pdfVolume 4 Issue 3 CONTENTS

Anders E. B. Blomqvist

Local Motives for Deporting Jews

Economic Nationalizing in Szatmárnémeti in 1944


The article provides a case study of Szatmárnémeti (Satu Mare, today in Romania) during World War II by using the concept of economic nationalizing. I investigate the motifs behind the de-Jewification and re-Hungarianization of the city and show that by 1944 the Hungarian leaders were convinced not only that the seizure of Jewish property would significantly improve their own situation, but also that the gradual implementation of this policy was the key reason for its previous failure. The article also discusses the ways in which the Hungarian elite aroused expectations among the Hungarian public that Jewish property would be redistributed as a “national gift” and the eagerness of members of practically all sectors of Hungarian society to acquire property that had been left behind by the deported Jews. I thereby argue that the relatively strong local support behind the deportation of Jews was driven, above all, by the economic interests of the local Hungarian community. The entire economy of the city was de-Jewified and re-Hungarianized when the Jews were deported in the summer of 1944. However, I also show that, ambitious plans for social redistribution notwithstanding, major redistribution of assets took place primarily within the housing sector. In general, the gains of the beneficiaries were sharply exceeded by the human and material losses for the city as a whole.


Keywords: The Holocaust in Hungary, economic history, economic nationalism, ethnic borderlands


This article addresses the question of responsibility and collaboration in the ethnic borderlands of Hungary in World War II by using the concept of economic nationalizing. The concept is applied to a case study of the city of Szatmárnémeti (Satu Mare, today in Romania, near the Hungarian–Romanian border) by using formerly unexplored sources. I will thus investigate how the “de-Jewification” and “re-Hungarianization” of Szatmárnémeti was implemented in 1944. This means examining why Hungarian leaders, authorities and civilians supported the deportation of Jews. In other words, the account will not provide a comprehensive explanation of the reasons for the murder of the Jews by Nazi Germans (with the active collaboration of Hungarians). Instead, I will concentrate primarily on the economic motives for Hungarian support of the deportation and also on the closely interrelated question of its actual economic impact.

I define economic nationalizing as an institution of a social practice of economic and political principles and processes that influence and are influenced by nationalism and national identities. My approach to the study of economic nationalizing is inspired by Paul Brass. It emphasizes the importance of how ethnic and national identities are instrumentalized, constructed and used by the elite to gain political power and economic advantages. Ethnic identity and nationalism arise out of specific interactions between the leaderships of the nationalizing states and minority elites. Thus, ethnic and national identities are social and political constructs, which are created by elites who draw upon and distort cultural attributes for political and economic reasons.1 Economic nationalizing is a dynamic process, in which national and economic factors interact. To stress the dynamic aspect and the social force behind this process I use the term “nationalizing” (as well as Romanianizing, Hungarianizing) instead of “nationalization.”

The social practice of economic nationalizing is discernible in formal and explicit ways, as in regulations or laws, or implicitly in the form of social rules. One fundamental principle of nationalism is to improve the political and economic positions of the core members of the nation relative to and at the expense of members of other nations and minorities. This definition of economic nationalizing is inspired by Rogers Brubaker’s concept of “a nationalizing state,” which he defines as a nation-state of and for a particular ethno-cultural nation—the core nation—whose state promotes and protects their language, culture, demographic position, economic welfare and political hegemony.2

Economic nationalism has been a driving force in the region of East-Central Europe since the nineteenth century, as consecutive regimes have striven to create ethno-national economies, including dualist Hungary and interwar Romania. The ruling nation usually used its political power to establish an ethnocracy to maximize economic advantages for itself at the expense of minorities. During the dualist period, the Jews of Hungary were included in the ethnic category of Hungarian speakers (Magyars) with the aim of Magyarizing the economy at the expense of the so-called nationalities. So the economy of Szatmárnémeti city was completely Magyarized during the dualist period. 3

In 1920, the city was ceded to Romania and renamed Satu Mare, despite the fact that it had a large Hungarian-speaking majority, and a process of Romanianizing began. Romanianizing was radicalized at the beginning of the 1930s, and the public sector was almost completely Romanianized at the expense of minorities and especially Jews. In the mid-1930s, efforts to Romanianize were focused on the core parts of Romania, while the Jewish share of the economy in the ethnic borderlands, such as Satu Mare, grew. In 1940, Romania underwent a major revision of its borders. It lost Northern Transylvania (including Satu Mare), Bessarabia and Northern Bukovina. In the remaining parts of Romania the Antonescu regime continued with Romanianization, with the intention of completely Romanianizing real estate, businesses and jobs, though in the end these efforts largely failed.4

When northern Transylvania was ceded to Hungary in 1940, a process of re-Hungarianization of the economy was immediately launched. Re-Hungarianization included redistributing economic assets and resources owned by Jews among so-called Christians, a practice that was referred to as de-Jewification. However, in the Hungarian–Romanian borderland this process was intended also to strengthen the position of Hungarians at the expense of Romanians. Szatmárnémeti had around 13,000 Jews out of a total population of 52,000. The majority of the Jews were Orthodox, and the Rebbe Joel Teitelbaum, the first Grand Rebbe of the Satmar Hasidic dynasty, had turned the city into an important Orthodox center. The generation of Jews that had lived in the city during the Dualist period remained deeply attached to the Hungarian language and Hungarian culture, despite 20 years of Romanian rule. Nonetheless, during World War II the category “Hungarian” excluded Jews on “racial” grounds and other nationalities, mainly Romanians, on linguistic grounds. Hungary imposed anti-Jewish legislation, but the implementation of this legislation proceeded slowly.

The Hungarian elite in the city of Szatmárnémeti aimed to remove Jews from the economy, while at the same time a political economy of exploitation developed in which the Hungarian elite made large profits at the expense of Jews. Officially and legally so-called “straw man” arrangements were banned, but in reality leading Hungarians were profiting from this type of arrangement. The straw man (stróman from the German Strohmann) or Aladár was typically a Hungarian Christian who, in an effort to circumvent the anti-Jewish legislation, formally took over Jewish businesses in exchange for a share of their profits.5

As a result of the pro-Magyar attitudes of leading Jews in the Dualist period and during the interwar period, some of them were defined as Hungarians and exempted from the anti-Jewish laws. One important example was the Princz family, who were one of the wealthiest Jewish families in the city and owners of the Princz factory. They were exempted because they “had behaved patriotically with regards to the Hungarian cause” during the interwar Romanian period, i.e. they had supported Hungarian irredentism and ethnic Hungarian politics and the ethnic Hungarian economy and culture. Armin Princz, the head of the family, had been a leader of the ethnic Hungarian party in the interwar period. This means that some leading Jews and Hungarians were collaborating on the re-Hungarianization of the economy, which clearly adds to the complexity of the situation.6 According to the law, these Jews fell under the anti-Jewish legislation, but they were exempted because of their national merits.

On March 19, 1944, Nazi Germany occupied Hungary. The occupation was motivated in part by the fact that the Hungarian government had tried to negotiate an armistice with the Allies. A second reason was that the “Jewish question” in Hungary remained “unresolved” according to the Nazi German criteria. The situation of Jews in Hungary had been deteriorating up to 1944, but the large majority of Jews was still alive despite the fact that tens of thousands had been killed in instances of mass murder. Additionally, Jews possessed a significant share of the Hungarian economy, as they did, for instance, in Szatmárnémeti, despite ever more severe discrimination. The re-Hungarianization process hit primarily the lower and middle class stratum of Jews, while more wealthy Jews were able to maintain their positions.

Nazi Germany’s plan for eliminating the Jews in occupied Hungary was to expropriate and deport them with the assistance of Hungarian leaders and authorities. Nazi German leaders’ targeting of Hungarian Jews was part of their larger Final Solution, which aimed at a complete de-Jewification and the killing of Jews in territories under Nazi control. Still, leading Nazi Germans took personal advantage of the situation and were occasionally willing to spare the lives of individual Jews in exchange for large bribes.

The German occupation and takeover of Hungary went quickly and smoothly. The Hungarian regent Miklós Horthy remained in power and appointed a pro-German Prime Minister, Döme Sztójay. A group of 600 Germans under the leadership of Adolf Eichmann arrived to implement the Final Solution.7 The area east of the river Tisza, including Szatmárnémeti, was declared a war zone under German command.8 The declaration of war zone was a way of legitimizing the deportation of the “internal enemies,” i.e. one of its functions was to help strengthen the image of the Jews as enemies who supported communism. The plan was first to deport Jews from this eastern territory because the front and the Red Army were advancing westward.

Hungarian and German interests overlapped in their desire to remove the Jews. In a perverse misuse of a term that in principle refers to religious belief, the Hungarian authorities used the word “Christian” to exclude Jews on a racial basis. The inclusion of the Romanians in the privileged category of “Christians” reduced the Hungarian–Romanian tensions, as the Romanians were not discriminated against de jure. Still, the Hungarian leaders regarded Hungarian ethno-national interests as paramount. I will therefore use the term “Hungarian” when referring to a person who was defined by the law as non-Jewish, although the Hungarian authorities admittedly employed the term “Christian.

Economic and National Motives of the Holocaust

Research on the Holocaust in general has pointed to the importance of economic and national factors. Martin Dean has argued that the confiscation of Jewish property was linked to the physical process of destruction.9 Several historians have applied a functional approach to explaining the Holocaust in Hungary, stressing the importance of economic and class factors.10 Historians Gábor Kádár and Zoltán Vági have described the looting of Jewish property as a “self-financing genocide,” since the Hungarian state used the property to pay for the deportations and the mass killing of Jews.11 Krisztián Ungváry stresses in his latest major study on the Horthy period that “cold and rational economic calculations” lay behind the deportations.12 Ungváry claimed that Hungarian authorities framed the solution to the so-called Jewish question as a “major social transformation” through the full-scale Hungarianization of Jewish property.13 Other historians, such as Mária M. Kovács and Victor Karády, have concluded that economic anti-Semitism initially developed during the interwar period, alongside conflicting economic-occupational interests and social class competition between Jews and Christians over material resources.14

Michael Mann contended that without Nazi German power, the Jewish genocide would not have been attempted in Hungary, even though almost all local perpetrators were Hungarian. The Hungarian regime saw the ethnic cleansing of the country as desirable primarily for economic reasons, but was divided over the means. Mann argues that the core perpetrators were ideologically motivated by nationalism, defined in ethnic and racial terms, but when the cleansing took the form of violent deportation, this created massive opportunities for profit. Many Hungarians were thereby sucked in by materialistic motives that were legitimized by state agencies.15

Regarding the expropriation of Jewish assets during the Second World War, Kádár and Vági have argued that the Hungarian government was successful in looting but almost completely failed to organize the redistribution. Thus, the looting, of the Jews could not alleviate the economic problems faced by the Hungarian “nation,” even though this was one of the policy aims.16 Kádár and Vági believe, moreover, that this re-allocation scheme of Jewish jobs and property, which included about one-fifth of the national wealth, could have resulted in better living standards and an economic upturn for non-Jewish Hungarians; however, because of the chaotic wartime conditions, the scheme had the opposite effect, further eroding the Hungarian economy and society.17

Studies on the factors of economic anti-Semitism and nationalism have focused relatively little on the annexed territories, including Northern Transylvania in 1940–44, despite the fact that the physical destruction of Jews was more thorough there than in the core areas of Hungary.18 One notable exception is the work of historian Ferenc Sz. Horváth, in which he examined the role of social compensation, economic reparation and the politics of resettlement in Northern Transylvania. He claims that ethnic Hungarians aimed to regain the economic positions that Jews had taken during the period of Romanian rule, i.e. they sought to implement economic re-Hungarianization.19 Horváth’s study included examples from Nagyvárad (today Oradea in Romania) and Kolozsvár (today Cluj in Romania), but not Szatmárnémeti. Apart from Horvath’s article on the topic, there is no study using primary sources on the implementation of anti-Jewish legislation in Northern Transylvania for the period 1940–44.20

In order to grasp the mechanisms and motivations behind the deportation of Jews, a local case study is warranted that draws on a variety of sources, including official documentation, newspaper articles and oral testimonies. Kádár, Vági and Horváth have made important contributions in this direction, but their inquiries hardly represent detailed investigations of the local scene. Rather, they draw on bits and pieces of information from various places. This article therefore aims to address this lacuna by undertaking a local investigation in order to arrive at a more subtle understanding of the mechanisms of deportation by using the analytical concept of economic nationalizing.

The Final Solution

The German plans for a radical solution of the so-called Jewish question received support among Hungarian leaders and authorities. Hungarian leaders were interested in the possibility of deporting Jews, as this would enable them to fully implement their program of re-Hungarianization. In the context of a war economy plagued by shortages, Hungarian leaders aroused expectations among the Hungarian public that Jewish property would be redistributed as a “national gift.” Expectations were high that this would amount to the “salvation of the Hungarian economy.”

The majority of Hungarians in Szatmárnémeti were not aware of the plan to annihilate Jewry, but we can assume that the leading Hungarians, including Mayor László Csóka, had been informed and knew of the extermination camps. State secretary László Endre attended the meeting in Szatmárnémeti at the end of April, at which plans were made for the establishment of the ghetto and the deportation of Jews. We can assume that during this meeting Csóka asked Endre about the destination of the Jews. Lower-ranking officials most probably understood that the Jews would face harsh conditions, but we can assume that they were not given specific information about their final destination.21 They proved willing to support the deportations, as they expected to receive economic returns in the form of “Jewish property.”

Until March 1944, the various anti-Jewish measures that had been passed primarily affected poor Jews, as some of the more affluent Jews had succeeded in maintaining their economic positions and wealth. Still, around 1,000 Jews, mainly refugees from Poland, had been deported from Szatmárnémeti because they lacked documentation necessary in order to obtain Hungarian citizenship. Together with around 24,000 other Jews, they had been massacred near Kamianets-Podolskyi, a city that today lies in western Ukraine, in the fall of 1941.22

Wealthy Jews were still visible in society at the beginning of 1944, which increased the support for a more radical solution among Hungarian leaders, including the mayor. At the beginning of March, the number of Jewish tradesmen and craftsmen was 980, which represented 41 percent of all active permits. The city’s economy relied on Jewish managers and engineers. Furthermore, several larger Jewish industries that produced goods necessary for the war economy were still in operation. The local newspaper concluded on April 6 that in 1940–1943, “we succeeded in convincing the majority to favor the Christian Hungarians,” but that “the real reorganization begins now.”23

Elisabeth Heimfeld, a Jewish survivor, stated that in April 1944 she and members of her community felt that “something was coming for the Jews.”24 Polish Jewish refugees living in the city urged Jews to “run away, everyone will die!”25 Rivka Handler, a Jewish eyewitness, stated that Polish Jews were telling “unbelievable horror stories,” but “we still could not imagine mass killings.”26 Most Jews thought these reports were exaggerated. In any case, even if they were considering leaving the city, it was extremely difficult to find a place where they would be able to take refuge.27 Many Jews were convinced that “the Hungarians won’t let us down” and that atrocities “will not happen to us, because we are Hungarian Jews.”28

However, at the beginning of April, the Hungarian Ministry of Interior, together with the Nazi German special appointee Adolf Eichmann, worked out the details of relocating the Jews to ghettos.29 The official arguments for establishing so-called “designated areas” or ghettos were based on economic and security reasoning. The Hungarian Minister of Interior Andor Jaross argued that Jews lived in better lodgings than non-Jews because they were unjustly richer, and therefore should be moved to designated areas with poor housing. Furthermore, for supposed reasons of national security, Jaross required Jews to be transferred from villages and smaller towns to larger cities, where authorities could supervise them in designated areas.30 According to the plan, during each phase Jews would be subjected to special investigation in order to ensure that they would surrender their valuables.31

The security argument was specious and deluded, as Jews in general were not organizing any armed resistance. In Szatmárnémeti only two guns were found in the possession of Jews, though the city had around 13,000 Jewish inhabitants.32 Nonetheless, the city’s police kept the Jews under surveillance. In early 1944, they caught some Jews operating an illegal printing press used for printing falsified civil and military documents, including ration cards.33 Most of the Jews of the city were highly religious and did not engage in violence, even to defend themselves. Falsification of documents was the most defiant form of resistance among Jews.

One of the first measures in the plan was the April 11 announcement that all Jews would be dismissed from their jobs between April and September without compensation. This was meant to be part of a gradual process that would “not disturb production.”34 The announcement made no mention of the “designated areas.” However, the Hungarian authorities started to round up Jews in the neighboring district of Carpatho-Ruthenia as early as April 16.35

The mayor issued a decree on April 17 according to which all Jewish shops, with the exception of food stores, were to be closed.36 Although the decree was issued on April 17, the authorities started to close shops at six o’clock in the morning of April 16. Within a few days, the Hungarian authorities had taken the first step in the process of expropriation and relocation, by closing the 350 Jewish shops, which represented more than half of all shops in the city.37 As the second step, the Hungarian state formally seized these shops on April 21.38 The authorities reported that this was the end of the “straw man system,” i.e. the collusive system of circumventing anti-Jewish laws.39 Thus, this major operation to nationalize Jewish commercial property successfully de-Jewified the commercial sector. However, the process of re-Hungarianization had only started, as most of the shops remained closed and were only gradually reopened under new and exclusively Hungarian-Christian management.

A special conference was held in Szatmárnémeti on April 26 in order to discuss the organization of the ghetto. During this conference, László Endre, the state secretary in the Ministry of the Interior, explained that he expected “full and honest collaboration from all civil servants and others participating in this action, which, possibly, may not be fully appreciated until history has proven us right.”40 Endre seemed convinced that de-Jewification would bring salvation to the Hungarians.

All top-ranking officials were present at the conference, including the mayor of Szatmárnémeti, who was responsible for executing orders in the city. While precious little is known about what actually happened during the conference, it is likely that future Jewish policy was discussed.41 After the conference, the majority of the Hungarian leaders decided to remain in their positions. This failure of Hungarian officials and leaders to resign from their posts is persuasive evidence that they supported a more radical “solution of the Jewish question.”

One exception was the prefect of Szatmár County, Ferenc Kölcsey, who resigned and was replaced by Barnabás Endrődi on April 25.42 According to Béla Földvári, a Jewish survivor, Kölcsey had received information about the plans for deportation and had told Földvári’s family about them. Kölcsey informed them: “first they [the Germans] will take you [the Jews] and then they will take us [the Hungarians].”43 The fact that Kölcsey resigned (and this made him an exception) indicates that he understood that something radical was going to be implemented, and that he was not willing to take responsibility for it.44

The commission for the apprehension of Jews in Szatmárnémeti and its surroundings held a special meeting after the conference. The mayor chaired the meeting and representatives from the police, the gendarmerie, the financial and tax departments of the city and primary and secondary school teachers attended it.45 They decided that the location of the Szatmárnémeti ghetto should be established in the Jewish neighborhood in the centre of the city.46 On April 27, the local newspaper reported that “an important decree is under negotiation by the government regarding Jewish houses and a designated area for Jews,” i.e. the ghetto.47 By this time, the deportation of Jews was already underway in the neighboring district of Carpatho-Ruthenia.

The newspaper explained that a governmental decree made it possible for the authorities to requisition Jewish houses. The justification for this was simply the contention that “Jews live in better houses than non-Jews.”48 The official reason was that the homes of Jewish families were needed by members of Hungarian society, emphasizing the material side of Hungarian “needs.” The purpose of the decree was to persuade segments of the Hungarian public that they would soon receive Jewish houses, and thus create public support for the expropriations. This justification was also part of an attempt to legitimize the concentration of Jews in the ghetto with the claim that they generally lived in better conditions than Hungarians.

Furthermore, ghettoization was also intended to prevent Jewish resistance. Security concerns (however deluded) motivated the announcement on April 28 that “Jews are not allowed to buy explosives and all their licenses to use weapons will be withdrawn.”49 This decree served the purpose of constructing Jews as an “inner enemy,” even though the local police were fully aware of the lack of violent organized resistance among Jews.

