap between the classes. The Jews, who paid a heavy price for their ethnic identity, joined the movement in droves.
One of the main socialists in Hungary was Bela Kun, who was born in Transylvania in 1886. His father was a converted Jew and his mother a protestant. Kun belonged to a circle of well-known Jewish artists and writers, among whom were literary critic Gyorgi Lukacs, novelist Lajos Biro and others – all adherents of the communist ideology and key officials of the Hungarian Soviet Republic. In 1919 Kun was appointed Foreign Minister in the short-lived Hungarian Soviet Republic that was established after WW1.

1903 | Got a Shekel?

It is ironic that of all people, the visionary of Zionism, Theodore Herzl, was born in a country where the majority of Jews firmly rejected the Zionist idea, as most Hungarian Jews indeed did. The Orthodox community saw Zionism as a false messiah movement that could hasten the end of days, whereas the Neologist community supported assimilation and defined its members as “Hungarians of Mosaic Faith”, which is to say, Hungarian patriots like any other, who just happen to be Jews.
And yet, seven Hungarian Jews, arriving in Basel as self-appointed delegates, took part in the first Zionist Congress. The most notable among them were Janos Ronai, who in 1897 founded the first Zionist association in Hungary, and Shmuel Bettleheim, who founded the Zionist Organization of Hungary along with Ronai in 1903.
Over the years the Zionist movement grew stronger in Hungary. Indication of this can be found in the number of those who purchased the Eretz Israel Shekel, which rose from 500 to 1,200 people. (The Shekel was the annual dues collected by the Zionist Organization and which bestowed upon the purchaser the right to vote and be elected at Zionist congresses.) “The cream of the crop,” in the words of Dr. Hajim Weissburg, one of the founders, were the members of the Makkabea Club in 1903. The aim of the founders of the Makkabea Club was to provide the members of the Zionist Organization with Jewish and Zionist cultural values and to arouse Jewish awareness, self-respect and national pride among the Jews. Their activities followed those of student organizations and was characterized by communal meals, symbols, slogans, and even dueling when Jewish pride so required.

1910 | The “Big Bang” of Hungarian Jews

At the end of the 19th century, an era when Enlightenment and modernization reached a peak in western and central Europe, an enormous amount of intellect, ability and talent, that had been cooped up for hundreds of years in the yeshivas and batei midrash, exploded into the Hungarian atmosphere.
Hungarian Jews recorded immense achievements in all fields: From the great inventors Laszlo Biro and David Gestetner, through talented mathematicians such as Mano Beck and Miklos Schweitzer, through Nobel-winning chemists George Olah and Michael Polanyi.
More than any other field, Jews stood out in the world of journalism. Among the most influential media personalities in Hungary a special mention should be made of the writer Adolf Agai, who edited the popular satirical Borsszem Janko and publisher Sandor Braun, who invented new color printing formats, including the daily “Az Est”. Strong Jewish roots can also be found in the famous “press halls” of Budapest, which for the first time concentrated the entire journalism production chain - writing, editing, proofreading, printing, marketing and distribution – under one roof.
The field of literature and the humanities was another in which the Jews gained much success. One of these for example was the poet Jozsef Kis, who founded “A-Het”, a periodical which served as a home for Jewish poets and writers, including short story master Tomas Kobor. Upon the decline of A-Het it was replaced by the leading literary periodical “Nyugat”, which featured the works of Hungarian prose pioneer Sandor Brody and novelist and playwright Dezső Szomory Hungarian Jews and Hungarians of Jewish descent made a crucial contribution to the local theater and film as well, including actor Bernard Schwartz, better known as Hollywood star Tony Curtis, who was born in New York to Hungarian parents, and Casablanca director Mihaly Kertesz, who changed his named to Michael Curtiz when he immigrated to America.
Even in sports, considered a quintessentially “non-Jewish” activity, Jews stood out, winning almost 33% of all Olympic medals awarded to Hungarian athletes in the early 20th century.

