Slavery in Árpád-era Hungary in a Comparative Context. By Cameron Sutt. (East Central and Eastern Europe in the Middle Ages 31.) Leiden–Boston: Brill, 2015. 240 pp.
This study, which is based on a Cambridge dissertation supervised by Nora Berend, takes up a discussion—now more than one-hundred years old—about the actual status of persons called servi, mancipia, or ancillae in the eleventh, twelfth, and thirteenth centuries in Hungary. To put the issue in a wider context, the author first summarizes older and more recent research on the conditions of dependent labor in early medieval Western Europe. As his findings demonstrate, one should be cautious with any unequivocal or general definition of these people’s social positions: even historians working with a significantly wider array of sources than those available in Hungary have failed to reach any consensus on the question of whether or not these people could be accurately characterized as slaves, serfs, or any of the other names that have been given to them. Then, in contradiction to the contention that very little research has been devoted to this question in Hungarian historical scholarship (p.1), Sutt gives a thorough and informative survey of the literature from the beginning of the twentieth century to, roughly, the present day (pp.7–18).
A crucial subchapter follows on the definition of slavery (pp.18–32). Much of the debate rests on semantics. Most historians have tended, tacitly or otherwise, to equate the notion of slavery with the Antique Roman slave bands or the African plantation slaves of America. Sutt widens the discussion by introducing evidence from ancient Mesopotamia to present-day (or recent) slave-holding societies in Sub-Saharan Africa. As with other similar comparisons between ancient states or contemporary “societies without writing” and medieval Europe, I am not sure that these are as useful as the author believes. (The debate on this question, however, is far too broad for me to cover it in any detail here.) Sutt ends up with a four-point “definition” (p. 32):
1 a slave was property, and as such could be bought, sold, and traded in whatever manner his or her owner desired;
2 a slave was separated from his or her kin. Slaves may have children, but cannot establish the broader relationship of kin. Separation from kin found manifestation primarily in the inability of a slave to participate in the rights of patrimony. A slave could enjoy certain limited rights to property, and this property could be sizeable and may even have consisted of land in some form, but all of a slave’s property was merely part of his or her peculium. A prime characteristic of peculium was that a slave could not bequeath it to succeeding generations;
3 the labor of a slave depended solely upon the will of his or her master. Slaves could be required to perform all sorts of tasks, both heavy and light, but their master alone determined both the nature and the amount of work demanded of them;
4 slave marriages were not secure in all societies. This criterion must be qualified because, as we have seen, some societies allowed the legal protection of the union between slaves. Serfs, by contrast, always had such legal protection. Thus, while the presence of protected marriages does not necessarily indicate serfs, the forcible break up of unions does indicate slaves.
With these criteria in mind, the author peruses the laws of St. Stephen (pp.52–90), St. Ladislas and Coloman (pp.91–108), and other Hungarian records, always comparing them to the Lex Baiuvariorum and related sources, as well as evidence from Carolingian French territories. This inquiry is prefaced by a chapter on “Árpádian Hungary and the Land” (pp.35–51), which presents the discussions on the nomadic or semi-nomadic character of the Hungarians in the ninth and tenth centuries, the development of ecclesiastical and lay landed property, and their structure.
In the subsequent three chapters the evidence is analyzed topically, according to the author’s definition. He presents evidence suggesting that servi were regarded as “things” (res) (pp.109–22), i.e. they could be bought and sold even without land, that their labor obligations were mostly undefined, though less so on church property (pp.123–30), and that their families (pp.131–58) were systematically split up. The last point is the most contradictory, and is supported by the least reliable evidence. One frequently finds mention in the sources of married servi or ancillae, but some of these unions may have been between manumitted servants.
On the basis of the very systematic and exhaustive (as exhaustive as reasonably possible) survey of the scattered sources, Sutt finds evidence in the laws and charters of Árpádian-age Hungary for almost all of the points in his definition, although never for all. There is, however, evidence to the contrary as well, even apart from the exceptional case of a servus being in charge of a castle (Stephen II: 18). For example, when a distinction is drawn between Hungarian servi and others, the Hungarian servi are clearly regarded as persons, even though in another source they are listed together with cattle and tools. Surely, the Hungarian evidence points to conditions fairly similar to those of (earlier) Western European ones, in which there were very significant differences in the statuses of servile populations. From what can be established, the legal division of liber and servus was unequivocal, but that may not have covered the actual social and economic reality. (As in later centuries, the legal notion of nobilis covered great landowners and one-plot peasant-noblemen alike.)
The comparison with “serfs” (already used in the definition and then in the last chapter) is also problematic. To use this category—different from “slave”— in the Hungarian case is highly problematic. Calling the dependent tenants of the later Middle Ages and beyond—i.e. the jobbágy/jobagio peasants, who had de facto inheritable plots and the freedom to move (or be moved) to other lords—serfs is definitely misleading. Might it not be more useful, even in the case of periods as early as the first centuries of the kingdom, to speak of slave-like and serf-like dependencies among the servile laborers and peasants, but clearly to distinguish them from the later (from the late thirteenth century onwards) peasants? The attempt to make them ad glebam astricti and disarmed (in 1514) clearly suggests that their position was different before (and, in fact, did not even change for the worse in general thereafter).The study closes with a discussion of the disappearance of servi (pp.159–210), already touched upon. Sutt persuasively dismisses the influence of the Church, drawing on a wide array of theological sources and canon law. He also offers a good survey of the relevant debates and argues that in essence the servi disappeared because of changes in agriculture and settlement patterns (i.e. the end of the small praedia).
The book also includes a good index and a map of thirteenth-century Hungary. (It is, however, puzzling how northern Transdanubia became “Burgenland.”)
My critical remarks notwithstanding, I regard this study as a very important one. Sutt is right to urge an up-to-date inquiry into this long-debated issue in a European context, and he has made a substantial contribution. By having made both the older Hungarian discussions of this question and his own extensive research accessible to the scholarly public beyond Hungary (the studies in Hungarian are almost entirely unknown abroad, as Sutt notes on p.1), he has done a valuable service for social and legal historians worldwide.
János M. Bak
Central European University, Budapest
Koldulórendi konfraternitások a középkori Magyarországon (1270 k. – 1530 k.) [Mendicant confraternities in medieval Hungary (ca. 1270 – ca. 1530)]. By Marie-Madeleine de Cevins. Pécs: Virágmandula, 2015. 308 pp.
The French historian Marie-Madeleine de Cevins is well known among Hungarian medievalists. She is one of the few Western European historians whose research field is in East Central Europe, more precisely in medieval Hungary. She has dealt with questions of ecclesiastical history for the last twenty or so years. In addition to a number of articles and a book on the church institutions in the Hungarian towns, she published a thick volume on Franciscan Observants in Hungary (Les Franciscains observants hongrois, de l’expansion à la débâcle [vers 1450 – vers 1540] Rome ), and she also organized a research group dealing with mendicant economy in East Central Europe, financed by the French Agence National de Recherche (Marginalité, économie et christianisme: La vie matérielle des couvents mendiants en Europe centrale). The question of mendicant confraternities came up in the framework of this research.
Almost as if showing respect for a long tradition, works on medieval Hungarian history often begin with the contention that sources are scarce either because they never existed or because they did not survive the upheavals of East Central European history. Certainly there are far fewer written sources in this part of Europe than in the Southern or Western regions of the continent. However, there are some exceptions. The subject of de Cevins’ book seems to be one of them. Although confraternities are documented in Western Europe centuries earlier, the adoption of this form of piety in the mendicant orders seems to have found much less expression there than it did in East Central Europe, especially in Hungary.
The book consists of seven chapters, including a conclusion and a long appendix of nearly seventy pages containing tables, maps, graphs, photos of documents, followed by the publication of sixteen charters. Between the two sections, there is a fifteen-page bibliography which lists both published and unpublished sources, as well as works of secondary literature mainly in French, Hungarian and English, but there are also German and Flemish titles.
In the first chapter one of the main questions is the terminology, since confraternities need to be distinguished from other forms of piety such as, for instance, pro anima donations. In fact, one of the difficulties is that the sources are not only very uneven, but they also contain very few details. Sometimes even the name of the beneficiary is missing, not to mention the circumstances under which he or she joined the mendicant community. The first half of the chapter offers a short history of the confraternities and their monastic roots. The second part gives an overview of the historical research with a brief discussion of the secondary literature in English, French, Danish, Polish, and Czech, with a special focus on the works in Hungarian.
The second chapter enumerates the sources themselves, from the normative texts, which are very few in number, through the charters, the registers, and the formularia, including the relevant sources issued by the Pauline Order. De Cevins’ scope is larger here than the mendicant confraternity charters stricto sensu, partly due to the fact that the sources survived in very different forms and under very different circumstances. In this context, she also discusses the problem of conflating the confratres with the “simple” benefactors of the orders; this aspect is important when categorizing the sources. Finally, there is a short summary of the formal characteristics of the confraternity charters.
The third chapter, entitled “The success of mendicant confraternities in Hungary till about 1530,” is the main thematic part of the book. It discusses the chronology, spatial distribution, and social background of the phenomenon. As far is this last aspect is concerned, de Cevins underlines that the nobility is clearly overrepresented in the source material. This is not simply a Hungarian phenomenon. De Cevins quotes the English and Burgundian examples, but she notices an important difference, namely the relatively low number of aristocrats and, in contrast, the strong presence of the nobility. I agree with her contention that further research is needed in order to determine whether this phenomenon was a Hungarian peculiarity or not, but whatever the case, this detail fits well into our image of late medieval Hungarian society.
The following three chapters analyze the process of how one joined the confraternity and the levels of benefices (Chapter 4), the connections between the orders and their confraternities, including the mutual services (Chapter 5), and the religious aspects, the “value” of the confraternity from the point of view of the lay members (Chapter 6).
The conclusion focuses on three aspects. The first is the disciplined use of the confraternity as a religious institution. The hesitancy to issue blank charters contributed to the late medieval success of confraternities in Hungary, especially among nobles and aristocrats. Secondly, this group was particularly susceptible to this form of piety because of earlier monastic traditions (the high prestige of kindred monasteries) and the social demands of the elite. And thirdly, de Cevins again contextualizes the confraternity in the European framework, and she describes its place in the rich set of the forms of piety promoted or accepted by the mendicant orders.
It is rather unusual that a book by a non-Hungarian scholar is first published in Hungarian. In this case, given both the subject and the author it was auspicious that a Hungarian publisher undertook the task. However, a short remark has to be made about the translation. Obviously, one of the goals was to publish the volume as soon as possible, and the lack of time made it difficult to go through the translated text carefully. In some cases, this led only to annoying grammatical or orthographical mistakes, but unfortunately there are more serious problems. Certain phrases are hard to understand because of the unfortunate phrasing in Hungarian, and a few of them seem to mean just the opposite as the author’s intention simply because of a missing “not.” Hopefully, the French edition of the volume will also be published in the near future, and historians will at least have the opportunity to check the translation against the original text.
In summary, Marie-Madeleine de Cevins’s book yields new insights into the relationship between the mendicant orders and the surrounding society based on a neglected group of sources. She highlights the differences between the behaviors of the orders, as well as the differences within the orders in different regions. Finally, she discusses the subject in a larger European context, emphasizing that the exceptionality of the Hungarian case may be thrown into question if sources from other regions are analyzed, too. The book is the first but hopefully not the last comprehensive analysis of a subject that until now has suffered from neglect.
Beatrix F. Romhányi
Károli Gáspár University, Budapest
A Német Lovagrend Poroszországban: A népesség és a településszerkezet változásai [The Teutonic Order in Prussia: Changes in population and settlement pattern]. By László Pósán. Máriabesenyő: Attraktor, 2015. 312 pp.
