History of the Jews in Hungary

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Hungarian Jews
יהדות הונגריה
Magyar zsidók
Total population
( Hungary  Israel 152,023 (total estimated)
48,600 (core population, estimation) (2010)[1]
120,000 (estimated population) (2012)[2][3]
 Israel 32,023 (immigrants to Israel) (2010)[4]
10,965 (2011 census)[5])
Regions with significant populations
Hungarian, Hebrew, Yiddish
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History of Hungary
Coat of arms of Hungary
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Jews have a long history in the country now known as Hungary, with some records even predating the 895 AD Hungarian conquest of the Carpathian Basin by over 600 years. Written sources prove that Jewish communities lived in the medieval Kingdom of Hungary and it is even assumed that several sections of the heterogeneous Hungarian tribes practiced Jewish religion. Jewish officials served the king during the reign of Andrew II. From the second part of the 13th century the general religious tolerance decreased and Hungary's policies became similar to the treatment of the Jewish population in Western Europe.

The Jews of Hungary were fairly well integrated into Hungarian society by the time of the First World War. By the early 20th century, the community had grown to constitute 5% of Hungary's total population and 23% of the population of the capital, Budapest. Jews became prominent in science, the arts and business.

Anti-Jewish policies grew more repressive in the interwar period as Hungary's leaders, who remained committed to regaining the lost territories of "Greater Hungary", chose to align themselves (albeit warily) with the fascist governments of Germany and Italy – the international actors most likely to stand behind Hungary's claims.[6] Starting in 1938, Hungary under Miklós Horthy passed a series of anti-Jewish measures in emulation of Germany's Nürnberg Laws. The vast majority of Jews who were deported were massacred in Kameniec-Podolsk (Kamianets-Podilskyi). In the massacres of Újvidék (Novi Sad) and villages nearby, 2,550–2,850 Serbs, 700–1,250 Jews and 60–130 others were murdered by the Hungarian Army and "Csendőrség" (Gendarmerie) in January 1942. A Jew living in the Hungarian countryside in March 1944 had a less than 10% chance of surviving the following 12 months.[citation needed] In Budapest, a Jew's chance of survival of the same 12 months was about 50%. Jews from the Hungarian provinces outside Budapest and its suburbs were rounded up. The first transports to Auschwitz began in early May 1944 and continued even as Soviet troops approached. During the last years of World War II, they suffered severely, with over 600,000 being killed (within Hungary's 1943 borders) between 1941 and 1945, mainly through deportation to Nazi German-run extermination camps.

The 2011 Hungary census data had 10,965 people (0.11%) who self-identified religious Jews, of whom 10,553 (96.2%) declared themselves as ethnic Hungarian.[5] Other media sources estimate an Hungarian population with Jewish ethnicity of around 48,200 (no methodology or data collection method is given for the estimate) [7] mostly concentrated in Budapest,.[8] The intermarriage rates for Hungarian Jews is around 60%.[citation needed] There are many active synagogues in Hungary, including the Dohány Street Synagogue, the largest synagogue in Europe and the Eastern Hemisphere, and the second largest synagogue in the world after the Temple Emanu-El in New York City.[9]

Earliest references before 1095

It is not definitely known when Jews first settled in Hungary. According to tradition, King Decebalus (ruled Dacia 87-106 A.D.) permitted the Jews who aided him in his war against Rome to settle in his territory. Dacia included part of modern-day Hungary as well as Romania and Moldova and smaller areas of Bulgaria, Ukraine, and Serbia. Prisoners of the Jewish Wars may have been brought back by the victorious Roman legions normally stationed in Provincia Pannonia (western Hungary, eastern Austria). Marcus Aurelius ordered the transfer of some of his rebellious troops from Syria to Pannonia in 175 A.D.. These troops had been recruited partly in Antioch and Hemesa (now Homs), which still had a sizable Jewish population at that time. The Antiochian troops were transferred to Ulcisia Castra (today Szentendre), while the Hemesian troops settled in Intercisa (Dunaújváros). Stone inscriptions referring to Jews were found in Brigetio (now Szőny), Solva (Esztergom), Aquincum (Óbuda), Intercisa (Dunaújváros), Triccinae (Sárvár), Savaria (Szombathely), Sopianae (Pécs) and elsewhere in Pannonia. A Latin inscription, the epitaph of Septima Maria, discovered in Siklós (southern Hungary near Croatian border), clearly refers to her Jewishness ("Judaea"). The Intercisa tablet was inscribed on behalf of "Cosmius, chief of the Spondilla customhouse, archisynagogus Iudeorum [head of the synagogue of the Jews]" during the reign of Alexander Severus. In 2008, a team of archeologists discovered a 3rd-century AD amulet in the form of a gold scroll with the words of the Jewish prayer Shema' Yisrael inscribed on it in Féltorony (now Halbturn, Burgenland in Austria).

Hungarian tribes settled the territory 650 years later. In the Hungarian language, the word for Jew is zsidó, which was adopted from one of the Slavic languages.

The first historical document relating to the Jews of Hungary is the letter written about 960 A.D. to King Joseph of the Khazars by Hasdai ibn Shaprut, the Jewish statesman of Córdoba, in which he says that the Slavic ambassadors promised to deliver the message to the King of Slavonia, who would hand the same to Jews living in "the country of Hungarian", who, in turn, would transmit it farther. About the same time Ibrahim ibn Jacob says that Jews went from Hungary to Prague for business purposes. Dr. Samuel Kohn suggests that Jewish Khazars may have been among the Hungarian troops that under Árpád conquered the country in the second half of the 9th century. Nothing is known concerning the Jews during the period of the Vajdas, except that they lived in the country and engaged in commerce there.

In 1061, King Béla I ordered that markets should take place on Saturdays instead of the traditional Sundays (Hungarian language has preserved the previous custom, Sunday = vasárnap (hu) = Market Day). In the reign of St. Ladislaus (1077–1095), the Synod of Szabolcs decreed (May 20, 1092) that Jews should not be permitted to have Christian wives or to keep Christian slaves. This decree had been promulgated in the Christian countries of Europe since the 5th century, and St. Ladislaus merely introduced it into Hungary.

The Jews of Hungary at first formed small settlements, and had no learned rabbis; but they were strictly observant of all the Jewish laws and customs. One tradition relates the story of Jews from Ratisbon (Regensburg) coming into Hungary with merchandise from Russia, on a Friday; the wheel of their wagon broke near Buda (Ofen) or Esztergom (Gran) and by the time they had repaired it and had entered the town, the Jews were just leaving the synagogue. The unintentional Sabbath-breakers were heavily fined. The ritual of the Hungarian Jews faithfully reflected contemporary German customs.

Early history (1100–1300)

A Hungarian Jewish family standing in front of a country grocery shop, 1930s.

Coloman (1095–1116), the successor of St. Ladislaus, renewed the Szabolcs decree of 1092, adding further prohibitions against the employment of Christian slaves and domestics. He also restricted the Jews to cities with episcopal sees – probably to have them under the continuous supervision of the Church. Soon after the promulgation of this decree, Crusaders came to Hungary; but the Hungarians did not sympathize with them, and Coloman even opposed them. The infuriated Crusaders attacked some cities, and if Gedaliah ibn Yaḥya is to be believed, the Jews suffered a fate similar to that of their coreligionists in France, Germany, and Bohemia.

The cruelties inflicted upon the Jews of Bohemia induced many of them to seek refuge in Hungary. It was probably the immigration of the rich Bohemian Jews that induced Coloman soon afterward to regulate commercial and banking transactions between Jews and Christians. He decreed, among other regulations, that if a Christian borrowed from a Jew, or a Jew from a Christian, both Christian and Jewish witnesses must be present at the transaction.

During the reign of King Andrew II (1205–1235) there were Jewish Chamberlains and mint-, salt-, and tax-officials. The nobles of the country, however, induced the king, in his Golden Bull (1222), to deprive the Jews of these high offices. When Andrew needed money in 1226, he farmed the royal revenues to Jews, which gave ground for much complaint. The pope (Pope Honorius III) thereupon excommunicated him, until, in 1233, he promised the papal ambassadors on oath that he would enforce the decrees of the Golden Bull directed against the Jews and the Saracens (by this time, the papacy had changed, and the Pope was now Pope Gregory IX; would cause both peoples to be distinguished from Christians by means of badges; and would forbid both Jews and Saracens to buy or to keep Christian slaves.

The year 1240 was the closing one of the fifth millennium of the Jewish era. At that time the Jews were expecting the advent of their Messiah. The Mongol invasion in 1241 seemed to conform to expectation, as Jewish imagination expected the happy Messianic period to be ushered in by the war of Gog and Magog. Béla IV (1235–1270) appointed a Jewish man named Henul to the office of court chamberlain – the Jewish Teka had filled this office under Andrew II); and Wölfel and his sons Altmann and Nickel held the castle at Komárom with its domains in pawn. Béla also entrusted the Jews with the mint; and Hebrew coins of this period are still found in Hungary. In 1251 a privilegium was granted by Béla to his Jewish subjects which was essentially the same as that granted by Duke Frederick II the Quarrelsome to the Austrian Jews in 1244, but which Béla modified to suit the conditions of Hungary. This privilegium remained in force down to the Battle of Mohács (1526).

At the Synod of Buda (1279), held in the reign of King Ladislaus IV of Hungary (1272–1290), it was decreed, in the presence of the papal ambassador, that every Jew appearing in public should wear on the left side of his upper garment a piece of red cloth; that any Christian transacting business with a Jew not so marked, or living in a house or on land together with any Jew, should be refused admittance to the Church services; and that a Christian entrusting any office to a Jew should be excommunicated. Andrew III (1291–1301), the last king of the Árpád dynasty, declared, in the privilegium granted by him to the community of Posonium (Bratislava), that the Jews in that city should enjoy all the liberties of citizens.

Expulsion, recall and persecution (1349–1526)

The Orthodox Synagogue of Sopron, Hungary, dates from the 1890s.
Medieval pottery artifacts inside the Sopron Synagogue Museum.

Under the foreign kings who occupied the throne of Hungary on the extinction of the house of Arpad, the Hungarian Jews suffered many persecutions. During the time of the Black Death (1349), they were expelled from the country. Although the Jews were immediately readmitted, they were again persecuted, and were once again expelled in 1360 by King Louis the Great of Anjou (1342–1382). Although King Louis had initially shown tolerance to the Jews during the early years of his reign, following his conquest of Bosnia, during which he tried to force the local population to convert from the "heretic" Bogomil Christianity to Catholicism, King Louis attempted to impose conversion on Hungarian Jews as well. However, he failed in his attempt to convert them to Catholicism, and expelled them.[10] They were received by Alexander the Good of Moldavia and Dano I of Wallachia, the latter who afforded them special commercial privileges.

Some years later, when Hungary was in financial distress, the Jews were recalled. They found that during their absence the king had introduced the custom of Tödtbriefe, i.e., cancelling by a stroke of his pen, on the request of a subject or a city, the notes and mortgage-deeds of the Jews. An important office created by Louis was that of "judge of all the Jews living in Hungary," who was chosen from among the dignitaries of the country, the palatines, and treasurers, and had a deputy to aid him. It was his duty to collect the taxes of the Jews, to protect their privileges, and to listen to their complaints, which last-named had become more frequent since the reign of Sigismund Luxembourg (1387–1437).

The successors of Sigismund: Albert (1437–1439), Ladislaus Posthumus (1453–1457), and Matthias Corvinus (1458–1490)—-likewise confirmed the privilegium of Béla IV. Matthias created the office of Jewish prefect in Hungary. The period following the death of Matthias was a sad one for the Hungarian Jews. He was hardly buried, when the people fell upon them, confiscated their property, refused to pay debts owing to them, and persecuted them generally. The pretender John Corvinus, Matthias' illegitimate son, expelled them from Tata, and King Ladislaus II (1490–1516), always in need of money, laid heavy taxes upon them. During his reign, Jews were for the first time burned at the stake, many being executed at Nagyszombat (Trnava) in 1494, on suspicion of ritual murder.