On April 17, 1944, the authorities ordered all Jews to declare their property, including property supervised by non-Jews.50 However, few Jews had reported their property by the end of April, and on April 28 the order was repeated.51 The finance office announced that it would be open even on Sundays from eight in the morning until six in the afternoon in order to receive the declarations.52

At this point, the intention of the declaration was to create the public impression that everything was in order. However, privately the authorities feared that Jews would leave with their capital or transfer money abroad. The mayor therefore decided to forbid Jews from leaving the city.53 Additionally, the mayor issued a decree the same day prohibiting Jews from using the telephone, sending telegrams, or transferring money at the post office. However, the director of the post office rejected the order and resigned.54 He was one of the few known cases of someone in a leading position who protested against the orders given by the mayor during the ghettoization.

On April 28, the “ghetto order” was made. The official name of the decree was “Concerning the regulation of certain questions relating to the determination of the Jews.” It stipulated the establishment of “a designated area” and was announced in the local newspaper on May 1.55 Furthermore, it stipulated that “Christians” living in the area had to move out.56 On May 3, all Jews wearing the yellow star were ordered to remain inside their homes. As of May 4, all Jews who were not living in the ghetto were only allowed to go outside between 9:00 o’clock and 11:00 o’clock in the morning.57

Jews were rounded up and brought to the ghetto between May 3 and 6; Jews from surrounding villages and cities were brought to the ghetto later.58 The ghettoization proceeded without any major disturbances. The reasons for this were that there was no resistance movement organized by the Jews and no major opposition by the Hungarian public or Hungarian officials.59

The rounding up of Jews was carried out by special units composed of civil servants, including local primary and secondary school teachers, gendarmes and policemen, who were under the authority of the mayor and operated under his jurisdiction. Thus a large share of the public sector was involved in this process. Jews were brought to the ghetto and were only allowed to bring a limited amount of personal belongings and food.

Another special unit came afterwards to make an inventory and ascertain whether the Jews had declared all of their property. The Jews received a copy of the declaration as a sign that the whole process was legal. This created the false impression that they would be given back their property once they returned from the ghetto.60

The local newspaper reported that “a new episode in the economic life of the city” had begun. Decrees had been announced on April 16 and the Jews had to “declare” their property upon it. After the establishment of the ghetto in the beginning of May, this property was “seized,” i.e. it became the national property of the Hungarian state.61 However, according to one newspaper article, the amount that was seized was “surprisingly little.” The same article stated that “economic experts believe that one of the reasons for this is that Jews are keeping money for themselves.”62 Jewish testimonies confirm that they were indeed hiding some of their valuables or had given them to Christians whom they trusted.63 Thus, Jews realized that the “declaration” was only a pretext for the theft of their property.

Another explanation for the perception that the property that had been seized from the Jews was “little” was that Hungarian officials took advantage of the opportunity to steal items for themselves. Sources confirm that Hungarian officials seized the opportunity and took things that were easy to carry.64 The newspaper also cited cases of illegal transactions. In one case two detectives had accepted a bribe from a Jew and were sentenced to prison. This reveals that officials used the opportunity for private economic gain.65 In some cases Jewish houses were looted before the authorities arrived to take inventory.66 However, according to a police report, already by the end of 1943 and beginning of 1944 some of the more affluent Jews had transferred some of their wealth abroad.67

According to eyewitness Livia Kellerman, some Hungarians suggested to their Jewish neighbors that they trust them with their valuables instead of handing them over to the authorities.68 Another Jewish survivor, Margerete Weinberger, claimed that “Gentiles were waiting to take over,” i.e. that as soon as the Jews had been rounded up, Hungarians used the opportunity to steal.69 This reinforced the economic incentives of Hungarians to de-Jewify the city.

Another explanation for the perception of the allegedly “low” quantity of the Jewish property that had been expropriated could simply be that the expectations concerning the amount of property owned by Jews were exaggerated. The anti-Jewish legislation had been in force for almost four years, and moreover the war had created economic difficulties for everyone, but especially for the Jews.70 This contributed to the false perception among the Hungarian authorities and public that the Jews were much richer than they actually were. This perception was also fed by the existence of a few wealthy Jews.

Around 200 of them, most of them wealthy, were interrogated. Some of them were tortured because they did not cooperate or voluntarily hand over their valuables, according to Jewish sources.71 Some Jews committed suicide because of the torture, including a noted Jewish grain merchant.72 According to the eye-witness Magda Moldovan, another wealthy Jew was shot on the spot by SS men.73 According to the Jewish memorial book of Szatmár, 30 people were killed in the ghetto and 9 people committed suicide, some of them after having been tortured, others because they could not bear the conditions in the ghetto.74 Thus, one of the main purposes of the ghetto was indeed to rob the Jews of their remaining property and valuables.

On May 12, the mayor announced that all Jewish property seized had become national property.75 This means that economic re-Hungarianization had been completed before the deportations began. However, the process of redistribution had not yet begun. The purpose seems to have been to raise the expectations among the Hungarian public in order to legitimize the rounding up of Jews. From a Jewish perspective, this was only the beginning of a series of horrors that only a few of them could have anticipated. Many of them still believed that, as Hungarian citizens, they would be exempted from deportations.

The fast reduction of the Jewish workforce created major disturbances in economic and industrial production. For example, efforts were made in several places to make exceptions for Jewish doctors because of the shortage of physicians. This shortage was made severe, since 45 percent of doctors fell under the anti-Jewish legislation. The result was a significant health care problem in Hungary.76

Still, the concentration of Jews in the ghetto made it possible to re-Hungarianize the economy. Hungarian leaders used both alleged security concerns and economic incentives to establish the ghetto, but they were primarily interested in seizing Jewish property. In this way, the Final Solution was promoted by the Hungarian elite and received support (or at least was not met with opposition) from the larger part of the Hungarian public. The expectation among the Hungarian public was that they would receive Jewish houses, properties and companies. The de-Jewification of the city was presented as the salvation of the Hungarians, but the process in fact involved the loss of significant human expertise and experience. The economy was practically brought to a standstill, as a substantial part of it was in the process of being re-Hungarianized. More than half of all shops were closed, and industrial companies lost more than 40 percent of their skilled managers and workers. This caused major disturbances in the production and supply of goods, which had negative consequences for society at large.77


The Jews were rounded up at the beginning of May, and most Jews lived in the ghetto for roughly 3 weeks before being deported. There were two ghettos in Szatmár County, one in Szatmárnémeti and the other in Nagybánya. Jews were brought from the surrounding smaller cities, villages and districts into the two cities.78 At its peak at the end of May, the Szatmárnémeti ghetto had around 19,000 Jews.79

The Jews from the Szatmárnémeti ghetto were deported in six transports. The first train departed on May 19 and the last on June 1, with around 3,000 Jews in every transport. The expenses for the deportations had to be paid by the city, but were reimbursed by the state.80 This means that Hungary paid for the cost of deportations to Nazi Germany using seized Jewish property, an arrangement that has been referred to as “self-financing genocide.”81

Jewish survivors offer different assessments of how the Hungarian public reacted when the Jews were taken to the railway station. One Jewish eye-witness claimed that “people were crying,”82 while two others stated that people were “smiling” and “clapping their hands.” Yet another claimed that “the rest of the population did not say anything when we were deported.”83 Regarding responsibility for the deportations, one Jewish survivor claimed that “our neighbors, the Hungarians, were participating, not the Germans.”84 Another summarized the collaboration between the Hungarians and the Germans by saying that “the Hungarians were more interested in valuables and Germans in our lives.”85 Local Jewish testimonies therefore support the notion that the Holocaust in Hungary was the result of a combination of Hungarian material interests and the Nazi German desire to exterminate the Jews.

The final destination of the transports from Szatmárnémeti was Auschwitz-Birkenau, where a majority of the Jews would either be immediately killed or perish because of the harsh conditions of camp life. The fast deportation of the Hungarian Jews to the extermination and concentration camps (4 trains every 24 hours) resulted in a high death rate among them. It is estimated that around 65–75 percent of the Jews who were deported from Northern Transylvania died.86 Thus around 12,000–14,000 Jews from the Szatmárnémeti ghetto died as a result of the harsh conditions in the ghetto and trains or else were murdered in Auschwitz-Birkenau.

Although the Hungarian authorities seized property from the deported Jews, the local newspaper claimed that many valuables were still missing. “Christians” who had received property from Jews were “robbing the Hungarian state,” according to the newspaper. The editor, Albert Figus, urged everyone to report all Jewish property to the authorities.87 The Hungarian authorities suspected that neighbors had taken Jewish property and requested that everyone hand all such property over to the authorities.

While Jews were suffering or being killed in Auschwitz-Birkenau, the local newspaper claimed that “Hungarian history justified the solution of the Jewish question, because former periods had shown the danger of letting Jews take over.”88 This referred to the alleged overrepresentation of Jews in the economy from the Dualist period until April 1944.

Hungarians had a significant incentive to seize Jewish property, which they defined as Hungarian property, while Nazi Germany was mainly interested in exterminating the Jews. The result was that the deportations of Jews from Szatmár was among the fastest and most destructive chapters of the Holocaust in Europe, as never had so many Jews been deported and so much property seized in such a short time.89 The rapid deportations were implemented chiefly by Hungarian authorities in cooperation with Nazi German experts in genocide. Still, a few members of the Jewish elite managed to escape the horror by paying large bribes.

“National Gift”

The seizure of Jewish property, according to the plans of the state, was the first step in a major social welfare program to the benefit of the Hungarian public. Jewish property was stored and protected by the municipal administration. On May 21, the seized property of Jews in the surrounding cities was transferred to Szatmárnémeti.90 The most valuable things were taken to Budapest by train.91 All former Jewish houses not intended for immediate public use were sealed.92

On May 9, the new prefect announced in the local newspaper that the seized Jewish property would be redistributed as a form of social welfare. He promised to give textiles, clothes, and shoes to poor workers and their families. There was also the possibility that Jewish homes would be reallocated, but before doing this he would have to wait for further instructions. The prefect claimed that this new system was something that people in general had been expecting for a long time.93 Thus, he aimed to arouse high expectations among the Hungarian public.

On May 12, clothing that had been stolen from Jews was sold at low (symbolic) prices to poor workers with children in order to facilitate a “rapid solution to the social problem,” said the mayor.94 According to the local paper, Jewish property that had been seized created an opportunity to provide support for the city’s “largest family,” beneficiaries of the public welfare office, which included 3,599 families with 11,612 individuals. Thus, about 25–30 percent of all inhabitants of the city were entitled to social welfare, which indeed gave the Hungarian public a material interest in seizing “Jewish property.”

The ghettoization of Jews enabled the Hungarian authorities to provide more support for non-Jewish families. According to reports, 200 cows and fifty horses were seized and redistributed. Horses were given to families of soldiers. Wagons and tools were distributed to Hungarians in the same way.95 Agricultural machines seized from Jews were distributed among farmers.96

The conclusion is that Jewish property was used as “national gift,” i.e. as part of a program for social welfare. In the end, it was not entirely a “gift,” as poor Hungarians had to pay a symbolic price in order to obtain clothing that had been stolen from Jews. This justified the robbing and deportation of Jews and gave the Final Solution a political legitimacy among the Hungarian public under the pretext that national property was actually being restored.

Requesting “National Property”

On May 16, 1944, the Hungarian authorities ordered that all valuables be collected, stored and listed in protocols.97 As a group, civil servants had some of the highest expectations and demanded material compensation for their work. On May 16, twenty civil servants submitted a signed request to the prefect in which they claimed that, “we have read in the newspaper Szamos that Jewish property will be redistributed to poor people and workers.”98 However, the civil servants who signed the petition regarded this as an offence, as the “work conducted by the civil servants had not been fully compensated.”99

At this point, they had not yet received houses or flats, so the civil servants requested that they be given the clothes that Jews had left behind “in the name of the middle class, which is facing more expensive times.” The civil servants argued that “the fine clothes owned by the Jews were not suitable for physical work.” They meant to imply that the clothing should be given to them, white-collar workers, not to blue-collar workers. Furthermore, they stressed that they did “not ask for luxurious things.”100 On May 24, a second group of civil servants requested that they should receive clothes, household utensils and furniture left by the Jews because of the “difficult economic situation and the low salaries.”101

However, strict orders were given on May 25 according to which no “redistribution was allowed except for social welfare.”102 All belongings were to be kept until a full inventory had been conducted, and only then would redistribution begin. Still, the pressure from the general population and the widespread expectation that people would receive properties that had been stolen from the Jews were high, and many private individuals and institutions continued to send requests for their “share” of the “national property.”103 Pressure from the civil servants increased, as on May 26 they were joined by other professionals to make their case stronger. In another letter, 33 civil servants, teachers and policemen (groups that had participated in the rounding up of Jews and the establishment and administration of the ghetto) requested “Jewish clothes,” as they regarded themselves as “low paid workers who could not afford these kinds of clothes.” The tone of the letter was more demanding than that of the previous request. The petitioners claimed that “the issue is urgent and important,” because for two weeks they had “worked from 5:00 o’clock in the morning until 7:00-8:00 o’clock in the evening, performing not only administrative work but also hard physical labor.” According to their request, if they were not given new clothes, “they [would] not have proper clothes to work in.”104

Thus, civil servants expected to receive economic compensation for their help in deporting the Jews. However, the prefect denied their request for clothing and textiles.105 The formal reason for the denial was that all property had to be inventoried and listed and that the government had to issue an order before the redistribution could begin.106 In order to indicate his appreciation for the role played by the civil servants, the mayor announced at the end of May that “all civil servants are serving on the inner front,” i.e. they were serving as soldiers in the local war against the internal enemies.107

Other groups that made requests for the confiscated Jewish property included pensioners, disabled veterans, refugees from southern Transylvania, priests, 130 railway workers, and journalists.108 All of these groups claimed that they had undertaken important tasks related to de-Jewifying and re-Hungarianizing the city. Public institutions such as the civil defense association, military hospital, workers’ office, and the local branch of the Red Cross all asked to receive equipment and material from Jewish institutions or private persons.109

Some of the textiles had been sold to poor families through the social welfare office, but in June it was reported that the remaining textiles needed to be cleaned and thus no further distribution was authorized.110 It was clear at this point that “the general principle is that Jewish property should not be given for social purposes.”111 This was a total change in policy in comparison with the actions and promises made in May. The reason was that “all property that remained belonged to the Jewish owners until a new law regarding this would be passed.”112 The issue of Jewish property had not been solved at the legal level, and so the whole process of redistribution was delayed, causing disappointment among those who expected economic compensation for their work and support.

To conclude, Hungarians working for the Hungarian authorities and at other national institutions expected to be compensated for their support and the work they had performed in connection with the deportation of the Jews. They claimed to be the rightful beneficiaries of Jewish property. This shows how a mechanism of exploitation operated in which the enrichment of Christian Hungarians at the expense of Jews was justified by alleged national merits.

Houses and Flats

Jews owned a significant share of the houses in the city. On May 10, the local newspaper reported that “the solution of the Jewish question solved the problem of housing in a radical way.”113 On May 9, people in the city had already begun to submit requests to receive Jewish houses and flats. It was decided that public institutions should be given priority in this redistribution. The second priority was “civil servants who did not have any place of their own”, because there were several cases in which the families of civil servants rented their dwellings.114 The third category was civil servants who had flats that were deemed too small.

This announcement clearly shows how civil servants were promised compensation in the form of Jewish homes for their assistance in the process of rounding Jews up. It is likely that many civil servants expected to receive benefits for their work and that this was their primary motivation in helping in (instead of protesting against) the ghettoization and deportation of the city’s Jews.

In the course of the following days, the prefect changed the priority regarding the redistribution of houses and emphasized social welfare, meaning that poor families with many children or without houses would be first to receive lodgings that had been stolen from Jews.115 Social welfare institutions such as kindergartens and retirement homes were also given priority.116

The estimated number of Jewish houses in mid-May was around 1,200 out of 6,000 dwellings. Still, this was only an estimate, as Jews from other places owned houses in the city and the final report had not yet been completed. The final outcome of the redistribution was of “great public interest” according to the local newspaper, since Jews had possessed a large share of what was referred to as “national property.”117

The expectations rose among Hungarians that they would benefit materially from the redistribution of Jewish homes. The newspaper reported that “everyone wants to move to Szatmár[németi],” and by the end of May as many as 2,099 requests to move to the city had indeed arrived. It was announced in the newspaper that “Christian [Hungarian] working families with many children” would be the first to be given homes. People who requested houses because they wanted more comfortable and larger accommodations would be denied.118

The inventory of the houses was undertaken by a special finance committee consisting of twelve members. They made a list of all items of furniture and appointed a caretaker, who either rented the house to a Hungarian renter or sealed it. The rent was paid to a public account. According to the report, because of the shortage of policemen, some Jewish houses had been entered before the special commission came.119 However, in my view it is not unlikely that officials also abused their mandate in the interest of their own economic gain. This was the case in other places in Northern Transylvania.120

The redistribution of houses started in mid-June when the first families with several children moved in, and another fifty families were about to follow.121 According to the newspaper, Jews had occupied the best houses in the city, while several thousand Hungarians had been living in poor conditions. By this time, 3,100 requests had been received. “A new happy Hungarian life has started,” reported the newspaper on June 23.122 Rose Markovits claimed that “a Hungarian peasant family took over our house and they loved it,” because “for the first time they had a decent home and they had gotten something that they had never had before.”123

By the beginning of July, 360 Hungarian workers had received one-room and two-room houses and flats, while another 4,000 requests were pending.124 The constant increase in requests reveals how large a share of the public had an interest in obtaining Jewish property. By the end of July, all “Jewish” real estate and flats had a caretaker appointed and were seized as Hungarian state property.125

The newspaper reported that “the building of the new Szatmár[németi] will go smoothly when real estate is in the hands of the state.”126 Flats and houses were rented out and the newspaper announced that “everyone will have a place to live.” This work was undertaken by 40 teachers, who compiled a registry of all of the houses.127 Schools were waiting to take over the buildings that had been used by Jewish schools and, according to the newspaper, the “whole nation is waiting to get its property back.”128

In mid-August, it was announced that 3,260 families would receive houses or flats and that 1,800 had already moved in. These dwellings were given first to poor people and civil servants and then were distributed to the rest of the public.129 In the end, civil servants were compensated for the assistance they had provided in rounding up Jews and seizing their property. Also a large segment of society benefitted materially from the transfer, as around 40 percent of all houses and flats in the city were redistributed.

In conclusion, the deportation of Jews enabled a major redistribution of houses and flats to a large share of the Christian Hungarian public in general and the Hungarian elite in particular, as they received credit and compensation for this major transformation. Houses and flats were distributed as a form of social welfare, but were also given as compensation to civil servants who had participated in the deportation of Jews. The position of civil servants allowed them opportunities to gain economic advantages, both legally and illegally. This shows how a mechanism of ethno-racial exploitation functioned. The large redistribution of Jewish property to the Hungarian public was a way of legitimizing the deportations and currying popular support.

Redistribution Delayed

In June, the principles for the redistribution and re-Hungarianizing of Jewish property were circulated, with the general criterion being to give priority to public projects.130 According to the local newspaper, former Jewish property became “national property and a national gift,” as the property was being restored to its “rightful owners.”131 However, the process of redistribution was delayed and all Jewish valuables were stored in Hotel Pannonia (formerly Hotel Dacia) and in warehouses. According to the local newspaper, the Hungarian authorities accumulated one wagonload of gold in total as well as “luxury products of the finest quality.”132

The Hungarian Government was delayed in the redistribution of Jewish property, and it was only in June, two months after the expropriations had begun, that a Commissioner for Jewish property was appointed.133 Decrees regarding Jewish property had been contradictory; at first, the Hungarian government had decreed that clothing would be sold as part of a social welfare program, but later this and other decrees were suspended.

On August 10, the criterion for redistribution was finally announced. Jewish property was to be used for the “public and national good.” This included redistribution to, first and foremost, military organizations (such as the Levente Associations, which were paramilitary youth organizations), social and religious institutions, cultural houses, churches and educational institutions, all of which, of course, were regarded (and legally defined) as Christian Hungarian.134 With regards to the redistribution of property to private individuals, the following priorities were established:


1. Surviving members of soldiers’ families;

2. World War I veterans;

3. Poor families with several children;

4. Disabled or impoverished people without property;

5. Partisan fighters (fighting for Hungary in non-regular units);

6. Workers earning less than 200 pengő per month;

7. Families who had lost property because of bombing;

8. Pregnant women;

9. Civil servants with eight or more children.135


This list of priorities clearly reflects considerations of social welfare. It also recognized and privileged groups that were fighting for the “nation,” i.e. soldiers and their families, as well as civil servants.