Works in Hungarian on the history of the Teutonic Order focus primarily on two issues: the events of the 1210–20s, when the Order held territories in Burzenland in southeastern Transylvania, and the diplomatic connections between Sigismund of Luxemburg and the Teutonic Knights. However, the events preceding the presence of the Knights in Hungary, as well as their lasting and significant rule in the Baltics beginning in the 1230s, have not captured the interests or attention of Hungarian scholars. László Pósán, associate professor at the University of Debrecen, has been trying to fill this gap for decades by publishing numerous articles concerning the history of the Order in Prussia and Hungary. This monograph provides a summary of Pósán’s research on this subject.
Pósán summarizes the relevant German, Polish, and English secondary literature and provides an excellent complement with a list of primary sources illustrating the major processes and changes that were at work in the region. His work is divided into four main parts, organized chronologically.
The first part offers a broad overview of the Prussian territories and the tribes that inhabited the region before the arrival of the Knights. Pósán provides a vivid description of the harsh and unhospitable conditions of the land, which has proved one of the biggest difficulties for the Teutonic Knights.
The second part presents the everyday life of the Prussian population and prevailing power relations up to the Treaty of Christburg (1249), which is often characterized as the conclusion of the First Prussian Uprising (1242–53), though the fighting did not actually cease until 1253. The treaty guaranteed liberties to all Prussians who converted to Christianity, but it did nothing to establish peace, as many Prussians did not wish to convert and the Knights swore to root out paganism. Pósán convincingly argues that the Christburg treaty brought consolidation to the lands belonging to the Teutonic Knights, as many members of the Prussian aristocracy were won over by the offer of various benefits. Nevertheless, Prussians who were dissatisfied with the rule of their new German lords or simply wanted to practice their old pagan religion undisturbed moved to the territories inhabited by the still independent tribes in East or North Prussia and Pomeralia. The chapter ends with a narrative of the Great Prussian Uprising (1260–74), a rebellion led by the Prussian aristocracy against the aggressive and drastic transformation of the whole power system in the region.
In the third chapter, Pósán discusses the transformation of the internal conditions in Prussia brought about by the Knights. This process included the reshaping the natural environment by deforestation and drainage, the organized colonization of Prussia with the help of locators, and finally the remodeling of property structures. The most significant merit of the chapter is the overview it offers of a pattern of a settler movement (which culminated between 1310 and 1370). The author also enumerates the locators, who were entrusted by the Order with colonizing vast but deserted or uninhabited territories. The key initiator (apart from bishops and landlords) was the supreme seigneur, the Teutonic Order itself, which gave locators lands in average between 10–100 Hufen (Hufe = peasant parcel) to found villages using settlers recruited from Germany and Poland. In the second half of the fourteenth century, the number of Polish settlers and locators who took part in the process of colonization increased significantly. Pósán draws his reader’s attention to the fact that the Order also tried to lure more settlers from Lithuania in the second half of the fifteenth century by offering far more favorable conditions. In the frontier zones, the Order favored donating properties burdened with military obligation to create a solid background for campaigns. Pósán points out that, thanks to the constant flow of settlers, the Great Plague did not break the backbone of the Orders’ economy. As a matter of fact, as was the case in other East European states, the epidemic had only a limited impact on the territories governed by the Ordensstaat. Around 1400, with about 480,000 people under their authority, the Teutonic Knights were at the zenith of their power and development. Nevertheless, if one compares other European countries with the state of the Teutonic Order, the latter was not among the most densely populated (8 people/km2 for a territory of some 58,000 km2). However, the number of inhabitants and the settlement density were highly unbalanced in different geographical areas. The valley of the Vistula River and especially the region of Kulmerland were more densely populated, even exceeding the averages in Poland and Silesia. 23 percent of the population lived in the 93 cities that had been founded mainly by hospites.
The fourth and last chapter deals with wars waged by the Teutonic Knights against Poland–Lithuania and later the Prussian Confederation (the Thirteen Years’ War, 1454–66). Both parties preferred or were forced to use mainly mercenaries, and this had serious financial consequences. Worse, the unpaid mercenaries plundered the countryside even if the settlements belonged to the party that had hired them. Thus, one could observe a catastrophic decline in terms of economy and demography (depopulation in all Prussia reached 40–50 percent) in territories most exposed to military movements: the southern border areas, Kulmerland, and along the Vistula River, areas which were known as the most developed and urbanized regions in the state of the Teutonic Knights. The cost of food grew rapidly, causing famines, epidemics, and riots. Numerous territories never recovered completely from the damages caused by the war. In the first decades of the sixteenth century there were properties which had been abandoned in 1410 and remained deserted. War did not spare livestock either. The tremendous loss of (war)horses offers an additional explanation as to why the Order was forced to use more and more mercenaries after 1410 instead of its reliable and efficient cavalry. These negative tendencies were only tempered by fugitives and peasants fleeing from Lithuania (8,000 people in the middle of the sixteenth century) and Poland. Polish kings always tried to reclaim this manpower on border courts (Richttag, iudicia), an institution founded to observe the Treaty of Brest (1435). However, quite understandably, since the Order was in need of manpower, it did not show any great willingness to force these people to leave their lands.
According to the Second Peace of Thorn, which put an end to the Thirteen Years War in 1466, the Order lost its most developed regions (Pomeralia, Kulmerland, the region of Marienburg, Elbing, and Ermland), which were ceded to the Polish Kingdom. In spite of being the vassal of the Polish king, the Teutonic Order did make huge and desperate efforts to regain its lost domains (Polish–Teutonic War, 1519–21), but it failed. In accordance with the treaty at Krakow, which was concluded between Grandmaster Albrecht von Brandenburg and King Sigismund in 1525, the Teutonic Order in Prussia was dissolved and Prussia turned into a secular Duchy under the suzerainty of the Polish crown.
Its title notwithstanding, Pósán’s book deals a lot with political and military history, especially in the last chapter. However, this does not affect the structure and narrative negatively. Rather, the information concerning political and military history completes and explains the author’s statements relating to economy, population, and settlement patterns. The list of primary sources cited constitutes one-third of the monograph. This illustrates Pósán’s extensive use of primary sources. These documents allow the reader to acquaint him or herself with contemporary names, measures, and customs of Prussia. Furthermore, the reader can observe the amalgamation of the languages, customs, and techniques of two different cultures: the Christian Germans and the Pagan Prussians. All in all, the book provides a great overview of Teutonic economy and colonization on the basis of diplomatic sources.
Eötvös Loránd University, Budapest
Choreographies of Shared Sacred Sites: Religion, Politics, and Resolution. Edited by Elazar Barkan and Karen Barkey. New York: Columbia University Press, 2014. 440 pp.
The factors informing religious and ethnic conflict and coexistence have been at the center of research by scholars in the social sciences and humanities for the better part of the twentieth century, and they remain high on the scholarly agenda today. One of the most complex elements within the dynamics of confessional and ethnic pluralism concerns the question of shared sacred spaces: why do certain holy places become politicized and turn into sites of inter-communal violence among different religious groups at a particular time, while others retain their status of apparently peaceful coexistence? What are the factors that determine the positions of these sites on the axis of conflict and concord, and who are the agents that bring about transformation in the meanings and functions of these places?
Critically engaging with the theory of “antagonistic tolerance” (AT) and moving beyond the “clash of civilizations” paradigm, Choreographies of Shared Sacred Sites offers a unique exploration of the intricate politics of choreographies that emerge around sacred spaces, coupled with cautious scrutiny of the ways in which diverse religious and political motivations are activated and juxtaposed. It does so by focusing on the role of the state and its attitude towards various ethnic and religious groups in fashioning a context of “competitive sharing,” as well as on the reactions of these communities to these state-initiated actions. Because it examines the choreographies of daily life both in synchronic and diachronic perspectives, This book is crucial not only to the study of competitive sharing within contemporary societies, but also to new understandings of the issue of religious coexistence in general and shared sacred spaces in particular in different historical periods. As the editors note in their introduction, “historically and in contemporary cases the importance of sacred sites lays [sic!] both in the particular “‘choreography of daily life’ around the site and in the manner in which public authorities frame the context of relations between religious and ethnic groups” (p.2).
The relevance of the book lies not only in the methodology employed by the authors, but also in the particular cases on which they focus. What connects these shared sacred sites is the legacy of the Ottoman Empire: the places under discussion in the Balkans, Palestine/Israel, and Anatolia were all part of the same imperial formation. Thus, in addition to examining the forces and strategies that determined how the use of these spaces was accepted, negotiated, and contested, the examples given by the authors offer perspectives that go beyond the glass of “Eurocentrism,” since the territories analyzed within the framework of the volume usually do not fall within the purview of scholars dealing with religious coexistence in European societies. The authors focus on three main areas in their attempt to illustrate adequately how boundaries (physical or conceptual) around shared sacred sites were created, maintained, negotiated, and transgressed in the aforementioned territories. They tackle the issue of coexistence, which is the most fundamental category for an understanding of the daily mechanisms and arrangements around sacred sites, and they analyze the particular features of sacred sites, such as narratives, centrality, and indivisibility. They also explore the manners in which state-society relations articulate the division of sacred sites.
All of the articles in the volume merit separate praise, but given the limitations of space I single out a few that I consider particularly eye-opening in terms of their topic and methodology. Karen Barkey uses the example of the Ottoman Empire to demonstrate that one has to move away from previous theories of Ottoman tolerance, institutionalized in the millet system, and analyze the vast number of shared sacred sites (churches, shrines, and mausoleums) across the Empire in order to capture the day-to-day complexity of interreligious and interethnic relations. By using the example of a Marian sanctuary in Algeria, Dionigi Albera’s work analyzes the historical development of the political and religious context that articulated the “mixed attendance” at this shrine in order to illustrate how particular religious sites could become “reactivated” in different time periods. David Henig’s study on Muslim Bosnia attempts to prove that the politicization and/or nationalization of sacred sites through various state regulated mechanisms cannot be described simply as a top-to-bottom process. Rather, one has to look at the “grassroots activities of divergent social actors who intersubjectively construct and negotiate the more fluid meaning and practices involved in actually sharing sites from day to day” (pp.133–34). Wendy Pullan’s analysis of the conflictual nature of Al-Wad Street in Jerusalem illustrates how multiple layers of meaning can exist at a particular place, and how one ought to approach the sacred and the profane/secular not as a diametrically opposed phenomena, but as parts of a “continuous but differentiated structure” (p.169). This issue is further developed and corroborated in the closing article of the volume by Rabia Harmanşah, Tuğba Tanyeri-Erdemir, and Robert M. Hayden. By providing a comparative analysis of the Haci Bektaş and Mevlana museums in Turkey, the authors meticulously demonstrate the role of various state and communal actors in turning religioscapes into secularscapes and vice versa.
By illustrating the pliability of sacred spaces with mixed attendance and demonstrating that the choreography of a particular site results from the complex interplay between day-to-day interactions and political maneuverings, Choreographies of Shared Sacred Sites will enhance our understanding of the peculiar dynamics around shared sacred places and open new research avenues in the study of confessional and ethnic coexistence in different historical time periods.
Central European University, Budapest
Brokering Empire: Trans-Imperial Subjects between Venice and Istanbul. By E. Natalie Rothman. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2012. xx + 323 pp.
This work had been a long awaited one, particularly by students of early modern Venetian, Ottoman, and Mediterranean history: the reasons for this excitement were Rothman’s widely circulated doctoral dissertation entitled “Between Venice and Istanbul: Trans-imperial Subjects and Cultural Mediation in the Early Modern Mediterranean” (2006) and some of her frequently cited early journal articles that drew on it. Despite its oft-mentioned shortcomings, namely that while turning her dissertation into a book Rothman omitted some of the best parts of that dissertation, and that the monograph falls short of the comparative perspective that its subtitle promises, Brokering Empire remains one of the most noteworthy and influential works of the past few years in Venetian historiography.