1920 | The Jewish Laws

After WW1 Hungary lost some two thirds of its territory. Many Jewish Hungarians found themselves overnight living under the sovereignty of new states: Romania, Yugoslavia, Austria and others.
During the Great War (1914-1918) approximately 10,000 Jewish Hungarian soldiers fell in the killing fields, but the patriotism they showed didn't stop the anti-Semitic winds blowing through the streets of Hungary, intensified by the many Jewish refugees streaming from Galicia in search of shelter in the Hungarian lands.
Like many countries attempting to forge a national identity between the two world wars, Hungary too tried to establish a communist regime, but it lasted only 133 days, followed by the regime of Miklos Horthy, a conservative national war hero with anti-Semitic tendencies. The suppression of the communist regime was accompanied by pogroms against the “cosmopolitan” Jews, in which the “white terror” fascist gangs murdered some 3.000 Jews.
During the 1920's Hungary was home to a sort of “soft anti-Semitism”. On one hand, discriminatory quotas on Jewish enrollment in universities, which stood at only 5%. On the other – the Jews were awarded a certain representation in the Hungarian parliament.
At the end of the 1930s the Jews of Hungary, numbering some 450,000, lived under an anti-Jewish assault. It was a slippery slope: In 1938 parliament passed the first “Jewish Law”, which restricted their freedom of occupation in many fields and broadened the definition of “Jew” to those who had converted after 1919. A year later the Hungarian parliament passed “The Second Jewish Law” which expanded the definition of “Jew” even further, to include another 100,000 people who had converted before 1919, as well as their children.
These moves were the barbaric constitutional foundation for the annihilation of the Jews of Hungary during WW2.

1944 | Goods For Blood

The Jewish community of Hungary had the dubious honor of being among the few which the Nazi extermination machine left for the end of the war; but when it did happen, the annihilation was deadly, methodical and quick, even for the Nazis.
Unlike the Jews of Poland, many of whom believed the lies of the Nazi propaganda machine, the prevalent view among scholars is that the Jews of Hungary were indeed aware of the horrible atrocities of the Nazis, but until the last moment could not believe that such barbarity could take place in a civilized country like Hungary.
When the Nazis conquered Hungary, in March 1944, there were some 750,000 Jews living in it, of whom about 300,000 were refugees and displaced persons from the east. Over the course of two months about half a million Jews wearing yellow stars were concentrated in ghettos established by the Nazis in every Hungarian city, and in May 1944 they began to be transported en masse to Auschwitz. It is estimated that within a few weeks approximately 450,000 of Hungary's Jews were murdered in this fashion.
In October 1944 the Nazis deposed the Hungarian Regent Horthy and appointed anti-Semitic fascist Ferenc Szalasi, head of the Iron Cross Party, as Prime Minister. As soon as Szalasi took office, the authorities no longer protected the Jews of Budapest. Death ran wild in the streets of the city, and the Danube turned red with the blood the elderly, women and children who were shot in the back and dumped in the river.
One of the most controversial episodes in the Holocaust of Hungary's Jews has to do with Israel Kastner, Deputy Head of the Zionist Organization in the country and one of the founders of the “Aid and Rescue Committee of Budapest”. Kastner saved some 1,700 Jews thanks to a deal he signed with Adolf Eichmann, which can be summed up in three terrible words: “Goods for blood”.
In the 1950s the “Kastner Affair” exploded in Israel after the latter was accused by District Court Judge Binyamin Halevy of “selling his soul to the devil”. Three years later the Supreme court cleared Kastner's name, but he didn't live to see it: A few months earlier, on March 4th, 1957, Kastner was gunned down by three Jewish assassins in Tel Aviv.