Even though the criteria for redistribution had been decided, the newspaper announced on August 12 that the huge task of completing the inventory had not been finished.136 The city was bombed on August 16 and 17 and again on September 19 and 20, and many people left for the countryside. Shops and warehouses were not guarded and there was some looting, according to a police report.137 Ultimately, only a fraction of the property was redistributed. Following the chaos created by the advancing front and the bombing of the city, confiscated Jewish property remained in warehouses or was stolen.138

In conclusion, a significant amount of the property that had been expropriated from Jews was never redistributed because the process was delayed, and during this time a great deal of property was stolen or lost. The redistribution was intended to provide social welfare and to reward “national merits.” The delay of redistribution meant that the Hungarian people’s expectation that they would be given some part of this “national gift” was frustrated.


The main method of re-Hungarianizing the economy in the city of Szatmárnémeti was the ghettoization and deportation of Jews. This created an opportunity to seize, confiscate, rob, steal and redistribute Jewish assets. However, in the process of property seizure and collective thieving, a significant share of the values that were in principle to be stolen by the state was simply appropriated by individuals and never nationalized. Hungarian politicians, policemen, gendarmes, civil servants and others took part in this collective and private looting, which became a vast operation and occupied major segments of the population for several months during the summer of 1944.

Jewish property was re-Hungarianized in a process consisting of several stages. First, Jews had to declare their property. Second, the Hungarian government and individual Hungarian citizens seized property when the Jews were rounded up. The last and somewhat delayed part of the process was when the Hungarian government redistributed lodgings and real estate by appointing Hungarian caretakers, renting out dwellings, or simply giving property away. The political aim of de-Jewifying the city, which was to ensure popular support, was accomplished; however, while the properties and belongings had been re-Hungarianized on a formal level through seizure, this did not mean that all “Jewish” jobs, including positions in workshops and manufactories, were taken by Hungarians. The deportation of Jews and the redistribution of Jewish property caused significant disruptions in the economy.

Some of the properties that were seized were used as a form of social welfare. This social welfare functioned as a way of pacifying the Hungarian public and generating political support for the regime. Moreover, it helped legitimize the deportations. The seizure of Jewish property created an expectation among Hungarians that their economic situation would improve, because it was generally believed that Jews were wealthy. However, in the end, some of the property was never redistributed within the frameworks of the social welfare programs because of administrative and legal issues, and also because Hungarian rule in northern Transylvania came to an end when the Romanian army entered the city in late October 1944. One important exception was the redistribution of houses and flats, which were given to Hungarians. This did indeed constitute a huge economic transformation.

Certain sectors of economic life were severely disrupted by the loss of human capital and know-how, which created a general standstill of the economy. The Holocaust not only destroyed the Jewish community of the city, murdering its members, it also destroyed a significant part of the city’s economy. Before the German occupation, the Hungarian authorities had been cautious and implemented a gradual re-Hungarianization, but radical forces among the Hungarian elite and the new pro-German regime abandoned this approach. They seemed convinced that the operation would be economically beneficial to the Hungarian community. In reality, they paid a high price for having cleansed the city of Jews.

Hungarian leaders were convinced that a complete seizure of minority property would improve their own situation and that the gradual implementation of this policy (instead of a rapid implementation) had been the reason for the policy’s previous failure. In 1944, they therefore supported a radical policy of enacting a large-scale operation as quickly as possible that was meant to prove them right. Eventually, this turned out to be an illusion, as it created major economic disturbances and a political economy of exploitation. The fact that a similar process in Romania, which never involved deportation on the same scale that took place in Hungary, has similar negative economic consequences suggests that indeed the relationship between the two (ethno-racial nationalizing and economic stagnation) was causal.139 These two cases of Hungarianization and Romanianization clearly exemplify the economic problems (beyond the obvious human ones) involved in ethnic and racial discrimination and exploitation.

In the interwar period, the Romanian elite in Szatmárnémeti believed that it was possible to Romanianize all sectors of the economy, even though the Romanians were themselves a minority in the city. The Hungarian elite believed in much the same way that they could re-Hungarianize all sectors of society when the city again fell under Hungarian rule in 1940. In both cases, however, the minorities succeeded in maintaining their presence in or control over important parts of the economy. Ironically, this was partly the result of the successful nationalizing in the public sector, which increased economic space for minorities in the private sphere one. Another reason was that minorities found ways to circumvent the legal efforts to nationalize the economy, which they were able to undermine through bribes and political pressure.

The Hungarian elite in particular promoted the elimination of Jews as part of the “Final Solution” with the support of Hungarian society in order to achieve a complete re-Hungarianization of the economy. In my view, support for this policy can be partly explained by the stepwise process by which it was implemented. When one measure did not produce the desired effect, this only heightened expectations and increased pressure to devise more radical measures with which to improve the economic situation in the context of the war. In the case of Szatmárnémeti, wealthy Jews remained in their positions, and some were exempt from legal measures, despite the anti-Jewish legislation. This delay in implementing the most vicious measures reinforced the public demand and support for a more radical solution. This argument and mechanism echoes the ideas put forward by Raul Hilberg, who claims that the decision to annihilate the Jews required “the implementation of systematic administrative measures in successive steps.”140 Hilberg claims that first Jews were racially defined; second, expropriation operations were initiated; third, Jews were concentrated in ghettos; and finally, the decision was made to annihilate them.

The discrimination against Jews and the promotion of Hungarians in the economic sphere led to short-term economic gains for Hungarians, but created several detrimental social mechanisms that reinforced a vicious circle. The most important was the mechanism of exploitation, meaning that Hungarians could live off the work of others by looting and robbing their property. The Hungarian state used formal and direct discrimination and seized all Jewish property in the name of an anti-Semitically defined nation. The state redistributed property based on ethno-racial identity, which created a belief among Hungarians that they would be rewarded in economic terms merely because of their alleged ethno-national merits.

The relatively strong local support for and lack of resistance against the deportation of Jews was driven, above all, by the economic ambitions of the local Hungarian community. Local Hungarians had economic incentives, namely the prospect of being given property that the Jews had had to leave behind. Jews in the city trusted their leaders and stayed, despite warnings and rumors about mass murders. The economy was totally re-Hungarianized when the Jews were deported in the summer of 1944. However, the consequence was that the Hungarian economy and society was paralyzed. Hungarian leaders believed that the deportation of Jews and the redistribution of “Jewish property” would amount to “the salvation of the Hungarian economy,” but instead the Holocaust became a dead-end of human and material losses for everyone. The Holocaust in Hungary should therefore primarily be explained with local Hungarian economic motives, which overlapped with the Nazi German Final Solution.


Archival Sources

Direcţia Judeţeană Satu Mare a Arhivelor Naţionale (DJSM), Prefectura Judeţului Satu Mare (PSJM)

Magyar Nemzeti Levéltár Országos Levéltára (MNL OL)

University of Southern California (USC), Shoah Foundation Institute (SHI)


Primary Sources


Szamos. Issues of 1944.


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1 Paul Brass, Ethnic Groups and the State (Totowa, N.J.: Barnes & Noble Book, 1985), 88–89.

2 Rogers Brubaker, Nationalism Reframed: Nationhood and the National Question in the New Europe (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996), 63, 84, 88, 103.

3 Anders E. B. Blomqvist, Economic Nationalizing in the Ethnic Borderlands of Hungary and Romania. Inclusion, Exclusion and Annihilation in Szatmár/Satu-Mare 1867–1944 (Stockholm: Department of History, Stockholm University, 2014), 155–60.

4 Ştefan Christian Ionescu, Jewish Resistance to “Romanianization”, 1940–44 (New York: Palgrave, 2015), 184.

5 Blomqvist, Economic Nationalizing in the Ethnic Borderlands of Hungary and Romania, 355–58.

6 Ibid., 336.

7 Gábor Kádár and Zoltán Vági, Self-Financing Genocide: the Gold Train, the Becher Case and the Wealth of Hungarian Jews (Budapest: Central European University Press, 2004), 85–86.

8 Magyar Nemzeti Levéltár Országos Levéltára (MNL OL) [National Archives of Hungary], 150 IV. k.fő 30 tétel Szatmárnémeti, 773–74, 789.

9 Martin Dean, Robbing the Jews: The Confiscating of Jewish Property in the Holocaust, 19331945 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008), 2, 16.

10 Götz Aly and Christian Gerlach, Das letzte Kapitel: Der Mord an den ungarischen Juden 19441945 (Frankfurt: Fischer-Taschenbuch, 2002), 186-ff, 212-ff.; Tatjana Tönsmeyer, “The Robbery of Jewish Property in Eastern European States Allied With Nazi Germany,” in Robbery and Restitution, ed. M. Dean et al. (New York: Berghahn, 2007), 81–98; Krisztián Ungváry, “Robbing the Dead: The Hungarian Contribution to the Holocaust,” in Facing the Nazi Genocide: non-Jews and Jews in Europe, ed. B. Kosmala and F. Tych (Berlin: Metropol, 2004), 231–61; Michael Mann, The Dark Side of Democracy: Explaining Ethnic Cleansing (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2005), 298–301.

11 Kádár and Vági, Self-Financing Genocide.

12 Krisztián Ungváry, A Horthy-rendszer mérlege: Diszkrimináció, szociálpolitika és antiszemitizmus Magyországon 1919–1944 (Pécs–Budapest: Jelenkor, 2013), 606.

13 Krisztián Ungváry, “‘Nagy jelentőségű szociálpolitikai akció’ – adalékok a zsidó vagyon begyűjtéséhez és elosztásához Magyarországon 1944-ben,” in 1956-os Intézet Évkönyv, 10 (Budapest: n.p., 2002), 287–321.

14 Victor Karady, The Jews of Europe in the Modern Era (Budapest; Central European University Press, 2004), 321; Mária Kovács, Liberal Professions and Illiberal Politics: Hungary from the Habsburgs to the Holocaust (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1994).

15 Mann, The Dark Side of Democracy, 302.

16 Kádár and Vági, Self-Financing Genocide, 85.

17 Kádár and Vági, “‘Solving the Jewish Question’ versus the ‘Interests of the Production’,” in The Holocaust in Hungary: A European Perspective, ed. J. Molnár (Budapest: Balassi, 2005), 518–31 (530).

18 For the Subcarpathian area, see Yeshayahu Jelinek, The Carpathian Diaspora: The Jews of Subcarpathian Rus’ and Mukachevo 18481948 (Boulder, CO: East European Monographs, 2007).

19 Ferenc Horváth, “Népcsoportpolitika, szociális kompenzáció és gazdasági jóvátétel,” Múltunk 3 (2006): 102–43.

20 Historical overviews on the history of Jews in Transylvania have only sporadic information about economic issues. See Ladislau Gyémánt, Jews of Transylvania: A Historical Destiny (Cluj-Napoca: Romanian Cultural Institute, 2004); Attila Gidó, On Transylvanian Jews: An Outline of a Common History (Cluj-Napoca: Institutul pentru Studierea Problemelor Minorităţilor Naţionale, 2009); T. Friling et al., eds., International Commission on the Holocaust in Romania, Final Report (Bucharest: Polirom, 2005); Béla Vago, “The Destruction of the Jews of Transylvania”, in Hungarian-Jewish Studies, ed. R. Braham (New York: World Federation of Hungarian Jews, 1966), 171–221; Moshe Carmilly-Weinberger, A zsidóság története Erdélyben (16231944) (Budapest: MTA Judaisztikai Kutatócsoport, 1995).

21 Randolph L. Braham, Genocide and Retribution: the Holocaust in Hungarian-ruled Northern Transylvania (Boston: Kluwer-Nijhoff, 1983), 77–78.

22 Ágnes Hegyi and Dániel Lőwy, “Szatmárnémeti,” in A magyarországi holokauszt földrajzi enciklopédiája, vol. 2, ed. R. Braham (Budapest: Park, 2007), 1039–48 (1044).

23 Szamos, April 6, 1944, 6.

24 University of Southern California (USC) Shoah Foundation Institute (SFI), testimony 8680.

25 USC SFI, testimonies 18970, 21264, 24194, 25815, 29247, 31262, 50370, tape 2.

26 Rivka Handler, We, The Fugitives: The Dramatic Story of a Young Family’s Escape from the Holocaust (New York: Rivka Handler, 1988), 17.

27 USC SFI, testimony 14902.

28 USC SFI, testimonies 13361, 24194.

29 Braham, Genocide and Retribution, 16–17.

30 International Commission on the Holocaust in Romania, Final Report, 262.

31 Braham, Genocide and Retribution, 17.

32 “Szatmár zsidótlanitása,” Szamos, May 15, 1944, 4.

33 MNL OL, K 149 BM PT1 651/2 73 doboz 1941-7-6000 651.f. 2/1944-4-1006 IV.

34 Szamos, April 11, 1944, 3.

35 Braham, Genocide and Retribution, 16.

36 Already 48 shops in Avasújváros were closed on 14 April. Direcţia Judeţeană Satu Mare a Arhivelor Naţionale (DJSM) [Local branch of the Romanian National Archives in Satu Mare], Prefectura Judeţului Satu Mare (PJSM) [Prefecture of Satu Mare County] 1944/111, 46.

37 Szamos, April 17, 1944, 2.

38 Ibid., April 21, 1944, 6.

39 DJSM PJSM 1944/111, 43.

40 Eugene Levai, Black Book on the Martyrdom of Hungarian Jewry (Zurich: Central European Times, 1948), 126.

41 Braham, Genocide and Retribution, 77–78.

42 Szamos, April 28, 1944, 1.

43 USC SFI, testimony 50370 tape 3.

44 Another possibility is that politics played a role in which the new regime aimed at filling the top positions with new leaders and that Kölcsey was forced to resign.

45 Braham, Genocide and Retribution, 31, 101.

46 Ibid., 21.

47 Szamos, April 27, 1944, 1.

48 Ibid., April 28, 1944, 2.

49 Ibid., 3.

50 Ibid., April 17, 1944, 2.

51 Ibid., April 28, 1944, 2.

52 Ibid., April 29, 1944, 2.

53 Ibid., 2.

54 Hegyi and Lőwy, “Szatmárnémeti,” 1044–45.

55 Decree ME 1610/1944 qtd in Szamos May 1, 1944, 1; Háráv Náftáli Stern, ed., Emlékezz Szatmárra: a szatmári zsidóság emlékkönyve (Bene-Berak: n.p., 1984), 39.

56 Szamos, May 1, 1944, 1.

57 Hegyi and Lőwy, “Szatmárnémeti,” 1045.

58 Csaba Csirák, ed., Szatmári zsidó emlékek (Szatmárnémeti: n.p., 2001), 140.

59 Braham, Genocide and Retribution, 24, 31–32.

60 Ibid., 31.

61 Szamos, May 6, 1944, 3.

62 Ibid.

63 USC SFI, testimonies 8102, 29247, 41683.

64 Csirák, Szatmári zsidó emlékek, 143.

65 Szamos, May 12, 1944, 3.

66 USC SFI, testimony 14701.

67 Police Report, Jan 1944, MNL OL PT1 651/2 73 doboz 1941-7-6000, 651.f. 2/1944-4-1006.

68 USC SFI, testimony 21264.

69 USC SFI, testimony 25815.

70 Ronald W. Zweig, The Gold Train: The Destruction of the Jews and the Looting of Hungary (New York: Morrow, 2002), 218.

71 USC SFI, testimony 50370 tape 3; 13361; Náftáli Stern, ed., Emlékezz Szatmárra, 13; Braham, Genocide and Retribution, 104.

72 Braham, Genocide and Retribution, 104.

73 USC SFI, testimony 14701.

74 Náftáli Stern, ed., Emlékezz Szatmárra, 14.

75 Decree no. 12.880/1944 12 May 1944.

76 Kádár and Vági, “‘Solving the Jewish Question’ versus the ‘Interests of the Production’,” 527–29.

77 Ibid., 520–21.

78 Csirák, ed., Szatmári zsidó emlékek, 139.

79 Braham, Genocide and Retribution, 31.

80 Order issued 13 May 1944, DJSM PJSM 1944/56, 24–25.

81 Kádár and Vági, Self-Financing Genocide.

82 USC SFI, testimony 50370 tape 3.

83 USC SFI, testimonies 754, 18970; DEGOB protocol 133.

84 USC SFI, testimony 2281.

85 USC SFI, testimony 6837.

86 Zoltán Tibori Szabó, “The Fate of the Transylvanian Jews in the Period Following World War II, 1945–948” in J. Molnár, ed., The Holocaust in Hungary (Budapest; Balassi, 2005), 360–81 (362). Tamás Stark, “A magyar zsidóság a vészkorszakban és a második világháború után: Statisztikai áttekintés,” Regio – Kisebbség, politika, társadalom 3 (1993): 140–50 (149).

87 Szamos, May 22, 1944, 3.

88 Ibid., May 23, 1944, 7.

89 Kádár and Vági, Self-Financing Genocide, xxi-iv.

90 DJSM PJSM 1944/56, 24-5.

91 Ibid., 29.

92 Ibid., 33.

93 Szamos, 9 May 1944, 3.

94 Ibid., May 11, 1944, 3.

95 Ibid., May 11, 1944, 3.

96 DJSM PJSM 1944/118, 96–110.

97 MNL OL 150 IV. k.fő 30 tétel Szatmárnémeti, 768.

98 PJSM Comisar guvernamentar al aprov. publica 1944/22-2, 31-2.

99 Ibid.

100 Ibid.

101 PJSM Comisar guvernamentar al aprov. publica 1944/22-2, 25.

102 DJSM PJSM 1944/56, 36.

103 Ibid., 1944/56, 91–158.

104 PJSM Comisar guvernamentar al aprov. publica 1944/22-2, 27.

105 In another case the teachers of the city of Nagybánya who had undertaken the inventory of the property that the Jews had left behind requested, “as the nation’s humble servants”, to be compensated with “textiles, linen, shoes or perhaps furniture.” PJSM Comisar guvernamentar al aprov. publica 1944/22-2, 1.

106 Ibid., 1944/22-2, 2, 82.

107 Szamos, May 31, 1944, 3.

108 PJSM Comisar guvernamentar al aprov. publica 1944/22-2, 5, 44, 64, 87, 111, 113, 115, 125–26, 129, 198–99, 210.

109 Ibid., 1944/22-2, 4, 18, 34–35, 67, 83, 105–08.

110 MNL OL 150 IV. k. fő 30 tétel Szatmárnémeti, 778; Jews had been hiding textiles that were found, Szamos, June 13, 1944, 3.

111 MNL OL 150 IV. k. fő 30 tétel Szatmárnémeti, 778–79.

112 Ibid.

113 Szamos, May 10, 1944, 3.

114 Ibid.

115 Ibid., May 11, 1944, 2.

116 Ibid., May 12, 1944, 7.

117 Ibid., May 16, 1944, 3.

118 Ibid., May 22, 1944, 4.

119 MNL OL 150 IV. k. fő 30 tétel Szatmárnémeti, 778–80.

120 MNL OL K523 BM Államvédelmi Központ általános i-1944-2-78, q.f. Karsai, László, “The Last Chapter of the Holocaust”, Yad Vashem Studies, 34 (2004), 293–329 (321).

121 Szamos, June 14, 1944, 3.

122 Ibid., June 22, 1944, 2; 23 June, 3.

123 USC SFI, testimonies 13361.

124 Szamos, July 7, 1944, 3.

125 Ibid., July 26, 1944, 5; 31 July, 3.

126 Ibid., July 31, 1944, 3.

127 Ibid., Aug. 3, 1944, 2.

128 Ibid., Aug. 5, 1944, 3.

129 Ibid., Aug. 12, 1944, 3

130 DJSM PJSM 1944/56, 159.

131 Szamos, July 6, 1944, 1.

132 Ibid., July 13, 1944, 3.

133 Zweig, The Gold Train, 219.

134 In Nagybánya confiscated Jewish houses were used as kindergartens, hospitals, the Levente Association, the police, the Reformed Church’s school, teachers’ and clerks’ residences, DJSM PJSM 1944/133, 40. The situation was similar in Csenger, Nagysomkút, Avasújváros and Kápolnamonostor. See ibid., 10, 71, 73, 85.