The Hungarian Jews finally applied to the German Emperor Maximilian for protection. On the occasion of the marriage of Louis II and the archduchess Maria (1512), the emperor, with the consent of Ladislaus, took the prefect, Jacob Mendel of Buda, together with his family and all the other Hungarian Jews, under his protection, according to them all the rights enjoyed by his other subjects. Under Ladislaus' successor, Louis II (1516–1526), persecution of the Jews was a common occurrence. The bitter feeling against them was in part augmented by the fact that the baptized Emeric Szerencsés, the deputy treasurer, embezzled the public funds.

War against the Ottomans (1526–1686)

The Ottomans vanquished the Hungarians at the Battle of Mohács (August 29, 1526), on which occasion Louis II was slain. When the news of his death reached the capital, Buda, the court and the nobles fled together with some rich Jews, among them the prefect. When the grand vizier, Ibrahim Pasha, preceding Sultan Suleiman I, arrived with his army at Buda, the representatives of the Jews who had remained in the city appeared garbed in mourning before him, and, begging for grace, handed him the keys of the deserted and unprotected castle in token of submission. The sultan himself entered Buda on September 11; and on September 22 he decreed that all the Jews seized at Buda, Esztergom, and elsewhere, more than 2,000 in number, should be distributed among the cities of the Ottoman Empire. They were sent to Constantinople, Plevna (Pleven) and Sofia, where they maintained their separate community for several decades. In Sofia, there existed four Jewish communities in the second half of the 16th century: Romaniote, Ashkenazi, Sephardi and "Ungarus". The overflow of Hungarian Jews from Sofia also settled in Kavala later.

Although the Ottoman Army turned back after the battle, in 1541 it again invaded Hungary to help repel an Austrian attempt to take Buda. By the time the Ottoman Army arrived, the Austrians were defeated, but the Ottomans seized Buda by ruse.

While some of the Jews of Hungary were deported to Anatolia, others, who had fled at the approach of the sultan, sought refuge beyond the frontier or in the free royal towns of western Hungary. The widow of Louis II, the queen regent Maria, favored the enemies of the Jews. The citizens of Sopron (Ödenburg) began hostilities by expelling the Jews of that city, confiscating their property, and pillaging the vacated houses and the synagogue. The city of Pressburg (Bratislava) also received permission from the queen (October 9, 1526) to expel the Jews living within its territory, because they had expressed their intention of fleeing before the Turks. The Jews left Pressburg on November 9.

On that same day the diet at Székesfehérvár was opened, at which János Szapolyai (1526–1540) was elected and crowned king in opposition to Ferdinand. During this session it was decreed that the Jews should immediately be expelled from every part of the country. Zápolya, however, did not ratify these laws; and the Diet held at Pressburg in December 1526, at which Ferdinand of Habsburg was chosen king (1526–1564), annulled all the decrees of that of Székesfehérvár, including Zápolya's election as king.

As the lord of Bösing (Pezinok) was in debt to the Jews, a blood accusation was brought against these inconvenient creditors in 1529. Although Mendel, the prefect, and the Jews throughout Hungary protested, the accused were burned at the stake. For centuries afterward Jews were forbidden to live at Bösing. The Jews of Nagyszombat (Trnava) soon shared a similar fate, being first punished for alleged ritual murder and then expelled from the city (February 19, 1539).

The Jews living in the parts of Hungary occupied by the Ottoman Empire were treated far better than those living under the Habsburgs. During the periods of 1546-1590 and 1620–1680, the community of Ofen (Buda) flourished.

The following table shows the number of Jewish jizya-tax paying heads of household in Buda during the Ottomans rule:

1546 1559 1562 1590 1627 1633 1660
50 44 49 109 11 20 80

At the end of the Ottoman era, the approximately one thousand Jews living in Buda worshipped in three synagogues: an Ashkenazi, a Sephardi and a Syrian one.

While the Ottomans held sway in Hungary, the Jews of Transylvania (at that time an independent principality) also fared well. At the instance of Abraham Sassa, a Jewish physician of Constantinople, Prince Gabriel Bethlen of Transylvania granted a letter of privileges (June 18, 1623) to the Spanish Jews from Anatolia. But the community of Judaizing Szekler Sabbatarians, which had existed in Transylvania since 1588, was persecuted and driven underground in 1638.[11]

On November 26, 1572, King Maximilian II (1563–1576) intended to expel the Jews of Pressburg (Bratislava), stating that his edict would be recalled only in case they accepted Christianity. The Jews, however, remained in the city, without abandoning their religion. They were in constant conflict with the citizens. On June 1, 1582 the municipal council decreed that no one should harbor Jews, or even transact business with them. The feeling against the Jews in that part of the country not under Turkish rule is shown by the decree of the Diet of 1578,[citation needed] to the effect that Jews were to be taxed double the amount which was imposed upon other citizens.

By article XV of the law promulgated by the Diet of 1630,[citation needed] Jews were forbidden to take charge of the customs; and this decree was confirmed by the Diet of 1646[citation needed] on the ground that the Jews were excluded from the privileges of the country, that they were unbelievers, and had no conscience (veluti jurium regni incapaces, infideles, et nulla conscientia praediti). The Jews had to pay a special war-tax when the imperial troops set out toward the end of the 16th century to recapture Buda from the Ottomans. The Buda community suffered much during this siege, as did also that of Székesfehérvár when the imperial troops took that city in September 1601; many of its members were either slain or taken prisoner and sold into slavery, their redemption being subsequently effected by the German, Italian, and Ottoman Jews. After the conclusion of peace, which the Jews helped to bring about, the communities were in part reconstructed; but further development in the territory of the Habsburgs was arrested when Leopold I (1657–1705) expelled the Jews (April 24, 1671). He, however, revoked his decree a few months later (August 20). During the siege of Vienna, in 1683, the Jews that had returned to that city were again maltreated. The Ottomans plundered some communities in western Hungary, and deported the members as slaves.

Habsburg rule

Further persecution and expulsions (1686–1740)

The imperial troops recaptured Buda on September 2, 1686, most Jewish residents were massacred, some captured and later released for ransom. In the following years the whole of Hungary now came under the rule of the House of Habsburg. As the devastated country had to be repopulated, Bishop Count Leopold Karl von Kollonitsch, subsequently Archbishop of Esztergom and Primate of Hungary, advised the king to give the preference to the German Catholics in order that the country might in time become German and Catholic. He held that the Jews could not be exterminated at once, but they must be weeded out by degrees, as bad coin is gradually withdrawn from circulation. The decree passed by the Diet of Pressburg (1687–1688), imposing double taxation upon the Jews, must be enforced. Jews must not be permitted to engage in agriculture, nor to own any real estate, nor to keep Christian servants.

This advice soon bore fruit and was in part acted upon. In August 1690, the government at Vienna ordered Sopron to expel its Jews, who had immigrated from the Austrian provinces. The government, desiring to enforce the edict of the last Diet, decreed soon afterward that Jews should be removed from the office of collector. The order proved ineffective, however; and the employment of Jewish customs officials was continued. Even the treasurer of the realm set the example in transgressing the law by appointing (1692) Simon Hirsch as customs farmer at Leopoldstadt (Leopoldov); and at Hirsch's death he transferred the office to Hirsch's son-in-law.

The revolt of the Kuruc, under Francis II Rákóczi, caused much suffering to Hungary's Jews. The Kuruc imprisoned and slew the Jews, who had incurred their anger by siding with the king's party. The Jews of Eisenstadt, accompanied by those of the community of Mattersdorf, sought refuge at Vienna, Wiener-Neustadt, and Forchtenstein; those of Holics (Holíč) and Sasvár (Šaštín) dispersed to Göding (Hodonín); while others, who could not leave their business in this time of distress, sent their families to safe places, and themselves braved the danger. While not many Jews lost their lives during this revolt, it made great havoc in their wealth, especially in Sopron County, where a number of rich Jews were living. The king granted letters of protection to those that had been ruined by the revolt, and demanded satisfaction for those that had been injured; but in return for these favors he commanded the Jews to furnish the sums necessary for suppressing the revolt.

After the restoration of peace the Jews were expelled from many cities that feared their competition; thus Esztergom expelled them in 1712, on the ground that the city which had given birth to St. Stephen must not be desecrated by them. But the Jews living in the country, on the estates of their landlords, were generally left alone.

The lot of the Jews was not improved under the reign of Leopold's son, Charles III (1711–1740). He informed the government (June 28, 1725) that he intended to decrease the number of Jews in his domains, and the government thereupon directed the counties to furnish statistics of the Hebrew inhabitants. In 1726 the king decreed that in the Austrian provinces, from the day of publication of the decree, only one male member in each Jewish family be allowed to marry. This decree, restricting the natural increase of the Jews, materially affected the Jewish communities of Hungary. All the Jews in the Austrian provinces who could not marry there went to Hungary to found families; thus the overflow of Austrian Jews peopled Hungary. These immigrants settled chiefly in the northwestern counties, in Nyitra (Nitra), Pressburg (Bratislava), and Trencsén (Trenčín).

The Moravian Jews continued to live in Hungary as Moravian subjects; even those that went there for the purpose of marrying and settling promised on oath before leaving that they would pay the same taxes as those living in Moravia. In 1734 the Jews of Trencsén bound themselves by a secret oath that in all their communal affairs they would submit to the Jewish court at Ungarisch-Brod (Uherský Brod) only. In the course of time the immigrants refused to pay taxes to the Austrian provinces. The Moravian Jews, who had suffered by the heavy emigration, then brought complaint; and Maria Theresa ordered that all Jewish and Christian subjects that had emigrated after 1740 should be extradited, while those who had emigrated before that date were to be released from their Moravian allegiance.

The government could not, however, check the large immigration; for although strict laws were drafted in 1727, they could not be enforced owing to the good-will of the magnates toward the Jews. The counties either did not answer at all, or sent reports bespeaking mercy rather than persecution.

Meanwhile, the king endeavored to free the mining-towns from the Jews — a work which Leopold I had already begun in 1693. The Jews, however, continued to settle near these towns; they displayed their wares at the fairs; and, with the permission of the court, they even erected a foundry at Ság (Sasinkovo). When King Charles ordered them to leave (March 1727), the royal mandate was in some places ignored; in others the Jews obeyed so slowly that he had to repeat his edict three months later.

Maria Theresa (1740–1780)

In 1735, another census of the Jews of the country was taken with the view of reducing their numbers. There were at that time 11,621 Jews living in Hungary, of which 2,474 were male heads of families, and fifty-seven were female heads. Of these heads of families 35.31 per cent declared themselves to be Hungarians; the rest had immigrated. Of the immigrants 38.35 per cent came from Moravia, 11.05 per cent from Poland, and 3.07 per cent from Bohemia. The largest Jewish community, numbering 770 persons, was that of Pressburg (Bratislava). Most of the Jews were engaged in commerce or industries, most being merchants, traders, or shopkeepers; only a few pursued agriculture.

During the reign of Queen Maria Theresa (1740–1780), daughter of Charles III, the Jews were expelled from Buda (1746), and the "toleration-tax" was imposed upon the Hungarian Jews. On September 1, 1749, the delegates of the Hungarian Jews, except those from Szatmár County, assembled at Pressburg and met a royal commission, which informed them that they would be expelled from the country if they did not pay this tax. The frightened Jews at once agreed to do so; and the commission then demanded a yearly tax of 50,000 gulden. This sum being excessive, the delegates protested; and although the queen had fixed 30,000 gulden as the minimum tax, they were finally able to compromise on the payment of 20,000 gulden a year for a period of eight years. The delegates were to apportion this amount among the districts; the districts, their respective sums among the communities; and the communities, theirs among the individual members.

The queen confirmed this agreement of the commission, except the eight-year clause, changing the period to three years, which she subsequently made five. The agreement, thus ratified by the queen, was brought on November 26 before the courts, which were powerless to relieve the Jews from the payment of this Malkegeld (queen's money), as they called it.