2001 | From the establishment of Israel until today

After the Holocaust approximately 145,000 Jews remained in Hungary. During these years the Zionist movement operated at full steam, and many of Hungary's Jews moved to Israel. Among the most prominent were journalist-cum-Justice Minister Yosef (“Tommy”) Lapid, satirical writer Ephraim Kishon and Bank of Israel Governor Moshe Zanbar. The Jews remaining in Hungary mostly turned their backs on Jewish tradition, whether due to the trauma of the Holocaust or the influence of the atheist communist regime. In the late 1940s the Communist Party came to power in Hungary. Jewish educational institutions were closed down, and all Zionist activity was banned. Jews who were of a clear communist bent found key positions in the party. One of these was the dictator Matyas Rakosi, who ruled the country from 1949 to 1956.
During the Communist era the Jewish community in Budapest was under the jurisdiction of the Department of Religious Affairs at the Hungarian Ministry of the Interior. Since 1968 each of the city's 18 districts had at least one synagogue. The one on Dohany Street is considered the largest synagogue in Europe. The disintegration of the Communist regime and the democratic reforms in Hungary rejuvenated the Jewish community. About 20 new synagogues opened, as well as community and social institutions. But anti-Semitism has not abated in Hungary, and has reached new heights in the second decade of the 21st century, with the nationalist Jobbik party receiving approximately 16.5% of the vote in 2010, and over 20% in 2014. Among the anti-Semitic incidents recorded was the throwing of a dead pig on the statue of Raoul Wallenberg, famous for saving Jews during the Holocaust, and naming a square after Albert Wass, a notorious anti-Semite accused of murdering Jewish women in Transylvania.
As of the early 21st century the Jewish community of Budapest numbered approximately 80,000 people – the largest Jewish community in Central Europe, operating 23 synagogues and places of worship, two colleges, three elementary schools, three kindergartens, a hospital, two nursing homes and several cemeteries.

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Alfred Hajos-Guttmann (1878-1955), Jewish Hungarian Olympic swimmer, 1896
Alfred Hajos-Guttmann (1878-1955), born in Hungary he was
Winner of Olympic gold medals for the 100m and 1200m swimming competition in 1896. In 1924 he won an Olympic medal for designing sports facilities.
(The Oster Visual Documentation Center, Beit Hatfutsot,
courtesy of Dr. Moshe Scher, Haifa)
Image Purchase: For more details about image purchasing Click here, make sure you have the photo ID number (as appear above)

Hungary

Hungary

Magyarország

A country in central Europe, member of the European Union (EU). 

21st Century

Estimated Jewish population in 2018: 47,000 out of 9,800,000 (0.4%).  Hungary has the largest Jewish population in central and eastern Europe. Most Jews live in Budapest, with a minority living in a number of other communities of them the largest are located in Debrecen, Szeged, and Miskolc. The umbrella organization of the Jewish communities:

Mazsihisz
Phone: 36 1 413 55 00
Email: info@mazsihisz.com
Website: www.mazsihisz.hu

 

HISTORY

The Jews of Hungary

1251 | In the Land of Hagar

In the second half of the 11th century, some Jews migrated from the regions of Bohemia and Moravia, in today's Czech Republic, and settled in a part of the Pannonia region located in what is now Hungary. Documents from the time show that the local church issued edicts prohibiting marriages between Christians and Jews, as well as employing Jews at festivals and fairs.
This attitude changed in 1251 when King Bela IV issued a bill of rights that regulated trade relations between Jews and Christians and protected the Jews from harassment by Christians. This royal act caused Jews from all over Europe to start immigrating to Hungary, “Land of Hagar”, as it was called in Rabbinical literature of the Middle Ages.
But not all was rosy in the land of goulash and blintzes. The reign of King Lajos I saw a rise in the influence of the Catholic Church, which was displeased with the rights given to the Jews, and in 1360 this king decreed that the Jews be expelled from his kingdom. Four years later the decree was annulled due to financial reasons, but many of those expelled never returned.

1526 | Three States for One People

In the 16th and 17th centuries the Hungarians, Turks and Habsburg emperors all fought over the coveted Hungarian real-estate. The people of Hungary – and the Jews among them – passed from hand to hand and from sovereign to sovereign like second-rate goods at a country fair.
The story begins with the Battle of Mohacs, which took place in 1526 and ended with a fateful defeat for the Hungarians at the hands of the Turks. Following this clash Hungary was divided into three parts: The southeastern part fell into Turkish control, the northwestern part under the rule of the Habsburgs, while the eastern part – the region of Transylvania, which remained under Turkish sovereignty (but not Turkish rule) – became an independent principality.
The Jews who lived under Turkish rule enjoyed relative freedom. The most significant community in this area lived in the city of Buda (later to become part of modern-day Budapest). This was a community of Jews from the west and east alike, and the blend of cultures enriched the Torah life of Buda Jews thanks to the fruitful mixture of the study techniques perfected by the sages of Spain and the Ashkenazi principles of 'pilpul' – the nuanced legalistic mechanism of Talmud study.
The economic situation of the Jews in the city, which sat on a major trade route, on the banks of the Danube, was likewise improved, and they traded in all goods – from hides and rugs to cattle and liquor.
The Jews living in the eastern part of the country – as explained, under Turkish sovereignty but not direct Turkish rule – enjoyed relative prosperity, influenced by the Calvinists of the Hungarian Reform Church, who were more tolerant than their Catholic predecessors were.
The state of the Jews who lived under the Habsburgs, however, went from bad to worse, and many of them were expelled from the Crown cities.