135 DJSM PJSM 1944/56, 201–04.

136 Szamos, Aug. 12, 1944, 3.

137 MNL OL PT1 651/2 73 doboz 1941-7-6000 651.f. 2/1944-4-1006, 86.

138 According to Zweig, “It is not clear what percentage of the movable assets owned by Jews was actually handed over to the central government, and what remained ‘unofficially’ in the hands of the local police and Financial Directorate officials.” Zweig, The Gold Train, 219.

139 Ionescu, Jewish Resistance to “Romanianization” 1940–44, 186.

140 Raul Hilberg, The Destruction of the European Jews, vol. 1 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2003), 5, 49–51.

pdfVolume 4 Issue 3 CONTENTS

Kinga Frojimovics and Éva Kovács

Jews in a ‘Judenrein’ City: Hungarian Jewish Slave Laborers in Vienna (1944–1945)1


In the early summer and autumn of 1944, more than 55,000 Hungarian Jews had been deported to Austria as forced laborers. 17,500 of them arrived in Strasshof from various Hungarian ghettos in the summer of 1944. There, a real “slave market” was opened to meet the demands of Austrian entrepreneurs who urgently needed manpower in their factories and farms. The deported families—mainly mothers, children and grandparents—had to work in Vienna and in Lower Austria on farms, in trade, and in particular in the “war industry” (for example, in construction companies, bread factories, or oil refineries) as forced laborers. The working and living conditions of the forced laborers varied widely depending on the camp in which they were housed, the branch of industry in which they had to work, and the conduct of the local military administration in the camps and the various workplaces. In this essay, we highlight two fundamental aspects of the topic which are connected to two different methodological approaches to socio-historical understanding. On the one hand, we re-localize the history of Hungarian Jewish slave labor in Vienna on the basis of historical sources, documents and testimonies. On the other, using the same testimonies and archival materials, we portray the everyday lives and typical survival strategies of slave laborers.


Keywords: Holocaust, Nazi persecution, Hungarian Jews, Austria, forced labor, oral history, urban spaces, World War II


On June 14, 1944, Adolf Eichmann, who was then in Hungary directing the deportation of the Jews of Hungary to Auschwitz, unexpectedly offered Rezső Kasztner the following deal: in exchange for 5 million Swiss francs, he would be willing to ship 30,000 Jews to Austria for forced labor.2 By then, Kasztner—the vice president of the Budapest Jewish Rescue Committee (Budapesti Segélyező és Mentőbizottság, in Hebrew Vaadat ha’Ezza ve’ha’Hatzalah), an organization of Jewish self-rescue—had been engaged in negotiations with Eichmann for months. While in the background of this unexpected offer was the fact that SS-Brigadeführer Hanns Blaschke, the Nazi mayor of Vienna, had demanded workers and the decision to send Hungarian Jews to Austria to meet his request had already been made, Eichmann presented the offer to Kasztner as a special favor.3

As the Jews from the first, second and third zones had already been deported to Auschwitz, members of the Budapest Jewish Rescue Committee and the local Jewish leaders started to select the people to be sent to Vienna and its vicinity from the fourth deportation zone located in southern Hungary.4 (The last trains from the third deportation zone left for Auschwitz on June 16.) Therefore, people from among the Jewish population of the next zone were selected for deportation to Strasshof, a camp near Vienna. While the deportation of the Jews from this zone took place between June 25 and 28 (in total, 40,505 Jews were taken to Auschwitz from four ghettos), five trainloads of Jews, altogether 15,011 people, were taken to Strasshof between June 27 and 30. 564 deportees arrived in Strasshof from Baja, 6,641 from Debrecen, 5,239 from Szeged, and 2,567 from Szolnok.5

The report of the lager physician of Strasshof, which registered the deaths of Jews deported to the camp from Hungary (the first entry is dated July 1, 1944), says a great deal about the circumstances of the Strasshof deportations. In total, six mainly elderly people died on July 1, five of them because of heatstroke (Hitzschlag), according to the physician’s notes.6

In Strasshof a veritable “slave market” was opened to satisfy the demands of Austrian entrepreneurs who urgently needed manpower in their factories and on their estates and farms. The deported families, consisting primarily of mothers, children, and grandparents, had to work in Vienna and in Lower Austria as slave laborers in agriculture, trade, and in particular in the war industry, for example, in construction companies, bread factories, oil refineries, etc. Both the official sources and the testimonies indicate that the working and living conditions of slave laborers varied widely depending on the camp in which they were detained, the branch of industry in which they were compelled to work, and the behavior of local organs of the military administration.

In 2014, the Vienna Wiesenthal Institute initiated a remembrance tour concerning this short period in the history of the Holocaust in Hungary.7 We, the authors of this article, participated in the pilot project of the tour. During the research phase, we collected hundreds of testimonies, original documents, photos, and protocols of the People’s Court, etc., in order to construct and contextualize the history of Hungarian Jewish slave labor in Vienna on the micro-historical level. As a result of this research project, we identified more than 100 entrepreneurs and firms (e.g. Ankerbrotfabrik, Shell Oil Company, Siemens-Werke, Waagner-Biro AG, Städtisches Elektrizitäts- und Gaswerk, Papierfabrik ROJA, etc.) which had exploited Hungarian Jewish slave labor.8 In the summer of 2014, an interactive website was developed displaying the sixty most important places in Vienna. It shows the topography of suffering of the Hungarian Jews in Vienna in the last year of World War II.

In this article, we highlight two fundamental aspects of the topic which are connected to two different methodological approaches to socio-historical understanding. On the one hand, in part two, we re-localize the history of Hungarian Jewish slave labor in Vienna on the basis of historical sources, documents and testimonies. Our analysis moves as close as possible to the specific sites of Hungarian slave labor and attempts to ‘rewrite’ the urban landscape of Vienna. In this part we also discuss typical social spaces of slave labor in Vienna. On the other hand, in part three, our socio-historical analysis unfolds in the opposite direction: using the same testimonies and archival materials, we portray the everyday lives and typical survival strategies of slave laborers.


Methodological Remarks

The historiography of this episode of the Hungarian Holocaust has not yet examined specific urban spaces. Although the books by Szabolcs Szita and Eleonore Lappin-Eppel contain fragments on particular events that can be localized, they tell a concise and coherent (hi)story in which spatial, socio-geographical specificities do not play an important role. Tim Cole’s place-based research on the social history of ghettoization and the deportation of Hungarian Jews offers more conceptual similarities and can therefore help us arrive at answers to our questions.9 As he writes, “my fear was that if I cited these passages within a chapter examining, say, daily life in Hungarian ghettos, I would end up erasing the space-specific uniqueness of this particular trace.”10 In his book, Cole decided to tell ‘small stories,’ “each of which reflects the possibilities and limitations of a particular material trace of this past.”11 In this chapter we show the typical places and scenes of slave labor using, like Cole, ‘small stories,’ which function like snapshots rather than narratives.

Before presenting such snapshots, we provide clarification concerning the sources and methods on which our research is based. The typical archival sources, on which we drew before expanding the methodological scope of our research would not have permitted us to provide nuanced descriptions of the sites where the slave laborers were compelled to reside and work and the ways, in which these sites were interpreted by the slave laborers themselves. These sources—primarily lists of firms, hospital documentation, death certificates, commands and orders, and the protocols of the People’s Court—lack not only the personal views of the slave laborers themselves but also socio-historical information regarding the various places. This gap can be filled with personal diaries, testimonies and oral history interviews.12

In recent decades, testimonies and oral history interviews have become ‘ordinary’ historical sources in the historiography of the Holocaust. One of the first ambitious and successful experiments was the book by Christopher Browning on the Starachowice camp. Browning managed to construct a history of this camp largely on the basis of testimonies, thus helping to change the status of oral history sources in mainstream history-writing.13 Although we share his reservations concerning the authenticity and factual accuracy of testimonies, we do not follow his ‘accumulative’ methodology, which is based on the compilation of an allegedly sufficient critical mass of testimonies that “can be tested against one another.”14 We also borrow the anthropological method of extended case study, as discussed by Mario Luis Small, the crux of which is that the generalizable features of individual cases provide chances for deduction. In Small’s words, “the approaches call for logical rather than statistical inference, for case- rather than sample-based logic, for saturation rather than representation as the stated aims of research. The approaches produce more logically sensible hypotheses and more transparent types of empirical statements.”15 Hence, although the following interview excerpts are uniquely complex, the unfolding life strategies can be considered relevant in other cases of Hungarian Jewish slave labor in Vienna.

An additional remark is due, since these interviews were conducted with child survivors. As children, they not only perceived things differently than adults would have, but their everyday activities were also different from those of their parents and grandparents. Although literary historians and psychotherapists have been studying children’s experiences and traumas of the Holocaust for a long time, children testimonies, with a few exceptions,16 have not been made a basic source of socio-historical research yet.

Re-localisation of the History of Slave Labor in Vienna

Deportations to Austria

The Jewish slave laborers who were deported from Hungary were under the command of the Higher Commander of the SS and the Police in Hungary, Sondereinsatzkommando Aussenkommando Wien headed by SS-Obersturmbannführer Hermann Krumey. Krumey’s office was in the building of the former Jewish high school of Vienna at Castellezgasse 35 in the 2nd district of the city.

On January 10, 1945, Kasztner, who was closely observing the fate of the Strasshof group of deportees, met with Krumey in Vienna. In the course of this meeting, Krumey provided the following information concerning the number of deportees: according to his records, 17,500-18,000 Jews had arrived in Vienna and its vicinity from Hungary.17 By early 1945, about 1,000 of them had died as a consequence of “natural causes or sickness.” In addition, 170 Jews were taken to Bergen-Belsen and some to Auschwitz as “punishment,” to quote Krumey. From July 1944 until May 1945, many of the slave laborers died as a result of the bad living and working conditions, because of the almost permanent bombardments in Vienna, or during the evacuation of the camps in death marches toward Mauthausen and its satellite camps. During these death marches, many Hungarian Jewish slave laborers were massacred.

Krumey did not inform Kasztner that diabetic deportees, for example, did not receive insulin, since the medicine was only distributed to Wehrmacht soldiers. Diabetic Jews were first taken to the so-called Krankenlager Laxenburg. If they were still alive, they were deported to concentration and extermination camps from there. Air raids also took a heavier toll than was expected, since in numerous camps Jews were forbidden to use the bomb shelters.

According to Krumey’s records, the age distribution of the 16,600 Jewish slave laborers who had been deported from Hungary and who found themselves in Vienna and its vicinity in January 1945 was the following:




0–2 years of age



3–6 years of age



7–12 years of age



13–14 years of age



15–20 years of age



above 21 years of age




In January of 1945, then, almost one fourth of the Jewish slave laborers deported from Hungary to Vienna and its vicinity, some 4,000 people, were children under the age of 14. Unfortunately, we do not know more about Krumey’s records, because on April 13, during the siege of Vienna, the documents in Krumey’s office on Castellezgasse concerning the Strasshof deportees were destroyed.18


The Wohnlager

In Vienna, the so-called Wohnlager was the most characteristic form of accommodation for the slave laborers. These family camps were set up mainly in school buildings in almost every district of the city.19 The following five schools housed the largest camps: 283 Jews at Schrankenberggasse 32 in the 10th district, 585 Jews at Bischoffgasse 10 in the 12th district, 450 Jews at Hackengasse 11 in the 15th district, 639 Jews at Mengergasse 33 in the 21st district, and 358 Jews at Konstanziagasse 24 in the 22nd district.20

In some of the schools, instruction was still going on in the early summer of 1944, so Viennese civilians must have been aware of the presence of the deportees. However, the entries that we found in the relevant chronicle of the Wohnlager-school on Bischoffgasse make no mention whatsoever of the Jewish slave laborers,21 in spite of the fact that at Bischoffgasse 10 there was a large lager under the control of the city of Vienna and the command of a municipal officer, Lagerführer Franz Knoll. Nearly 600 Jews who had been deported from Hungary lived in the camp, including 59 children.22 The elderly and the sick were left to perish in Lager 12 (they were taken to the attic of the school where no care was provided for them). Sándor Hargittai, who was eleven years old in 1944 and whose grandmother was among those who perished in the attic, remembered the events as follows: “They left food in front of the entrance of the attic. Every morning they reported the dead.”23 In contrast, the children who were able to work and even pregnant women who were giving birth were taken to hospitals. For example, in August 1944, nine Jewish children housed in the Wohnlager in the school were hospitalized with measles. The oldest among them was eight years old and the youngest was merely two. Katalin Dér, who was born in Szeged in 1914, was also hospitalized and gave birth to her daughter, Zsuzsanna, on December 28, 1944, in the hospital at Malzgasse 16.24

In these camps, the oldest and youngest inmates could usually work inside the camps and did not have to leave the camps to perform extremely hard labor in factories or help clear away rubble. There were even places where the elderly managed to provide regular instruction for the children.

The needs of the inmates in the various camps were met to varying degrees. In some places the inmates starved, but in others the camp commander gave permission to the older women who stayed in the camp during the day to cook for the inmates while the younger ones worked outside the camp. In camps in which supplies were scant, children had to leave the camp in secret and try to beg for food or food stamps from the people of Vienna, even if their command of German was weak. If caught, they were regularly severely punished. The memories related to being locked up for these activities have remained painful for many survivor children up to the present day.


The scary part was that during the bombing only elderly people and young children were at home. The abled-bodied people were working. (…) As a matter of fact one day my mother asked me to go out in the streets of Vienna and beg for food stamps from the Viennese people. (…) One day I went out to do this and the Lagerführer of the concentration camp caught me and she took me down to the cellar, to the bomb shelter, and locked me up in a dark room and she said she was going to kill me because I was not allowed to do that. (…) I was in this dark cellar, closed up mainly for two days without any food. (Pearl Zimmerman, Visual History Archive USC Shoah Foundation=VHA 40580)25

From November 1944 onward, with the air raids becoming more and more frequent, the situation in the camps deteriorated dramatically. Numerous camps were bombed and many Hungarian Jewish slave laborers died as a consequence.


Plants of the War Industry, Municipal Public Utilities and Small Family Businesses

Those who were able to work had to leave the Wohnlager and go to plants of the war industry, such as Vienna’s bread factory, the Ankerbrotfabrik, facilities used by construction companies like Arnoldi, Papirfabrik ROJA, etc.26 The big factories had built barracks for POWs and forced laborers earlier inside the factories. Oftentimes, small family businesses also used slave laborers from the camps in tinker workshops, factories and workshops used in the food, clothing and shoe industry, etc. Municipal public utilities also exploited many Hungarian Jewish slave laborers: they were made to clear away snow and rubble, assist with the removal of debris and corpses from bombed buildings, clean cemeteries, etc.


The daily routine started in the camp [Wohnlager, 21. Kuenburggasse 1] and in Vienna in the early morning. At down, they gathered together the groups, [and the] foremen and the German armed guards in uniforms arrived. They took us to the workplaces. That year the daily routine in Vienna had already been disrupted by one thing: every morning, between 10 and 11 o’clock, the American bombers arrived and bombarded the city. There is also a story about this. If you asked what the time was, they answered: ten minutes before the air-raid alarm. (Testimony of Smuel Hoffman, Yad Vashem Archives=YVA, O3.12209)

During this period after November 1944, the very young and very old deportees were also taken out of the camps to clear away rubble. Many of them died in the course of this work as a consequence of collapsing buildings and repeated air raids. For example, eleven-year-old Sándor Hargittai, who was placed together with his mother, three-year-old brother, and three other relatives in the school-building at Bischoffgasse No. 10, became part of a special unit composed of twenty children between ten and fifteen years of age.


We went to bombed-out buildings right after the air raid. They used us to get into places where adults could not go. We had to carry out the corpses, the injured, and all the valuables. When we found only a limb or any other human body part, we had to carry those out too. (…) Several of us died when they fell from somewhere. They were replaced with even younger children.27

Some of the slave laborers who had to work in the large plants involved in the war-industry were housed in barracks within the factories. In addition to Flughafen Schwechat outside of Vienna, these factories included, for example, Saurer Werke Österreich AG, Shell Ölraffinerie, Ostmark Mineralölfabrik, and Heinkel Werke in Lobau. In these camps, the Hungarian Jewish slave laborers often worked together with others, mainly French, Italian, and Russian prisoners of war. In many cases, the guards were also multinational: alongside the Austrian and German SS guards and Wehrmacht officers, there were also Ukrainian and Hungarian Volksdeutsch guards. The camps in the factories were usually strictly guarded complexes where the Hungarian Jewish slave laborers would receive help almost exclusively from prisoners of war.



Whereas in the majority of the plants related to the war industry, Revier had been set up earlier, after the arrival of the prisoners of war, the sick or injured deportees of the camps and the smaller workshops or factories were treated in Viennese hospitals, meaning the hospitals on Malzgasse (Malzgasse 7 and 16, in the 2nd district), the Kinderspital (Ferdinandstrasse 23, in the 2nd district) and the Kinderheim (Mohapelgasse 3, in the 2nd district), which were managed by the Ältestenrat of Vienna. In addition to these institutions, Jewish slave laborers were also given treatment at municipal hospitals (the Allgemeines Krankenhaus, Infektionsspital, Koch-Spital, Krankenhaus Korneuburg, Krankenhaus Mödling, Meidling Notspital, Ottakringer Spital, Wilhelminen-Spital). In these hospitals a large number of Hungarian Jewish slave laborers were treated.28 We also know that Krumey charged the physicians among the deportees with the task of providing basic medical care in the camps of Vienna. Such physicians from the individual camps regularly sent reports to the Krumey-Commando. They also sent a number of sick people to hospitals. The Krumey-Commando paid 5 RMs per day per capita to the Ältestenrat for the provisions for the sick deportees who were treated in the hospitals belonging to the Ältestenrat.29 The money came from the earnings of the slave laborers, which they never received. The Nazis kept them in a separate bank account.

Rezső Kasztner visited the hospitals on Malzgasse on January 15, 1945, at which time 235 Jews were being given treatment there: 110 of them were Viennese and the rest were deportees from Hungary. The majority of the Hungarian Jewish slave laborers who were treated in the Malzgasse hospitals were hospitalized as a consequence of work-related accidents. However, there were numerous air raid victims among the patients as well. (As far as Kasztner knew, by the middle of January 1945, 64 Hungarian Jewish slave laborers had died and more than 200 had been wounded due to the air raids.)30

According to the hospital registers, all in all, more than 1,000 Hungarian Jewish slave laborers were treated in various Viennese hospitals, and about 300 of them died.31 Testimonies, memoirs and hospital registers indicate that more than 30 babies were born to mothers who had been deported to Vienna in 1944–45, though some of the newborns had died by the time the city was liberated.