The Jews, thus burdened by new taxes, thought the time ripe for taking steps to remove their oppressive disabilities. While still at Presburg the delegates had brought their grievances before the mixed commission that was called delegata in puncto tolerantialis taxae et gravaminum Judeorum commissio mixta. These complaints pictured the distress of the Jews of that time. They were not allowed to live in Croatia and Slavonia, in Baranya and Heves Counties, or in several free royal towns and localities; nor might they visit the markets there. At Stuhlweissenburg (Székesfehérvár) they had to pay a poll-tax of 1 gulden, 30 kreuzer if they entered the city during the day, if only for an hour. In many places they might not even stay overnight. They therefore begged permission to settle, or at least to visit the fairs, in Croatia and Slavonia and in those places from which they had been driven in consequence of the jealousy of the Greeks and the merchants.

The Jews also had to pay heavier bridge-and ferry-tolls than the Christians; at Nagyszombat (Trnava) they had to pay three times the ordinary sum, namely, for the driver, for the vehicle, and for the animal drawing the same; and in three villages belonging to the same district they had to pay toll, although there was no toll-gate. Jews living on the estates of the nobles had to give their wives and children as pledges for arrears of taxes. In Upper Hungary they asked for the revocation of the toleration-tax imposed by the chamber of Zips County (Szepes, Spiš), on the ground that otherwise the Jews living there would have to pay two such taxes; and they asked also to be relieved from a similar tax paid to the Diet. Finally, they requested that Jewish artisans might be allowed to follow their trades in their homes undisturbed.

The commission laid these complaints before the Queen, indicating the manner in which they could be relieved; and their suggestions were subsequently willed by the queen and made into law.

The queen relieved the Jews from the tax of toleration in Upper Hungary only. In regard to the other complaints she ordered that the Jews should specify them in detail, and that the government should remedy them insofar as they came under its jurisdiction.

The toleration-tax had hardly been instituted when Michael Hirsch petitioned the government to be appointed primate of the Hungarian Jews in order to be able to settle difficulties that might arise among them, and to collect the tax. The government did not recommend Hirsch, but decided that in case the Jews should refuse to pay, it might be advisable to appoint a primate to adjust the matter.

Before the end of the period of five years the delegates of the Jews again met the commission at Pressburg (Bratislava) and offered to increase the amount of their tax to 25,000 gulden a year if the queen would promise that it should remain at that sum for the next ten years. The queen had other plans, however; not only did she dismiss the renewed gravamina of the Jews, but rather imposed stiffer regulations upon them. Their tax of 20,000 gulden was increased to 30,000 gulden in 1760; to 50,000 in 1772; to 80,000 in 1778; and to 160,000 in 1813.

Joseph II (1780–1790)

Joseph II (1780–1790), son and successor of Maria Theresa, showed immediately on his accession that he intended to alleviate the condition of the Jews, communicating this intention to the Hungarian chancellor, Count Franz Esterházy as early as May 13, 1781. In consequence the Hungarian government issued (March 31, 1783) a decree known as the Systematica gentis Judaicae regulatio, which wiped out at one stroke the decrees that had oppressed the Jews for centuries. The royal free towns, except the mining-towns, were opened to the Jews, who were allowed to settle at leisure throughout the country. The regulatio decreed that the legal documents of the Jews should no longer be composed in Hebrew, or in Yiddish, but in Latin, German, and Hungarian, the languages used in the country at the time, and which the young Jews were required to learn within two years.

Documents written in Hebrew or in Yiddish were not legal; Hebrew books were to be used at worship only; the Jews were to organize elementary schools; the commands of the emperor, issued in the interests of the Jews, were to be announced in the synagogues; and the rabbis were to explain to the people the salutary effects of these decrees. The subjects to be taught in the Jewish schools were to be the same as those taught in the national schools; the same text-books were to be used in all the elementary schools; and everything that might offend the religious sentiment of non-conformists was to be omitted.

A medal minted during the reign of Josef II, commemorating his grant of religious liberty to Jews and Protestants.

During the early years Christian teachers were to be employed in the Jewish schools, but they were to have nothing to do with the religious affairs of such institutions. After the lapse of ten years a Jew might establish a business, or engage in trade, only if he could prove that he had attended a school. The usual school-inspectors were to supervise the Jewish schools and to report to the government. The Jews were to create a fund for organizing and maintaining their schools. Jewish youth might enter the academies, and might study any subject at the universities except theology. Jews might rent farms only if they could cultivate the same without the aid of Christians.

Jews were allowed to peddle and to engage in various industrial occupations, and to be admitted into the guilds. They were also permitted to engrave seals, and to sell gunpowder and saltpeter; but their exclusion from the mining-towns remained in force. Christian masters were allowed to have Jewish apprentices. All distinctive marks hitherto worn by the Jews were to be abolished, and they might even carry swords. On the other hand, they were required to discard the distinctive marks prescribed by their religion and to shave their beards. Emperor Joseph regarded this decree so seriously that he allowed no one to violate it.

The Jews, in a petition dated April 22, 1783, expressed their gratitude to the emperor for his favors, and, reminding him of his principle that religion should not be interfered with, asked permission to wear beards. The emperor granted the prayer of the petitioners, but reaffirmed the other parts of the decree (April 24, 1783). The Jews organized schools in various places, at Pressburg (Bratislava), Óbuda, Vágújhely (Nové Mesto nad Váhom), and Nagyvárad (Oradea). A decree was issued by the emperor (July 23, 1787) to the effect that every Jew should choose a German surname; and a further edict (1789) ordered, to the consternation of the Jews, that they should henceforth perform military service.

After the death of Joseph II the royal free cities showed a very hostile attitude toward the Jews. The citizens of Pest petitioned the municipal council that after May 1, 1790, the Jews should no longer be allowed to live in the city. The government interfered; and the Jews were merely forbidden to engage in peddling in the city. Seven days previously a decree of expulsion had been issued at Nagyszombat (Trnava), May 1 being fixed as the date of the Jews' departure. The Jews appealed to the government; and in the following December the city authorities of Nagyszombat were informed that the Diet had confirmed the former rights of the Jews, and that the latter could not be expelled.

Toleration and oppression (1790–1847)

Móric Ullmann (1782-1847), Hungarian Jewish banker, trader, founder of the Pesti Magyar Kereskedelmi Bank (Pesti Hungarian Commercial Bank).
Neoclassical architecture was used for this Synagogue in Szeged.

The Jews of Hungary handed a petition, in which they boldly presented their claims to equality with other citizens, to King Leopold II (1790–1792) at Vienna on November 29, 1790. He sent it the following day to the chancelleries of Hungary and Moravia for their opinions. The question was brought before the estates of the country on December 2, and the Diet drafted a bill showing that it intended to protect the Jews. This decision created consternation among the enemies of the latter. Nagyszombat (Trnava) addressed a further memorandum to the estates (December 4) in which it demanded that the Diet should protect the city's privileges. The Diet decided in favor of the Jews, and its decision was laid before the king.

The Jews, confidently anticipating the king's decision in their favor, organized a splendid celebration on November 15, 1790, the day of his coronation; on January 10, 1791, the king approved the bill of the Diet; and the following law, drafted in conformity with the royal decision, was read by Judge Stephen Atzel in the session of February 5:

The Jewish Cemetery in the city of Timisoara, now part of Romania.

"In order that the condition of the Jews may be regulated pending such time as may elapse until their affairs and the privileges of various royal free towns relating to them shall have been determined by a commission to report to the next ensuing Diet, when his Majesty and the estates will decide on the condition of the Jews, the estates have determined, with the approval of his Majesty, that the Jews within the boundaries of Hungary and the countries belonging to it shall, in all the royal free cities and in other localities (except the royal mining-towns), remain under the same conditions in which they were on Jan. 1, 1790; and in case they have been expelled anywhere, they shall be recalled."

Thus came into force the famous law entitled De Judaeis, which forms the thirty-eighth article of the laws of the Diet of 1790–1791. The De Judaeis law was gratefully received by the Jews; for it not only afforded them protection, but also gave them the assurance that their affairs would soon be regulated. Still, although the Diet appointed on February 7, 1791, a commission to study the question, the amelioration of the condition of the Hungarian Jews was not effected till half a century later, under Ferdinand V (1835–1848), during the session of the Diet of 1839–1840.

In consequence of the petition of the Jews of Pest, the mover of which was Dr. Philip Jacobovics, superintendent of the Jewish hospital, the general assembly of the county of Pest drafted instructions for the delegates on June 10, 1839, to the effect that if the Jews would be willing to adopt the Magyar language they should be given equal rights with other Hungarian citizens. From now on much attention was paid to the teaching of Hungarian in the schools; Moritz Bloch (Ballagi) translated the Pentateuch into Hungarian, and Moritz Rosenthal the Psalms and the Pirkei Avoth. Various communities founded Hungarian reading-circles; and the Hungarian dress and language were more and more adopted. Many communities began to use Hungarian on their seals and in their documents, and some liberal rabbis even began to preach in that language.

At the sessions of the Diet subsequent to that of 1839–1840, as well as in various cities, a decided antipathy—at times active and at times merely passive—toward the Jews became manifest. In sharp contrast to this attitude was that of Baron József Eötvös, who published in 1840 in the Budapesti Szemle, the most prominent Hungarian review, a strong appeal for the emancipation of the Jews. This cause also found a friend in Count Charles Zay, the chief ecclesiastical inspector of the Hungarian Lutherans, who warmly advocated Jewish interests in 1846.

Although the session of the Diet convened on November 7, 1847, was unfavorable to the Jews, the latter not only continued to cultivate the Hungarian language, but were also willing to sacrifice their lives and property in the hour of danger. During the Revolution of 1848 they displayed their patriotism, even though attacked by the populace in several places at the beginning of the uprising. On March 19 the populace of Pressburg (Bratislava), encouraged by the antipathies of the citizens—who were aroused by the fact that the Jews, leaving their ghetto around Pressburg Castle (Bratislava Castle), were settling in the city itself—began hostilities that were continued after some days, and were renewed more fiercely in April.

At this time the expulsion of the Jews from Sopron, Pécs, Székesfehérvár, and Szombathely was demanded; in the last two cities there were pogroms. At Szombathely, the mob advanced upon the synagogue, cut up the Torah scrolls, and threw them into a well. Nor did the Jews of Pest escape, while those at Vágújhely (Nové Mesto nad Váhom) especially suffered from the brutality of the mob. Bitter words against the Jews were also heard in the Diet. Some Jews advised emigration to America as a means of escape; and a society was founded at Pest, with a branch at Pressburg, for that purpose. A few left Hungary, seeking a new home across the sea, but the majority remained.

Revolution and emancipation, 1848–1849

Jews and the Hungarian Revolution

Jews entered the national guard as early as March 1848; although they were excluded from certain cities, they reentered as soon as the danger to the country seemed greater than the hatred of the citizens. At Pest the Jewish national guard formed a separate division. When the national guards of Pápa were mobilized against the Croatians, Leopold Löw, rabbi of Pápa, joined the Hungarian ranks, inspiring his companions by his words of encouragement. Jews were also to be found in the volunteer corps, and among the honvéd and landsturm; and they constituted one-third of the volunteer division of Pest that marched along the Drava against the Croatians, being blessed by Rabbi Schwab on June 22, 1848.

Many Jews throughout the country joined the army to fight for their fatherland; among them, Adolf Hübsch, subsequently rabbi at New York City; Solomon Marcus Schiller-Szinessy, afterward lecturer at the University of Cambridge; and Ignatz Einhorn, who, under the name of "Eduard Horn," subsequently became state secretary of the Hungarian Ministry of Commerce. The rebellious Serbians slew the Jews at Zenta who sympathized with Hungary; among them, Rabbi Israel Ullmann and Jacob Münz, son of Moses Münz of Óbuda The conduct of the Jewish soldiers in the Hungarian army was highly commended by Generals Klapka and Görgey. Einhorn estimated the number of Jewish soldiers who took part in the Hungarian Revolution to be 20,000; but this is most likely exaggerated, as Béla Bernstein enumerates only 755 combatants by name in his work, Az 1848-49-iki Magyar Szabadságharcz és a Zsidók (Budapest, 1898).