1781 | The Edict of Toleration

Many historians mark the day on which Emperor Joseph II issued the “Edict of Toleration” for the Jews as the day on which the walls of the ghetto came down, at least metaphorically, and Jews began to integrate into the European sphere. The edict, issued in the year 1781, abolished the residential restriction that had been placed on the Jews, granted them freedom of movement throughout the empire and allowed them to take part in commerce and the economy, to enroll in institutions of general studies and practice free professions.
At the same time, the edict prohibited the operation of synagogues, as well as the use of Yiddish and Hebrew in official documents. Jews lacking formal education were not allowed to marry until age 25, as a way to encourage education.
But despite the restrictions on religious freedom, many Jews immigrated to Hungary, mostly from the regions of Galicia (now southern Poland) and Moravia (now in the Czech Republic). In time, the Jewish community of Hungary would split into two opposite schools: most of the Jews arriving from Moravia were enamored with the ideas of progress and adopted the values of the Enlightenment, and within 100 years they produced many thinkers and intellectuals, among them Theodore (Binyamin Zeev) Herzl, many of whom left an indelible impression on European culture.
The Jews who came from Galicia, on the other hand, adhered to their traditional Judaism, and in time founded the Hasidic courts of Satmar, Munkacs and others.

1848 | Amen-cipation

The history of the Enlightenment and its attitude towards the Jews is complex and inconsistent. One the one hand, those upholding the values of equality, which are the very heart of the Enlightenment movement, could not exclude the Jews, lest they be accused of double standards. On the other, the ancient European aversion to the notion of the Jew as an equal among equals made it hard for the Europeans to put their ideals into practice.
Hungary was not unique in this regard. Between 1815-1840 the number of Jews in Hungary grew by approximately 80% due to accelerated immigration, stemming from the reforms of Joseph II and the Edict of Toleration. On the face of it, Jews integrated into Hungarian society and received equal treatment, but the excuses for Jew-hatred always found willing ears.
One of many examples can be found in the words of one of the leaders of the Liberal movement in the lower house of parliament regarding the production of alcohol, one of the main occupation of the Jews in that period: “Those who live in areas where every saloon is in the hands of the Jews know what danger they pose to the people […] as they constantly hold the white poison.”
Another expression of anti-Semitism which no “edict of toleration” could undo came in 1848, during the “Spring of Nations” revolution. Although Jews took an active part in the revolution, the Liberal-controlled National Assembly refused to grant them fully equal rights. Following this decision, which of course caused much disappointment, many Jews argued that this was proof that the integration into Hungarian life must be increased and Jewish national identity should be blurred.
Despite the hostile environment, in 1860 the steamroller of enlightenment overcame racism and almost all restrictions on the Jews were lifted. The revolution was completed in 1867, when the Jews were granted full equality.

1868 | The Triple thread

What does one do when one is told, one fine day, that he is free?
The ideas of Enlightenment and rationalism, which had spread through the Jewish communities in relatively short order, caused deep changes in them. While in the pre-modern era the community was the legal, political and social framework that shaped the life of the Jew, after emancipation it was left with only religious authority.
The “Problem of the Jews,” as Achad Ha'am (Asher Ginzberg) called it, was paradoxically expressed in their successful integration into European life. For now the Jewish community had to decide the greatest question of all: What shall the unique Jewish identity consist of, now that there was no ghetto? How to act when cultural and corporeal walls no longer separate Jew from Gentile?
In 1868 these questions were laid before the Jewish congress organized by the community of Pest (soon to become part of Budapest), one of the largest and most important communities in Hungary. Three major schools of thought faced off with each other at this congress: The Orthodox, who believed in religious conservatism, seclusion, and a minimum of religious reforms; the Neologists (reformists), who called to accept the social changes willingly, use the Hungarian language in sermons and open the synagogues to the winds of change blowing through the world; and the “Status Quo” group, which favored maintaining the existing arrangements.
The Neologists won the majority of the votes at the congress, representing the desire of most Hungarian Jews to integrate into general society. The other schools of thought refused to accept the result, and organized in separate communities. A Jew visiting a Hungarian city in those days could have prayed Shacharit at the Neologist temple, Mincha at an Orthodox shul, and Arvit at a synagogue affiliated with the “Status-Quo” group. Such sharp polarization among the members of a Jewish community was a phenomenon unique to Hungary, and scholars believe that the deep rift left such a lasting impression on the community that its impact continued to be felt until the community was destroyed in WW2.