Magda Kallós lived in the Wohnlager on Bischoffgasse. Her son, Gábor, was born in a hospital on Malzgasse on October 9, 1944. Mária, Kallós’s older daughter, born in 1929, who was also deported, remembered this as follows: “My brother was born in Vienna in October [19]44. – And after that, every weekend, I took down the yellow star [and] ran away from the camp to see my mother and the child.” (Mária Kallós, Voices of the 20th Century Archive=Voices 409_2_14)

The hospitals on Malzgasse also served as centers of religious life for the slave laborers. In the hospitals headed by physician-director Emil Tuchmann,32 a number of rabbis, cantors and ritual slaughterers who had been deported from Hungary found refuge. Zvi Kohn, the rabbi of Derecske, for example, was able to remain in the hospital from October 1944 up until the liberation of the city because Tuchmann had appointed him as camp rabbi. Kohn celebrated Seder in the bomb shelter of the hospital at the end of March 1945:


I conducted a Seder on two nights of Passover in the basement beit midrash. There were 150 people around the tables, and tears were pouring from everyone’s eyes. Tuchmann himself sat with us at the Seder and wept. I expounded and explained the story of the Exodus from Egypt for the entire congregation in order to evoke great mercy. Just as God redeemed our ancestors, may He redeem us quickly in our days. (…) They said there had never been a Seder like this on Passover night in the city of Vienna. No one who took part in it will ever forget this Seder for the rest of his life.33


Rezső Kasztner happened to be in Vienna at the time and was also among the participants.34

The Hungarian Jewish slave laborers had much for which to thank to Franzi Löw (1916–1997), who was employed by the IKG as a social worker from the 1930s onward. After 1938, she played an important role in rescuing Viennese Jews by providing them with false identity papers. From the summer of 1944, Löw devoted herself to helping Jewish slave laborers who had been deported from Hungary. She regularly gave them food and clothes, and she visited the camps to escort the sick to the hospitals.35


Transportation in the City

As the last part of this topographical section of our inquiry, we wish to discuss the fact that Jewish Hungarian slave laborers also had to get around the city and often used public transport. When they were brought to their workplaces and taken back to the camps (e.g. from the Wohnlager on Hackengasse to DEA Nova in Schwechat) and also on their free days, if they got leave until sundown (e.g. permission to go from the Wohnlager on Bischoffgasse to the Kinderspital to visit new-born children and their mothers), they could travel entirely legally within the city. However, some of them also traveled illegally. For instance, in spite of the odds, slave laborers managed to escape from the Lobau camp to Hackengasse. There were camps from which it proved relatively easy to escape when those who were able to work were in their workplaces. There were also more tightly guarded camps, such as in Lobau and Floridsdorf, but in order to find food, inmates regularly tried to escape from them as well. According to numerous interviews, deportees visited relatives who had been put in other camps. In order to do that, they often needed to travel by tram.


It was not allowed [to go outside], but we did it anyhow. We hid the yellow star and we started out on foot very early in the morning and we walked 6 kilometres until we reached Favoritenstrasse and there I asked how we could get to the Hackengasse. Somebody said that it was very far and at first, we have to go to the Südbahnhof and von dort mit Tram weiter. All right, we thanked him [or her, as it is not possible to know the gender from the Hungarian original] very much, and continued on foot. But he [or she] came with us and boarded the tram, bought the ticket [for us] and showed us where we had to get off. (Ilona Sima Bek, VHA 48943)

Map 2.: The Distance Between the Saurerwerke in Lobau and the Hackengasse Wohnlager
(© Vienna Wiesenthal Institute for Holocaust Studies 2014–2015)



Another example:

Then I went there every week. So I succeeded in maintaining contact with my mother. My grandparents, they did not dare to leave the lager. Now, we always had to do it illegally, this was obvious. And [for them,] to take off the star and anybody could see that we were lager dwellers. Now, [we were wearing] homemade trousers, pantaloons, made of blankets. In short, we were immensely elegant. But against the cold, it was good. (Mária Kallós, Voices 409_2_14)

Map 3.: The Distance Between the Bischoffgasse-Wohnlager and the Spital in Malzgasse
(© Vienna Wiesenthal Institute for Holocaust Studies 2014–2015)


Although the size of the city made it difficult for many who had been deported from small towns or villages to orient themselves, city life and public transportation enabled them to move about illegally more easily than they would have been able to do in smaller communities. On the other hand, complete escape from the camps was hindered precisely by the distinctive features of the unfamiliar city. With no contacts among the local population and at times a weak command of German, the deportees could have escaped only with great difficulty and immense personal risk. While a large number of people permanently escaped from the sizeable ghetto of Pest established in November 1944, the Hungarian Jewish slave laborers in Vienna and its vicinity tend to emphasize in their testimonies or memoirs that technically speaking they could have fled, but day after day they chose to return to the camp and their family members instead.

Everyday Life in Slave Labor

In the following section, we examine the socio-historical complexity of the phenomenon of Hungarian Jewish labor in Vienna. In the oral history sources on which we draw, there are noticeable repetitions and similarities that allow one to identify certain types of everyday communication and social relationships among the slave laborers and also between the slave laborers and the surrounding society. Presumably, this is not due simply to the monotony of everyday life, especially time spent working. Though we have not yet been able to analyze all of the available sources as thoroughly as we would have liked in order to have been able to provide as nuanced a portrait as possible of everyday life in the various Viennese camps and workplaces, we wish to keep the conceptual framework of historical anthropology in mind.36 Our investigation follows the clusters below:

1. work

2. living conditions

3. in-group communication

4. out-group communication, namely, with Viennese neighbors, POWs, guards and other Nazi authorities, city institutions (e.g. hospitals), the city itself as a stranger (e.g., problems with orientation, the problems posed by a large urban environment for people from smaller communities), and language gaps.



Narratives of work experience are often difficult to analyze in oral history research. Generally, repetitive experiences are seldom narrated as individual ‘stories.’ Rather they are told as ‘descriptions’ in which many individual experiences are compressed in a single picture.37 Unfortunately, the interviewers who participated in the biggest collections of Holocaust testimonies hardly ever asked for detailed descriptions of the work phases of a job. Survivor testimonies and oral history interviews were usually conducted in order to create a narrative of the individual’s life, and they tended to focus on the experiences of suffering during periods of persecution. In our very special case, slave work was not the worst facet of everyday life: deportation, hunger, pandemics and bombardments put people’s lives and wellbeing at far greater risk.38

Last but not least, as mentioned, most of the interviewees were children or teenagers in 1944 who did not have to take part in slave labor and either were able to stay in the Wohnlager with their grandparents and the other children or performed their work together with their mothers or grandparents. However, we did find interviews done with children over 12 years of age who had had to work hard during their forced stay in Vienna.


We were working at the Ostmarkwerke. Ground-to-air missiles were produced there. We made four-wing missiles. My grandmother, my mother, my aunt and we, the two children, we all worked in the factory. (…) We, the children, had to carry components from one aircraft to the other with electric trucks. The driver of the truck was a Ukrainian. Two children between the ages of twelve and eighteen were assigned to serve on each truck. They had to put the wings of the missiles upon the truck and carry them to the next machine. (Efrajim Karmi, MA A1527)


Bad working conditions and poor nourishment increased the risk of accidents in the workplace. Mária Ember reported such an accident in her testimonies in the following manner:

My mother was always a cleaning lady in the factory, thus she was sweeping the courtyard and I, who was thirteen years old then, was assigned as a worker to the smelting factory. Do not imagine a big factory! It had smaller iron stoves and hot, red iron was swirling out of them, which was then fixed by Austrian skilled workers and hammered while it was still in the state of glowing. It was very interesting and I was extremely interested in the factory. Then I was placed as a worker to the revolver turning-machine and I was very proud of that. In the end I was trained to be able to handle a drilling-machine, and I was standing next to a drilling-machine and working with it. There was no problem with the work as such; the only problem was that they barely gave us food. (…) We experienced a terrible weight loss. It happened with me that despite the fact that I was fond of work and was interested in the factory (…) I accidentally dozed off from time-to-time while I was working. I almost had an accident because the drilling-machine tore the arm of my coat off and I was very lucky that it did not drill into my arm. However, there was an older girl, approximately eighteen years old who was working on the crane and maybe the hunger and also the bad air which goes up, well there is no mountain air in the factory, she fainted on the crane, fell and broke her leg. Everyone erupted in excitement because the Gestapo came and checked on the place due to alleged sabotage. She was very close to being taken and executed. (Mária Ember, VHA 50257)39


The working conditions largely depended on the behavior of the foremen in the factories. Both the testimonies and the protocols of the Austrian People’s Court indicate a wide range of attitudes among the foremen and overseers.40 In the following passage, Ilona Sima Bek talks about a Czech political prisoner who treated the young women in the factory mercilessly:


There were wooden-made, board shapes (concrete stones). The longest was 1 meter long and I was working in that one. It was 40 cm wide and 60 cm tall. We measured it because our idea was to make and run exactly the same factory back at home when we return. It was very cheap, coal ash and huge building blocks. There were smaller ones, half as big. Two women were working there. This was 139 kg pure, the four pieces. And we had to carry each, the two of us, from one place to another when we took it out from the shape to let it dry. (…) But I was working very hard. If I was not working I was crying. I rather worked and my younger sister was working with the smaller stones, with the two women. And there were ten foremen; I reckon they were Czechs, political prisoners. They must have been Communists. This is why they were locked up there. They were the foremen and I was working with a Czech of this kind. This was such a terrible person. Before me another woman was working with him and he beat her. He beat the woman. Then she was not willing to work and in the end I was sent to him. When I was almost done with the whole thing, he destroyed it. To make me do it again. (Ilona Sima Bek, VHA 48943)

Living Conditions


The living conditions of slave laborers also differed widely. From the very beginning of their deportation, Hungarian Jews suffered from a lack of sufficient clothing because they had been forbidden to take items of clothing to the ghettos, and even if they had managed to smuggle some in, the items were taken from them in Strasshof. They had to work in the clothes and using the tools which they had been left with. The grim living conditions were only partially relieved by Franzi Löw and some decent employers who gave rugs and clothes to some families. Food was similarly scarce, although it made a substantial difference if the slave laborers were allowed to cook in the Wohnlagers or if the workplaces had canteens, and also if the slave laborers could reduce the shortage of food in any (usually illegal) way. The oral history interviews reveal that in general every member of a family was busy finding food, no matter how dangerous this was.


I was a little child and when I saw that everyone was begging for food through the fence once I stood there too. A German lady passed by and I also started begging her to give me a piece of bread. When I wanted to go back the guard caught me and asked: “Where have you been?” Then he noticed the bread in my hands. He took it and told me that he would lock me up for that. And then what happened? He took me to the shelter where there was a tight, small room full of garbage. He locked me in there. It was terrible. He even hit my head with his gun. He had a truncheon and he hit my head with that. Despite the fact that my head was bleeding I was locked in that storage. The door was closed and I was crying and begging the guards to let me out. I was extremely scared of the darkness. There were mice and rats too. Till today, although many years have passed, I never sleep at home with the lights off. (…) And when my mother came back from work she heard that I was elsewhere. She approached the guard and begged him to let me free since I was too young. While the guard replied: “Tell her, if she dares to beg for food again something much worse will happen to her.” Then my mother came to set me free. (Mirjam Herstik, YVA O3. 12457)41


In-Group Communication

The families had to make genuine and determined efforts to organize “normal” everyday life in the Wohnlagers. Laundry, cooking, the nursing of infants, and providing care for the elderly, invalids and sick family members required a lot of energy from mothers who had to work outside the Wohnlager during the day. The eight-year old Peter Cukor and Gizella Nurnberg described the situation in the following way:


In the winter some of the people tried to organize a school for us but most of the women were working in the factories, so the ones who were there, were more like babysitters because everybody was worried, because all these boys and girls were together and some of them were like in their early teens and played all kinds of interesting games like doctors and things like that and everybody was worried about us. And this was a giant camp. (Peter Cukor, VHA 24303)


We were bored, we had no games or anything to do there, so between the second floor up, there was a gate and a huge window and we were curious what is happening behind that gate and behind that window. So we climbed up the stairs, of course not knowing that we were not allowed to do that and we somehow opened the window, we scrawled in and there was a paradise. An intellectual paradise. There were all kind of dried animals in bottles. It was like a research place of the high school and all kinds of weeds and flowers preserved in certain liquid and it was like a dream world and we were in quotation happy. You know it gave us time to forget that we were hungry. (Gizella Nurnberg, VHA 33187)


It was almost impossible to lead a normal religious life in the camps. The slave laborers typically had to work on Saturdays (and sometimes also on Sundays), and even if this was not the case, Shabbat was the only day on which they could do all the domestic work. Religious families, despite the difficulties, aimed to adhere to religious prescriptions and practices, if only on a basic level. From time to time, this resulted in strong frictions between religious and non-religious men. As the young girl Ilona Sima Bek observed:


Well, there were men in the group too, mainly older men who were religious, and only a few of them who weren’t. Every morning we had to fence off a corner. This was the church. There was an old men called Altman who got up every morning—he died here—at six o’clock and was strolling among the beds saying: “Good morning my suffering brothers! I ask those gentlemen who wish to pray to get up, the bell will ring soon and the work shall be started.” Then those who were not religious started shouting: “Stupid fellow, shout your mouth! He doesn’t let us sleep although we could sleep a little bit more.” (Ilona Sima Bek, VHA 48943)


Outgroup Activities and Communication with the Outside World

In the testimonies we found a subtle and sometimes puzzling ethnic hierarchy in the slave laborers’ perception of the outside world. At the top of this hierarchy were the gallant, handsome and helpful Italian and French prisoners of war. Viennese foremen and the Viennese population in general also tended to be considered cooperative and helpful. The positive attitudes of Wehrmacht officers were occasionally also mentioned. Yet, according to the testimonies, Ukrainian overseers and guards were at the bottom of this ethnic hierarchy. In their narratives of arrival in Strasshof, almost everyone mentioned the brutality of the male and female Ukrainian guards, while the picture of ethnic Germans from Hungary was more mixed. First, let us give two examples regarding the French and Italian prisoners of war:

French prisoners of war also worked there in the demesne, now, they were men—were not they?—and they got together with the Jewish women and, now, the prettier women all had a French man. Well, some went along with the French man to this point, some to that, but they visited us every weekend. My mother had a French man called Rave, [and] I know that they merely showed each other photos: he about his wife and my mother about her husband. And they always said that ce lager, ce lager. However, there were nice girls as well, and all sorts of great love affairs also took place. The French men came with mandolins in the weekends [and] they played [the instruments], sang, [and] danced. I remember that we were more than ten children, and one of the boys in the outer part of the cowshed, behind the cow’s backsides taught us to shimli. Then I remember one New Year’s Eve. The French were playing music and men and women were dancing and suddenly the overseer rushed in with a Gestapo officer. There was very loud shouting: “Line up!” They threatened us with all sorts of penalties, [such as] we will be taken away immediately and I do not know what else. Nota bene, not much later, those who looked the strongest among us were really taken away for, so to say, digging trenches, and I remember that way that none of them came back. And then of course we had to stop the New Year’s Eve party. (Bárdos Judit, VHA 51638)


And another testimony:

I was working in the street and it happened you know I was looking around what is there and I was not working very hard because the three Italians were helping me. “Sit down, you don’t have to work, we work on behalf of you.” Sometimes the SS came and asked “Why are you sitting?” And then the Italian came and asked “What do you want?” They were fighting you know, the Italians, they said “Listen we do the work for this lady!” and the SS disappeared. They felt ashamed sometimes you know when somebody told in their faces what they were doing. (Rose Czeizler-Visontay, VHA 2677)

As mentioned in the first part of this essay, by the time the Hungarian Jews arrived in Vienna the Viennese Jews had already been persecuted and deported from the city. Between 1939 and 1942, of the 181,000 Viennese Jews, 60,000 were murdered in concentration and extermination camps.42 Only 5,500 Austrian Jews survived the Holocaust in the territory of Austria. We do not wish to hazard any explanation for the huge difference between the attitudes of the non-Jewish citizens of Vienna towards their Jewish neighbors and, some years later, the Hungarian Jews. What is clearly noticeable is that almost all of the survivors refer to some fabulous episode, in which ordinary Viennese people came to their aid, usually by providing them with food.


In the middle of January, there were heavy snowfalls, and the entire group was taken to the Danube-side to shovel snow. We got shovels and we had to shovel the snow into the Danube. Street sweepers from the municipality supervised us and demanded quick work from us, so they did not have to work. Here, I and my cousin managed to escape and hide in the staircase of a bomb-damaged house, because we were very cold. After a while, one of the residents came home. He [or she] entered the lift and came back with milk and slices of bread with margarine. He [or she] gave us food and drink and asked us to place the milk bottle next to the lift afterwards. His [or her] deed was a life-saving act for us, because we had already been completely drenched and frozen in the cold. Outside it was minus 15 degrees and the wind was cold. (Eva Eisler, MA 1517)

We close this section with one particularly interesting excerpt:


And one day, it had already been a week I was working there, I went to the corridor to do some kind of little work and some blond lady opened the door and pushed me in. “Come in! Listen darling, we are not Hitlerists, we are Social Democrats. And if you pass this door, you can come in and have a coffee and sit there. We wait for the Allies or the Russians to come! We help you, all of you!” Can you believe it? I was sitting in the flat, in the kitchen and had a hot coffee. (Rose Czeizler-Visontay, VHA 2677)43

The Last Stages

As we have shown, the beginnings of the relatively short episode of Viennese slave labor for Jews deported from Hungary in 1944 resemble the deportation of the Jews from the Hungarian provinces: the ghettoization and the deportation process of the Jews who ended up in Vienna and its vicinity were not different from the processes involved in the deportation of those who were eventually taken to Auschwitz. Then, however, for almost a year, those who by chance happened to be deported in the cattle cars destined for Strasshof were incomparably more fortunate than those who were deported to Auschwitz where their majority was gassed upon arrival. The ‘deconcentrated’ concentration camps in the large city provided better chances of survival than other settings. However, even during this late phase of the war, a large number of deportees from among the slave laborers in Vienna and its vicinity perished as a consequence of starvation, inhumane working conditions, and air raids. Furthermore, in the last months, some of the slave laborers were again taken to Strasshof, from where they were deported to Bergen-Belsen or Theresienstadt. Some of them, mainly the able-bodied men, were taken back under the command of Organisation Todt to help build the Südostwall. If they survived, they ended up being deported to Mauthausen and its satellite camps. Many of them perished during the forced marches or in the aforementioned camps. Moreover, people were taken on death marches not only from Strasshof but also directly from the Viennese camps.44 17-year-old Victor Farkas, for instance, lost his grandfather during the death march:


When the [death] march came we all decided now we have to try to escape. (…) And that time we all left, my mother and I and my grandfather first fell behind trying to do so, because as we went through Vienna more and more Jews had to come and the group was getting larger and larger and much more difficult to control. So as we fell behind we thought we had made it and then we were captured and then again pushed back in. (…) Our problem was my grandfather. And one day we fall behind again we couldn’t keep up, actually when we were captured we were pushed back into the group and we were forced to march faster and faster to catch up with the group and he couldn’t make it. And he was taken away. That was the last time I saw him. So my mother and I we went with the group, we tried again and it didn’t work and we were marched all the way to Mauthausen. (Victor Farkas, VHA 5334)

Conclusions: The Vienna Paradox

In developing a map of slave labor in Vienna, we have been confronted with several historical, epistemological and methodological questions, which unfortunately could not be fully explored in this paper because they would need further investigation. For instance, from the historical point of view, we know neither how the entrepreneurs requested manpower nor how these entrepreneurs were selected by the Nazi authorities. It also remains unclear how and why the living conditions differed from place to place. An accurate overview of the division of labor and the power hierarchy among the various authorities would also require further research. From the epistemological point of view, the history of slave labor in Vienna became part of the so-called Strasshof phenomenon in the Holocaust historiography. We know, however, that Strasshof was only the starting point of the story. Over the course of the last decade, the commemoration of Strasshof has developed year by year, whereas a similar process has not even started in Vienna, where the slave laborers actually spent some eight to ten months. This chapter of the Holocaust happened toward the very end of World War II, and the impending defeat caused extreme reactions on the part of both the local Nazi authorities and the Viennese civilians, but we continue to lack an adequate grasp of the impact of timing on the fates of the slave laborers. Last but not least, we have been confronted with methodological problems. How can one construct informative and reliable narratives of the everyday lives of the Hungarian slave laborers in Vienna if virtually the only available sources are fragmented interviews conducted with people who survived the Holocaust as children?

However, while studying the history of Hungarian Jewish slave labor in Vienna, we realized that there are numerous contradictions and unusual moments in the story in comparison with the social history of concentration camps in the Third Reich. This uncommon face of slave labor might be termed the Vienna paradox. The main (and interconnected) components of this paradox are as follows:

1. The Hungarian Jews first arrived in Vienna at a time when Viennese Jews, who had represented one of the biggest European Jewish communities before 1938, had already been deported from the city. However, in 1944, there were approximately 6,000 Jews (mainly “Mischlinge”) still living in city. There were some shared places, i.e. the Jewish hospital, Kinderspital and the Altersheim at Malzgasse 7 and 16, which served as meeting point for them. Furthermore, the Hungarian deportees benefitted from the infrastructure of the Ältestenrat with regard to medical services and welfare.