The Hungarian Jews served their country not only with the sword, but also with funds. Communities and individuals, Chevra Kadisha, and other Jewish societies, freely contributed silver and gold, armor and provisions, clothed and fed the soldiers, and furnished lint and other medical supplies to the Hungarian camps. Meanwhile, they did not forget to take steps to obtain their rights as citizens. When the Diet of 1847–1848 (in which, according to ancient law, only the nobles and those having the rights of nobles might take part) was dissolved (April 11), and the new Parliament — at which under the new laws the delegates elected by the commons also appeared — was convened at Pest (July 2, 1848), the Jews hopefully looked forward to the deliberations of the new body.

Brief emancipation and aftermath, 1849

Many Jews thought to pave the way for emancipation by a radical reform of their religious life. They thought this might ease their way, as legislators in the Diets and articles printed in the press suggested that the Jews should not receive equal civic rights until they reformed their religious practices. This reform had been first demanded in the session of 1839–1840. From this session onward, the press and general assemblies pushed for religious reform. Several counties instructed their representatives not to vote for the emancipation of the Jews until they desisted from practising the externals of their religion.

For the purpose of urging Jewish emancipation, all the Jews of Hungary sent delegates to a conference at Pest on July 5, 1848. It chose a commission of ten members to lobby with the Diet for emancipation. The commission delegates were instructed not to make any concessions related to practicing the Jewish faith. The commission soon after addressed a petition to the Parliament for emancipation, but it proved ineffective.

The national assembly at Szeged granted emancipation of Jews on Saturday, the eve of the Ninth of Av (July 28, 1849). The bill, which was quickly debated and immediately became a law, fulfilled the hopes of the Reform party. The Jews obtained full citizenship. The Ministry of the Interior was ordered to call a convention of Jewish ministers and laymen for the purpose of drafting a confession of faith, and of inducing the Jews to organize their religious life in conformity with the demands of the time, for instance, business hours on Saturday, the Jewish Sabbath. The bill included the clause referring to marriages between Jews and Christians, which clause both Lajos Kossuth and the Reform party advocated.

The Jews' civic liberty lasted for just two weeks. After the Hungarian army's surrender at Világos to Russian troops, which had come to aid the Austrians in suppressing the Hungarian struggle for liberty, the Jews were severely punished by new authorities for having taken part in the uprising. Field Marshal Julius Jacob von Haynau, the new governor of Hungary, imposed heavy war-taxes upon them, especially upon the communities of Pest and Óbuda, which had already been heavily taxed by Alfred I, Prince of Windisch-Grätz, commander-in-chief of the Austrian army, on his triumphant entry into the Hungarian capital at the beginning of 1849. Haynau punished the communities of Kecskemét, Nagykőrös, Cegléd, Albertirsa, Szeged, and Szabadka (now Subotica, Serbia) with equal severity. Numerous Jews were imprisoned and executed; others sought refuge in emigration.

Several communities petitioned to be relieved of the war taxes. The ministry of war, however, increased the hurden, requiring that the communities of Pest, Óbuda, Kecskemét, Czegléd, Nagykőrös, and Irsa should pay this tax not in kind, but in currency to the amount of 2,300,000 gulden. As the communities were unable to collect such monies, they petitioned the government to remit it. The Jewish communities of the entire country were ordered to share in raising the sum, on the grounds that most of the Jews of Hungary had supported the Revolution. Only the communities of Temesvár (now Timişoara, Romania) and Pressburg (now Bratislava, Slovakia) were exempted from this order, as they remained loyal to the existing Austrian government. The military commission added a clause to tax requirements, to the effect that individuals or communities might be exempted from the punishment, if they could prove by documents or witnesses, before a commission to be appointed, that they had not taken part in the Revolution, either by word or deed, morally or materially. The Jews refused this means of clearing themselves. They declared to be willing to redeem the tax by collecting a certain sum for a national school fund. Emperor Franz Joseph remitted the war-tax (September 20, 1850), but ordered that the Jews of Hungary without distinction should contribute toward a Jewish school fund of 1,000,000 gulden; they raised this sum within a few years.[citation needed]

Struggles for a second emancipation (1859–1867)

Prominent newspaper editor and journalist Miksa (Maxmilian) Falk returned to Hungary from Vienna following the emancipation in 1867. He was a national-level politician from 1875 to 1905.

While the House of Habsburg controlled Hungary, emancipation of Jews was postponed. When the Austrian troops were defeated in Italy in 1859, activists pressed for liberty. In that year the cabinet, with Emperor Franz Joseph in the chair, decreed that the status of the Jews should be regulated in agreement with the times, but with due regard for the conditions obtaining in the several localities and provinces. When the emperor convened the Diet on April 2, 1861, Jews pushed for emancipation but the early dissolution of that body prevented it from taking action in the matter.

The decade of absolutism in Hungary (1849–1859) resulted in Jews establishing schools, most of which were in charge of trained teachers. Based on the Jewish school fund, the government organized model schools at Sátoraljaújhely, Temesvár (Timişoara), Pécs, and Pest. In Pest the Israelite State Teachers' Seminary was founded in 1859, the principals of which have included Abraham Lederer, Heinrich Deutsch, and József Bánóczi.

When the Parliament dissolved in 1861, the emancipation of the Jews was deferred to the coronation of Franz Joseph. On December 22, 1867, the question came before the lower house, and on the favorable report of Kálmán Tisza and Zsigmond Bernáth, a bill in favor of emancipation was adopted; it was passed by the upper house on the following day. Although the Antisemitic Party was represented in the Parliament, it was not taken seriously by the political elite of the country. Its agitation against Jews was not successful (see Tiszaeszlár affair).

On October 4, 1877, the Budapest University of Jewish Studies opened in Budapest. The university is still operating, celebrating its 130th anniversary on October 4, 2007. Since its opening, it has been the only Jewish institute in all of Central and Eastern Europe.

In the 1890 Hungarian census, 64.0% of the Jewish population were counted as ethnic Hungarian by mother tongue, 33.1% as German (these were chiefly Yiddish speakers), 1.9% as Slovak, 0.8% as Romanian, and 0.2% as Ruthenian.

Family names

Most Jews did not have family names before 1783. Some family names were recorded for Jewish families:

  • 1050: Jászkonti
  • 1263: Farkas
  • 1350: Hosszú
  • 16th century: Cseh, Jakab, Gazdag, Fekete, Nagy, Kis
  • 1780: Bárány, Csonka, Horpács, Jónap, Kohányi, Kossuth, Kosztolányi, Lengyel, Lőrincz, Lukács, Szarvas, Szabó, Varga.

Emperor Joseph II believed that Germanization could facilitate the centralization of his empire. Beginning in 1783, he ordered Jews to either choose or be given German family names by local committees. The actions were dependent on local conditions.

With the rise of Hungarian nationalism, the first wave of Magyarization of family names occurred between 1840 and 1849. After the Hungarian revolution, this process was stopped until 1867. After the Ausgleich, many Jews changed their family names from German to Hungarian.

In 1942 during World War II, when Hungary became allied with Germany, the Hungarian Defense Ministry was tasked with "race validation." Its officials complained that no Hungarian or German names were "safe," as Jews might have any name. They deemed Slavic names to be "safer", but the decree listed 58 Slavic-sounding names regularly held by Jews.[12]

1890 / 1900 / 1910 census summaries

1890 1900 1910
Total population of Hungary, without Croatia 15,162,988 16,838,255 18,264,533
Emigration to the US in the previous decade, '00-'09 164,119 261,444 1,162,271
Jewish population, again without Croatia 707,961 831,162 911,227
Increase of the total population in the previous decade 10.28% 11.05% 8.47%
(Emigration to the US in the previous decade, '00-'09) / population at previous census 1.19% 1.72% 6.90%
Increase of the Jewish population in the previous decade 13.31% 17.40% 9.62%
Jewish/Total 4.67% 4.94% 4.99%

Almost a quarter (22.35%) of the Jews of Hungary lived in Budapest in 1910. Some of the surviving large synagogues in Budapest include the following:

1910 census

According to the 1910 census, the number of Jews was 911,227, or 4.99% of the 18,264,533 people living in Hungary (In addition, there were 21,231 Jews in the autonomous Croatia-Slavonia). This was a 28.7% increase in absolute terms since the 1890 census, and a 0.3% increase (from 4.7%) in the overall population of Hungary. At the time, the Jewish natural growth rate was higher than the Christian (although the difference had been narrowing), but so was the emigration rate, mainly to the United States. (The total emigration from Austria-Hungary to the U.S. in 1881-1912 was 3,688,000 people, including 324,000 Jews (8.78%). In the 1880-1913 period, a total of 2,019,000 people emigrated from Hungary to the US. Thus, an estimated 177,000 Jews emigrated from Hungary to the US during this total period.)

The net loss for Judaism due to conversions was relatively low before the end of the Great War: 240 people/year between 1896-1900, 404 between 1901-1910, and 435 people/year between 1911-1917. According to records, 10,530 people left Judaism, and 2,244 converted to Judaism between 1896 and 1917.[13]

The majority (75.7%) of the Jewish population reported Hungarian as their primary language, so they were counted as ethnically Hungarian in the census. The Yiddish speakers were counted as ethnically German. According to this classification, 6.94% of the ethnic Hungarians and 11.63% of the Germans of Hungary were Jewish. In total, Hungarian speakers made up a 54.45% majority in Hungary; German speakers (including those who spoke Yiddish), made up 10.42% of the population.

Population of the capital, Budapest, was 23% Jewish. This community had established numerous religious and educational institutions. Pest was more Jewish than Buda. Due to the prosperity and the large Jewish community of the city, Budapest was often referred to as the "Jewish Mecca"[14] At that time Karl Lueger, mayor of Vienna referred to the capital as Judapest, alluding to the high proportion of Jews.

Jews in Hungary were long prevented from owning land, which resulted in many going into business. In 1910, 60.96% of merchants,[15] 58.11% of the book printers, 41.75% of the innkeepers, 24.42% of the bakers, 24.07% of the butchers, 21.04% of the tailors, and 8.90% of the shoemakers of Hungary were Jewish.[16] 48.5% of the physicians in the country (2701 out of 5565) were Jewish.[17] In the 1893-1913 period, Jews made up roughly 20% of the students of the gimnázium high school (where classical subjects were emphasized) students and 37% of reál high school (where practical subjects were emphasized).

The strong class divisions of Hungary were represented in the Jewish population. About 3.1% of the Jews belonged to the "large employer" and "agricultural landowner of more than 100 hold, i.e. 57 hectares" class, 3.2% to the "small (<100 hold) landholder" class, 34.4% to the "working", i.e. wage-earning employee class, while 59.3% belonged to the self-employed or salary-earning middle class.[18]

There was also religious division, with three denominations. Budapest, the South and West had a "Neolog" majority (related to modern US conservative and Reform Judaism- the kipah and organ were both used in religious worship in the synagogues). Traditionalists ("Status quo ante") were the smallest of the three, mainly in the North. The East and North of the country were overwhelmingly Orthodox (more orthodox than "status quo ante"). In broad terms, Jews whose ancestors had come from Moravia in the 18th century tended to become Neolog at the split in 1869; those whose ancestors were from Galicia identified as Orthodox.

In absolute numbers, Budapest had by far the largest number of Jews (203 thousand), followed by Nagyvárad (Oradea) with 15 thousand, Újpest and Miskolc with about 10 thousand each, Máramarossziget (Sighetu Marmaţiei), Munkács (Mukachevo), Pozsony (Bratislava), Debrecen with 8 thousand, Kolozsvár (Cluj-Napoca), Szatmárnémeti (Satu Mare), Temesvár (Timișoara), Kassa (Košice) with about 7 thousand each.

Jewish population as a percentage of the total in 1910

In these lists the following notation is used:

N = Neolog majority; n = Neolog minority; Q = Status quo ante majority; q = Status quo ante minority; X = Orthodox majority; x = Orthodox minority; * = Chasidic dynasty is present
If the town and village had only an Orthodox community, it is not marked.

The town or village belonged to SL = Slovakia, RO = Romania, GE = Germany, IT = Italy, CR = Croatia between 1941 and 1944.
The unmarked communities were under Hungarian rule during the Holocaust.