The focus of the book is groups and individuals crossing various—religious, political and linguistic—boundaries between Venice and the Ottoman Empire in the period from 1570 to 1670. In the introduction Rothman posits that colonial sojourners in the Serenissima and the converts, merchants, translator-interpreters (dragomans), and diplomats, whom she collectively terms “trans-imperial subjects,” operated in a political, geographic, cultural, and ethno-linguistic contact zone in which the now forgotten institutional overlaps between Venice and the Ottoman Empire are demonstrable. However, Rothman claims, trans-imperial subjects also played a central role in elaborating and naturalizing key categories of alterity (“Christendom” vs. “Islam,” “Europe” vs. “the Levant,” etc.) that continuously recreated the very boundaries across which they mediated. Rothman suggests an investigation of various aspects of trans-imperial subjects as intermediaries between Venice and Istanbul sheds light on the roles of these culture brokers in the process of the creation of “Europeanness” and its relation to Orientalism.
In the four parts and seven chapters that follow, Rothman offers support for these claims. In Part 1 (“Mediation”) she discusses trans-imperial subjects as merchants and commercial brokers in Venice. The Venetian state appointed brokers to mediate between foreign and local merchants, and it required them to be loyal Venetian citizens representing the interests of Venetian merchants and, consequently, those of the state. As successful mediation assumed excellent foreign communication skills on the broker’s part, former slaves, Christian émigrés from Ottoman domains, converts, and Jews made ideal brokers. Their appeals to be appointed as brokers reveal the strategies adopted by the petitioners in their attempts to prove to the authorities that they were trans-imperial subjects and prospectively useful “citizens” of metropolitan Venice. In Chapter 2 Rothman analyzes the mediating roles and duties of such brokers in Venice, claiming that while brokers were considered semi-official bureaucrats in Venice, as part of a prevailing practice, they also acted as merchants and were involved in the business transactions of their mercantile colonial relatives as unofficial brokers.
In Part 2 (“Conversion”), Chapter 3 Rothman argues that narratives by and about converts reveal different Venetian conceptions of conversion for Protestants and Ottoman Jews and Muslims. While Protestants were considered as having changed location as a consequence of a purposeful religious conversion, in the case of Ottoman subjects conversion was regarded as an unintended consequence of a transition from one spatially defined religious community to an other. Ottoman conversion to Catholicism was associated with changes in religious practices rather than with spiritual transformation, which sheds light on early modern Venice’s understanding of conversion in the Ottoman Empire: a religio-political shift defined by the sultan’s patronage of converts and devoid of spiritual commitment. Chapter 4 focuses on Venetian mechanisms in the management of the conversion of Muslims and Jews. Through conversion, these “prototypical others of the Venetian state were transformed into properly constituted Catholic subjects capable of filling the normative kinship and institutional roles in metropolitan Venetian society” (p.161). The Pia Casa dei Catecumeni, or House of Catechumens, played a key role in this transformation: administrating bequests, negotiating dowries, and arranging adoption and employment, the House integrated new converts into Venice’s horizontal and vertical networks of patronage and clientage.
Part 3 (“Translation”), or Chapter 5, discusses translation and Venetian interpreter-translators, the dragomans. Like the first chapter, this part discusses petitions and rhetorical strategies, this time with the focus on Venice’s public dragomans. In their petitions, dragomans frequently stressed their intimate familiarity with all matters Ottoman and their loyalty to the Serenisimma as citizens of Venice. In other words, they portrayed themselves as both local and foreign. In turn, due to their own life trajectories between Venice and the Ottoman Empire, as well as their access to the Venetian elite and the city state’s highest offices, they played an important role in defining what “foreign” and “foreigner” effectively meant in early modern Venice.
In Part 4 (“Articulation”) Rothman examines the interactions between the groups of trans-imperial subjects discussed in the previous chapters and communication between them and other foreigners. These interactions, which inescapably led to the categorization of trans-imperial subjects into groups defined by people’s linguistic competencies, played a key role in articulating boundaries in the Veneto–Ottoman borderlands. Chapter 6 deals with the ways in which such linguistic categorizations influenced decisions about which merchants coming to do business in metropolitan Venice were required by the authorities to reside in the Fondaco dei Turchi, or Turkish Exchange House. While the category of the “Turk” came to include subcategories like “Bosnians and Albanians” and “Asiatics,” “higher” ethno-linguistic categories were also (re-) defined in the process. Chapter 7 addresses the changes the meaning of the term “Levantine” underwent over time both in Venice and Western Europe. Rothman convincingly argues that in Venice the term came to be used to refer to Christian, Muslim and Jewish merchants from Ottoman and Safavid domains doing business in the city-state. Therefore, she suggests in the “Afterword,” it should be acknowledged that the early modern Venetian definition of “Levantine” and the ethnolinguistic taxonomies discussed throughout the book paved the way for eighteenth-century Orientalists, who categorized Mediterranean peoples on the basis of language, ritual, and custom, much like their trans-imperial forebears had done in their institutionalization of their specialized knowledge of things Ottoman.
In recent years, Brokering Empire has been one of the most significant contributions to the literature on early modern Veneto-Ottoman interactions. Despite the lack of discussions from the Ottoman perspective, four years after it was first published the book remains an indispensable reference point for historians of early modern Venice and an informative reading for students of Ottoman and Mediterranean history. As Christian and Muslim “confessionalization(s)” and early modern conversions of various sorts—and consequently the processes through which religio-political boundaries were defined and traversed—are currently in the forefront of early modern historical research on Venice, the Ottoman Empire, the Mediterranean, etc., Brokering Empire will remain frequently cited and in circulation for years to come.
Central European University, Budapest
Humanitarian Intervention in the Long Nineteenth Century: Setting the Precedent. By Alexis Heraclides and Ada Dialla. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2015. 253. pp.
One of the most fashionable trends in scholarship today is research on the effects and effectiveness of humanitarian intervention. The subject is particularly popular among political scientists, scholars of international law, and philosophers. They tend to focus on events since 1990, and they usually regard humanitarian intervention as a phenomenon that began to become significant in the post-Cold War era. They generally search for the roots of concepts and practices of humanitarian intervention in legal and philosophical antecedents in Western European history and political thought, and instances of humanitarian intervention from earlier times are mentioned only as illustrations. The book by Alexis Heraclides and Ada Dialla constitutes a significant contribution to these discussions, in part because it examines the emergence of humanitarian intervention as concept and practice in the early nineteenth century and offers analyses of several case studies.
The first monograph to call attention to the possibility that research on the practical and theoretical aspects of humanitarian intervention in the nineteenth century could enrich our understanding of the phenomenon of humanitarian intervention today with new perspectives and precedents was authored by Davide Rodogno (Against Massacre. Humanitarian Interventions in the Ottoman Empire, 1815–1914: The Emergence of a European Concept and International Practice ). As Rodogno showed, post-Cold War instances of humanitarian intervention could be meaningfully compared with instances of humanitarian intervention that took place in the period between 1821 and 1918.
Heraclides and Dialla share many of Rodogno’s views, and their book represents a continuation of his work. The chapters authored by Heraclides, a political scientist and scholar of international law with a thorough knowledge of nineteenth-century history, present the relevant events not through the eyes of a twenty-first century academic, but rather from the perspective of someone who lived at the time the events in question took place. Heraclides offers a subtle and critical presentation of the relevant schools of political thought and the various debates and representatives of conflicting viewpoints, and he puts his discussion in the context of the events at the time. Dialla is first and foremost a scholar of nineteenth-century Russian history. In her chapters, which draw first and foremost on Russian historiography, she focuses closely on the relationship between legal theory, foreign policy, and public opinion.
According to Heraclides and Dialla, the few people who are aware that humanitarian interventions have a rich array of clearly documentable antecedents in the period between 1821 and 1918 are hesitant to consider these antecedents as precedents. Heraclides contends that they make mention of the long nineteenth century first and foremost when seeking justifications in the past for contemporary doctrines (p.IX). In contrast with the few works that touch on the nineteenth century, Heraclides and Dialla note as a critical observation that, while scholars dealing with the question have recognized that the study of Orientalism and relations between the Ottoman Empire and the European great powers is particularly important to our understanding of the history of humanitarian interventions, they do not consider relations between the empires of Central Europe and the East. And last but not least, Heraclides emphasizes that, in its study of nineteenth-century humanitarian intervention, the research on the subject has neglected concepts and doctrines from contemporary international law (pp.X–XI).
The primary goal of the book is to use comparative tools to present the theoretical and practical aspects of humanitarian intervention in the nineteenth century. The chapters on the theoretical side of the subject consider philosophical axioms and relevant phases of the development of European law. They then present the views represented by experts on international law who dealt with the question, divided up into periods on the basis of the emergence and evolution of humanitarian intervention. Heraclides and Dialla link the chapters that approach the subject from the perspective of practice with a periodization that they establish on the basis of the evolution of international law. The relationship between the two (international law and humanitarian intervention as practice) is significant, since the introduction of legal measures regulating humanitarian intervention is inseparable from the study of concrete cases of humanitarian intervention.
Heraclides offers a clear presentation of how international law grew in part out of the ad hoc international regulations concerning humanitarian intervention. What we refer to as international law was hardly unified or homogenous in the nineteenth century. Numerous contradictions arose from the way in which the ad hoc regulations were contrived, one after the other. One of the signs of this lack of homogeneity is the simple fact that the very term humanitarian intervention only came to be used in a consistent manner in the languages of the various great powers in the early twentieth century (p.12). Heraclides and Dialla also note that the concept of international law was used in two different ways in communications among the great powers of Western Europe and in their dealings with the world beyond Europe. The manner in which international law shaped relations between Christian states was very different from the manner in which it shaped relations between Christian and non-Christian states (including the Ottoman Empire, Iran, China, and Japan). This difference gave the practice of humanitarian intervention a distinctive legal background.
Heraclides and Dialla deserve praise for having included both Russia and the United States in their discussion, alongside the empires of Asia. It is also worth noting that in their five case studies from the nineteenth century (the Greek War of Independence in 1821–32, the French intervention in Lebanon and Syria in 1860–61, the Bulgarian atrocities in 1875–78, the Balkan crises of 1878, and the Cuban War of Independence in 1895–1898) they treat national histories with a critical eye and at times raise questions and offer interpretations from the perspectives of the Muslim world. The ideas with which the individual chapters conclude are based on a consistent set of perspectives, thus making the events which took place in Greece, Syria, Lebanon, Bulgaria, and Cuba understandable in a comparative context for a lay-reader.
One could make the critical observation that the book is not based on the nineteenth-century great power system. Fundamentally, the site of humanitarian interventions at the time was the Ottoman East. It is difficult to understand why the authors make virtually no mention of the Habsburg Empire when at the same time they offer detailed analyses of the Western European and American responses (from the perspectives of politics, public opinion, and international law). In the discussion of the Eastern Crisis (1875–78), for instance, they examine the reactions of the United States, but Austria-Hungary, which was one of the main players in the events, is given only passing mention. One has the impression that a double standard is being applied: the topic is being discussed almost exclusively from the perspective of the states that would later emerge as the great powers of the twenty-first century.
This is true of several legal phenomena as well. Since Western Europe in the nineteenth century did not consider capitulations to the Muslim world and the cult protectorates that were based on these capitulations part of international law, Heraclides and Dialla also do not consider them part of international law. However, both Russia and Austria-Hungary did, in large part because for them the Ottoman Empire was not a distant world somewhere beyond the seas, but rather a great power with which they had essentially shared a border for three centuries and a state with which they had had to find an everyday modus vivendi, much as they had had to do with the states of Western Europe.
Sadly, the book is of acute relevance today, at a time when, amidst the ruins of states that have crumbled, humanitarian crises have broken out the world over. The book will be of interest not only to scholars of Ottoman history and international relations in the nineteenth century, but also to politicians and experts dealing with humanitarian intervention as both a concept and practice.
Hungarian Academy of Sciences
Another Hungary: The Nineteenth-Century Provinces in Eight Lives. By Robert Nemes. (Stanford Studies on Central and Eastern Europe.) Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2016. 312 pp.