2. The events we were trying to reconstruct took place in the last year of World War II when it was becoming increasingly clear that Nazi Germany would lose the war. This had a significant influence on the attitudes and behavior of the Viennese population toward Hungarian Jews: openness and readiness to engage in help and cooperation seems to have grown day by day.

3. Two or three generations of Hungarian Jews arrived in Strasshof and then in Vienna as members of families, even though most of these families did not include men of working age because they had already been sent to perform slave labor at the frontlines. Nevertheless, children, mothers and grandparents lived and worked together and basic forms of family life could thus be maintained, something that would have been impossible in a concentration camp. The unusual opportunity to maintain family bonds as part of everyday life clearly helped most of them survive the inhumane living conditions.

4. Hungarian Jewish slave labor in Vienna can be understood as a kind of ‘decentralised concentration,’ which resulted in a wide variety of living conditions and opportunities to survive. When consulting the sources, we were repeatedly reminded that the conceptual apparatus of urban history overlaps with our Holocaust study.

5. Hungarian Jewish slave labor constituted a transnational experience for all its participants. Hungarian slave laborers lived in a German-speaking environment and their language skills affected their abilities to communicate both ‘legally’ and ‘illegally’ in the city. Members of families who worked in big military factories often met or worked alongside French, Italian, and Russian prisoners of war, as well as so-called Ostarbeiter.

6. The SS guards were sometimes recruited from among Ukrainians or ethnic Germans from Hungary. Perceptions of the relationship between the non-Austrian and non-Reich SS guards and the Hungarian Jews were tinted by ethnic prejudices in the eyes of the Hungarian Jews: in the testimonies they tend to describe the nature of these encounters in the framework of ethnic stereotypes. This cognitive framework helped them establish a range of behavioral differences, from cooperation all the way to physical violence.


Whereas the chances of survival were better in Vienna than in the death camps, the beginning and end of the story of the Jewish Hungarian slave laborers deported from Hungary to Strasshof (their ghettoization, deportation, and death marches) were both practically identical with key elements of the Holocaust “grand narrative.” What happened to Jewish slave laborers in Vienna cannot be detached from the experience of the Holocaust in Europe. The story of the Strasshof deportation is often connected to the Auschwitz-universe, for instance in the following recollection of one of the survivors:


I didn’t have my glasses when I started to work in this machine shop. You know I remember I told you how crowded we were in the cattle car, I couldn’t move. Well during those 3,5 days of cattle car somehow my eyeglasses fell off and I just couldn’t bend down to retrieve it. Somebody stepped on them and broke them. So I arrived to this factory and I didn’t have my eyeglasses. I was near-sighted. After a while I was working in this machine shop I said to the foreman one day, “Maybe you can help me to get eyeglasses.” He said, you know, “how can I get new eyeglasses?” (…) He said, “let me talk to the camp commander, let’s see maybe he can come up with something.” That camp commander was a fairly decent fellow. He was a Czechoslovak. (…) So a few days later he comes back and says “this is what we are going to do. I give you an address in Vienna, you go there and maybe they can help you with the eyeglasses. The only thing is that you have to remove your yellow star, we give you money for the tram, they had the tram going in Vienna, but if you get caught outside we don’t know anything about you.” It was a risky business to be caught without documents. With no yellow star you are an escapee and the consequences were very grave. But I thought about it and took a chance. I went and it turned out to be the old Jewish Allgemeine Krankenhaus, in the old Jewish Centre in Vienna. I went in, there was a short man who came to receive me and said “You want eyeglasses?” I said “yes.” He was very surprised to see me and he wanted to know how I got to Vienna and from where. I told them we were Hungarian Jews deported here, working in this factory and it turned out that he was an old Viennese Jewish doctor who was put in charge of this section. So he leads me into a room, in a long room and in the room there were tables in neat rows and on the top of the tables in boxes they had eyeglasses. Thousands. As far as I could see, down the rows, I have never seen so many eyeglasses in my life. I go in and said, “My God, where all the eyeglasses are coming from?” “You don’t know? They come from Auschwitz.” (Stephen Berger, VHA 3781)

Primary Sources

Archival Sources

Kartei / Ungarische Zwangsarbeite (Archiv IKG Wien, Bestand Wien, II/SOZ/ Kartei/Ungarische Zwangsarbeite)

Liste von Lagern ungarischer Juden im Gau Groß-Wien (DÖW – Dokumentationsarchiv des österreichischen Widerstandes, E 21.053/2.)

Richtlinien über die Behandlung ungarischer Juden, 9. August 1944 (DÖW – Dokumentationsarchiv des österreichischen Widerstandes, E 21.204.)

Schul-Chronik (Allg. Öffentl. Volksschule f. Knaben u. Mädchen, Vienna XII., Bischoffgasse 10.)

Strafsache gegen Dr. Emil Tuchmann (Landesgericht Wien, DÖW – Dokumentationsarchiv Österreichischen Wiederstandes, 17142.)

Strafsache gegen Dr. Siegfried Seidl (Landesgericht Wien, DÖW – Dokumentationsarchiv Österreichischen Wiederstandes, 21053.)

Strafsache gegen Franz Knoll. (Landesgericht Wien, Vg 6a Vr 8267/46.)

Totenbeschau Befunden vom Durchgangslager Strasshof (Archiv IKG Wien, Bestand Wien, A/VIE/IKG/II–III/FH/1/1, Box No. 1)



Efrajim Karmi’s testimony (Mordechai Anielevich Memorial Holocaust Study and Research Center, Moreshet Archives, Israel, A.1527 = MA A.1527.)

Gizella Nurnberg’s testimony (Visual History Archive, USC Shoah Foundation, USA, 33187 = VHA 33187)

Ilona Sima Bek’s testimony (Visual History Archive, USC Shoah Foundation, USA, 48943 = VHA 48943)

Judit Bárdos’ testimony (Visual History Archive, USC Shoah Foundation, USA, 51638 = VHA 51638)

Lea Waller’s testimony (Mordechai Anielevich Memorial Holocaust Study and Research Center, Moreshet Archives, Israel, A.1529 = MA, A.1529.)

Mária Ember’s testimony (Visual History Archive, USC Shoah Foundation, USA, 50257 = VHA 50257)

Mirjam Herstik’s testimony (Yad Vashem Archives, Jerusalem, Israel, O3.12457 = YVA O3.12457)

Pearl Zimmerman’s testimony (Visual History Archive, USC Shoah Foundation, USA, 40580 = VHA 40580)

Peter Cukor’s testimony (Visual History Archive, USC Shoah Foundation, USA, 24303 = VHA 24303)

Rose Czeizler-Visontay’s testimony (Visual History Archive, USC Shoah Foundation, USA, 2677 = VHA 2677)

Smuel Hoffman’s testimony (Yad Vashem Archives, Jerusalem, Israel, O3.12209 = YVA O3.12209)

Stephen Berger’s testimony (Visual History Archive, USC Shoah Foundation, USA, 3781 = VHA 3781)

Diary of Varga Béla, entitled Nehéz napok (Strochlitz Archive, Haifa, Israel).

Victor Farkas’ testimony (Visual History Archive, USC Shoah Foundation, USA, 5334 = VHA 5334)


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Lappin, Eleonore. “Die Opfer von Hofamt Priel. Namen, Tagebücher und autobiographische Berichte.” In Ungarisch-jüdische Zwangsarbeiterinnen und Zwangsarbeiter in Niederösterreich 1944/45, edited by Eleonore Lappin, Susanne Uslu-Pauer, and Manfred Wieninger, 133–73. St. Pölten: n.p., 2006.

Lappin-Eppel, Eleonore. “Strukturen der Verantwortung: Volksgerichtsverfahren wegen Verbrechen gegen ungarische Juden in österreichischen Zwangsarbeitslagern des Sondereinsatzkommandos der Sicherheitspolizei und des SD in Ungarn, Außenkommando Wien.” Zeitgeschichte 6 (2007): 351–71.

Lappin-Eppel, Eleonore. Ungarisch-Jüdische Zwangsarbeiter und Zwangsarbeiterinnen in Österreich 1944/45: Arbeitseinsatz – Todesmärsche – Folgen. Vienna: Lit, 2010.

Löb, Ladislaus, and Rezső Kasztner. The Daring Rescue of Hungarian Jews: A Survivor’s Account. London: Pimlico, 2009.

Löw, Franzi (Danneberg-). “Einige haben wir tot aus den Waggons gezogen,” Accessed January 6, 2015. http://www.doew.at/erinnern/biographien/erzaehlte-geschichte/ns-judenverfolgung-ungarische-juedinnen-und-juden/franzi-danneberg-loew-einige-haben-wir-tot-aus-den-waggons-gezogen.

Molnár, Judit. “Embermentés vagy árulás? A Kasztner-akció szegedi vonatkozásai” [Rescue or Betrayal? The Szeged Connections of the Kasztner Operation]. In idem. Csendőrök, hivatalnokok, zsidók: Válogatott tanulmányok a magyar holokauszt történetéből [Gendarmes, Clerks, Jews: Selected Essays from the History of the Hungarian Holocaust], 191–97. Szeged: Szegedi Zsidó Hitközség, 2000.

Nassi, Zvi. Haglijah. Givat Haviva: Moreshet Archive, 1995.

Rabinovici, Doron. Instanzen der Ohnmacht Wien 1938–1945: Der Weg zum Judenrat. Berlin: Suhrkamp, 2001.

Rosenthal, Gabriele. “Die Auswertung: Hermeneutische Rekonstruktion erzählter Lebensgeschichten.” “Als der Krieg kam, hatte ich mit Hitler nichts mehr zu tun”: Zur Gegenwärtigkeit des Dritten Reiches in erzählten Lebensgeschichten, edited by Gabriele Rosenthal, 246–51. Opladen: Leske & Budrich, 1990.

Rosenthal, Gabriele. “Reconstruction of Life Stories: Principles of Selection in Generating Stories for Narrative Biographical Interviews.” The Narrative Study of Lives 1 (1993): 59–91.

Schonberger, Paul, and Imre Schonberger. Fortunas Children. London–Portland: Vallentine Mitchell, 2003.

Schvarcz-Horovitz, Helena. Ein Hering für zwei Zigaretten. Erinnerungen einer Holocaust-Überlebenden an die Deportation der ungarischen Juden nach Strasshof, an die Arbeitslager in Wien und die Todesmärsche durch Österreich. Konstanz: Hartung-Gorre, 2006.

Simon, Maria Dorothea. “Franzi Löw (1916–1997).” Soziale Arbeit 7 (2013): 296–97.

Small, Mario Luis. “‘How many cases do I need?’ On science and the logic of case selection in field-based research.” Ethnography 10, no. 1 (2009): 5–38.

Steinert, Johannes-Dieter. Deportation und Zwangsarbeit: Polnische und sowjetische Kinder im nationalsozialitischen Deutschland und im besetzten Osteuropa 1939–1945. Essen: Klartext Verlag, 2013.

Suchy, Irene. Strasshof an der Nordbahn: Die NS-Geschichte eines Ortes und ihre Aufarbeitung. Vienna: Metroverlag, 2011.

Szita, Szabolcs. Utak a pokolból: Magyar deportáltak az annektált Ausztriában 1944–1945 [Roads from Hell: Hungarian Deportees in Annexed Austria]. Budapest: Metalon, 1991.

Szita, Szabolcs. Verschleppt, Verhungert, Vernichtet: Die Deportation von ungarischen Juden auf das Gebiet des annektierten Österreich 1944–1945. Vienna: Eichbauer Verlag, 1999.

Szita, Szabolcs, ed. Zwangsarbeit, Todesmärsche, Überleben durch Hilfe: Die österreichische Bevölkerung in der Erinnerung der ungarischen Deportierten und politischen Häftlinge 1944–1945. Budapest: Velcsov, 2004.

“Ungarische Zwangsarbeit in Wien,” Accessed May 6, 2015. http://ungarische-zwangsarbeit-in-wien.at/.

Wierling, Dorothee. “The History of Everyday Life and Gender Relations On Historical and Historiographical Relationships.” In The History of Everyday Life: Reconstructing Historical Experiences and Ways of Life, edited by Alf Lüdtke. Princeton: Princeton UP, 1995.

1 This study is an extended version of the joint paper we presented at the fifth international multidisciplinary conference “Beyond Camps and Forced Labour: Current International Research on Survivors of Nazi Persecution.” (Imperial War Museum London, January 7–9, 2015).

2 On the negotiation between Eichmann and Kasztner, see Yehuda Bauer, Jews for Sale (New Haven: Yale UP, 1996).

3 Concerning the background of the Strasshof deportation, see Eleonore Lappin-Eppel, Ungarisch-Jüdische Zwangsarbeiter und Zwangsarbeiterinnen in Österreich 1944/45: Arbeitseinsatz – Todesmärsche – Folgen (Vienna: Lit, 2010), 45–49; and Irene Suchy, Strasshof an der Nordbahn: Die NS-Geschichte eines Ortes und ihre Aufarbeitung (Vienna: Metroverlag, 2011).

4 In April 1944, the Hungarian authorities, together with the members of the Sonderkommando Eichmann, divided Hungary into six deportation zones: I. Karpatoruthenia and Northeastern Hungary, II. Northern Transylvania, III. Northern Hungary, IV. Southeastern Hungary, V. Western Hungary and VI. Budapest and its vicinity. The deportation followed this geographical order. See Randolph R. Braham, The Politics of Genocide: The Holocaust in Hungary (New York: Columbia University Press, 1981).

5 The data concerning the number of the deportees are provided by Edith Csillag, who was a deportee herself. She was deported from Mezőtúr to the Szolnok ghetto and, from there, to Strasshof. Thanks to her knowledge of German, she was assigned to office work in the camp. See her testimony in the Hungarian Jewish Archives (Budapest), DEGOB protocols, No. 3628. On Szeged and the Strasshof deportation, see Judit Molnár, “Embermentés vagy árulás? A Kasztner-akció szegedi vonatkozásai,” in idem, Csendőrök, hivatalnokok, zsidók: Válogatott tanulmányok a magyar holokauszt történetéből (Szeged: Szegedi Zsidó Hitközség, 2000), 191–97. Concerning the process and the stages of the Strasshof deportation, see Szabolcs Szita, Utak a pokolból: Magyar deportáltak az annektált Ausztriában 1944–1945 (Budapest: Metalon, 1991), 41–45, and Szabolcs Szita, Verschleppt, Verhungert, Vernichtet: Die Deportation von ungarischen Juden auf das Gebiet des annektierten Österreich 1944–1945 (Vienna: Eichbauer Verlag, 1999).

6 Totenbeschau Befunden vom Durchgangslager Strasshof (Archiv IKG Wien, Bestand Wien, A/VIE/IKG/II–III/FH/1/1, Box No. 1).

7 See: “Ungarische Zwangsarbeit in Wien,” accessed May 6, 2015, http://ungarische-zwangsarbeit-in-wien.at/.

8 For the current list of entrepreneurs, see Betriebe menu on the website of the project: “Ungarische Zwangsarbeit in Wien,” accessed May 6, 2015, http://ungarische-zwangsarbeit-in-wien.at/.

9 Tim Cole, Holocaust City: The Making of a Jewish Ghetto (New York–London: Routledge, 2003), and Tim Cole, Traces of the Holocaust: Journeying in and out of the Ghettos (London: Continuum, 2011).

10 Ibid., Traces of the Holocaust, 13.

11 Ibid., 14.

12 Pál Bárdos, Az első évtized (Budapest: Szépirodalmi, 1975); Peter Cukor, Before the Silver Cord is Snapped: Looking Back on My Journey (Philadelphia: Xlibris, 2004); Szilvia Czingel, ed. Szakácskönyv a túlélésért – Lichtenwörth, 1944–45 (Budapest: Corvina, 2013); Mária Ember, Hajtűkanyar (Budapest: Szépirodalmi, 1974); Judit Fenákel, K-vonal (Budapest: XXI. Század, 2013); András Fischer, Und die Hauptsache, wir lebten... Erinnerungen (Frankfurt am Main–Munich–London–Miami–New York: Fouqué Literaturverlag, 2002); István Hargittai, Our Lives – Encounters of a Scientist (Budapest: Akadémiai, 2004); Ladislaus Löb and Rezső Kasztner, The Daring Rescue of Hungarian Jews: A Survivor’s Account (London: Pimlico, 2009); Zvi Nassi, Haglijah (Givat Haviva: Moreshet Archive, 1995); Paul Schonberger and Imre Schonberger, Fortuna’s Children (London–Portland: Vallentine Mitchell, 2003); Helena Schvarcz-Horovitz, Ein Hering für zwei Zigaretten. Erinnerungen einer Holocaust-Überlebenden an die Deportation der ungarischen Juden nach Strasshof, an die Arbeitslager in Wien und die Todesmärsche durch Österreich (Konstanz: Hartung-Gorre, 2006); Szabolcs Szita, ed., Zwangsarbeit, Todesmärsche, Überleben durch Hilfe: Die österreichische Bevölkerung in der Erinnerung der ungarischen Deportierten und politischen Häftlinge 1944–1945 (Budapest: Velcsov, 2004); József Bihari, “Als ungarisch-jüdischer Zwangsarbeiter in Wien,” accessed May 6, 2015, http://www.erinnern.at/bundeslaender/wien/unterrichtsmaterial/arbeitsblaetter-gedaechtnisorte-des-ns-terrors-in-der-israelitischen-abteilung-des-wiener-zentralfriedhofs/Arbeitsblatt%20Jozsef%20Bihari.pdf; Diary of Varga Béla, entitled Nehéz napok (Strochlitz Archive, Haifa, Israel).

13 Christopher R. Browning, Collected Memories: Holocaust History and Postwar Testimony (Madison, Wisconsin: The University of Wisconsin Press, 2003), and Christopher R. Browning, Remembering Survival: Inside a Nazi Slave-Labor Camp (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2011).

14 Browning, Remembering Survival, 7.

15 Mario Luis Small, “‘How Many Cases Do I Need?’ On Science and the Logic of Case Selection in Field-Based Research,” Ethnography 10, no. 1 (2009): 5–38, 28.

16 See e.g. Boaz Cohen and Rita Horváth, “Young Witnesses in the DP camps: Children’s Holocaust Testimony in Context,” Journal of Modern Jewish Studies 11, no. 1 (2012): 103–25; Boaz Cohen, “The Children’s Voice: Post-War Collection of Testimonies from Children Survivors of the Holocaust,” Holocaust and Genocide Studies 21, no. 1 (2007): 73–95; and Johannes-Dieter Steinert, Deportation und Zwangsarbeit: Polnische und sowjetische Kinder im nationalsozialitischen Deutschland und im besetzten Osteuropa 1939–1945 (Essen: Klartext Verlag, 2013).

17 László Karsai and Judit Molnár, eds., The Kasztner Report: The Report of the Budapest Jewish Rescue Committee, 1942–1945 (Jerusalem: Yad Vashem, 2013), 284.

18 Ibid., 309.

19 See Richtlinien über die Behandlung ungarischer Juden, 9. August 1944 (DÖW – Dokumentationsarchiv des österreichischen Widerstandes, E 21.204.).

20 Lappin-Eppel, Ungarisch-Jüdische Zwangsarbeiter und Zwangsarbeiterinnen in Österreich, 92. See also “Liste von Lagern ungarischer Juden im Gau Groß-Wien” (DÖW – Dokumentationsarchiv des österreichischen Widerstandes, E 21.053/2).

21 Schul-Chronik, Allg. Öffentl. Volksschule f. Knaben u. Mädchen, Vienna XII., Bischoffgasse 10.

22 Franz Knoll, born in Vienna in 1892, was put on trial after the war. Even though Lagerführer Knoll was sentenced to 18 months in prison in August 1948, he was in effect freed, because the court deducted his 22 month-long period of detention from his sentence. Concerning Knoll and his trial, see Eleonore Lappin-Eppel, “Strukturen der Verantwortung. Volksgerichtsverfahren wegen Verbrechen gegen ungarische Juden in österreichischen Zwangsarbeitslagern des Sondereinsatzkommandos der Sicherheitspolizei und des SD in Ungarn, Außenkommando Wien,” Zeitgeschichte 6 (2007): 351–71.