The pronunciation of Hungarian names is consistent: s= sh, sz= s, c= cz [until WW1]= tz, cs= ch, zs= zh, gy= dy, ly= y, j= y.

The list of "rendezett tanácsú" or "törvényhatósági jogú" (i.e. autonomous) towns where the Jewish population exceeded 5% were:

In several towns, the number of Jews exceeded 1,000, but their ratio in the local population was less than 5.0%. These towns included Szabadka (Subotica) Nx with 3539 Jewish residents (3.7%), Kecskemét 2022 (3.0%), Békéscsaba 1970 (4.6%), Fiume (Rijeka IT) 1696 (3.4%), Hódmezővásárhely 1381 (2.2%), Zenta(Senta) * 1328 (4.5%), Nagybecskerek (Зрењанин, Zrenjanin) 1232 (4.7%), Cegléd 1121 (3.3%), Karcag 1077 (4.7%), Kiskunfélegyháza 1051 (3.0%), and Jászberény with 1017 (3.4%).

Other towns & villages with a significant Jewish proportion in 1910 included:

Counties where the Jewish population, including the autonomous towns, reached 4% or more were

  • Máramaros 18.4%, Bereg 14.2%, Ugocsa 12.9%, Ung 10.9%
  • Zemplén 9.6%, Szabolcs 7.9%, Szatmár 7.4%, Sáros 7.1%, Abaúj-Torna 7.1%,
  • Bihar 6.4%, Hajdú 6.0%, Pozsony 5.8%, Beszterce-Naszód 5.7%, Nyitra 5.0%, Szolnok-Dobóka 5.1%,
  • Szilágy 4.3%, Kolozs 4.3%, Szepes 4.3%.

Interwar statistics

Using data from the 1910 census, 51.7% of the Hungarian Jews lived in territories that stayed inside the "small" Hungary after 1921, 25.5% (232,000) lived in territories that later became part of Czechoslovakia, 19.5% (178,000) became part of Romania, 2.6% (23,000) became part of Yugoslavia, 0.5% (5,000) became part of Austria and finally 0.2% (2,000) lived in Fiume, which became part of Italy after 1924.[19] According to the censuses of 1930-1931, 238,460/192,833/about 22,000 Jews lived in parts of Czechoslovakia/Romania/Yugoslavia formerly belonging to Hungary, which means that the overall number of people declaring themselves Jewish remained unchanged in the Carpathian basin between 1910 and 1930 [a decrease of 26,000 in the post ww1 Hungary, a 6,000 increase in Czechoslovakia and a 15,000 increase in Romania].

According to the census of December 1920 in the "small" Hungary, the percentage of Jews increased in the preceding decade in Sátoraljaújhely (to 30.4%), Budapest (23.2%), Újpest (20.0%), Nyíregyháza (11.7%), Debrecen (9.9%), Pécs (9.0%), Sopron (7.5%), Makó (6.4%), Rákospalota (6.1%), Kispest (5.6%) and Békéscsaba (to 5.6%), while decreased in the other 27 towns with more than 20 thousand inhabitants.[20] Overall, 31.1% of the Jewish population lived in villages and towns with less than 20 thousand inhabitants.

In 1920, 46.3% of the medical doctors, 41.2% of the veterinarians, 21.4% of the pharmacists of Hungary were Jewish, as well as 34.3% of the journalists, 24.5% of performers of music, 22.7% of the theater actors, 16.8% of the painters and sculptors.[citation needed][21] Among the owners of land of more than 1000 hold, i.e. 570 hectares, 19.6% were Jewish.[22] Among the 2739 factories in Hungary, 40.5% had a Jewish owner.[21][citation needed]

The following table shows the number of people who declared to be Israelite (Jewish) at the censuses inside the post-ww1 territory of Hungary. Note: it was illegal not to declare religion between 1920 and 1945. Your religion was written on your birth certificate, your marriage license (except in 1919, during the short-lived Commune, see Hungarian Soviet Republic), even on your school grade reports.

census 12.31.1910 (inside 1937 borders) 12.31.1920 12.31.1930 01.31.1941 (inside 1937 borders) 1949 2001 2011
"izraelita" 471,355 473,310 444,567 400,981 133,861 12,871 10,965
 % of total 6.19% 5.93% 5.12% 4.30% 1.45% 0.13% 0.11%

The net loss for Judaism due to official conversions was 26,652 people between 1919 and 1938: while 4,288 people converted into the faith, 30,940 left it. The endpoints of this period, 1919-1920 (white terror) and 1938 (anti-Jewish law) contributed to more than half of this loss; between 1921 and 1930, the net loss rested around pre-war levels (260 people/year).:[13]

1896-1900 (pre-ww1 borders) 1901-1910 (pre-ww1 borders) 1911-1917 (pre-ww1 borders) 1919-1920 1921-1930 1931-1937 1938 alone
# of years totaled 5 10 7 2 10 7 1
converted from Judaism 1,681 5,033 3,816 9,103 5,315 7,936 8,586
converted to Judaism 481 994 769 316 2,718 1,156 98
Population of Budapest 1851[23] 1869 1880 1890 1900 1910 1920 1930 1941 1949 2001 (Greater) 2011 (Greater)
Total 178,062 270,476 355,682 486,671 703,448 880,371 928,996 1,006,184 1,164,963 1,057,912 1,777,921 1,729,040
Jewish 26,887 (15.1%) 44,890 (16.6%) 70,227 (19.7%) 102,377 (21.0%) 166,198 (23.6%)o 203,687 (23.1%) 215,512 (23.2%) 204,371 (20.3%) 184,453 (15.8%) 96,537 (9.1%) 9,468 (0.5%) [24] 7,925 (0.5%) [25]


In 1926, the districts I,II,III of Buda were Jewish 8%,11%,10% respectively. The 19 thousand Jews of Buda constituted about 9.3% of both the total population of Buda and the entire Jewish population of Budapest. On the left (Pest) side of the Danube, downtown Pest (Belváros, district IV then) was 18% Jewish. Districts V (31%), VI (28%), VII (36%), VIII (22%),IX (13%) had large Jewish populations, while district X had 6%. The four Neolog communities of Budapest (I-II, III, IV-IX, X) had a total of 66,300 members paying their dues, while the Orthodox community had about 7,000 members paying religious taxes.

In the countryside of the post-WW1 Hungary, the Orthodox had a slight edge (about 49%) over the Neolog (46%). Budapest and countryside combined, 65.72% of the 444,567 Jews belonged to Neolog communities, 5.03% to Status quo ante, while 29.25% were Orthodox in 1930 . We can also see from this data that the Jewish communities suffered a 5.6% decline in the 1910-1930 period, on the territory of the "small" Hungary, due to emigration and conversion.

The Jews of Hungary were fairly well integrated into Hungarian society by the time of the First World War. Class distinction was very significant in Hungary in general, and among the Jewish population in particular. Rich bankers, factory owners, lower middle class artisans and poor factory workers did not mingle easily. In 1926, there were 50,761 Jewish families living in Budapest. 65% of them lived in apartments that contained one or two rooms, 30% had three or four rooms, while 5% lived in apartments with more than 4 rooms.

# of households max 1 room 2 rooms 3 rooms 4 rooms 5 rooms min 6 rooms
Jewish= 50,761 25.4% 39.6% 21.2% 9.2% 3.1% 1.5%
Christian = 159,113 63.3% 22.1% 8.4% 3.8% 1.4% 1.0%


Education. The following chart will illustrate the effect of the antisemitic 1920 "Numerus clausus" Law on the percentage of Jewish university students at two Budapest Universities.

Jewish students 1913 1925 Spring
Budapest University of Sciences 34.1% 7.7%
Budapest University of Technology and Economics 31.9% 8.8%


Those who could afford went to study to other European countries like Austria, Germany, Italy and Czechoslovakia. In 1930, of all males aged six and older,[32]

Schooling >= 8 years >= 12 years university degree
General population 10.8% 5.8% 2.1%
Jews in the countryside 36.6% 17.0% 5.0%
Jews in Budapest 56.5% 31.7% 8.1%

Seven of the thirteen Nobel prize winners born in Hungary are Jewish. In sports, 55.6% of the individual gold medal winners of Hungary at the Summer Olympic Games between 1896 and 1912 were Jewish. This number dropped to 17.6% in the interwar period of 1924-1936.

Period 1896-1912 1924-1936 1948-1956 1960-1972 1976-1992 (1984 excluded) 1996-2008
# of Olympics 5 4 3 4 4 4
Total Golds 442 482 440 684 903 1172
Hungarian Golds 11 22 35 32 33 26
Hungarian/total World 2.49% 4.56% 7.95% 4.68% 3.65% 2.22%
Hungarian Individual Gold 9 17 26 22 27 16
Hungarian Jewish Individual 5 3 6 4 0 0
Jewish/total individual Hungarian 55.56% 17.65% 23.08% 18.18% 0% 0%
Jews in Gold Teams 57.14% = 8/14 28.21%= 11/39
Jews in population 4.99% (1910) 5.12% (1930) 1.45% (1949) 0.13% (2001)


More than 10,000 Jews died and thousands wounded and disabled fighting for Hungary in World War I. But these sacrifices by patriotic Hungarian Jews may have been outweighed by the chaotic events following the war's end.

With the defeat and dissolution of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Hungary would be forced by the Allies to adhere to the Treaty of Trianon, which ceded to neighboring nations fully two-thirds of Hungary's imperial territory and two thirds of its population, including a third of its ethnically Magyar citizens and many Jews. These losses provoked deep anger and hostility in the remaining Hungarian population.[6]

The first post-war government was led by Mihály Károlyi, and was the first modern effort at liberal democratic government in Hungary. But it was cut short in a spasm of communist revolution, which would have serious implications for the manner in which Hungarian Jews were viewed by their fellow-countrymen.

In March 1919, Communist and Social Democrat members of a coalition government ousted Karolyi; soon after (21 March), the Communists were to take power as their Social Democrat colleagues were willing neither to accept nor to refuse the Vix Note to cede a significant part of the Great Plains to Romania and the communists took control of Hungary's governing institutions. While popular at first, the so-called Hungarian Soviet Republic fared poorly in almost all of its aims, particularly its efforts to regain territories occupied by Slovakia (although achieving some transitional success here) and Romania. All the less palatable excesses of Communist uprisings were in evidence during these months, particularly the formation of squads of brutal young men practicing what they called "revolutionary terror" to intimidate and suppress dissident views. All but the one Sándor Garbai, the revolution's leaders, including Béla Kun, Tibor Szamuely, and Jenő Landler – were of Jewish ancestry. As in other countries where Communism was viewed as an immediate threat, the presence of ethnic Jews in positions of revolutionary leadership helped foster the notion of a Jewish-Bolshevik conspiracy.[6]

Kun's regime was crushed after four and a half months when the Romanian army entered Budapest; it was quickly followed by the reactionary forces under the command of the former Austro-Hungarian admiral, Miklós Horthy.

The sufferings endured during the brief revolution, and their exploitation by fascist and ultra-nationalist movements, helped generate stronger suspicions among non-Jewish Hungarians, and undergirded pre-existing anti-Semitic views.

Beginning in July 1919, officers of Horthy's National Army engaged in a brutal string of counter-reprisals against Hungarian communists and their allies, real or imagined.[33] This series of pogroms directed at Jews, progressives, peasants and others is known as the White Terror. Horthy's personal role in these reprisals is still subject of debate (in his memoirs he refused to disavow the violence, saying that "only an iron broom" could have swept the country clean).[34] Tallying the numbers of victims of the different terror campaigns in this period is still a matter of some political dispute[35] but the White Terror is generally considered to have claimed more lives than the repressions of the Kun regime by an order of magnitude, thousands vs hundreds.[6][36][37]

The Holocaust

Interwar years

"There is no doubt that this persecution of Jews in Hungary and their expulsion from enemy territory is probably the greatest and most horrible crime ever committed in the whole history of the world...."

Winston Churchill, July 11, 1944

In the first few decades of the 20th century the Jews of Hungary numbered roughly 5 percent of the population. This minority had managed to achieve great commercial success, and Jews were disproportionately represented in the professions, relative to their numbers.