The Hungarian provinces in the nineteenth century are often associated with backwardness, poverty, and are characterized as places where time stands still. In standard accounts, whether academic, belletristic, or travelogue, provincial Hungary was defined by its lack of the blessings of modernity, or, more precisely, its transition to the modern age has been characterized as severely limited. Another Hungary by Robert Nemes challenges this portrait, and thus joins the growing literature that takes aim at the concept of Central and Eastern European backwardness. Through his examination of eight individuals from northeastern Hungary, Nemes sheds light on the “movers and shakers” (p.4) of provincial Hungarian society.
The book is divided into eight chapters, each of them telling the story of one individual. The oldest among them was Count József Gvadányi, a military officer who served in several wars during the eighteenth century, and who, after his retirement, engaged in literary activity and consequently gained considerable notoriety. Ráfáel Kästenbaum, a Galician-born Jewish merchant in Zemplén County, earned respect by designating a huge sum of money in his will for the establishment of a modern Jewish school in the small town of Sátoraljaújhely. The third protagonist, engineer Pál Vásárhelyi, is still regarded as the founder of modern river control in Hungary; in particular, he led work on the Lower Danube and drew up the plans to reengineer the Tisza river. Klára Lövei was a pioneer in women’s education and was among the first women to engage in journalism. The central character of Chapter 5, Iosif Vulcan, edited a popular Romanian weekly, and in addition to his Romanian nationalist activism, was a respected member of the middle class of Nagyvárad/Oradea. Ármin Schnitzer, a rabbi in Komárom/Komárno, was also an esteemed member of his community in the nineteenth century. He exemplifies the typical career and intellectual path Neolog Jews trod in the nineteenth century. A lesser-known figure, the tobacco specialist and journalist Vilmos Daróczi is featured in Chapter 7. Finally, the last chapter discusses Margit Kaffka, who is considered to be the first professional female writer in Hungarian literature.
These eight figures convincingly demonstrate the social complexity of provincial Hungarian society: Gvadányi and Kaffka were Catholic, Lövei was a Calvinist, Vásárhelyi a Lutheran, Vulcan a Greek Catholic, Kästenbaum, Schnitzer and Daróczi were Jewish. The former four were noblemen (Gvadányi was even a count), Vulcan had a mixed gentry and commoner background, while the three Jews were commoners. Some of the eight were (wo)men of letters, while Kästenbaum hardly could write. Yet, for all this diversity, these people had far more in common than it would appear at first glance. All of them were born in northeast Hungary, and while most of them left for shorter or longer periods, they all maintained their social contacts there, and their native province played a persistent role in shaping their mental maps. Furthermore, none of them was born wealthy, and they used innovative techniques to make their own way in society, in particular through their mobility, which was exceptional by the standards of the period.
Nemes’ selection of figures is both original and careful. While a few protagonists, such as Gvadányi, Vásárhelyi and Kaffka are vaguely remembered in Hungary, the others have been almost completely forgotten. For those readers who are not experts in Hungarian history, probably all of them are unfamiliar. The result of this selection is that Nemes is able to tell stories that move beyond the standard biographies of notable politicians and artists. He brings the social realities of provincial elites to the fore, draws the structure of their respective networks, and reconstructs their mental maps. He also points to the importance of intellectual achievement as a means for people without substantial wealth to secure a living—a remarkable feature of nineteenth-century modernity was, after all, the increasing demand for people whose minds were their most important resource.
Through these eight lives, Nemes shows that during the nineteenth century, the Hungarian provinces were not merely the passive recipients of modernity. Rather, they produced individuals with original agendas, who envisioned novel ways to forge a different, more modern Hungary—hence the title of the book. To what extent these attempts were successful is another matter. But one certainly can point to some immediate success stories such as the establishment of a modern, i.e. secular and Hungarian, Jewish school in Sátoraljaújhely, and the management of Hungary’s major rivers which enabled long-distance shipping and secured arable farming lands. (The fact that these river regulations changed the environment on a scale that would certainly be regarded as catastrophic by today’s standards is another matter.)
The micro-perspective of the book, which is its greatest advantage, however, poses some limits. A wider macro-perspective appears only as a means of contextualizing the individual trajectories. The absence of the more humble classes in the book is remarkable: all of the protagonists represent either the old provincial gentry or the advancing Jewish Bürgertum. Even Vulcan could claim partial gentry origins, in contrast to many Romanian intellectuals of the age. Nemes duly addresses the non-representativity of his subjects with regard to the broader provincial population (p.4). Yet, his selection indirectly suggests that the “movers and shakers” of provincial Hungary can be reduced to two groups: the gentry and (Neolog) Jews, which is, ironically, a profoundly traditional explanation. To what extent Gentile commoners contributed to the modernization of the provinces, is thus a question that the book does not address, and indeed cannot address due to the selection of the protagonists.
As innovative as some of the book’s may be, and as creative as this collective biography is, Nemes by no means challenges the conceptualization of Hungary, and in particular its northern and eastern territories, as poor and backward. Yet, by pointing out some of the self-made men and women of these lands, Nemes draws a more complex picture of provincial life in the nineteenth century. Given the deep commonalities between northeast Hungary and other peripheral regions of Central Europe, Another Hungary is a must read for anyone interested in the emergence of modernity beyond the well-known metropolitan contexts.
Hungarian Academy of Sciences
Globalizing Southeastern Europe: Emigrants, America, and the State since the Late Nineteenth Century. By Ulf Brunnbauer. London: Lexington Books, 2016. 376 pp.
The history of migration has produced an uneven historiography; the history of immigration occupies the center stage, while the history of emigration barely receives any attention. Similarly, only seldom do studies follow migration patterns over multiple epochs. In Globalizing Southeastern Europe, Ulf Brunnbauer makes a significant contribution to the history of migration in both regards. In his analysis of “emigration regimes” in the Balkans from the late nineteenth century to the 1950s, Brunnbauer convincingly demonstrates the benefits of taking a longue durée perspective on migration processes. Appearing in the midst of the current heated discussions about migration policy in Europe, this highly original and innovative book is both important and timely.
Focusing on “the relationship between territory, human movement and political interventions” (p.4) in Southeastern Europe, Brunnbauer makes a strong case for the relevance of both the social fact and the topic of emigration in the creation of political communities in the region. Reaching back to the beginning of the nineteenth century, the tradition of seasonal migration of itinerant laborers from the mountain areas established a “habitual imprint” of migration in the region and prepared the ground for large-scale overseas migration at the end of the century. The transition between various forms of migration was a complex process, in which the building of the Suez Canal in the 1860s played a key role: “Emigration to Egypt was a kind of a preparation for going to America” (p.25). The characteristics of seasonal work-migration—maintaining close emotional and economic family ties and the expectation of return—continued to define both the contours of emigration from the region as migrants travelled increasingly long distances in search for employment, as well as the various political regimes’ understandings of the dynamics of emigration.
Weaving together the perspectives of individuals, organizations (emigrant associations, shipping companies, etc.) and states, Brunnbauer demonstrates that the social practice (and later the memory of emigration), as well as the discussion about the relationship between emigrants and the state, remained at the center of definitions of the political community through the succession of state forms and political regimes: in the multi-ethnic empires (Austria-Hungary, Ottoman Empire) as well as the independent nation-states (Bulgaria, Greece, Montenegro, Serbia), the Kingdom of Yugoslavia, and later the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. The first three chapters examine the period until the First World War: Chapters Two and Three look at emigration at both ends of the migration process from the perspective of emigrants and the organizations that facilitated their migration and shaped their experiences, while Chapter Four examines the “emigration regimes” of the states governing this region. Chapters Five and Six focus on the interwar period and the socialist era respectively to show the long-lasting legacy of the social reality of emigration even after the heyday of overseas emigration had long passed. Keeping his readers constantly mindful of the regional specificity of the experience of emigration, Brunnbauer argues for the continued significance of emigration for the self-understanding of states governing this region despite their diverging conceptions of the political community (as imperial, national, “trinational” or socialist). Claiming the emigrants in distant places as “their own”, these states engaged in what Brunnbauer fittingly calls “transterritorial nation building” (p.321).
One of the overarching themes of the book is the exploration of the dynamics of emigration. Brunnbauer shows how such singular and often contingent events like the spread of the Phylloxera, which disrupted wine production in the 1890s, influenced emigration patterns, and how quickly these effects solidified into self-reproducing patterns. Transnational networks on various levels of social organization (families, associations) turned emigration into a “persistent fact of social life in the emigration regions even when hardly any new emigrants left” (p.82). The social fact of emigration (“transnationalism from below”) generated a broad spectrum of state responses (“transnationalism from above”). The responses ranged from strict prohibitions mostly ignored by local officials (Ottoman Empire), to attempts at “ethnic engineering” by encouraging some ethnicities to migrate and others to return (Hungary), and open emigration policies which integrated emigrants into the nation-building project from the beginning (Greece and Montenegro). States displayed genuine concern for the well-being of emigrants, whom they still considered members of the body politic at home, albeit both economic considerations (states had to pay for the repatriation of their citizens) and the interests of the military (young men should not be able to evade military service) shaped state interventions. The extension of the consular service, a direct response to transnational emigrant networks, similarly combined the controlling and protectionist elements of state paternalism as consuls both assisted and monitored emigrants abroad. Although several states passed emigration laws (Hungary, 1903; Bulgaria, 1907), international shipping conglomerates successfully resisted state intervention and emigrants regularly circumvented passport or other administrative requirements.
The First World War changed the parameters of emigration from the Balkans to the United States on both ends of the migration process. Strict immigration laws in the United States severely limited the number of emigrants from the region, while the newly-founded Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes (1918–29) (and subsequently the Kingdom of Yugoslavia) faced the challenges of creating a unified state apparatus covering diverse territories and of instilling the sense of a national community in the population. Brunnbauer shows continuities in the discourse on emigration; only those emigrants who fit into the understanding of the national community (e.g. the emigration of the non-Slavic population was supported as was the repatriation of Slavs) continued being considered members of the nation. The First Emigration Law (1921) underscored the significance of overseas emigration by defining emigrants as those who re-settled for work outside Europe (modified in 1927). Emigrant organizations, periodicals, and the establishment of emigrant museums in Yugoslavia further illustrate the role of emigrants in honing the identity of the new state. Emigrants came to literally embody Yugoslavia after its 1941 dissolution, “their double reality—as an ideological project and as a social fact—created a link not only between America and Yugoslavia, but also between the interwar and the postwar period” (p.248).
The Socialist Republic of Yugoslavia initially restricted emigration, before, uniquely among socialist countries, opening its borders for labor emigration. According to Brunnbauer these apparent ruptures occlude continuities and a “learning curve” of the Yugoslav state in matters relating to emigration (p.261). Yugoslavia encouraged repatriation as a “demonstration of the superiority of the socialist system” (p.263), but only selectively, and continued to use emigration laws as tools of “ethnic engineering,” encouraging some groups to return while discouraging others. Cultural organizations (Matica) kept in contact with emigrants and wrote them into the pre-history of the socialist state as victims of the destitute conditions that prevailed under monarchical rule. Organized on the level of the republics, the Matica had a nationalist character, which in some cases the socialist state considered suspicious (like in the Croatian case), while in others it encouraged them (Macedonia). In every case, however, they served as production sites and repositories of knowledge about emigrants. This knowledge and the continued positive experience with emigrants, whose remittances served as the main source of hard currency for Yugoslavia until the late 1950s, provided a solid foundation for the increasing normalization of work emigration. Illegal emigration flourished; thus “when the government allowed officially emigration for work reasons 1963–64 it was legalizing an already existing practice” (p.298). Opening the borders for labor migration also eased the pressure on the labor market, alleviated the housing shortage and generated revenue. These benefits outweighed the ideological reservations about citizens of a socialist state working in a capitalist system. The “conceptualization of emigrants and the politics of exit played a major role in the process, which ultimately made Yugoslavia the socialist country most tightly interwoven with the West and the world at large” (p.269).