1882 | Same Solution, Opposite Reasons

Before a Hungarian Jew named Theodore (Binyamin Zeev) Herzl even began to think of the first draft for his book “The State of the Jews”, another Hungarian, Victor Istoczi, a Member of Parliament from a noble family, suggested the establishment a separate state for the Jews. Unlike Herzl, who developed the idea of the Jewish state out of concern for his people, Istoczi formulated the idea due to his fear of the Jews. In other words, they both thought of the idea for the same reason: Anti-Semitism.
Istoczi argued that Judaism is not just a religious community, but a social sect which shared blood, ancient tradition, common interests as well as religion turn into a tight-knit, closed unit. To him, the Jews were nothing but clever parasites planning to take over Hungary, and the internal division among them was but a nefarious plot: The task of the Orthodox was to preserve Judaism and its religious lifestyle, whereas the Neologists were to cunningly make their way into the front lines of Hungarian politics.
Istoczi's words found receptive ears and laid the foundation for the dual experience of the Jews of Hungary: On one hand, escalating anti-Semitism that peaked in the affair of “the girl from Tisza Eszlar”, a famous blood libel that took place in 1882, in which a shamash (synagogue attendant) and a Jewish shochet (ritual slaughterer) were accused of murdering a girl (a charge of which they were acquitted at trial and on appeal as well); on the other hand, an accelerated increase in the number of Jews who moved to the cities and integrated into the general fabric of life. The lesson was unmistakable: Hungarian society was unwilling to accept the Jews as they were. In order to integrate into it, they must renounce their social and religious uniqueness and adapt to the ways and customs of the non-Jewish population.

1886 | The Hungarian-Jewish International

One of the common responses to the non-acceptance of Jews in Hungarian society was that of assimilation. But in accordance with the famous observation by French philosopher Sartre, that “A Jew is one recognized as a Jew,” the fact that they had assimilated among the Hungarians didn't really help the Jews. The prevalent view was that the Jew was a foreign race in Europe and even if he really wanted, he could not become one with the Slavic races. “Judaism is a malignant infection everywhere,” a respectable Catholic journal declared in those days, “and it ruins the mores most particularly in the world of trade, degrades morality and turns corruption into a general fashion.”
One of the solutions for the catch-22 in which the Jews found themselves was to be found in a new ideology that began to spread in Europe at the end of the 19th century: Socialism.
Socialist thought stated that national and religious categories are a capitalist invention designed to obfuscate the gap between the classes. The Jews, who paid a heavy price for their ethnic identity, joined the movement in droves.
One of the main socialists in Hungary was Bela Kun, who was born in Transylvania in 1886. His father was a converted Jew and his mother a protestant. Kun belonged to a circle of well-known Jewish artists and writers, among whom were literary critic Gyorgi Lukacs, novelist Lajos Biro and others – all adherents of the communist ideology and key officials of the Hungarian Soviet Republic. In 1919 Kun was appointed Foreign Minister in the short-lived Hungarian Soviet Republic that was established after WW1.

1903 | Got a Shekel?