In 1921 Budapest, 88% of the members of the stock exchange and 91% of the currency brokers were Jews, many of them ennobled. In interwar Hungary, more than half and perhaps as much as 90 percent of Hungarian industry was owned or operated by a few closely related Jewish banking families.

A Jewish Hungarian country girl around 1930.
Local customers in front of a Jewish grocery in Berzence, around 1930.

Jews represented one-fourth of all university students and 43% percent at Budapest Technological University. In 1920, 60 percent of Hungarian doctors, 51 percent of lawyers, 39 percent of all privately employed engineers and chemists, 34 percent of editors and journalists, and 29 percent of musicians identified themselves as Jews by religion.[38]

Resentment of this Jewish trend of success was widespread: Admiral Horthy himself declared that he was "an anti-Semite", and remarked in a letter to one of his prime ministers, "I have considered it intolerable that here in Hungary everything, every factory, bank, large fortune, business, theater, press, commerce, etc. should be in Jewish hands, and that the Jew should be the image reflected of Hungary, especially abroad."[39]

Unfortunately for Jews they had also become, by a quirk of history, the most visible minority remaining in Hungary; the other large "non-Hungarian" populations (including Slovaks, Slovenes, Croats, and Romanians, among others) had been abruptly excised from the Hungarian population by the territorial losses at Trianon. That left Hungary's Jews as the one ethnically separate group which could serve as a scapegoat for the nation's ills.[6] The scapegoating began quickly. In 1920, Horthy's government passed a "Numerus Clausus", restricting the Jewish enrollment at universities to five percent or less, in order to reflect the Jewish population percentage.

Anti-Jewish policies grew more repressive in the interwar period as Hungary's leaders, who remained committed to regaining the lost territories of "Greater Hungary", chose to align themselves (albeit warily) with the fascist governments of Germany and Italy – the international actors most likely to stand behind Hungary's claims.[6] The inter-war years also saw the emergence of flourishing fascist groups, such as the Hungarian National Socialist Party and the Arrow Cross Party.

Anti-Jewish Laws, 1938-1941

Starting in 1938, Hungary under Miklós Horthy passed a series of anti-Jewish measures in emulation of Germany's Nuremberg Laws. The first, promulgated on May 29, 1938, restricted the number of Jews in each commercial enterprise, in the press, among physicians, engineers and lawyers to twenty percent. The second anti-Jewish law (May 5, 1939), for the first time, defined Jews racially: people with 2, 3 or 4 Jewish-born grandparents were declared Jewish. Their employment in government at any level was forbidden, they could not be editors at newspapers, their numbers were restricted to six per cent among theater and movie actors, physicians, lawyers and engineers. Private companies were forbidden to employ more than 12% Jews. 250,000 Hungarian Jews lost their income. Most of them lost their right to vote as well: before the second Jewish law, about 31% of the Jewish population of Borsod county (Miskolc excluded), 2496 people had this right. At the next elections, less than a month after this new anti-Jewish legislation, only 38 privileged Jews could vote.[40]

In the elections of May 28–29, Nazi and Arrow Cross (Nyilas) parties received one quarter of the votes and 52 out of 262 seats. Their support was even larger, usually between 1/3 and 1/2 of the votes, where they were on the ballot at all, since they were not listed in large parts of the country[41] For instance, the support for Nazi parties was above 43% in the election districts of Zala, Győr-Moson, Budapest surroundings, Central and Northern Pest-Pilis, and above 36% in Veszprém, Vas, Szabolcs-Ung, Sopron, Nógrád-Hont, Jász-Nagykun, Southern Pest town and Buda town. The Nazi parties were not on the ballot mainly in the Eastern third of the country and in Somogy, Baranya, Tolna, Fejér. Their smallest support was in Békés county (15%), Pécs town (19%), Szeged town (22%) and in Northern Pest town (27%)[42]

The "Third Jewish Law" (August 8, 1941) prohibited intermarriage and penalized sexual intercourse between Jews and non-Jews.

January 1941 census

According to "Magyarország történelmi kronológiája",[43] the census of January 31, 1941 found that 6.2% of the population of 13,643,621, i.e. 846,000 people, were considered Jewish according to the racial laws of that time. In addition, in April 1941, Hungary annexed the Bácska (Bačka), the Muraköz (Međimurje County) and Muravidék (Prekmurje) regions from the occupied Yugoslavia, with 1,025,508 people including 15,000 Jews (data are from October 1941). This means that inside the May 1941 borders of Hungary, there were 861,000 people (or 5.87%) who were at least half Jewish, and therefore were considered Jewish. From this number, 725,000 (or 4.94%) were Jewish in accordance with Jewish religious law (4.30% in pre-1938 Hungary, 7.15% in the territories annexed from Czechoslovakia and Romania in 1938-1940 and 1.38% in the territories annexed from Yugoslavia in 1941).

year of annexation; from which country Region Jewish by religion in 1941 Jewish by law but not by confessed religion Jewish
pre-1938; Hungary Budapest 185,000 36,000-72,000 221-257,000
pre-1938; Hungary countryside 216,000 16,000-38,000 232-254,000
1938; Czechoslovakia southern Slovakia 39,000 1,000-10,000 40-49,000
1938; Czechoslovakia lower Carpatho-Ruthenia (lower Ung and Bereg counties) 39,000 - 39,000
1939; Czechoslovakia upper Carpatho-Ruthenia (ex-Czech part only) 81,000 - 81,000
1940; Romania Northern Transylvania 151,000 3,000-15,000 154-166,000
1941; Yugoslavia Bácska and other territories 14,000 1,000 15,000
Total 725,000 57,000-136,000 782-861,000

The following is from another source, a statistical summary written in the beginning of 1944 and referring to the 1941 census data:[44]

Region by year of annexation Yiddish+Hebrew by mother tongue in 1941 Jewish by ethnicity in 1941 Jewish by religion in 1941 Jewish by religion in 1930 Jewish by religion in 1910
pre-1938 1,357+222 9,764 (0.10%) 400,980 (4.30%) 444,567 (5.12%) 471,378 (6.19%)
1938 10,735+544 14,286 (1.35%) 77,700 (7.32%) 78,190 (7.56%) 66,845 (7.69%)
1939 68,643+1,987 64,191 (9.25%) 80,960 (11.67%) 71,782 (12.11%) 63,324 (12.75%)
1940 45,492+2,960 47,357 (1.84%) 151,125 (5.86%) 148,288 (6.20%) 134,225 (6.14%)
1941 338+47 3,857 (0.37%) 14,242 (1.38%)  ? 17,642 (1.87%)
Total 126,565+5,760 139,455 (0.95%) 725,007 (4.94%) 753,415 (6.22%) [45]

The question about Jewish grandparents was added late to the questionnaires at the census of 1941, when some of the sheets had already been printed. In addition, a lot of Christians of Jewish ancestry did not answer this question truthfully. So while about 62,000 Christians admitted some Jewish ancestry (including 38,000 in Budapest), their actual number was estimated at least 100,000:[46]

Religion 4 Jewish grandparents 3 2 1
Jewish in Budapest 175,651 448 7,655 699
Christian in Budapest 26,120 616 9,238 1,957
Jewish in the entire country 708,419 1,639 15,011 1,938
Christian in the entire country 38,574 888 18,015 4,071

First massacres

It is not clear whether the 10,000–20,000 Jewish refugees (from Poland and elsewhere) were counted in the January 1941 census. They and anyone who could not prove legal residency since 1850, about 20,000 people, were deported to southern Poland and either abandoned there or were handed over to the Germans between July 15 and August 12, 1941. In practice, the Hungarians deported many people whose families had lived in the area for generations. In some cases, applications for residency permits were allowed to pile up without action by Hungarian officials until after the deportations had been carried out. The vast majority of those deported were massacred in Kameniec-Podolsk (Kamianets-Podilskyi) at the end of August.[47] [48]

In the massacres of Újvidék (Novi Sad) and villages nearby, 2,550–2,850 Serbs, 700–1,250 Jews and 60–130 others were murdered by the Hungarian Army and "Csendőrség" (Gendarmerie) in January 1942. Those responsible, Ferenc Feketehalmy-Czeydner, József Zöldy and others were later put infor trials in Budapest dec 1943 and were sentenced, but some of them escaped to Germany.

During the war, Jews were called up to serve in unarmed "labour service" (munkaszolgálat) units which were used to repair bombed railroads, build airports or to clean up minefields at the front barehanded. Approximately 42,000 Jewish forced laborers were killed at the Soviet front in 1942–43,[49] many times by their Hungarian guards. Another 4 thousand forced laborers died in the copper mine of Bor, Serbia. Nevertheless, Mr Miklós Kállay, Prime Minister from March 9, 1942 and Regent Horthy resisted German pressure and refused to allow the deportation of Hungarian Jews to the German extermination camps in occupied Poland. This "anomalous" situation lasted until March 19, 1944, when German troops occupied Hungary and forced Horthy to oust Kállay.

Chaim Michael Ber Weissmandl and Gisi Fleischmann

Before the deportation of the Jews of Hungary was perpetrated, Rabbi Chaim Michael Ber Weissmandl and Gisi Fleischmann, leaders of the Bratislava Working Group, very courageously and tenaciously fought the Allies' indifference as well as Nazi and Fascist hatred, in order to save the Jewish population of Slovakia and elsewhere in Europe. Rabbi Weissmandl's and the Working Group's valiant struggle is recorded in his book Min HaMeitzar[50] This as well as Dr. Abraham Fuchs' The Unheeded Cry[51] and Dr. David Kranzler's Thy Brothers' Blood[52] document Rabbi Weissmandl's relentless efforts to strike a deal with Eichmann, in order to rescue the Jews of Hungary and one third of the Jews of Slovakia (the rest had already been exterminated) from total destruction.[53]

Occupation and deportation

Nazis take over Hungary

Adolf Eichmann on trial in Jerusalem 1961.
Hungarian Jews on the Judenrampe (Jewish ramp) after disembarking from the transport trains, to be sent rechts! - to the right - meant labor; links! - to the left - the gas chambers. Photo from the Auschwitz Album (May 1944).
Hungarian Jewish Women and children from Carpatho-Ruthenia after their arrival at the Auschwitz deathcamp (May/June 1944). Photo from the Auschwitz Album.

On March 18, 1944, Adolf Hitler summoned Horthy to a conference in Austria, where he demanded greater acquiescence from the Hungarian state. Horthy resisted, but his efforts were fruitless – while he attended the conference, German tanks rolled into Budapest.

On March 23, 1944, the government of Döme Sztójay was installed. Among his other first moves, Sztójay legalized the Arrow Cross Party, which quickly began organizing. During the four days' interregnum following the German occupation, the Ministry of the Interior was put in the hands of László Endre and László Baky, right-wing politicians well known for their hostility to Jews. Their boss, Andor Jaross, was another committed anti-Semite.

A few days later, Ruthenia, Northern Transylvania and the border region with Croatia and Serbia were placed under military command. On April 9, Prime Minister Döme Sztójay and the Germans obligated Hungary to place at the disposal of the Reich 300,000 Jewish laborers. Five days later, on April 14, Endre, Baky, and Eichmann decided to deport all the Jews of Hungary.

