Zsidóság a dualizmus kori Magyarországon

TitleZsidóság a dualizmus kori Magyarországon
Publication TypePublication review
AuthorsSulyok, Izabella
Author(s) of reviewed materialVarga, László(ed.)

Title translated:
Jewry in Hungary of the Dual Monarchy

PublisherBudapest: Pannonica Kiadó
Review year


Full Text

In the historiography of Hungarian Jewry the view is commonly accepted that the years of the Dual Monarchy, those between 1867 and 1918 constituted an era of great success: the large Jewish community took on a considerable role in Hungarian economic and cultural life. However, the anti-Semitic policies of the inter-war period and especially the Holocaust make the achievements of the Dualist period appear in a more ambiguous light and also as more questionable. The assimilation of Jews to the Hungarian nation and its culture became one of the most debated aspects of Jewish Hungarian history during the Dualist period, since some historians consider assimilation as an indicator of Jewry’s success, while others argue that assimilation contributed to their tragedy. This collection, edited by László Varga, aims to avoid entering this debate on these grounds and present the history of the Jews in the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy without viewing it through the mirror of the Holocaust.

Zsidóság a dualizmus kori Magyarországon contains fourteen studies. Although all of them were published before, some appear here for the first time in Hungarian translation. The authors of the studies examine various aspects of the main themes such as migration, the role of Jews in the Hungarian economy and its modernization, the reception of Zionism, their participation in cultural life, and the socio-psychological basis of ethnic prejudices. Four of them concentrate on smaller geographical territories and present the history of Jews in a single town or region.

László Varga’s study on Jewish migration patterns shows that the belief in widespread Jewish migration to Hungary in this epoch is no more than a false myth, though he also stresses the differences between the Jews of “Western” (those mainly arriving from Czech and Moravian territories) and “Eastern” origin (mainly former Galicians). He points out that the Jews coming from Western territories integrated more easily into the local society.

Jakob Katz deals with the uniqueness of Hungarian Jewry as caused by the peculiarity of Hungarian nationalism in the 19th century. He claims the conditions of assimilation were unique and even ideal in Hungary, but he underlines that the divergent Jewish attitudes towards assimilation broke the unity of the Jewish community and Jewish assimilation even so remained incomplete. Katz also implies that a unified Jewish community with a competent leadership could have diminished the number of Hungarian Holocaust victims. Unfortunately, we do not find out how exactly this is meant - Katz seems to overestimate the importance of Jewish actions in the face of the unfolding persecution and genocidal policies.

Concerning assimilation, Károly Vörös focuses on the same aspects as Katz when presenting the development of Budapest Jewry. Vörös presents how the question of assimilation led to a conflict between Jews and non-Jews as well as within the Jewish community and divided it into two communities (neology vs. orthodoxy). The author claims that assimilation’s outcome was imperfect. This opinion is shared by Péter Hanák who demonstrates that even assimilated Jews were mostly considered as separate from others members of Hungarian society.

Besides questions of assimilation examined by Katz and Vörös, András Gerő adds that assimilation had advantages both for the Jews and for the Hungarian nation in general. Gerő emphasizes that non-Jewish Hungarians expected a complete cultural assimilation of Jews and emancipation remained unaccompanied by the legal equality of Judaism for decades. Gerő points out that Jews did not have the opportunity to become integrated into Hungarian society without giving up their own cultural identity.  

In spite of the ambiguities of their assimilation, Jews played a highly significant role in the economy and culture of Hungary. Regarding the economy, Michael K. Silber remarks on the general social and economic conditions that gave Jews the opportunity to obtain an exceptional role, however, their special importance was on the decrease as the economy developed further. This highly significant role of Jews had its complementary part in the absence of a strong non-Jewish Hungarian middle-class. Viktor Karády presents this phenomenon in details in his study on the role of Jews in the modernization of Hungary. He also examines the participation of Jews in the creation of modern culture. The general observations of Silber and Karády are shared by József Ö. Kovács who analyzes the role of Jews in the society and economy of Kecskemét as well as Tamás Csíki who examines the bourgeoisie of North-Eastern and Eastern Hungarian towns from a comparative perspective. Furthermore, Ö. Kovács suggests a slight revision of the approach to the integration of Jews, but does not provide us with a developed new theory to replace the existing one. Concerning culture, Gyula Zeke and Miklós Lackó demonstrate Jewish involvement in different fields as artists as well as consumers.

As a result of the assimilation process, the Jews of Hungary remained remarkably unreceptive to Zionist ideas or, according to Gábor Schweitzer, tried to reconcile their Hungarian patriotism and reduced Zionism to a mere cultural matter. Alternatively, the almost total rejection of Zionism could also be explained by the relative weakness of anti-Semitism in Hungary at this time. The infamous blood libel accusation of Tiszaeszlár and the situation of local Jews are analyzed by György Kövér through a diachronic microanalysis. Anti-Semitism was also on agenda of organizations founded during the times of Austria-Hungary. Such organizations and their ideology are examined by Miklós Szabó. He concludes that these ideas were held by a number of social groups (clergy, state officials, etc.) and the strength of anti-Semitic ideas in the inter-war period was based on them. In Szabó’s study, the basic ambiguity of the history of Jews in Hungary becomes obvious: in spite of their almost complete assimilation, they typically remained marked as different while playing an exceptional role in the Hungarian economy, and so one can see the beginning of the crisis already before the end of the First World War.

Zsidóság a dualizmus kori Magyarországon paints a multi-level, differentiated and colored picture of Hungarian Jewry in the era of Austria-Hungary and presents a variety of points of views. Unfortunately, the selected studies have not been arranged or grouped by any criterion and the collection lacks a clear structure. Still, this volume features several of the most important studies dealing with the period and addresses many of the fundamental questions, thereby serving as the best starting point for those interested in the growing historiography on Jews in Hungary between 1867 and 1918 as well as providing the reader with a good grasp of the complexities and ambiguities of this intriguing history.