23 Sándor Hargittai’s memoir in István Hargittai, Our Lives – Encounters of a Scientist (Budapest: Akadémiai Kiadó, 2004), 56.

24 The card-indexes of the hospitals are in the Archiv IKG Wien, Bestand Wien, II/SOZ/Kartei/Ungarische Zwangsarbeite.

25 Special thanks for Anna Lujza Szász who researched, transcribed and translated the interview excerpts of the VHA.

26 See the Betriebe menu, accessed October 7, 2015, at http://www.ungarische-zwangsarbeit-in-wien.at/.

27 Sándor Hargittai’s memoir in Hargittai, Our Lives, 55.

28 Lea Waller (born Visi), who was 15 years old in 1944, for example, was hospitalized with pleurisy. She was taken to the hospital from the Wohnlager at Hackengasse 11. She remembered her hospitalization as follows: “They called a German physician, who decided that I had to be taken to a hospital immediately, because my state was life-threatening. I did not have any infectious disease, only the complications of a common cold.” See Lea Waller’s testimony in Mordechai Anielevich Memorial Holocaust Study and Research Center, Moreshet Archives=MA, A.1529.

29 Karsai–Molnár, The Kasztner Report, 283.

30 Ibid., 289.

31 The card-indexes of the hospitals are in the Archiv IKG Wien, Bestand Wien, II/SOZ/Kartei/Ungarische Zwangsarbeit.

32 In October 1938, Tuchmann became head of the Jewish relief services in Vienna, and afterwards he was named director of public health services. He started working in the Jewish hospital in the summer of 1942 and became its director. He was also a member of the Ältestenrat until the end of the war. On Tuchmann’s activity regarding the Hungarian Jews see: Ester Farbstein, “Jews on Ice: A Look Inside the Labor Camps in Austria,” http://www.misrachi.at/a%20look%20inside%20the%20labor%20camps%20in%20austria.pdf, accessed January 6, 2015.

33 Zvi Kohn, Likutei Tsevi, introduction, 21–22. Cited by Ester Farbstein, “Jews on Ice”.

34 Karsai–Molnár, The Kasztner Report, 305.

35 See Franzi Löw’s short bio in Maria Dorothea Simon, “Franzi Löw (1916–1997),” Soziale Arbeit 7 (2013): 296–97; accessed January 6, 2015, http://www.doew.at/erinnern/biographien/erzaehlte-geschichte/ns-judenverfolgung-ungarische-juedinnen-und-juden/franzi-danneberg-loew-einige-haben-wir-tot-aus-den-waggons-gezogen.

36 See especially the articles by Dorothee Wierling, “The History of Everyday Life and Gender Relations On Historical and Historiographical Relationships,” and Wolfgang Kashuba, “Popular Culture and Workers’ Culture as Symbolic Orders: Comments on the Debate about the History of Culture and Everyday Life,” in The History of Everyday Life: Reconstructing Historical Experiences and Ways of Life, ed. Alf Lüdtke (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1995), 149–99.

37 See Gabriele Rosenthal, “Die Auswertung: Hermeneutische Rekonstruktion erzählter Lebens­geschichten,” In: Gabriele Rosenthal, ed., “Als der Krieg kam, hatte ich mit Hitler nichts mehr zu tun”: Zur Gegenwärtigkeit des “Dritten Reiches” in erzählten Lebensgeschichten (Opladen: Leske & Budrich, 1990), 246–51; and Gabriele Rosenthal, “Reconstruction of Life Stories: Principles of Selection in Generating Stories for Narrative Biographical Interviews,” The Narrative Study of Lives 1 (1993): 59–91.

38 This does not mean that slave labor in Vienna was an easy job. On the contrary, not young women and even children and grandparents had to do particularly hard and often dangerous work, as e.g. Smuel Hoffman remembers: “Thus we mainly repaired the houses damaged by bombings. Also, fixed the roofs destroyed by air strikes. If I remember correctly six or seven of us, young people, were there with a Serbian prisoner overseer. He did not live with us in the camp, he only supervised us while we were working. I was among those who fixed the tile roof, thus I was crawling on 4–5 meter high buildings as a ropedancer. The others, approx. 30, were picking the tiles from the various approaching vehicles and gave them to us. They were bringing the tiles upon the stairway and we placed them on the roof. I did this for two months. (…) No one ever counted the hours. The work began when the sun was rising, thus the days were shorter in the winter and longer in the autumn. We were working from sunrise till half an hour before sunset. Since they wanted to avoid any attempt to escape during the dark we were taken back to the camp before the night fell.” (Smuel Hoffman, YVA O3. 12209).

39 Mária Ember published her novel based on her memories one year earlier than Imre Kertész’s Fatelessness was published, see Ember, Hajtűkanyar.

40 Strafsache gegen Dr. Emil Tuchmann, Landesgericht Wien Dokumentationsarchiv Österreichischen Wiederstandes (DÖW 17142); Strafsache gegen Dr. Siegfried Seidl, Landesgericht Wien (DÖW 21053); Strafsache gegen Franz Knoll. (Landesgericht Wien, Vg 6a Vr 8267/46.).

41 She told another typical story: “My mum was especially talented in acquiring food. They were in the forest where people often went to have picnics. My mother addressed them in German without any embarrassment and begged for food. Some of them were good people who took something out of their baskets: a bun or a piece of cookie. My mother always brought something. (…) We ate everything no matter whether it was a pig or --- anything. The main point was to always have food. Later our situation was getting better because the women were not going to the forests of Vienna to work but to the Ankerbrotfabrik in our neighbourhood. That Viennese bread factory was an actual town and the Jewish women were taken there to work. My mother of blessed memories wore a pair of trousers; she tied its legs and filled it with warm buns. When she came back from work it seemed irreverent to ask: ‘Mama have you bought something?’ Everything she got there, more precisely, everything she took from there was first given to the elderly people. And when we asked she replied: ‘Children. You are children, but here are old people and they need food more’.” (Mirjam Herstik, YVA O3. 12457).

42 For the history of the Jews under the Nazi regime in Vienna see e.g. Doron Rabinovici, Instanzen der Ohnmacht Wien 1938–1945: Der Weg zum Judenrat (Berlin: Suhrkamp, 2001).

43 For a comparable recollection, see the following part of Stephen Berger’s testimony:“It was a Sunday. The Austrians were not working in the factory so we were doing cleaning up job on Sunday when nobody was in the factory. And I was sweeping the yard of the factory, and next to the yard there was an apartment house, about 5–6 storeys apartment house. And as I was cleaning, it was a quiet Sunday; I heard something behind me fall. I looked back and I see a brown paper bag. So I went there, picked up the paper bag, I look inside and I see a sandwich. So I looked up where the bag came from and I saw on the 3rd or the 4th floor and elderly woman in the window and she is motioning to me. Then I found a note in the bag saying if I could come upstairs. Well, not in that Sunday but the following Sunday sometimes I sneak out from the camp, went around the corner and went upstairs. There was that old woman, invites me in her apartment she gives me food, freshly cooked food on the table, I eat and she wanted to know who I am, where I come from and then I see on top of a table the photograph of a young German in a German uniform, so I started to be very uncomfortable and she saw me looking at the photograph and she tells me that is her son. She says he disappeared on the Russian front. She says I hope if anybody finds him, hope treats him with the same kindness I am treating you. So I realized the motif of her giving me sandwich because in her mind and conscious figured ‘maybe my son needs somebody’s kindness somewhere wherever he is’.” (Stephen Berger, VHA 3781).

44 Eleonore Lappin, “Das Massaker von Hofamt Priel,” in Ungarisch-jüdische Zwangsarbeiterinnen und Zwangsarbeiter in Niederösterreich 1944/45, id. Eleonore Lappin, Susanne Uslu-Pauer, and Manfred Wieninger (St. Pölten: 2006), 103–32; and Eleonore Lappin, “Die Opfer von Hofamt Priel. Namen, Tagebücher und autobiographische Berichte,” in Ungarisch-jüdische Zwangsarbeiterinnen, 133–73.


Map 1: General Map of Hungarian Jewish Slave Labor in Vienna 1944–45
(© Vienna Wiesenthal Institute for Holocaust Studies 2014–2015)


pdfVolume 4 Issue 3 CONTENTS

Kata Bohus

Not a Jewish Question?

The Holocaust in Hungary in the Press and Propaganda of the Kádár Regime during the Trial of Adolf Eichmann


In this paper, I examine the trial of Adolf Eichmann, portrayals of the trial in the contemporaneous Hungarian press, and the effects of the trial and the coverage on the formation of Holocaust memory in communist Hungary. The trial presented a problem for communist propaganda because it highlighted the destruction of Jews as the worst crime of the Nazi regime. While communist ideology’s anti-fascism defined its stance as “anti-anti-Semitic,” the Marxist-Leninist interpretation of World War II as a conflict between two opposing, ideologically defined camps (fascists and anti-fascists) made it difficult to accommodate the idea of non-political victimhood, e.g. the destruction of Jews on the basis of racist ideas and not because of their political commitments. Moreover, because of Eichmann’s wartime mission in Hungary, it was clear that the trial would feature a great deal of discussion about his activities there. Therefore, the Hungarian Kádár regime devoted considerable attention to the event, both within the Party and in the press. The analysis concentrates on two aspects: what did the highest echelons of the Hungarian Socialist Workers’ Party intend to emphasize in the Hungarian coverage of the trial and what kinds of interpretations actually appeared in the press. In the end, the party’s political goals were only partially achieved. Control over newspapers guaranteed that certain key propaganda themes were included rather than ensuring that other narratives would be excluded. I argue that, while the Kádár regime in Hungary did not intend to emphasize the Jewish catastrophe and certainly did not seek to draw attention to its Hungarian chapter, as a consequence of the Eichmann trial there nevertheless emerged a narrative of the Hungarian Holocaust. Through various organs of the press, this narrative found public expression. Though this Holocaust narrative can be considered ideologically loaded and distorted, some of its elements continue to preoccupy historians who study the period today.


Keywords: Adolf Eichmann, communism in Hungary, Holocaust memory, communist press and propaganda


Adolf Eichmann, a former Nazi SS-Obersturmbannführer (Lieutenant Colonel) was captured by Israeli secret agents in Buenos Aires, Argentina on May 11, 1960. He was subsequently transported to Israel, where he would stand trial, indicted on 15 criminal charges, including crimes against humanity, crimes against the Jewish people and membership in a hostile organization (SD, Sicherheitsdienst des Reichsführers SS) during the period of Nazi rule in Germany. His trial began in Jerusalem on April 11, 1961. He was pronounced guilty on December 11 and executed in the spring of 1962.

Many historians have argued that the Eichmann trial signalled a defining moment in (if not the real beginning of) Holocaust memory. David Cesarani noted that “the capture, trial and execution of Adolf Eichmann […] changed forever perceptions of the Nazi persecution and mass murder of the Jews.”1 Michael Rothberg went so far as to state that “the Eichmann trial brought the Nazi genocide of European Jews into the public sphere for the first time as a discrete event on an international scale.”2 In addition to the trial, Hannah Arendt’s iconic articles in the New Yorker magazine—later turned into the book Eichmann in Jerusalem—started the global scholarly debate about the character of Adolf Eichmann, the working logic of the totalitarian state, and individual responsibility in its operation.3

At Adolf Eichmann’s trial, it was clear that there would be a lot of discussion about his activities in Hungary during World War II. Arriving to Hungary in the footsteps of the invading German troops, Sondereinsatzkommando Eichmann’s main task was to arrange, with the cooperation of local authorities, the deportation of the largest remaining Jewish population in Eastern Europe. The deportation of over 400,000 people to Auschwitz-Birkenau between mid-May and early July 1944 and the rapid mass extermination of their vast majority there during the last phase of the war helped turn the site into a central symbol of the Holocaust. The military situation in the summer of 1944 compelled Hungary’s Regent Miklós Horthy to halt deportations, and despite the large-scale violence instituted by the radically anti-Semitic Arrow Cross (Nyilaskeresztes) government of Ferenc Szálasi from October 1944 onwards, plans for the deportation of Budapest’s sizeable Jewish community were never implemented. There were close to 200,000 Jewish survivors in post-war Hungarian territories,4 and despite its steady decline in numbers afterwards, the Hungarian Jewish community remained among the biggest in Central-Eastern Europe. Thus, for the Israeli Court that tried Eichmann, it was almost impossible to find survivor witnesses who had been in contact with Eichmann during the war with the possible exception of those from Hungary.5 For these reasons, the Hungarian Holocaust became the most important chapter of the Eichmann trial.

This paper examines the trial’s effects on the formation of Holocaust memory in communist Hungary. While some academics assert that the memory of the Holocaust was completely suppressed in the Soviet Union6 and its Eastern European communist counterparts,7 others argue that it was normalized through presentations of the events as parts of a larger phenomenon.8 The idea that the Holocaust in Hungary was a taboo topic in communist Hungary has been a persistent thesis in academia, but some researchers have recently started to reassess this claim.9

This paper argues that, while the Kádár regime in Hungary did not intend to emphasize the Jewish catastrophe and certainly not to draw attention to its Hungarian chapter of 1944, there nevertheless emerged, as a consequence of the Eichmann trial, a narrative of the Hungarian Holocaust. Through the various organs of the press, this narrative found public expression. Thus, the thesis according to which the Holocaust was taboo does not hold up to sustained scrutiny. Though this Holocaust narrative can be considered ideologically loaded and distorted, some of its elements—especially the question of Hungarian collaboration with Eichmann’s Sondereinsatzkommando in the deportation of Hungarian Jews—continue to preoccupy historians who study the period today.

This paper approaches the subject from a comparative perspective, taking into account state policies and the coverage of the Eichmann trial in other bloc countries as well. The comparative perspective helps accentuate systemic (bloc-wide) and country-specific goals of the party, and thus separates the strength of general communist ideological determinants from local policy factors in the presentation of the Eichmann trial. The analysis concentrates on two aspects: what the highest echelons of communist parties intended to emphasize in the Hungarian interpretation of the trial, and what kind of interpretation appeared in the press. In the end, the party’s political goals were only partially achieved. Control over newspapers simply guaranteed that certain key propaganda themes were included, rather than ensuring that other narratives would be excluded. Owing to a variety of factors, a partial narrative of the Hungarian specificities of the Holocaust did surface in the media.

A Problem for the Bloc

As the communist regimes aimed to offer an interpretation of World War II which would not only fit their contemporary Cold War narrative, but would also correspond to the principles of Marxism-Leninism, the Eichmann case presented a challenge to them. Communist doctrine interpreted World War II as the struggle between Fascism and anti-Fascism, but the proceedings of the trial focused first and foremost on Eichmann’s (and more broadly Nazi Germany’s) atrocities against Jews. That Jews were not targeted because of their political beliefs was hard to fit into the framework of the ideologically defined struggle put forward by the communists. The tension between these historical narratives posed a problem for all countries of the Eastern bloc on a systemic level.

Though there is no single coherent Marxist-Leninist theory of Fascism, it is possible to highlight some of the most important elements that Marxist thinkers and communist propagandists emphasized even well before World War II. Communist regimes were anti-fascist on an ideological basis, thus in their interpretation, World War II was first and foremost a fight between Fascism and anti-Fascism. During the interwar period, a number of Marxist theories described Fascism as a reactionary ideology supported by the petty bourgeoisie which aimed to crush the working class (which was opposed to capitalism).10 In the 1930s, Bulgarian communist leader George Dimitrov saw Fascism as the terroristic dictatorship of monopoly capitalism,11 while the official Comintern definition saw it as a tool of “finance capital” which aspired to create an organized mass basis.12 This strictly materialistic definition remained the official interpretation in communist countries until 1989.

After the war, the maintenance of the anti-fascist narrative had several functions in Eastern Europe. First, it served as a reminder of the successful struggle of communists in general, and the Soviet Union in particular, against Nazi Germany13 which was viewed not only as a military victory, but also a moral one.14 Furthermore, anti-Fascism was used to legitimize post-war communist rule by presenting it as the only guarantee against the resurgence of Fascism.15 Finally, the theoretical linkage between Fascism and capitalism served as a basis for attacks against Western European countries and the United States in the ideological battles of the Cold War. Communist regimes claimed that social oppression was not limited to Nazi Germany, but was inherent to all socio-economic structures based on capitalism. In the context of a struggle between Fascism and anti-Fascism, the persecution of Jews was never the primary focus of communist interpretations of the war.

The Eichmann trial posed another problem for “real socialist” states, in that Israel claimed the role of the main representative and articulator of Jewish interests. Each of the Eastern European communist countries still had Jewish communities (some larger, some smaller) living within its territory. That the most recent history of these communities would be interpreted through a framework defined by an Israeli court was highly undesirable for communist leaderships from a historical point of view. The editor of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union’s main newspaper, Pravda, talked candidly with Israeli diplomats at the time of the trial about Soviet unwillingness to cooperate openly on that basis. “We are not interested in strengthening the impression that Israel is the main defender of the Jewish people. The Red Army saved thousands of Jews”, he was quoted as having said. 16 Furthermore, the political dimension raised further issues for communist propaganda with regards to the trial. Especially since the Suez Crisis of 1956 and because of the increasingly Western orientation of its foreign policies, Israel was viewed as the “mainstay of Western imperialism” in the Middle East.17 The country’s ever closer relations with West Germany since the 1950s were described by communist propaganda as evidence of the Jewish state’s clear pact with Communism’s archenemy in Europe.18 This situation, therefore, raised important practical questions for the whole bloc with regards to the trial. Communist states had to decide if they would collaborate with the Israeli court (for example, by providing it with documentation), and whether the authority of the Israeli court to pronounce judgment on Eichmann could or should be acknowledged at all, instead of insisting on the trial of Eichmann in Eastern Europe.

There were also certain country-specific problems that the capture of Adolf Eichmann and his trial presented for Eastern European leaders. A generic narrative of communists fighting a war against Fascism was especially inaccurate in the Hungarian context. As opposed to Czechoslovakia or Bulgaria, the home-bred communist movement in Hungary, which, according to this generic narrative, fought domestic “fascists,” was weak and received little support from the population. As opposed to Poland, a country “without a Quisling and, in all of Nazi-controlled Europe, the place least likely to assist the German war effort,”19 Hungary entered the war on the side of Nazi Germany and remained its ally despite the abortive attempt to switch sides in 1944. Thus, unlike Poland and Czechoslovakia, each of which produced considerable resistance movements during World War II, Hungary had only generated a weak and insignificant equivalent.20 All of these inconvenient details made any narrative of a widespread popular struggle against Fascism during World War II particularly hard to substantiate, and the Eichmann trial threatened to highlight these contradictions.

Other bloc countries were wary of the impending trial for other reasons. The German Democratic Republic (GDR), as the socialist German state and “Victor of History” (Sieger der Geschichte), “exempted itself from all political and historical responsibility for the German past.”21 For East Germany, the Eichmann case thus represented an unparalleled opportunity and a very dangerous situation at the same time. It was an opportunity to condemn publicly the Federal Republic of Germany (FRG) as the sole ideological and political heir of Nazi Germany, as opposed to the GDR, “the only true anti-fascist state on German soil.”22 It was a danger because of the risk that leading or well-known East German political and intellectual personalities might be implicated at any point in the criminal process against Adolf Eichmann. In early 1960, perhaps as an answer to earlier East German accusations, the FRG government issued a Bulletin about former Nazis who had pursued remarkable careers in the GDR. The list included not only scholars, artists, members of the press and diplomatic services, but also several staff executives of the Communist Party. The bulletin mentioned 56 former NSDAP (Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei) members in the East German parliament that had been elected in November 1958.23 Moreover, perhaps to a greater extent than countries of the bloc that had existed before 1945, the propaganda of the GDR especially favored a future-oriented approach to national identity based on the “concept of successful struggle rather than a commemoration of past sacrifices or an acknowledgement of past failures and defeats.”24 The criminal procedure against Adolf Eichmann forced GDR propagandists to turn back towards the past and engage with the politics of history.