A Jew living in the Hungarian countryside in March 1944 had a less than 10% chance of surviving the following 12 months.[citation needed] In Budapest, a Jew's chance of survival of the same 12 months was about 50%. Although from 1943, the BBC Polish Service was broadcasting about the exterminations, the BBC Hungarian Service had not mentioned Jews at all. After the German invasion in March 1944, the Hungarian Service did then broadcast warnings, But by then it was too late. However, according to Professor Cesarani, although Jews who survived the deportations claimed that they had not been informed by their leaders, that no one had told them, there's plenty of evidence that the Hungarian Jews could have known.[54] But most of the Jews did not believe that the Holocaust might happen in Hungary: "This might be happening in Galicia to Polish Jews, but this can’t happen in our very cultivated Hungarian state." [55]

According to Yehuda Bauer, when the deportations to Auschwitz began in May 1944, the Zionist youth movements organized smuggling of Hungarian Jews into Romania. Around 4000 Hungarian Jews were smuggled into Romania, including the Zionist youth movements organized smuggling and those who paid individual smugglers on the border. The Romanians agreed to let those Jews in, despite heavy German pressure.[56]

Deportation to Auschwitz

SS-Obersturmbannführer Adolf Eichmann,[57] whose duties included supervising the extermination of Jews, set up his staff in the Majestic Hotel and proceeded rapidly in rounding up Jews from the Hungarian provinces outside Budapest and its suburbs. The Yellow Star and Ghettoization laws, and deportation, were accomplished in less than 8 weeks with the enthusiastic help of the Hungarian authorities, particularly the gendarmerie (csendőrség). The plan was to use 45 cattle cars per train, 4 trains a day, to deport 12,000 Jews to Auschwitz every day from the countryside, starting in mid-May; this was to be followed by the deportation of Jews of Budapest from about July 15.

Just before the deportations began, the Vrba-Wetzler Report reached the Allied officials. Details from the report were broadcast by the BBC on 15 June and printed in The New York Times on 20 June.[58] World leaders, including Pope Pius XII (25 June), President Franklin D. Roosevelt on 26 June, and King Gustaf V of Sweden on 30 June,[59] subsequently pleaded with Horthy to use his influence to stop the deportations. Roosevelt specifically threatened military retaliation if the transports were not ceased. On 7 July, Horthy at last ordered the transports halted.[60] According to historian Péter Sipos, the Hungarian government had already known about the Jewish genocide since 1943.[61] Some historians have argued that Horthy believed that the Jews were being sent to the concentration camps to work, and that they would be returned to Hungary after the war.[62] Horthy himself could not have been clearer in his memoirs: "Not before August," he wrote, "did secret information reach me of the horrible truth about the extermination camps."[63] The Vrba-Wetzler statement is believed to have been passed to Hungarian Zionist leader Rudolf Kastner no later than 28 April 1944, however, Kastner did not make it public.[64]

The first transports to Auschwitz began in early May 1944 and continued even as Soviet troops approached. The Hungarian government was solely in charge of the Jews' transportation up to the northern border. The Hungarian commander of the Kassa (Košice) railroad station meticulously recorded the trains heading to Auschwitz with their place of departure and the number of people inside them. The first train went through Kassa on May 14. On a typical day, there were three or four trains, with between 3,000 and 4,000 people on each train, for a total of approximately 12,000 Jews delivered to the extermination facilities each day. There were 109 trains during these 33 days through June 16. (There were days when there were as many as six trains.) Between June 25 and 29, there were 10 trains, then an additional 18 trains on July 5–9. The 138th recorded train (with the 400,426th victim) heading to Auschwitz via Kassa was on July 20.[65] Another 10 trains were sent to Auschwitz via other routes (24,000+ people) (the first two left Budapest and Topolya on April 29 and arrived at Auschwitz on May 2),[66] while 7 trains with 20,787 people went to Strasshof between June 25 and 28 (2 each from Debrecen, Szeged and Baja, 1 from Szolnok). The unique Kastner train left for Bergen-Belsen with 1,685 people on June 30.

By July 9, 437,402 Jews had been deported according to Reich plenipotentiary in Hungary Edmund Veesenmayer's official German reports.[67] One hundred and forty-seven trains were sent to Auschwitz, where 90% of the people were exterminated on arrival. Because the crematoria couldn't cope with the number of corpses, special pits were dug near them, where bodies were simply burned. It has been estimated that one third of the murdered victims at Auschwitz were Hungarian.[68] For most of this time period, 12,000 Jews were delivered to Auschwitz in a typical day, among them the future writer and Nobel Prize-winner Elie Wiesel, at age 15. Photographs taken at Auschwitz were found after the war showing the arrival of Jews from Hungary at the camp.[69]

The devotion to the cause of the "final solution" of the Hungarian gendarmes surprised even Eichmann himself, who supervised the operation with only twenty officers and a staff of 100, which included drivers, cooks, etc.[70]

Efforts to rescue Jews

Budapest, Hungary – Captured Jewish women in Wesselényi Street, 20–22 October 1944
Holocaust Shoe Memorial beside the Danube River in Budapest. The shoes represent Hungarian Jews who lost their lives during the Holocaust.

Very few members of the Catholic or Protestant clergy raised their voices against sending the Jews to their death. (Notable was Bishop Áron Márton's sermon in Kolozsvár on May 18). But the Catholic Primate of Hungary, Serédi decided not to issue a pastoral letter condemning the deportation of the Jews.

Rome was liberated on June 4, D-day landing in Normandy was on June 6. But on June 15, the Mayor of Budapest designated 2,000 (5%) "starred" houses where every Jew (20%+) had to move together.[71] The authorities thought that the Allies would not bomb Budapest because the "starred" houses were scattered around the town.

At the end of June, finally, the Pope in Rome, The King of Sweden, and, in strong terms, President Franklin D. Roosevelt urged the halt to the deportations. Admiral Horthy ordered the suspension of all deportations on July 6. Nonetheless, another 45,000 Jews were deported from the Trans-Danubian region and the outskirts of Budapest to Auschwitz after this day. After the failed attempt on Hitler's life, the Germans backed off from pressing Horthy's regime to continue further, large-scale deportations, although some smaller groups continued to be deported by train. In late August Horthy refused Eichmann's request to restart the deportations. Himmler ordered Eichmann to leave Budapest[72]

According to Winston Churchill, in a letter to his Foreign Secretary dated July 11, 1944, "There is no doubt that this persecution of Jews in Hungary and their expulsion from enemy territory is probably the greatest and most horrible crime ever committed in the whole history of the world...."[73]

The Sztójay government rescheduled the date of deportation of the Jews of Budapest to Auschwitz to August 27.[74] But the Romanians switched sides on August 23, 1944, causing huge problems for the German military. Himmler ordered the cancellation of further deportations from Hungary on August 25, in return for nothing more than Saly Mayer’s promise to see whether the Germans’ demands would be met.[75] Horthy finally dismissed Prime Minister Sztójay on August 29, the same day the Slovak National Uprising against the Nazis started.

In spite of the change of government, Hungarian troops occupied parts of Southern Transylvania, Romania, and massacred hundreds of Jews in Kissármás (Sărmăşel), Marosludás (Luduș) and other places starting September 4.

A Memorial plaque for Carl Lutz, a Swiss diplomat who saved the lives of thousands of Hungarian Jews during the Holocaust.

The "Arrow cross" rule

After the Nyilas (Arrow Cross) coup d'état on October 15, tens of thousands of Jews of Budapest were sent on foot to the Austrian border in death marches, most forced laborers under Hungarian Army command so far were deported (for instance to Bergen-Belsen), and two ghettos were set up in Budapest. The small "international ghetto" consisted of several "starred" houses under the protection of neutral powers in the Újlipótváros district. Switzerland was allowed to issue 7,800 Schutzpasses, Sweden 4,500, and the Vatican, Portugal and Spain 3,300 combined.[76] The big Budapest ghetto was set up and walled in the Erzsébetváros part of Budapest on November 29. Nyilas raids and mass executions occurred in both ghettos regularly. In addition, in the two months between November 1944 and February 1945, the Nyilas shot 10,000-15,000 Jews on the banks of the Danube. Soviet troops liberated the big Budapest ghetto on January 18, 1945. On the Buda side of the town, the encircled Nyilas continued their murders until the Soviets took Buda on February 13.

The names of some diplomats, Raoul Wallenberg, Carl Lutz, Ángel Sanz Briz, Giorgio Perlasca, Carlos de Sampayo Garrido and Alberto Teixeira Branquinho[77] deserve mentioning, as well as some members of the army and police who saved people (Pál Szalai, Károly Szabó, and other officers who took Jews out from camps with fake papers), an Interior Ministry official (Béla Horváth) and some church institutions and personalities. Rudolph Kastner deserves special attention because of his enduring negotiations with Eichmann and Becher to prevent deportations to Auschwitz, succeeding only minimally by sending Jews to still horrific labor battalions in Austria and ultimately saving 1,680 Jews in Kastner's train.[78]

Number of survivors

An estimated 119,000 Jewish people were liberated in Budapest (25,000 in the small, "international" ghetto, 69,000 in the big ghetto and 25,000 hiding with false papers) and 20,000 forced laborers in the countryside. Almost all of the surviving deportees returned between May and December 1945, at least to check out the fate of their families. Their number was 116,000.[79]

It is estimated that from an original population of 861,000 people considered Jewish inside the borders of 1941–44, about 255,000 survived. This gives a 29.6% survival rate overall. This number was even worse in Slovakia. On the other hand, the Jewish population fared much better on the Romanian side in Southern Transylvania, since Romania did not deport Jews to Auschwitz. According to another calculation, Hungary's pre-war Jewish population was 800,000, of which 80,000 survived.[80]

Here are two very different estimates for the number of survivors of people considered Jewish. (The numbers are in thousands)

Region 1910.12. (religion) 1930.12. (religion) 1941.01. (religion) 1941.01. ("race") 1944.03. ("race") 1945.12.[81] 1945.12.[82]
Hu1= Budapest 204 204 185 257 - 151
Hu2= Countryside as of 1937 267 241 216 254 - 46
Hu1 + Hu2 471 445 401 511 - 270 197
Cz1= Carpatho Ruthenia, ex-Czech part only (1938+1939) 120 - 35 15
Cz2= Upper Hungary = Southern Slovakia (1938) 49 - 15 10
Cz1 + Cz2 130 150 159 169 50 25
Ro1= Northern Transylvania (1940) 134 148 151 166 - 41 30
Yu1= Lower Hungary = Vojvodina,Serbia (1941) 18  ? 14 15 - 4 3
Total Hungarian ruled areas 1941-1944 753 725 861 800 [83] 365 255
Cz3= (Northern) Slovakia 102 88 89 [84] 30 - 10
Ro2= (Southern) Transylvania, Romania 44 45 41 40 - 39
Yu2= (Serbian part of) Banat, direct German rule 6  ? 4 0[85] - 0
At= Burgenland, annexed by Germany 5 5 0[86] 0 0 0
It= Fiume, Italy 1  ?  ?
Total pre-WW1 Hungary 911 995 870 - 304

The estimate of 995,000 people considered Jewish is not an exaggeration for 1941: the number of Jews was already 911,000 in the same territory three decades earlier; in addition, emigration was small in the 1920s and negligible in the 1930s.(From Hungary to the US, the total number of emigrants was 30,680 between 1921 and 1930 and 7,861 between 1931 and 1940).

Kastner Affair

Rudolf Israel Kastner[87] (1906–1957) was a Jewish-Hungarian journalist and lawyer who became known for his actions during the Holocaust in Hungary. He was one of the leaders of the Va'adat Ezrah Vehatzalah (Aid and Rescue Committee or Vaada), a small Jewish group in Budapest which helped Jewish refugees escape from Nazi-occupied territory into Hungary during World War II, and helped them escape after Hungary itself was invaded on 19 March 1944. Between May and July 1944, Hungary's Jews were being deported to the gas chambers at Auschwitz-Birkenau at the rate of 12,000 people a day—for "resettlement," as the Nazis said. Kastner negotiated with Adolf Eichmann and Kurt Becher, both senior SS officers, to allow 1,685 of them to leave instead for Switzerland on what became known as the Kastner train, in exchange for money, gold, and diamonds.[78] After the war, he wrote a letter of recommendation for Becher.[citation needed]

He later emigrated to Israel and was the subject of a famous 1954 libel casel regarding claims by Malchiel Gruenwald that Kastner had collaborated with the Nazi regime. Kastner allegedly knew deported Jews were being gassed at Auschwitz as early as April 1944 from the Vrba–Wetzler report but did little to warn the wider community. Through his inaction he helped the SS avoid the spread of panic, which would have slowed down the transports. The judge ruled in Gruenwald's favor, accusing Kastner of having "sold his soul to the devil." He was assassinated in Tel Aviv in 1957. Most of the decision was subsequently reversed by the Israeli Supreme Court in 1958, although a dissenting opinion agreed with the original judgement that Kastner had acted "knowingly and in bad faith, fulfilled the wishes ... of the Nazis, and thereby made it easier for them to perform the work of mass destruction." Kastner remains a controversial figure.