It is ironic that of all people, the visionary of Zionism, Theodore Herzl, was born in a country where the majority of Jews firmly rejected the Zionist idea, as most Hungarian Jews indeed did. The Orthodox community saw Zionism as a false messiah movement that could hasten the end of days, whereas the Neologist community supported assimilation and defined its members as “Hungarians of Mosaic Faith”, which is to say, Hungarian patriots like any other, who just happen to be Jews.
And yet, seven Hungarian Jews, arriving in Basel as self-appointed delegates, took part in the first Zionist Congress. The most notable among them were Janos Ronai, who in 1897 founded the first Zionist association in Hungary, and Shmuel Bettleheim, who founded the Zionist Organization of Hungary along with Ronai in 1903.
Over the years the Zionist movement grew stronger in Hungary. Indication of this can be found in the number of those who purchased the Eretz Israel Shekel, which rose from 500 to 1,200 people. (The Shekel was the annual dues collected by the Zionist Organization and which bestowed upon the purchaser the right to vote and be elected at Zionist congresses.) “The cream of the crop,” in the words of Dr. Hajim Weissburg, one of the founders, were the members of the Makkabea Club in 1903. The aim of the founders of the Makkabea Club was to provide the members of the Zionist Organization with Jewish and Zionist cultural values and to arouse Jewish awareness, self-respect and national pride among the Jews. Their activities followed those of student organizations and was characterized by communal meals, symbols, slogans, and even dueling when Jewish pride so required.

1910 | The “Big Bang” of Hungarian Jews

At the end of the 19th century, an era when Enlightenment and modernization reached a peak in western and central Europe, an enormous amount of intellect, ability and talent, that had been cooped up for hundreds of years in the yeshivas and batei midrash, exploded into the Hungarian atmosphere.
Hungarian Jews recorded immense achievements in all fields: From the great inventors Laszlo Biro and David Gestetner, through talented mathematicians such as Mano Beck and Miklos Schweitzer, through Nobel-winning chemists George Olah and Michael Polanyi.
More than any other field, Jews stood out in the world of journalism. Among the most influential media personalities in Hungary a special mention should be made of the writer Adolf Agai, who edited the popular satirical Borsszem Janko and publisher Sandor Braun, who invented new color printing formats, including the daily “Az Est”. Strong Jewish roots can also be found in the famous “press halls” of Budapest, which for the first time concentrated the entire journalism production chain - writing, editing, proofreading, printing, marketing and distribution – under one roof.
The field of literature and the humanities was another in which the Jews gained much success. One of these for example was the poet Jozsef Kis, who founded “A-Het”, a periodical which served as a home for Jewish poets and writers, including short story master Tomas Kobor. Upon the decline of A-Het it was replaced by the leading literary periodical “Nyugat”, which featured the works of Hungarian prose pioneer Sandor Brody and novelist and playwright Dezső Szomory Hungarian Jews and Hungarians of Jewish descent made a crucial contribution to the local theater and film as well, including actor Bernard Schwartz, better known as Hollywood star Tony Curtis, who was born in New York to Hungarian parents, and Casablanca director Mihaly Kertesz, who changed his named to Michael Curtiz when he immigrated to America.
Even in sports, considered a quintessentially “non-Jewish” activity, Jews stood out, winning almost 33% of all Olympic medals awarded to Hungarian athletes in the early 20th century.

1920 | The Jewish Laws

After WW1 Hungary lost some two thirds of its territory. Many Jewish Hungarians found themselves overnight living under the sovereignty of new states: Romania, Yugoslavia, Austria and others.
During the Great War (1914-1918) approximately 10,000 Jewish Hungarian soldiers fell in the killing fields, but the patriotism they showed didn't stop the anti-Semitic winds blowing through the streets of Hungary, intensified by the many Jewish refugees streaming from Galicia in search of shelter in the Hungarian lands.
Like many countries attempting to forge a national identity between the two world wars, Hungary too tried to establish a communist regime, but it lasted only 133 days, followed by the regime of Miklos Horthy, a conservative national war hero with anti-Semitic tendencies. The suppression of the communist regime was accompanied by pogroms against the “cosmopolitan” Jews, in which the “white terror” fascist gangs murdered some 3.000 Jews.
During the 1920's Hungary was home to a sort of “soft anti-Semitism”. On one hand, discriminatory quotas on Jewish enrollment in universities, which stood at only 5%. On the other – the Jews were awarded a certain representation in the Hungarian parliament.
At the end of the 1930s the Jews of Hungary, numbering some 450,000, lived under an anti-Jewish assault. It was a slippery slope: In 1938 parliament passed the first “Jewish Law”, which restricted their freedom of occupation in many fields and broadened the definition of “Jew” to those who had converted after 1919. A year later the Hungarian parliament passed “The Second Jewish Law” which expanded the definition of “Jew” even further, to include another 100,000 people who had converted before 1919, as well as their children.
These moves were the barbaric constitutional foundation for the annihilation of the Jews of Hungary during WW2.