The geographical focus of the analysis shifts across the chapters to follow the migration patterns as Brunnbauer presents an impressive array of case studies covering emigration not only to the United States but also to South America and Australia. The relationship between these various kinds of overseas migrations remains at times unclear, however. While the experiences of the first wave of emigrants to the United States clearly defined developing narratives about overseas emigration, were these narratives confirmed through emigration experiences elsewhere or were they automatically projected onto other places? Similarly, Brunnbauer makes a convincing case for the continued significance of overseas emigration for the emigration discourse even after the center of emigration shifted to Europe; in fact it is one of the most highly innovative aspects of his book in that it shows the persistence of perceptions about emigration despite changing practices. Yet, one wonders whether European migrations did not also generate their own, perhaps diverging but related narratives. Chronologically, the book ends as the Gastarbeiter movement (with West Germany as the primary destination for emigration) begins, so perhaps the European migration becomes relevant only later. However, there are earlier moments in the narrative as well—for example, the revision of the 1921 Emigration Law to include Europe as a destination for emigration—that raise such questions.
Overall, Brunnbauer succeeds in “firmly position[ing] the state as an important factor in the emigration story” (p.321). By highlighting the dynamics between the transnational networks of emigrants and the transnational practices of states and the interconnectedness of emigrant networks and nation building, Brunnbauer constructs a compelling histoire total, whose relevance reaches far beyond the history of Southeast Europe. Brunnbauer’s analysis of the dynamics of migration systems (one of the main red threads running through the book) and his reflections on the strengths and limitations of migration theories to explain actual migration processes make a significant contribution not only to migration studies but also carry highly relevant messages for the contemporary discussion about migration.
University of Bamberg
Zionists in Interwar Czechoslovakia: Minority Nationalism and the Politics of Belonging. By Tatjana Lichtenstein. Bloomington–Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 2016. 473 pp.
To be a Zionist in interwar Czechoslovakia, writes Tatjana Lichtenstein in her recent book, was a way for Jews to energetically stake their collective claim to sustainable Jewish life in the Diaspora as a patriotic and reliable national minority. Zionism in that place and time meant real participation in the Czechoslovak state-building process as equal citizens. Through Zionism, Jews could “articulate their belonging in the places they already called home” (p.20). Lichtenstein’s study represents an important shift away from the usual forms of inquiry into the Zionist project predominantly based on analyses of Zionist congresses, party politics, ideological conflicts, and its manifestations in Palestine. She brings Zionism down to earth as a local workaday project of regular people committed to securing their well-being and dignity in dramatically altered geopolitical conditions. Zionism was, after all, an east central European nationalism—born and bred—and Jews were its stateless nation. Zionists in interwar Czechoslovakia, Lichtenstein argues, set about building their nation through everyday institutions, schools, and sports clubs, where Jewish nationality “came to life” (p.2). Lichtenstein’s work disrupts the conventional “here” (in the Diaspora) and “there” (in the land of Israel) examination espoused in modern Jewish national political histories, pointedly reminding us of the diversity of Zionist voices before 1945, and the current limitations of the Jewish political imagination.
Based on scrupulous Czech and German-language archival research conducted in seven archives in the Czech Republic and in Israel, Lichtenstein’s book makes a dynamic contribution to the recent historiography of the Jewish experience in twentieth century Czechoslovakia grounded in fundamental questions of Jewish–state relations at the intersection of modern Jewish and east central European history. The state itself takes pride of place in her overall argument as the focus and framework of Zionist activism. She keeps our attention drawn to the inescapable reality that in modern Jewish history the state is the arbiter in the continuous “question of Jews’ suitability for citizenship, for equal rights,” and that in the center of Europe, Jewish emancipation had been explicitly conditional upon states’ perception of Jews’ transformation into loyal, acculturated, and moral subjects (p.3). The link between the two became only more acute in the Habsburg Monarchy’s successor states through the cataclysm of the First World War and the new postwar criteria of belonging. The retrospective weight of the soon-coming atrocious revocation of Jewish emancipation hangs over each of the book’s seven chapters in their introductory or concluding materials, until the ax falls in the epilogue. Czechoslovak Zionist activists then found themselves in the rare position of having access to precious immigration certificates to Palestine, as they pondered whether to seek refuge elsewhere in Europe, in Palestine, Shanghai, or the Americas, or whether to remain (p.317). The Zionist activist and writer František Friedman, Lichtenstein’s protagonist, remained at home in Czechoslovakia, enabling him the opportunity to negotiate the “Czech transfer” of 2500 to 3000 Jews to Palestine in 1939. He died following a grave illness in May 1945 (p.322).
Lichtenstein’s book rightly focuses on the Bohemian Lands as the locus of centralized Zionist authority in interwar Czechoslovakia, yet she does not neglect the wider story of the diversity of the state’s Jewish population. She highlights the continuity between the leadership of the Zionist movement in Bohemia and Moravia in the last decades of the Habsburg Monarchy and in the interwar period, while showing how the shape of their project was determined by the commonalities and peculiarities of the Jewish experience across statewide linguistic (German, Czech, Hungarian, Slovak, Yiddish), religious (from Orthodox to Reform, traditional to non-practicing), and sociocultural fault lines. She weaves Ivan Olbracht’s tale “The Sorrowful Eyes of Hana Karajich” into an illuminating and appealing opener to her first chapter in order to strikingly demarcate attitudes toward Zionism from the west to the easternmost reaches of Subcarpathian Ruthenia where it was simply “heresy” (p.32). The Bohemian Zionist leadership unceasingly struggled to mobilize the Jews of the eastern regions of the republic, Slovakia and Subcarpathian Ruthenia, where the greatest proportion of Jews in Czechoslovakia lived, and where Jewish communities were predominately Orthodox, traditional, or Hasidic. Jews’ multilingualism was deemed a “national trait” and “nationally neutral” by the Zionist leadership, which also declared Jewish nationality and Jewish national politics in Czechoslovakia to be a neutral path that avoided national conflict. As Lichtenstein shows, these claims did not bear out, as Jewish nationalism functioned as a buttress for the state’s dominant Czech national group statistically and in its political culture.
The book’s chapters effectively develop this story of everyday Jewish nation-building practices through meticulous examination of early Zionist interactions with Czech leaders, their utilization of the state-wide census as a political and tactical tool, how they built revitalizing Jewish national cultural structures on the basis of existing communal institutions, the vital role of Jewish schools and sport in fashioning new Jews, and in a gripping tale of competing nationalist and socialist utopias. At the outset, Zionist leaders gained a pivotal strategic achievement in convincing Czech leaders that the fate of the Jews was important to the newly established state by cultivating concern for Czechoslovakia’s image abroad, though this approach revealed the Jews’ lack of other compelling arguments. Lichtenstein’s longest chapter by far (“Mapping Jews”) is a satisfyingly deep investigation of the Zionist turn to statistics “as an instrument for political assertion … [adapting] an important mode of governance and legitimization developed by the modern state” (p.91).
Though she underscores František Friedman’s argument that “the right conditions for a sustainable Jewish national future existed in Czechoslovakia” (p.135), Lichtenstein’s work is no rosy endorsement of the interwar republic’s fabled status “as a uniquely welcoming and tolerant place for the Jews in interwar Eastern Europe.” Nor does she present a cheery vision of a homeland in Palestine. Lichtenstein has no banners to wave. But she does offer the grudging assessment that “it is fair to say that conditions for the Jews were better [in Czechoslovakia] than in countries such as Poland, Hungary, and Romania” (p.327). Hers is an inspiring alternate view on one of the twentieth century’s most influential ideologies.
Rebekah A. Klein-Pejšová
The Invisible Jewish Budapest: Metropolitan Culture at the Fin-de-Siècle. By Mary Gluck. Madison, WI: The University of Wisconsin Press, 2016.
The Invisible Jewish Budapest is built upon a dark and sophisticated notion: namely, that the Budapest of the 1900s, a city that was nearly a quarter Jewish and that many of us celebrate for its vibrant modernism, was tainted by pervasive efforts to render invisible the decisive influence of Jews on its cultural life. Mary Gluck’s understanding of what it meant for Jews to be invisible refers to the stigmatization of a Jewish presence by the nationalistic Hungarian establishment, which, even if it did not render the Jewish presence technically invisible, at least kept it “symbolically unacknowledged.” In other words, Jews who participated in public life were expected to leave their distinctively Jewish markers at home, which, of course, was also one of the main tenets of assimilation among the Jewish establishment. Because much of the Jewish population in Budapest was engaged in the creation of a secular, metropolitan culture, their influence as Jews was both profound and invisible. It is here that Gluck’s recovery begins: by stepping into the vivid nightlife, entertainment industry, and bohemian cultural life of Hungary’s blossoming capital city, her aim is to rediscover the lost contours of this modern cultural world that was deeply shaped by the “Jewishness” of its creators, but was never named as such.
The irony is, of course, that Jews were never quite as invisible in the eyes of the antisemites, who were quick to identify everything that was wrong and “sinful” (bűnös) with the city as Jewish, even going as far as coining the term Judapest to refer to the presence of Jews in Hungarian culture. However, this was a calling out that was meant to erase, not emphasize, Jewish visibility in Budapest. For the historian of modern European history, this creates an uneasy moral quandary, because in order to make visible the presence of Jews as Jews prior to 1914, one has to turn, beside the elusive stirrings of popular culture, to the writings of antisemites. This observation, however troubling, actually corresponds to the everyday reality of the fin de siècle. Gluck’s protagonists—semibohemian journalists, humorists, music hall composers, and cabaret writers—lived side by side with the antisemitic vitriol of right-wing journals such as Függetlenség (Independence), the diatribes of Győző Istóczy and his antisemitic party in the Hungarian Parliament, and the virulence of local pamphleteers at the time of the infamous Tiszaeszlár blood libel of 1882–83. While passionate responses to anti-Jewish hatred were carefully avoided in the public realm, on the pages of satirical magazines such as Borsszem Jankó, or in the theatre, outrage and indignation could be transformed into humor, and humor created and sustained a sense of identity, community, and life. It is here that the antisemitic voices received a decisively Jewish response.
In fact, while the Jewish establishment was trapped by the successes of its own mythmaking, never doubting for a second the validity and endurance of their position as truly integrated Hungarian patriots, Gluck’s Jewish entertainers stepped away from this public and complacent self-representation. In elaborate caricatures and on the stage of the Budapest Orpheum they created ironic, urban Jewish identities that transcended the inevitable paradoxes of their social situation. Against the background of a strong push to nationalize the Hungarian past and anchor it in a pre-modern, feudal myth of origin that was desired and created not only by the country’s political elite but also by literary scholars such as for instance Zsolt Beöthy, Jews in Budapest came to see themselves as cultural insiders, fully in charge of the joyful, humorous, and subversive universe they both shaped and inhabited. In hindsight, their creation was destined to break, but at the time it was a source of strength and sustainability, a way to exist with all life’s complexities.
At the heart of Gluck’s book is her intricate portrayal of the first Jewish Member of Parliament, Mór Wahrmann, and her analysis of two “pivotal expressions of Budapest Jewish public culture,” the Judenwitz and the Jewish music hall. In highly engaging prose, Gluck brings to life the transformative power of the Jewish joke as a means to deflate and de-essentialize social and moral agendas, making it the subject not only of a vital aspect of Jewish identity formation, but of serious academic discussion. As Mór Wahrmann also realized, humor was a way to confront and at times triumph over ideology within the narrowly scripted political realm. His “Jewish ambassador joke” rescued him from many awkward encounters, but it also spoke of a deeper truth. In exchange for recognizing that Jews formed a separate ethnic identity—something that could not be admitted in liberal Hungary lest the loyalty of “Hungarians of the Jewish faith” be put in a bad light—with their own nation state, Wahrmann, as the future Jewish ambassador to Budapest in Palestine, earned the right to return home to Hungary. In everyday life, however, this ethnic distinctiveness could not be articulated, let alone lived. Only in the realm of popular culture, in caricatures and on the stage, could an ethnic Jewish particularity be performed and enacted without bringing into question Jewish loyalty to the state. The novelty of Gluck’s argument lies in the ways she shows how these seemingly opposite realms of laughter and law converged in the multifaceted and invisible presence of Jews in pre-World War I Hungarian society.