Joel Brand

Joel Brand (April 25, 1906 – July 13, 1964) was a Hungarian Jew known for his role during the Holocaust in trying to save the Hungarian-Jewish community from deportation to the Auschwitz concentration camp. Described by historian Yehuda Bauer as a brave adventurer who felt at home in underground conspiracies and card-playing circles, Brand teamed up with fellow Zionists in Budapest to form the Aid and Rescue Committee, a group that helped Jewish refugees in Nazi-occupied Europe escape to the relative safety of Hungary, before the Germans invaded that country too in March 1944.[88] Brand arrived to Palestine to try to negotiate with the British a way to save much of Hungary's Jews, but was arrested and jailed under still unexplained circumstances. He was very bitter that his pleas to save Hungary's Jews were unanswered.

Hungarian Gold Train

The Hungarian Gold Train was the case of a Nazi-operated train during World War II that carried stolen valuables, mostly Hungarian Jewish persons' property, from Hungary towards Berlin in 1945. After seizure of the train by American forces, almost none of the valuables were returned to Hungary or their rightful owners or their surviving family members.[89][90]

Raoul Wallenberg

At this time, one of the most daring figures of the Holocaust emerged onto the stage: Raoul Wallenberg. Using his staff to prepare Protective Passports under the authority of the Swedish Legation Wallenberg saved the lives of tens of thousands of Jews, and according to some accounts a hundred thousand - the later by preventing the murder of 70,000 residents of the Ghetto. At one point, he appeared personally at the railway station, insisting that many Jews on the train be removed, and presenting the Arrow Cross guards with the Protective Passports for many on the train. Carl Lutz, of the Swiss Legation, also saved many people in a similar manner.

Wallenberg was abducted by the Russians on January 17, 1945 and his fate is still unknown. The Russians claim that he was executed in the Moscow Lubyanka prison. Reliable sources state that he was seen alive much later. There are still efforts to find out what happened to him.

In 1952-53 there were preparations in Budapest for a Moscow directed antisemitic show trial, claiming that Wallenberg was murdered by Hungary's Jewish leaders in 1945. The Jewish leaders were arrested and severely tortured, along with two non-Jews who helped Wallenberg rescue Jews: Pál Szalai and Károly Szabó. It was Szalai's discussion with Major General Gerhard Schmidhuber, at Wallenberg's request, which saved the estimated 70,000 Jews in the Budapest Ghetto. The victims of the show trial were saved only by Stalin's death on 5 March 1953. Yet they never fully recovered from the torture, and one of the two died shortly after his release.

Budapest named Wallenberg as an honorary citizen in 2003. Several sites honor him, including Raoul Wallenberg Memorial Park, which commemorates those who saved many of the city's Jews from deportation to extermination camps, and the building that housed the Swedish Embassy in 1945.

Communist rule

At the end of World War II, only 140,000 Jews remained in Hungary, down from 750,000 in 1941. The difficult economic situation coupled with the lingering anti-Semitic attitude of the population prompted a wave of migration. Between 1945 and 1949, 40,000-50,000 Jews left Hungary for Israel(30,000-35,000) and Western countries(15,000-20,000) People of Jewish origin dominated the post-war Communist regime until 1952-53 when many were removed in a series of purges.[91] During its first years, the regime's top membership and secret police were almost entirely Jewish, albeit naturally anti-religious.[91] Leaders like Mátyás Rákosi, Ernő Gerő and Peter Gabor repudiated Judaism and were strict atheists per Communist doctrine. They even sometimes expressed anti-Semitic attitudes themselves. Indeed, under Communist rule from 1948 to 1988, Zionism was outlawed and Jewish observance was curtailed. Moreover, members of the upper class, Jews and Christians alike, were expelled from the cities to the provinces for 6–12 months in the early 1950s.

Jews were on both sides of the 1956 uprising.[91] Some armed rebel leaders like István Angyal, an Auschwitz survivor executed on December 1, 1958, were Jewish. Jewish writers and intellectuals such as Tibor Déry, imprisoned from 1957 to 1961, occupied the forefront of the reform movement.[91] After the Hungarian Revolution of 1956, about 20,000 or so Jews fled the country. For instance, an estimated 20% of the Hungarian refugees entering Canada in 1957 was Jewish.[92] By 1967, only about 80,000–90,000 Jews (including non-religious Jews) remained in the country, with the number dropping further before the country's Communist regime collapsed in 1989.

Under the milder communist regime of János Kádár (ruled 1957–1988) leftist Jewish intelligentsia remained an important and vocal part of Hungarian art and sciences. Diplomatic relations with Israel were severed in 1967, but it was not followed by antisemitic campaigns as in Poland or the Soviet Union.


The weeping willow monument in Budapest to Hungarian victims of the Holocaust. Each leaf is inscribed with the family name of one of the victims.

In April 1997, the Hungarian parliament passed a Jewish compensation act that returns property stolen from Jewish victims during the Nazi and Communist eras. Under this law, property and monetary payment were given back to the Jewish public heritage foundation and to Jewish victims of the Holocaust.[93] Critics have asserted that the sums provided are trivial, however, and represent nothing more than a symbolic gesture. "The overshadowing of the Holocaust by a politically guided preoccupation with the horrors of the Communist era has led, among other things, to giving priority to the compensation of the victims of Communism over those of Nazism. To add insult to injury, an indeterminate number of the Christian victims who were compensated for properties nationalized by the Communist regime had, in fact, "legally" or fraudulently acquired them from Jews during the Nazi era. Compounding this virtual obscenity, the government of Viktor Orbán sought in late 1998 to ease the collective conscience of the nation by offering to compensate survivors by paying approximately $150 for each member of their particular immediate families, assuming that they can prove that their loved ones were in fact victims of the Holocaust",[94] while offering 33 times this amount to relatives of the victims of the Communist era. The reparation offer was based on Law XXIX of 1997 so it was in fact passed under Gyula Horn's socialist-free democrat government (1994–1998).[95]

The economic situation has been deteriorating since 2007, and extreme elements have established paramilitary organizations complete with Nyilas-like uniforms and armbands. At the 2010 election, the openly antisemitic "Jobbik" party received 16.7% of the vote. There has been some collaboration between Jobbik and antisemitic elements of the Fidesz party (in power 1998-2002 and from 2010) since the 2010 elections. For instance, the Budapest square named after President Roosevelt since 1946 was renamed, while the writer Albert Wass, sentenced in absentia for war crimes (for murders of Jewish women and Romanian civilian men in Transylvania in 1940) was honored with several squares and sculptures by the Budapest authorities in 2011. This is the same year, when Viktor Orbán's government stopped paying the $150 a year compensation (established by the previous government in 2007) to the 9,000 elderly survivors of the Holocaust in Hungary that are still alive.[96]

The 2001 Hungary census recorded 12,871 people declared Jewish religion. Other estimates about the number of Jews in Hungary range from 50,000 to 150,000 (no methodology or data collection method is given for these estimates); intermarriage rates are around 60%. T in the census of 2001). Hungary has a number of synagogues, including the Dohány Street Synagogue, which is the second largest synagogue in the world. Jewish education is well organised: there are three Jewish high schools (Lauder Javne, Wesselényi and Anna Frank). Hungary is also home to the Budapest University of Jewish Studies.

Since the fall of Communism in 1989, there has been a modest spiritual revival of Jewish observance. In 2003, Slomó Köves (Chabad) became the first Orthodox Rabbi to be ordained in Hungary since the Holocaust. The ceremony was attended by Rabbi Shlomo Amar, the Chief Rabbi of Israel, as well as the President of Hungary. At the other end of the spectrum a Reform congregation on Anglo-American lines, known as Szím Salóm, has been established under the leadership of Rabbi Katalin Kelemen.

During 2011, 1,014,682 taxpayers of Hungary gave 1% of their 2010 taxes to religious denominations. The Jewish denominations received money from 7,849 taxpayers (0.77%): 6,001 people offered money to the Neologs, 1,120 to Chabad, 435 to the two Reform communities and 290 to the Orthodox communities.[97] Two [three] years later, 6,835 [7,277] people gave 1% of their 2012 [2013] taxes to the Neologs, 1,551 [1,520] to Chabad and 286 [270] to the orthodox community. The reform communities were not allowed to get money from the taxes, since they became not officially recognized in 2011.[98] [99]

The following table shows the percentage of Jewish taxpayers and their weight in the tax base among those Hungarian taxpayers who voluntarily directed 1% of their personal income taxes to go to a religious denomination:

Tax year 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014 2015
# of Jewish denominations 2 2 4 4 4 4 5 5 5 3 3 3 3 3
 % of taxpayers 1.17 1.07 1.10 1.04 0.97 0.88 0.79 0.78 0.77 0.75 0.79 0.88 0.86 0.95
 % of taxes 2.33 2.14 2.21 2.06 1.95 1.74 1.62 1.62 1.72 1.34 1.31 1.36 1.26 1.42

In July 2011, the Hungarian government and legislature classified the religions into "recognized" (14 denominations) and "not recognized" (200+) categories.(In December 2011, the number of "recognized" denominations was increased to 31). Orthodox Jewish, Status quo ante (which is the same as Chabad since 2004), and Neolog denominations were recognized, while the Progressive "Szím Salóm" and the Reform "Bet Orim" communities fell into the "not recognized" category, therefore they are no longer in the table above, starting 2011.

Jews born after the Holocaust, i.e. in or after 1945, started to retire in 2007, and this causes rapid decline in the table above, since people on Social Security do not pay personal income taxes in Hungary at present.

Historical population (using current borders)

Hungary's Jewish population (within its current borders) has decreased from nearly half a million after World War I and kept declining between 1920 and 2010, significantly between 1939 and 1945 (World War II and the Holocaust), and further between 1951 and 1960 (the 1956 Hungarian Revolution). Despite these massive declines, Hungary has the largest Jewish population in Eastern Europe outside of the former Soviet Union today.[100]

Historical Hungarian Jewish population
Year Pop. ±%
1920 473,400 —    
1930 444,567 −6.1%
1939 400,000 −10.0%
1945 165,000 −58.8%
1951 130,000 −21.2%
1960 80,000 −38.5%
1970 70,000 −12.5%
1980 65,000 −7.1%
1990 57,000 −12.3%
2000 52,000 −8.8%
2010 48,600 −6.5%

See also

Individual people


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  • Braham, Randolph L. (2001) The Holocaust in Hungary: a selected and annotated bibliography, 1984–2000. Boulder: Social Science Monographs; Distributed by Columbia University Press ISBN 0-88033-481-9
  • Braham, Randolph L. (2001) The Politics of Genocide: the Holocaust in Hungary. (Rev. and enl. ed.) 2 vols. Boulder: Social Science Monographs; Distributed by Columbia University Press ISBN 0-88033-247-6 [Hungarian translation available.] (1st ed.: New York: Columbia University Press, 1981.)
  • Hungary and the Holocaust, US Holocaust Memorial Museum
  •  This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainSinger, Isidore; et al., eds. (1901–1906). "Hungary". Hungary. Jewish Encyclopedia. New York: Funk & Wagnalls Company.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

Further reading

  • Braham, Randolph L. & Bock, Julia (2008), comp. & ed. The Holocaust in Hungary: a selected and annotated bibliography: 2000–2007. [New York]: Rosenthal Institute for Holocaust Studies, Graduate Center/City University of New York; Boulder : Social Science Monographs ISBN 0-88033-628-5
  • Miron, Guy, "Center or Frontier: Hungary and Its Jews, Between East and West", Journal of Levantine Studies, vol. 1, Summer 2011, pp. 67-91
  • Patai, Raphael, The Jews of Hungary: history, Culture, Psychology, Detroit, Michigan, Wayne State University Press, 1996, ISBN 0-8143-2561-0
  • Patai, Raphael, Apprentice in Budapest: Memories of a World That Is No More Lanham, Maryland, Lexington Books, 2000, ISBN 0-7391-0210-9

External links