1944 | Goods For Blood

The Jewish community of Hungary had the dubious honor of being among the few which the Nazi extermination machine left for the end of the war; but when it did happen, the annihilation was deadly, methodical and quick, even for the Nazis.
Unlike the Jews of Poland, many of whom believed the lies of the Nazi propaganda machine, the prevalent view among scholars is that the Jews of Hungary were indeed aware of the horrible atrocities of the Nazis, but until the last moment could not believe that such barbarity could take place in a civilized country like Hungary.
When the Nazis conquered Hungary, in March 1944, there were some 750,000 Jews living in it, of whom about 300,000 were refugees and displaced persons from the east. Over the course of two months about half a million Jews wearing yellow stars were concentrated in ghettos established by the Nazis in every Hungarian city, and in May 1944 they began to be transported en masse to Auschwitz. It is estimated that within a few weeks approximately 450,000 of Hungary's Jews were murdered in this fashion.
In October 1944 the Nazis deposed the Hungarian Regent Horthy and appointed anti-Semitic fascist Ferenc Szalasi, head of the Iron Cross Party, as Prime Minister. As soon as Szalasi took office, the authorities no longer protected the Jews of Budapest. Death ran wild in the streets of the city, and the Danube turned red with the blood the elderly, women and children who were shot in the back and dumped in the river.
One of the most controversial episodes in the Holocaust of Hungary's Jews has to do with Israel Kastner, Deputy Head of the Zionist Organization in the country and one of the founders of the “Aid and Rescue Committee of Budapest”. Kastner saved some 1,700 Jews thanks to a deal he signed with Adolf Eichmann, which can be summed up in three terrible words: “Goods for blood”.
In the 1950s the “Kastner Affair” exploded in Israel after the latter was accused by District Court Judge Binyamin Halevy of “selling his soul to the devil”. Three years later the Supreme court cleared Kastner's name, but he didn't live to see it: A few months earlier, on March 4th, 1957, Kastner was gunned down by three Jewish assassins in Tel Aviv.

2001 | From the establishment of Israel until today

After the Holocaust approximately 145,000 Jews remained in Hungary. During these years the Zionist movement operated at full steam, and many of Hungary's Jews moved to Israel. Among the most prominent were journalist-cum-Justice Minister Yosef (“Tommy”) Lapid, satirical writer Ephraim Kishon and Bank of Israel Governor Moshe Zanbar. The Jews remaining in Hungary mostly turned their backs on Jewish tradition, whether due to the trauma of the Holocaust or the influence of the atheist communist regime. In the late 1940s the Communist Party came to power in Hungary. Jewish educational institutions were closed down, and all Zionist activity was banned. Jews who were of a clear communist bent found key positions in the party. One of these was the dictator Matyas Rakosi, who ruled the country from 1949 to 1956.
During the Communist era the Jewish community in Budapest was under the jurisdiction of the Department of Religious Affairs at the Hungarian Ministry of the Interior. Since 1968 each of the city's 18 districts had at least one synagogue. The one on Dohany Street is considered the largest synagogue in Europe. The disintegration of the Communist regime and the democratic reforms in Hungary rejuvenated the Jewish community. About 20 new synagogues opened, as well as community and social institutions. But anti-Semitism has not abated in Hungary, and has reached new heights in the second decade of the 21st century, with the nationalist Jobbik party receiving approximately 16.5% of the vote in 2010, and over 20% in 2014. Among the anti-Semitic incidents recorded was the throwing of a dead pig on the statue of Raoul Wallenberg, famous for saving Jews during the Holocaust, and naming a square after Albert Wass, a notorious anti-Semite accused of murdering Jewish women in Transylvania.
As of the early 21st century the Jewish community of Budapest numbered approximately 80,000 people – the largest Jewish community in Central Europe, operating 23 synagogues and places of worship, two colleges, three elementary schools, three kindergartens, a hospital, two nursing homes and several cemeteries.