As the contours of Gluck’s Hungarian Jewish modernism are revealed, it becomes clear that in the world of the fin de siècle, expressions of Jewish difference could exist in the realm of popular culture, but had to be handled “with tact” in the sphere of public liberal politics. The latter demanded knowledge of extremely refined cultural codes, requiring Jews to perform a constant balancing act between silence and rebuttal. Fears of antisemitic violence, such as that which broke out at the Budapest universities in the 1890s, were “ever present under the surface of liberal society,” and Jews tread carefully to prevent the eruption of violence from below. What is striking here is how much Gluck’s analysis of late nineteenth-century Hungary has in common with what we know about Hungary’s post-World War I period. Both the political crisis of the early 1880s, with its accompanying anti-Jewish violence, and the influx of large numbers of Jewish immigrants fleeing pogroms in Russia caused the Jewish question to flare up, revealing the deep-seated unease of the liberal establishment. It is the paradox of Hungarian liberalism: it could not merge its own humanist vision with a lasting and peaceful interpretation of the Jewish question.
The Invisible Jewish Budapest has a truly bold vision that is expressed in subtle, poignant analyses of the many cultural layers of turn of the century Budapest. The six chapters are intricately linked, and, like a novel, the book presents a self-contained reality that impresses the reader with the depth and pervasiveness of its argument. Gluck does not pay lip service to the air of nostalgia that pervades the memory culture of Hungarian Jewish life under the Dual Monarchy (and of the fin de siècle in general). In fact, she has unearthed a vast array of sources that contradict such an optimistic narrative about this era. On the surface, it is hard to find a more patriotic group singing the praises of their homeland than Hungarian Jews during the Dualist period. But Gluck’s skepticism is not just a matter of historical hindsight; it is also there in the hearts and minds of her protagonists, who hailed from popular culture, not from the bourgeois or religious elite. Indeed, her semibohemians were all immersed in the gritty realities of everyday life in the city: they tasted the mud and scandal as well as the glamour of urban metropolitan existence; they talked to prostitutes as well as politicians. Mary Gluck’s retrieval, indeed, her illumination of this lost cultural world is so powerful exactly because it leaves room for its darker side. She has descended into the underbelly of the golden age of Hungarian Jewry, and emerged with a diamond.
Ilse Josepha Lazaroms
Center for Jewish History, New York
Justifying Genocide: Germany and the Armenians from Bismarck to Hitler. By Stefan Ihrig. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2016. 460 pp.
Justifying Genocide explores German discourses on Armenians, the Armenian question, and the Armenian genocide from the era of Bismarck to the Third Reich. Stefan Ihrig suggests that the Nazi worldview had “incorporated the Armenian Genocide, its ‘lessons,’ tactics, and ‘benefits’” (p.349) into its own understandings on the new racial order that the Third Reich intended to establish. The book is of particular significance in part because denialism and even various justifications of the Armenian genocide have been gaining more and more grounds in modern nationalist discourses today, both in Turkey and elsewhere, as was the case in interwar Germany, where such justifications contributed to the fortification of genocidal ideologies.
Justificationalism, a term coined by Ihrig, is indeed a key concept of the book. It relates to “the ‘intellectual’ effort and coherent and sustained theoretical attempt to ‘justify’ genocide” (p.12). Ihrig provides a case study analyzing the discourse on the Armenian genocide in Germany in the interwar period, the great genocide debate, as he calls it, on the intended and organized nature of the Armenian genocide and Germany’s role in and responsibility for it. This was the first real genocide debate in Germany, and it included arguments for genocide that were then transferred into arguments for the “final solution” of the “Jewish question.” The approach introduced by Ihrig will further a broader understanding of the Holocaust, and it will be highly pertinent to genocide studies, given that similar developments took place in other states preceding World War II, particularly the states that allied themselves with the Axis Powers. The book examines a variety of primary sources, from manuscripts to photographs, with particular emphasis on press analysis.
The first part of the book, entitled “Armenian Blood Money”, exposes the prehistory of the German understanding of the Armenian question and the Armenian genocide. Germany’s position on its relations to the Ottoman Empire changed significantly in the last decades of the nineteenth century, with an increase in pro-Turkish sentiment. During the Egyptian and Bulgarian crises of the 1880s, the German–Ottoman alliance started to take shape. The Armenian topic was one of the key issues that brought Germany and the Ottoman Empire together and created a foundation for German anti-Armenianism and Armenian-related paranoia. During the Hamidian massacres of 1894–96, a full-blown debate developed on the “Armenian Horrors” in Germany, with emerging pro-Armenian and pro-Turkish fractions. The debate in fact saw the first usage of the German word for genocide (Völkermord) in a political debate in Germany, which was accompanied by a growing anti-Armenian and racialist backlash, whereby Armenians, often called the “Jews of the Orient,” were supposed to be ruthless merchants, usurers, thieves, fraudsters, and terrorists who had thus brought their own extermination upon themselves (as was argued in articles printed in the Kölnische Zeitung).
The next section, entitled “Under German Noses”, demolishes a common assertion in secondary literature on the myth of “forced silence” in Germany about the Armenian genocide and demonstrates that official and public Germany during and after World War I was very well informed about the ongoing genocide in the allied Ottoman Empire. A certain “jihadi euphoria” was witnessed in Germany over the Ottoman participation in the war, and Ottoman military propaganda was broadly echoed in the German press. In the meantime, the intended and organized annihilation of Armenians in the allied Ottoman Empire commenced. Official, governmental Germany knew practically everything about the events. German consuls in Anatolia “extensively chronicled the ongoing genocide and voiced their protest” (p.105). Although the government kept silent on these reports, the general public was well-informed. After October 1914, articles on events in the Ottoman Empire became prominent in the German press, as did articles touching or focusing on the Armenian question. From May 1915 onwards, the German press was practically flooded by news on the murders and dislocations of Armenians. Talât Pasha himself spoke about the subject in an interview conducted by the Berliner Tageblatt, in which he admitted that during their transfer, Armenians had been attacked by Kurds, and many of them had been killed. He also pointed out that there was no way to draw a distinction between guilty and innocent Armenians, since “[someone] who was still innocent today could be guilty tomorrow.” He emphasized that the deportations were a “national and historical necessity” (p.163). Moreover, another claim made in the press was that in fact Armenians themselves were mass murderers of Muslim Ottoman citizens. According to one article, which based its claims on “reliable reports”, some 1.5 million Turks had been killed by Armenians. This contention constitutes one of the first instances of justificationalism in Germany.
The third section of the book, entitled “Debating Genocide”, presents the history of the great genocide debate in Germany in the 1920s. As the author explains, after the war three main charges were hurdled at Germany: the Belgian atrocities, submarine warfare, and the German guilt in the massacres of Armenians (for which now we use the term genocide). In 1918, official and non-official Germany began to combat allegations of the role German played in the massacres and deportations of Armenians. The genocidal (intended and organized) nature of the campaign against the Armenians and the German guilt in this campaign swiftly became a central topic of public discourse. Two key figures of the debate on the pro-Armenian side were Johannes Lepsius and Armin T. Wegner. They held public lectures and published extensively on the “systematic annihilation” and “mass murder” of Armenians, and also on the plights of refugees—in other words, the genocide and its aftermath.
The emerging war crimes question also included the question of German guilt in the Armenian genocide. For example, Liman von Sanders, top military adviser to the Ottoman Empire, was accused of having given orders to murder Armenians. Official Germany responded to the accusations by calling upon Johannes Lepsius to publish a collection of diplomatic documents and an overview of German–Armenian relations. His allegedly “open access” to Foreign Office documents resulted in his 1919 publication Germany and Armenia, which sought to disprove German involvement in the Armenian massacres and whitewash German guilt. After its publication, for a year or so, the debate on genocide became a central topic in the German press and public discussions. Prominent periodicals, such as Vorwärts, the Berliner Tageblatt, Braunschweiger Landeszeitung, Vossische Zeitung and Frankfurter Zeitung, published numerous articles on the matter, including the writings of one of the main architects of the Armenian genocide, Djemal Pasha. By late 1919, various German papers often charged the Ottomans with “genocide,” the intentional murder of an entire people, however, as Ihrig points out, the pro-Ottoman fractions of denialists and justificationalists still remained in the majority, presenting the massacres as acts of military or “racial” self-defense.
The debate gained even more ground after the assassination of Talât Pasha, one of the three main masterminds behind the Armenian genocide, by Soghomon Tehlirian in Berlin in March 1921. The case “resonated all across Germany, even in the smallest village” (p.227). Talât would come to be regarded as a martyr of the Turkish nation or, on the contrary, as the “butcher of the Armenians.” Tehlirian’s trial was covered by the media even more intensively as one of the most spectacular trials of the twentieth century until then. Vorwärts saw the true meaning of the trial not in the charge of murder. According to the periodical, the true charge was “the ghastly Armenian Horrors, not his [Talât’s] execution by one of the few victims left alive” (p.235). The trial was indeed more about the genocide than the charge of murder. Most of the experts and witnesses, and Tehlirian himself too, talked for the most part about the massacres and deportations as motives for the murder. Although state prosecutor Gollnick justified the “dislocation” of Armenians by emphasizing that the Armenians “conspired with the Entente and were determined […] to stab the Turks in the back” (pp.255–56), defense attorneys developed a notion of “self-defense,” contending that Talât had intended to follow Enver Pasha to Russia to continue the Armenian horrors there in the close future. Tehlirian was eventually found not guilty and set free on account of “temporary insanity.”
“What changed in the immediate aftermath of the Talât Pasha trial was that many more papers became committed to a pre-Lemkin definition of genocide […] the terminology became equivalent to that which we would commonly describe with the term genocide,” Ihrig maintains (p.271). However, recognition of the genocidal nature of the annihilation of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire did not result in opposition to the policy of mass violence; on a large scale, former denialists now turned to justification, characterized by a growing sense of anti-Armenianism, its core argumentation lying in the claim that Armenians stabbed the Turks in the back. Later, the Armenian topic was connected to the so-called “foreigner question,” equating Armenians with “Berlin West,” “Eastern Jews,” and “criminal foreigners” under the umbrella of “Semitic cousins.”
The final part of the book, “The Nazis and the Armenian Genocide”, explores racialist and National Socialist understandings of the Armenian “race” and its annihilation as a policy of “national interest.” As Ihrig maintains, “modern Central European anti-Semitism [was] … the lens through which the Armenians and the Armenian question were perceived by a large portion of politicians, journalists, and commentators in Germany” (p.301). The idea of an (imagined) racial group called “Armenoid” circulated in racial anthropology and racialist literature (both German and international) as “the source of all the racially negative traits that the racist and anti-Semitic discourse identified in the Jews” (p.303.), including Armenians, Jews and Greeks. In racialist literature, Armenians were predominantly described as a “lower race” (Unterrasse), with racial characteristics that were either similar to the racial characteristics of the Jews or even “worse,” or they were simply characterized as “über-Jews.” Hitler himself expressed similar views.
Although there can be no doubt that the Armenian Genocide held a crucial position in the broader Nazi worldview, it can be witnessed only indirectly through an analysis of Nazi discourse on Mustafa Kemal Atatürk’s “New Turkey.” Opposing generally acknowledged premises found in the secondary literature (e.g. Ernst Nolte’s statement that Mustafa Kemal’s “national defense-dictatorship” should only be observed “on the horizon of the examination of fascism”, see Der Faschismus in seiner Epoche: die Action française, der italienische Faschismus, der Nationalsozialismus , p.37), Ihrig demonstrates that “Kemalism” or, rather, its interpretations played a crucial role in shaping National Socialism and genocidal ideologies in Germany. An appraisal of a “postgenocide” country can be observed, which maintained that the modern, “völkisch” state of Turkey, struggling against the “Turkish Versailles” (the Treaty of Sèvres) and protecting its integrity and national character, had “solved” its minority question on a grand scale and in a “final” manner. In the Nazi worldview, terror and “national purification” were crucial steps of this policy of “modernization”, the establishment of a new Turkey and, also, a new (Third) German Empire. Mustafa Kemal’s “New Turkey” was often proclaimed as a role model for Nazi Germany. Characteristically, Nazi biographies of Hitler, Atatürk, and other historic “Führers” often identified Atatürk as the perfect Führer, and Hitler himself called Mustafa Kemal his “shining star” in the “darkness” of the 1920s.
Ihrig’s findings are significant for international scholars of genocide and the Holocaust, and perhaps in particular for historians of Hungary, since xenophobic and genocidal ideas were to a large extent derived from German sources regarding both anti-Semitism and anti-Armenianism in pre-1945 Hungary. Also, Hungarian appraisals of Mustafa Kemal’s “New Turkey” significantly contributed to the prevailing nationalist ideologies of the times.
Péter Pál Kránitz
Pázmány Péter Catholic University, Piliscsaba
Szálasi Ferenc: Politikai életrajz [Ferenc Szálasi: A political biography]. By László Karsai. Budapest: Balassi Kiadó, 2016. 524 pp.
Historian László Karsai’s political biography of Ferenc Szálasi, one of the most controversial historical personalities in twentieth-century Hungarian history, was published seventy years after the fall of Szálasi’s Arrow Cross regime and his subsequent execution for his war crimes. Karsai claims in his introduction that he has been dealing with Szálasi’s biography for nearly three decades, and after many previous publications and several professional discussions this book ought to be seen as the culmination of his work. The book, which comes to 524 pages, is divided into thirteen chapters, which introduce Szálasi’s life in chronological order, discussing his origins, family circumstances, birth, and childhood, concluding with his arrest in 1945. Moreover, the last chapter provides a detailed description of his conduct at the court of law and his eventual conviction. The main body of the text is complemented with a brief appendix: a chronology, sources, an annotated bibliography of secondary literature, and a list of explanations of terms which Szálasi invented, such as “life-community” (“életközösség”) or “blood-home” (“vérhaza”). The index of names also contains profiles of people who were closely associated with Szálasi.
The contested question related to Szálasi’s role in history is not whether he played a positive or a negative role; it was rather easy to recognize that his state ideology was in contradiction with the values of European civilization, and Karsai`s work offers eloquent proof of this. The real value of this book rather lies, in addition to the many details it provides, in the questions Karsai raises and the answers he offers concerning Szálasi’s popularity and his manner of attaining power. At one time, historians argued that Szálasi’s national socialist party became popular in Hungary towards the end of the 1930s because it received financial support from Nazi Germany. In more recent years, historians have refuted this contention and have shown that Germans had practically no connection to Szalasi’s party until the spring of 1944. Szálasi neither asked nor received any financial help from Germany. His popularity was much rather closely connected to the Arrow Cross Party’s social mission and policy. Karsai and his colleagues have analyzed a source which had not been investigated previously: the Arrow Cross’s official personal certificates concerning 27,500 of its members, or almost ten percent of all registered members. Earlier, a stereotype had gained widespread acceptance according to which there were many criminal elements, deadbeats, and deviants among the members of the party, while others were recruited from the less educated strata. According to Karsai, this is a historical misconception: there might have been a slight overrepresentation of lower class people among party members, but alongside the blue-collar workers there were also white-collar workers, and the party clearly had its share of office holders and public servants.
Karsai provides clear descriptions of Szálasi’s character and reflects on his serious neurotic disorder, which found manifestation, above all, in his paranoia and sense of mission. This neurotic disorder was the source of two serious symptoms: his fanaticism and his loss of a sense of reality. Karsai offers several examples of Szálasi’s madness: beginning in the early 1940s, Szálasi’s close contacts thought their leader suffered from insanity and needed to be examined by a doctor. However, these symptoms did not mean that he never was or never appeared to be rational. They might even have helped his political cause because his followers thought that behind Szálasi’s addle-brained deeds and speeches lay something magical, a form of superior leadership, which they therefore simply could not fully comprehend. For all that, not unlike other fascist leaders, in his private life Szálasi was able to present himself as an agreeable person. Otherwise, however, he was neither an eminent political leader nor a particularly charismatic man. He won popularity and a position as a leader not due to his personal abilities, but much rather because of the historical and political circumstances. The main reasons were the economical crisis and the difficulties of the wartime situation.
Karsai analyses in detail Szálasi’s pronouncements on the “Jewish question,” which did not contain any plans of physical annihilation. In his first programmatic pronouncements from 1933–35, he did not formulate any Jewish policy. His public anti-Semitism was noticeable from 1936 onward, and by 1938 this topic appeared to be of utmost importance to him. Szálasi did not call his brand of racism anti-Semitism, but rather preferred the term A-semitism. Karsai maintains that Szálasi adopted the expression from the Jesuit Béla Bangha’s 1920 publication Magyarország újjáépítése és a kereszténység [Hungary’s Reconstruction and Christianity], but the expression is not actually used in the book. According to Szálasi’s own explanation, the term expressed the idea that Hungary needed to be released from the influence of Jews. In his opinion, anti-Semitism only referred to “the little or common Jews,” but never to those in the background. In contrast, A-semitism indicated that Hungary was to be purified of the alleged Jewish influence, but not in a physical way, because Jews would have to be given a chance to create a new world for themselves. At the same time, Szálasi and his party’s leaders never articulated any detailed plans of deportation from Hungary. Accordingly, Karsai emphasizes that the ghettoization and deportation of Hungarian Jews to Auschwitz was not committed under Szálasi’s rule, but took place under the Sztójay government (which was in power between March 22 and August 29, 1944). In other words, the Sztójay government fulfilled German expectations in matters related to the Holocaust, whereas Szálasi contradicted them in some cases.
Szálasi strongly connected the Jewish issue to his economic platform, and he propagated the idea that all properties belonging to Jews be handed over to Christians. He wanted to create a workers’ state and a workers’ society in which the nationalization of assets would be part of a system in which workers would be paid according to their levels of efficiency. The economic programs presented by Szálasi and his experts contain many demagogical phrases (such as “avoiding economic bankruptcy” and “fixing the prices and the wages”), and they hardly ever explain the actual mechanisms with which they would be implemented.
Szálasi considered Hungarian and German National Socialism coequals. He refused the theory of racism, and he maintained that German Nazism was almost like “Jewish ideology,” since both aimed at world domination. The result was that, in contrast to other politicians in Hungary, he did not want to subordinate Hungary to Germany’s demands. Szálasi thought that the national socialist powers of Europe needed to establish regional dominance and cooperate with one another. Germany had taken control of Austria and the Czech lands, and Hungary should possess its own region too, including some parts of Yugoslavia and their ally Poland. According to him, the Hungarians were the sole state-founding nation in the Carpathian basin, and the new political structure should be shaped by this fact.
Until as late as April 1945, Ferenc Szálasi believed that the national socialist powers would win the war. He simply considered it impossible that the “Jewish-liberal states” could defeat them. He firmly believed in the superiority of states based on the nationality principle, much as his belief in his own “nation-saving” abilities was unfaltering. László Karsai’s political biography thus clarifies that Szálasi suffered from a kind of personality disorder. His career was that of a fanatical political leader who thought of himself as the savior, believed exclusively in his own views, and had no understanding of the values of a democratic state or human rights.
Zala County Archives of the Hungarian National Archives
The State, Antisemitism, and Collaboration in the Holocaust: The Borderlands of Romania and the Soviet Union. By Diana Dumitru. New York: Cambridge University Press; published in association with the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, 2016. XVIII+268 pp.
The book is an extended version of the article Diana Dumitru coauthored with Carter Johnson that received the American Political Science Association’s Mary Parker Follett Award for the best article or essay published in 2010–11. Its main argument can be summarized as follows: during World War II, the local gentile population in the two borderland areas—Bessarabia and Transnistria—exhibited strikingly different attitudes: more hostile in Bessarabia and more compassionate in Transnistria. The popular violence against Jews in Bessarabia began before the arrival of the German and Romanian troops and reached its peak in the first days and weeks of Romanian rule. This violence took different forms—from beating, plunder of property and expulsion from homes to providing assistance for the troops and gendarmes as they massacred and/or interned Jews in concentration camps. Dumitru sees little evidence that this violence was confined to particular social or age groups of males, and she suggests that perpetrators were statistically representative of the local male population as a whole (esp. pp.155–57). In contrast, there were virtually no cases of “spontaneous” popular violence against Jews in Transnistria. In the great majority of cases, when locals participated in the murder of Jews, they did so on the express orders of the occupiers and as members of an occupier-created police force. Dumitru also draws on the enormous amount of postwar testimony of Jewish survivors to argue that they encountered much more sympathy and willingness to help in Transnistria than in Bessarabia, where the rare cases of assistance were almost exclusively confined to the narrow circle of personal and family friends (esp. p.207).
These observations do not provoke any disagreement. Indeed, it has been known for quite some time that the western borderlands of the Soviet Union, in particular areas annexed in 1939–41, were the sites of the most widespread, deadly, and systematic popular violence against Jews at the beginning of World War II and that the more one moved to the east, the less violently anti-Semitic local gentiles tended to be (see, for example, Yitzhak Arad, “The Local Population in the German-Occupied Territories of the Soviet Union and Its Attitude toward the Murder of the Jews,” in David Bankier and Israel Gutman, eds., Nazi Europe and the Final Solution [Jerusalem: International Institute for Holocaust Research, 2003], discussed on pp.186–87). For Dumitru, however, these findings are the starting point for her search for the factor(s) that might explain these differences. As Dumitru ascertains, the levels of anti-Semitism and proclivitires for anti-Jewish violence were approximately the same in both Bessarabia and Transnistria before the Great War, so references to long-term anti-Semitism in the region cannot explain the differences in the provinces’ records during World War II. She also discusses various theoretical models of interethnic violence that downgrade the importance of ideology and discards all of them as inapplicable to these cases. Instead, she insists, it was the policies of the Soviet state during the interwar period that substantially weakened (if not completely eradicated) popular anti-Semitism in Transnistria and instilled the values of the equality of all ethnicities and the sense that they all belonged to the Soviet community. Dumitru enumerates persistent Soviet efforts to fight popular anti-Semitic prejudices by means of propaganda; the promotion of positive images of Jews in popular cultural artifacts such as movies, songs, posters, and school education; and the judicial prosecution of expressions of anti-Semitism as counter-revolutionary crimes. These efforts bore fruits during World War II.
In contrast to the Soviet Union, Dumitru’s argument goes, Greater Romania was a nationalizing state in which ethnic nationalism served as a national ideology, while xenophobia and anti-Semitism were widespread. She marshals an impressive array of evidence to prove that anti-Semitic prejudices in Bessarabia were persistently propagated by political actors, priests, and teachers, who routinely presented anti-Semitic convictions as a sine-qua-non attribute of a “good Romanian.” Thus, at a time when anti-Semitism was weakened in Transnistria, it took stronger hold of the popular mind in Bessarabia.
Nothing of this is wrong and little is new. Nevertheless, Dumitru’s major thesis must be considerably modified for it to be plausible. First and foremost, her insistence that the Soviets’ efforts to eradicate anti-Semitism combined with the accelerated intermixing of various ethnic groups in the period of forced industrialization and collectivization of agriculture prompted gentiles to become more accepting of and less hostile to the Jews ascribes to “the state” an unpersuasively strong power to reshape the popular imagination in a relatively short period of time. In the debate between historians such as Jochen Hellbeck, who describes the “productive” capacity of the Soviet regime to form, with the participation of their subjects, “illiberal subjectivities” of the latter, and scholars who, like Sheila Fitzpatrick, reveal the widespread use of the practices of “wearing masks” and “speaking Bolshevik” by the Soviet citizens, who remained largely impervious to the Soviet ideology, Dumitru takes the side of the former (pp.10–11). The problem with this assumption is that the experiences of war and occupation revealed the superficiality and fragility of the supposed “Sovietness” of many a Soviet citizen.
The rejection of basic Soviet ideological premises signified the regime’s failure to reshape its subjects’ mentalities to conform to its set of values. This rejection manifested itself through joyous welcome of German and German-allied troops in many Soviet locales (not only western ones); the mass surrender of Red Army men, especially in the early stages of the war; the enormous number of Soviet subjects who joined various military formations to fight against the Soviet power; the occupiers’ quick destruction, with the enthusiastic cooperation of locals, of the guerilla groups that the party, the army, and the NKVD had left behind to fight in the enemy’s rear; mass collaboration with the enemy in various forms, from innocuous to criminal; popular clamor for the unimpeded exercise of religious practices, the dismemberment of kolkhozes, and for free trade and other forms of private enterprise, to list only a few. Even the return of Stalin and the party leadership to traditional Russian nationalism to bolster its legitimacy during the war, their partial reconciliation with the Orthodox Church, and their use of unprecedentedly brutal measures to sustain the combat abilities of their troops testify to the weak influence communist ideology had exerted on the popular imagination and popular strategies of identity creation and maintenance. In view of these facts, which are all now well-documented, how could the regime succeed in eradicating anti-Semitism when it failed in every other aspect of the project of “forming a new man”? Unfortunately, Dumitru ignores this question.
She is on even shakier ground when she extrapolates from the supposed Soviet success the ability of a generic “state’s” potential to fight popular prejudices successfully and improve interethnic relations (p.9). What is missing here is sufficient awareness of the profound differences between various states, including the structures of their institutions, practices, and ideologies and the variations of their influence on societal forces. The Soviet state was unlike the others. Effectively, it was ruled by a small minority committed to the reconstruction of Russian society and, ultimately, of humanity as a whole. As such, this state confronted what it believed were backward and “reactionary” prejudices and practices headlong, without regard for public opinion. It also prescribed a particular type of education in schools all over the country, censored the press and other mass media, promoted publications that taught its ideology, and spread entertainment materials that suited its aims while forbidding materials that might have thwarted them. It could and did use unprecedented violence against ideological deviants. Most states do not have such powers, and rarely do they aspire to acquire them.
The latter was true of Greater Romania, also a fact of which Dumitru seems at times to be oblivious.Most of the anti-Semitic propaganda in Bessarabia was conducted not by “the state,” but by autonomous societal actors whom the governments could not control. Even if a part of government’s bureaucracy, police force, and army did display sympathy with and even supported anti-Semitic movements, the governments themselves usually took a more reserved and even hostile attitude toward anti-Semitic movements, subjecting them to administrative pressure and police repression. Anti-Semitic ideology was propagated and sustained by opposition forces much more than by “the state” itself. The forcefulness of anti-Semitic ideology and the density of networks of Judeophobic activists in Bessarabia were the result not so much of an intentional policy as of the inefficiency and restraint of the Romanian state. Romanian governments failed to curb the tide of popular anti-Semitism, sustained by the efforts of numerous public intellectuals, journalists, priests, demagogues, half-educated exalted youngsters, and resentful opportunists of all sorts. They did not promote it.
In the interwar period, Greater Romania was, of course, not an exception but a norm among the countries of East Central Europe, in which official nationalism, economic hardship, and the inefficiency of state institutions combined to facilitate the spread of extremist xenophobic and anti-Semitic movements. The real exception was the Soviet Union, not so much because of the Soviets’ efforts to fight interethnic prejudices and teach equality and collaboration as because of the simple fact that the regime did not tolerate any autonomous social or political activity. The combination of twenty-two years of unprecedented repression, close surveillance, never-ending harassment, social upheavals, and material privations demobilized Soviet society, disabused Soviet citizens of any notion of independent initiative, and broke virtually all networks of friendship and trust among them. This, however, did not make Soviet citizens committed communists or progressive internationalists.
Indeed, against this background it is not at all surprising that Transnistria did not witness spontaneous outbursts of anti-Jewish violence, for the simple reason that no spontaneous activity following the takeover was registered, except perhaps expressions of loyalty to the new regime and willingness to collaborate with it. However, expulsion of Jews from their dwellings, their incarceration, and their mass murder did not encounter open opposition, apart from isolated cases when women in some Ukrainian villages shamed soldiers and policemen for their inhumanity. Romanian sources are unanimous in assessing the locals’ reaction to the persecution of Jews as exceedingly positive, even celebratory. Their appropriation of the property of murdered Jews is well documented, as is the participation of local policemen in organizing and carrying out executions of Jewish internees.
It would be unhelpful to deny that certain parts of Transnistria’s gentile population did exhibit some greater influence of Soviet education and propaganda on their behavior, including their willingness or inclination to help Jews. Younger people demonstrated stronger pro-Soviet inclinations, and the efforts made by some of them to help rescue Jews are well documented. However, Ukrainian peasant women—another demographic that is prominent in the accounts of attempts to provide assistance—and local Orthodox priests—who, unlike priests from Romania, were noted for their willingness to baptize Jews in spite of the authorities’ strict ban on such acts, which were meant to offer Jews a cover against persecution—were likely moved by motives other than Soviet-type internationalism.
Explanations that rely on a single cause rarely work in the study of history, and Dumitru’s book, despite its many strengths (which include a wide source base and substantial historiographical knowledge, theoretical awareness, and clarity of exposition), ultimately confirms this truism. The correct answer to the central question of the book would inevitably be multifaceted and knotty. However, by forcefully making her case, Dumitru’s book is certain to provoke further research and debate, which is, in itself, a serious achievement.
University of Central Florida
Die große Angst: Polen 1944–1947. Leben im Ausnahmezustand. By Marcin Zaremba. Paderborn: Schöningh, 2016. 629 pp.
Die große Angst (the Polish title is Wielka trwoga, which in English means Great Fear), published originally in Polish in 2012 and appearing in German translation in 2016, is a highly important contribution to the field of Polish postwar historiography as it represents one of the very first studies on the history of emotions in Poland. The book highlights the constitutive role of fear and anxiety in shaping Polish postwar society. The key concept of the book, trwoga, is rather difficult to translate into English or German; it basically refers to the emotions and social tensions that emerged as a consequence of the dramatic wartime events, prevailing uncertainty, and the material threats of the postwar months, as well as the radical processes of social change and the brutal transition of power.
One of the virtues of the book is that Zaremba does not provide any simple answers, presenting rather a complex survey of diverse phenomena. He also avoids the pitfalls of the Polish martyrological tradition. With some of his remarks, Zaremba takes a rather moderate position in the relentless debates on the controversial arguments of Polish-American sociologist Jan Tomasz Gross, who just a few years ago published a book about Polish anti-Semitism after Auschwitz entitled Fear.
In twelve chapters, Zaremba analyses different fields of social activity and many possible reasons for the widespread traumas in the years between 1944 and 1947. He begins with some remarks about the phenomenon of generally pervasive fear in the Polish culture of the first half of the century, which often found expression in a mental act blurring or erasing the conceptual borders between Bolshevism and Judaism. Second, he takes a look at the situation in Poland immediately after the end of the war, where he finds a combination of relief, joy, and anxiety within Polish society. The conflicts between different actors, the prolonged chaos and, especially, the behavior of the invading Red Army had a very strong negative influence on the common mood.
The book describes different uprooted social groups in a lively manner: deserters, beggars, speculators, and policemen. The juxtaposition of several centers of power and the fight for “the survival of the fittest” manifested itself in a wave of plunder and common banditry. Nothing seemed to be forever; a feeling of temporality was omnipresent. Hunger, high prices, and diseases made the life of the common Pole almost unbearable. Zaremba shows that in the middle of this period of lawlessness and hopelessness there was enough room for the resurgence of pre-war stereotypes and the bashing of even weaker social and, especially, national groups. The search for culprits for the crisis, or, more simply, for defenseless victims, engulfed wide segments of the population, including people who had survived the war with nothing but the clothes on their backs.
One of the most impressive features of the book is the regional range of Zaremba’s research and the richness of historical detail. Because of the author’s extensive archival work, he can offer a panorama of the entire country, not only select regions. Zaremba has trudged through huge numbers of printed and unprinted sources. Letters which are cited in the text at great length offer especially valuable insights into the postwar everyday life of members of all of the social classes. However, this strength of Zaremba’s narrative could also be called its biggest weakness. The letters can rarely be properly contextualized, and their authors usually remain anonymous. Beyond this, from a German perspective of the early twenty-first century, it is quite unusual to read so many drastic descriptions of Soviet cruelty to Poles. There is not always a sound reason to dwell on people’s misfortunes. One might recognize in that practice some—far from praiseworthy—parallels with the (politically motivated) publication of the Documentation on Crimes Perpetrated against Germans in Connection with Their Expulsion in West Germany since the late 1950s.
If Soviet influences are one of the main topics of Die große Angst, another is the role of rumors and anti-Semitism. In times of insecurity and in the context of a missing base for reliable communication, rumors and their spread acquire great importance. This applies in particular to the remaining members of the national minorities. Here, Zaremba chooses as a central topic the behavior towards the surviving Jews. By doing so, he explicitly takes part in the international debate, for instance by adopting a position with regards to the controversial texts of Jan T. Gross. Zaremba focuses not so much on economic motives for the killing of Jews, but rather stresses the subliminal continuing effects of old ritual murder legends as a cause for pogroms. One could doubtlessly discuss further whether Zaremba’s argumentation plays down material and racist motivations. In any case, in the larger context of discussions among historians, the author adopts a rather centrist position.
The passages in which Zaremba discusses eschatological fears and religious fundamentalism are of special interest too. Here, he clearly antagonizes other scholars, who place unilateral emphasis on the material background of fears. Zaremba argues, in contrast, that irrationalism and so-called superstitions merged with the traditional mindset of the Roman Catholic Church to form an unholy alliance against supposed strangers.
To be sure, one could assess the structure of the book rather critically. Apart from the ubiquitous discussions of fear, the main line of argument is not always clearly indicated. As a whole, however, the book still reads very well and is never uninteresting. It is also a book free of ideological grimness and regimentation, which makes it all the more pleasant to read. For instance, it is highly stimulating to read Zaremba’s criticism of the myth of the “cursed soldiers” (żołnierze wyklęci), who tend to be depicted as historical heroes by the current national-populist government of Poland, even though many of them were ordinary criminals.
A study about pervasive fear, which examines emotions and their role in processes of social transformation, almost inevitably tends to underestimate other causes of the crisis of the postwar and civil war years. However, an author always has the right to make his choices. It was obviously not Zaremba’s intention to consider international comparisons in a sustained way either. One could argue that, had he done so, this would have allowed him to grasp much more clearly that fear actually constituted a pan-European phenomenon. For a long time, German angst remained the sole topic of discussion, and only recently has Pierre-Frédéric Weber shown how the fear of Germany determined European politics after World War II (Timor Teutonorum: Angst vor Deutschland seit 1945: eine europäische Emotion im Wandel ). Such emotions were not only felt in Poland with regards to military considerations (where it took the various forms of fear of a new war, the military dominance of the Soviet Union, and the possible return of the Germans). A comparison with Great Britain or Greece, and their efforts to deal with hunger after 1945, might well have shown that Poland simply did not constitute an exceptional case in history, though Zaremba continuously makes and relies on this questionable line of argument throughout his book.
The basis of this review is the 2016 German edition of the book, which, on the whole, it of high quality, although the translator, Sandra Ewers, sometimes uses expressions at odds with accepted historical terminology and—especially—geography. The translator was not always able to decode the place names which have been used in the genitive in the Polish text. To provide only one example, the Polish word Pomorze should definitely not be translated with the German Pommern; Pommerellen would have been the correct choice.
Apart from some publications on the history of World War II, and in particular on the fate of the Jews and the behavior of Poles towards them, there have not been many internationally successful books by Polish historians in recent years. Marcin Zaremba’s book on fear and anxiety as constitutive and decisive parts of Polish postwar society might represent an exception, as it offers, despite its weaknesses, profound insights into early postwar Polish society.
University of Gießen