In Poland, the socialist regime prioritized a narrative of Polish victimhood at the hands of Nazi occupiers during World War II.25 The Polish self-image as the “martyr of the nations” went back (at least) to the nineteenth century,26 and was strengthened by the brutality of the Nazi occupation regime during World War II.27 The political leadership used this historical imagery to legitimize the country’s post-war Western borders and to divert attention from the fact that the Soviet occupation of Poland during the war was also tragic. The emphasis on Eichmann’s crimes against Jews was a competing narrative of what had happened in occupied Poland, and as such particularly challenging from the point of view of this Polish self-image.

Given these bloc-wide and country-specific problems of historical interpretations, the looming Eichmann trial (and the question of the propaganda that should accompany it) was dealt with in the highest echelons of the party.

Propaganda Goals, Hungarian Political Decisions and Bloc-Level Considerations

Even before Eichmann was captured, there had been signals from Moscow and elsewhere in the bloc as to which issues would later become prominent during his trial. The GDR had long been campaigning against West Germany, but starting in 1956, East German propagandists unleashed a full-scale attack. They claimed that former Nazis were in positions of power in the Federal Republic. The Israeli Foreign Ministry reported a secret meeting of the leaders of Jewish communities from Poland, Romania, Hungary and East Germany in Warsaw in early February 1960. According to Israeli information, the goal of the gathering had been to prepare a joint campaign against the Bonn government.28 Shortly after Eichmann’s capture was announced to the world, Soviet propaganda set out to attack West Germany, arguing that the country was trying to put a stop to the trial so as to prevent the exposure of ex-Nazis active in the ranks of the West German establishment.29

The targeting of the FRG stemmed from the Cold War power-balance, East Germany’s security concerns and its untenable economic and demographic situation at the time. Berlin was the only territory where the military forces of the two superpowers directly confronted each other, which caused increased tension between them. Despite the assertions of communist propaganda regarding the “crisis of capitalism,” the number of East German citizens escaping to the FRG was alarming for the political leaderships in both Berlin and Moscow.30 A recurrent theme of the USSR’s propaganda campaign against the FRG was the supposed resurgence of revanchism and militarism, signalling to some degree existing Soviet anxiety of a rearmed and nuclearized West Germany. In the light of these long-term Soviet strategies, it was predictable that during the Eichmann trial, the main propaganda goal in the bloc would be to attack the FRG.

Another element that was likely to appear in official communist comments on the Eichmann court procedure was a critical stance towards Israel. After a short period of what Uri Bialer described as “knocking on any door,” Israel’s foreign policies became increasingly oriented towards the West from about the beginning of the 1950s.31 During the Suez Crisis of 1956, Moscow sided with its Arab allies and after the war, Soviet-Israeli relations quickly deteriorated to an unprecedented low.32 Israel became the subject of insulting attacks in the Soviet media as an aggressor, alongside France and Britain, who had also participated in the invasion of Egypt. Furthermore, the USSR government was also trying to counter Soviet Jewish aspirations for emigration with an active anti-Israel propaganda campaign.33 The hostility towards the Jewish State would be sustained during the Eichmann trial.

In all probability, the Department of Foreign Affairs of the Central Committee of the Hungarian Socialist Workers’ Party (MSZMP KB Külügyi Osztály) was well aware of these trends, and it was the first organ of Hungary’s bureaucratic apparatus to work out a plan of action to deal with the Eichmann case. Their first proposal to the Politburo on June 24, 1960 suggested that Hungary should ask for the extradition of Eichmann from Israel so that he could be tried by a Hungarian court, with the rationale that he committed a great majority of his crimes against humanity in that country. 34 A trial held in Hungary would have also made it possible to control the ways in which evidence was presented, in other words how Eichmann’s activities in Hungary were narrated. The draft also proposed consultations with Czechoslovakia and Poland, two other bloc countries that were major sites of Eichmann’s activities during the war.35 However, after some brief deliberations with the Foreign Ministries of these two states and the Soviet Union, the initial plan to request Eichmann’s extradition was dropped because of the potential loss of prestige for the socialist states if Israel refused. Though the Czechoslovaks originally considered supporting the extradition request, Polish authorities ruled it out because the plan would not have “the slightest prospect of success, also because such a procedure would mean taking part in the conflict between Argentina and Israel,36 and because such a claim might bring about a counter claim by the Federal Republic of Germany, which is undesirable.”37 Instead, it was decided that any explicit recognition of the Israeli court’s jurisdiction was to be avoided.38 Such recognition would have run counter to the general position of socialist states, according to which Israel had no right to speak on behalf of world Jewry.

Given its strained relations with the state of Israel, the Hungarian government was unsure if it should fulfill the Israeli court’s request for documentation on Eichmann’s activities in the territory of Hungary during the war. Though Czechoslovakia insisted on publishing the materials first, Czechoslovakia and Hungary both provided Israel with the materials indirectly, through two semi-official organizations the names of which clearly mirror the official narratives of World War II. The National Committee of Persons Persecuted by Nazism in Hungary (Nácizmus Magyarországi Üldözötteinek Országos Bizottsága) and the Union of Anti-Fascist Fighters in Czechoslovakia39 (Svaz Protifašistických Bojovníků) were not affiliated with the Jewish communities or any Jewish organization for that matter. In Hungary, a volume entitled Eichmann in Hungary: Documents by Jenő Lévai appeared in English, German and French in March, 1961, clearly targeting Western audiences.40 It signalled an attempt by the Hungarian government to hold its grip over the historical memory of the war, and made clear that the Eichmann case would not be an occasion to emphasize the Jewishness of the majority of the war’s Hungarian victims. The resolution of the Hungarian Politburo of June 28, 1960 clearly outlined that the propaganda concerning the Eichmann trial should not focus on the historical narrative but on contemporary political goals. According to the resolution, “in view of neo-fascist symptoms visible in the life of the Federal Republic of Germany and the Zionist nature of the Israeli government’s foreign and domestic policy, [the case] must be used to strengthen the antifascist front against fascist efforts.”41

István Szirmai, the substitute member of the Politburo responsible for culture and ideology, suggested a way to connect Israel’s “Zionist policies” with the history of the war. His interest in the topic is unsurprising. Szirmai was born into a Jewish family in 1906 in the small town of Zilah (Zalău) in Transylvania. Although he started his political career in the Socialist-Zionist Hashomer Hatzair movement before the war, he later joined the Romanian Communist Party. The early 1940s found him in Budapest, living illegally as the liaison between Transylvanian communists and the Hungarian Communist Party. After spending the second half of the war in prison, Szirmai transferred to the Hungarian communists and acted as the party’s functionary unofficially responsible for “Zionist affairs” during the Rákosi period. His position toward Zionism was not in the least bit friendly at that time. He proposed to ban all Zionist organizations on the grounds that they were “spreading bourgeois nationalism, adding to the emigration craze through their organizations, smuggling hard currency, ‘rescuing property,’ and damaging the forint.”42 In the course of a private meeting with two ultra-left Zionist emissaries from Palestine in the late 1940s, Szirmai also opined that Zionism was “a dangerous ideology based on disregard for realities.” He prophesized that in a couple of years’ time, “nobody would consider himself Jewish in Hungary.”43 Ironically, Szirmai was imprisoned for his “Zionist activities” by Mátyás Rákosi at the beginning of 1953, when Rákosi was planning a Hungarian Zionist show trial similar to the Doctors’ Plot in the USSR and the Slánský trial in Czechoslovakia. Therefore, it is hardly surprising that during the Politburo meeting in 1960, Szirmai highlighted that


there are certain matters which severely compromise the Israeli government and the Zionist movement. Eichmann knows about these things, and the Israelis don’t want them to come to light. Such factors also exist. There was that Kaszner [sic] affair, whom the Israeli government had shot in order to shut him up.44


Rezső (Rudolf) Kasztner was a Jewish journalist from Transylvania who was a member of the Hungarian Zionist movement. At an early age, he joined the youth group Barissia, the members of which were preparing to become citizens of the envisioned future state of Israel. During the war, Kasztner moved to Budapest, where, as a member of the Jewish Rescue and Aid Committee, he tried to help Jewish refugees obtain exit visas to go to Palestine. In 1944, he successfully negotiated with Eichmann the transport of one train with 1,658 Jews on it to neutral Switzerland.45

Szirmai was suggesting at the Politburo session that Kasztner was assassinated because, as a supporter of the Zionist movement during the war, he had cooperated with the Nazis to save wealthy Jews from extermination. He implied that the Israeli government had arranged Kasztner’s death to prevent him from revealing this connection between Zionism and Nazism. Contrary to Szirmai’s claims, Rezső Kasztner was shot in Tel Aviv by a young supporter of the extreme right wing, Zeev Eckstein, and not on the orders of the Israeli government, of which Kasztner was a member as a spokesman for the Ministry of Transportation. Szirmai’s version of the story is therefore rather absurd, but nevertheless highlights a possible avenue through which the unfriendliness of communist leaderships towards the state of Israel in the 1960s could influence their official narratives about World War II.

At the same Politburo meeting, General Secretary of the party János Kádár also touched upon the question of historical interpretations of the Hungarian Holocaust that should be brought forward in official propaganda. He emphasized that


[i]t’s not a good idea to turn these awful fascist affairs into an exclusively Jewish question. If we do act in this affair, the decisive thing should be that Eichmann murdered hundreds of thousands of Hungarian citizens... Eichmann did not only murder Jews, there were others there, too. This is not a Jewish question; this is the question of fascism and anti-fascism.46

By emphasizing the fascist/anti-fascist struggle, Kádár indicated that he intended to strictly follow the official communist interpretation.

Although it is true that more than half a million Jewish victims of the Holocaust were Hungarians, one problematic part of Kádár’s statement was his assertion that they had been citizens. The majority of Hungary’s Holocaust victims were killed because they were considered Jewish, and not because of their Hungarian nationality (or citizenship), as Kádár’s remark implies. The General Secretary also overlooked the fact that by 1944, the elected governments of the Hungarian state had deprived Jews of most of the rights citizens would usually enjoy, restricting their access to employment, education and property, and curbing their right to free movement and marriage.47

This illustrates an especially problematic part of the Hungarian communist state’s attitudes toward the war. Kádár’s regime condemned the Horthy establishment as fascist, but it placed the blame for the alliance with Nazi Germany on “the ruling classes” and their oppression and manipulation of the proletariat and the peasantry. At the same time, it negated official governmental attempts in the course of the war to achieve an armistice48 and overlooked the general public’s acceptance and, in many cases, endorsement of anti-Semitic policies. Kádár’s presentation thus deliberately ignored the domestic political roots of and popular support for Hungary’s alliance with Nazi Germany, which offered territorial revisions for Hungary’s benefit, because these details of history did not fit into the communist narrative of the war and would have undermined the Communist Party’s claim for legitimacy in Hungary, built on the myth of widespread anti-fascist resistance.

Successful Attainment of Propaganda Goals: the Implication of the Federal Republic of Germany

Though it has been argued in academic literature that propaganda always reflected the policy goals of the communist leadership,49 in the post-Stalinist context, the two certainly should not be equated. The following pages present the Hungarian media coverage of the Eichmann trial’s court proceedings in four dailies (Népszabadság, Népszava, Magyar Nemzet and Esti Hírlap), on the national Radio Kossuth, and in the official journal of the Jewish community: Új Élet.50 Népszabadság was the national paper of the Hungarian Socialist Workers’ Party, while Esti Hírlap unofficially belonged to the Party’s Budapest unit and the municipal leadership of the capital (Fővárosi Tanács) and was more like a tabloid. Népszava was the official daily of the trade unions and, thus, its target audience was the workers. Magyar Nemzet was the newspaper of the Patriotic Peoples’ Front (Hazafias Népfront) and essentially addressed the intelligentsia. As mentioned above, Új Élet was the official paper of the Jewish religious community, though it operated under strict political supervision. Hungarian media covered the trial very thoroughly, with about seventy articles in the aforementioned papers appearing during the trial and one hundred and thirty-seven articles altogether in the period beginning with the capture of Eichmann and ending with his execution (see Table 1).

Three journalists were allowed by the government to be present at the court in Jerusalem: Tibor Pethő of Magyar Nemzet, László Koncsek of the Hungarian Radio and Sándor Barcs from the Hungarian News Agency (Magyar Távirati Iroda). Tibor Pethő was the son of Sándor Pethő, the founder of Magyar Nemzet, and had worked for the paper as the editor of foreign news reports between 1952 and 1957. He was among those who supported Imre Nagy during the revolutionary events of 1956 and was even a member of the National Alliance of Hungarian Journalists (Magyar Újságírók Országos Szövetsége) that negotiated with the Kádár government in 1957, trying to convince them to allow certain banned newspapers to be published again. The negotiations bore no fruit and Pethő was then employed by Hétfői Hírek, a newspaper of little significance. He was reinstated to Magyar Nemzet in 1960 and thus the coverage of the Eichmann trial was his first major assignment. The politicians responsible for Hungarian cultural policies probably speculated that Pethő would follow the principles set by the regime in his reports on the Eichmann trial. Sándor Barcs, who had been a fellow traveller of the Smallholder’s Party before the communist takeover in 1948, was the head of the Hungarian News Agency (Magyar Távirati Iroda), as well as a representative in Parliament and, as of 1959, a member of the Presidential Committee (Elnöki Tanács). Thus, he was a safe choice to toe the line defined by the Politburo when covering the proceedings of the trial. László Koncsek was an editor of the Hungarian radio and a specialist on the Middle East, though he mostly wrote travel diaries.

However, many others also wrote about the trial: more than twenty other journalists and historians produced articles or reports. Among them were Ilona Benoschofsky, head of the Hungarian Jewish Museum, who wrote five articles for Új Élet, and Jenő Lévai, who was considered an authority on the history of Fascism and World War II in Hungary and the author of the aforementioned collection of Hungarian archival documents on the Holocaust published in 1961.51


…the trial



Magyar Nemzet

Új Élet

Esti Hírlap




































Table 1: Coverage of the Eichmann trial in the Hungarian media (no. of articles)


An analysis of the articles that appeared on some aspect or aspects of the Eichmann trial reveals the extent to which the party line described above was followed and the degree to which the Kádár regime successfully controlled the narrative of World War II and the Holocaust.

Hungarian media put great emphasis on the critique of West Germany. That former Nazis were still occupying high positions in West Germany was the most common topic in the Hungarian coverage of the proceedings, appearing in almost half of the articles on the Eichmann case (see Table 2). Új Élet noted, for instance, “with regards to Eichmann’s case, attention must be drawn to the situation in West Germany and the unchanged activities of the rest of the Nazi criminals.”52 The press also targeted specific individuals in the West German political establishment. It claimed that out of 17 West-German Ministers and Secretaries of State, “12 belonged to the leadership of the Nazi Party” and that “among the admirals and generals of the Bundeswehr, 40 had served in Hitler’s Wehrmacht.53 The politicians in question were frequently mentioned by name, among them Hans Globke, one of the closest aides to Chancellor Konrad Adenauer and a man who played an important role in drafting anti-Semitic laws at the Ministry of the Interior during the Nazi period, and Gerhard Schröder, Minister of the Interior. Accusations against Schröder were not new, as his Nazi past had been aired years before, even in the West.54


…the trial








Reporting on the trial itself








Eichmann’s earlier life and career, Eichmann’s activities in Hungary, Holocaust








Alliance between wealthy Jews and Nazis during World War II








Critique of West Germany








Critique of other Western countries

and organizations (Austria, USA, NATO)








Critique of Israel (alliance with West Germany)








Critique of Zionism









1 Of all the articles that appeared during the period under investigation (i.e. before, during or after the trial), what percentage of the total number of articles dealt with the given issue. The total number of articles is in Table 1.

Table 2: Coverage of the Eichmann trial in the Hungarian media (issues)


The focus on the critique of West Germany was perfectly in line with the interpretation by Soviet media, which held that during the Eichmann trial, “attempts were made to not reveal former Nazis”55 and that Chancellor Adenauer permitted “yesterday’s assistants of Hitler, Himmler and Kaltenbrunner to occupy leading posts”56 in the Federal Republic. According to the contemporary press analysis of B’nai B’rith,


the press treatment of the Eichmann case in the Soviet Union prior to the opening of the trial on April 11 was marked by 1) relative paucity; 2) an emphasis upon an alleged relationship between Eichmann’s crimes and present-day rulers of West-Germany; and 3) a general minimization of Eichmann’s crimes against Jews compared with his crimes against people generally. These features continued after the trial began.57

Likewise, in the German Democratic Republic, the trial in Jerusalem served as a pretext to attack the political elite of the Federal Republic: a Jewish-German lawyer, Friedrich Karl Kaul was sent to Jerusalem to present compromising documents on Hans Globke,58 and many brochures on the issue were published at home.59 For instance, right after Eichmann’s capture, East Berlin propagandists quickly produced two pamphlets entitled “Globke and the Extermination of the Jews” [Globke und die Ausrottung der Juden] and “New Proof of Globke’s Crimes against the Jews” [Neue Beweise for Globkes Verbrechen gegen die Juden]. The Israeli prosecution was approached by the East Germans to allow Kaul to join the team as an adviser, but Attorney General Gideon Hausner rejected the request on the grounds that there were no diplomatic relations between Israel and East Germany.60

The Czechoslovak news agency Ceteka emphasized on the occasion of Eichmann’s execution in 1962 that the trial had not been carried out “to the full” despite the death sentence. According to Ceteka, “fascist groups” in the FRG and some other Western countries not only offered financial support to Eichmann’s counsel, Dr. Servatius, but also “moral support” in the Western press.61

It is thus clear that the denunciation of West Germany was a priority in communist states. The press and the propaganda machinery reacted in unison with well-known accusations that did not present anything new in addition to the countries’ previous positions towards the FRG. Most of the accusations were not only old, but had already been published in the West as well.

Closely connected to accusations against the Adenauer government for having forgiven and even having been supportive of former Nazis was the presentation of Israel as a collaborator with West Germany. This was a much more complicated issue, as the task of communist propaganda here was to criticize Israel without appearing anti-Semitic. Journalist Tibor Pethő remembered that before they were sent off to Jerusalem to report on the trial, István Szirmai had instructed them to be careful not to incite anti-Semitic feelings among the Hungarian population.62

The issue of Israeli–West German collaboration appeared twenty-two times in Hungarian newspapers and radio programs during the period under investigation, making it the fourth most salient issue. The articles claimed that, in order to preserve good relations between Israel and West Germany, Israeli authorities made sure that Eichmann’s confessions would not affect certain high-ranking German politicians negatively.63 According to one article, Ben Gurion “met Adenauer with a secretive smile on his face and he contentedly patted the side pocket of his jacket as he left. If one had looked into it (the pocket), one would have found a check for about 500 million [Deutsche] Marks.”64 According to another report, “[t]he Eichmann-trial, instead of becoming the trial of the general condemnation of Fascism, turned into a West German–Israeli affair. Behind the trial, there are shady economic and political interests that are seldom revealed.”65 Not only did the Hungarian press criticize the Israeli leadership for “collaboration” with West Germany, certain articles also implied that the elites of Hungary’s Jewish population had collaborated with the Nazis during World War II. Magyar Nemzet elaborated on this issue as follows:


Ferenc Chorin,66 who had been arrested by the Gestapo, and his “interrogator” Kurt Becher, SS-lieutenant-colonel, negotiated for weeks. Several arrested members of the Hungarian plutocracy joined the meetings. Rich capitalists who were still free also took part in the negotiations in the prison… The group of rich capitalists arrived in Lisbon on June 25 [1944] on a German private plane. A day before, the removal of everyday Jewish people had been completed in Budapest, and two days later, the first phase of the Eichmann mission ended with the deportation of 420 thousand people to Auschwitz. Hitlerite Fascism, while loudly condemning “plutocratic” capitalists, killed the workers with one hand and saved the capitalists with the other, proving its real class character.67

Taken together with depictions of “shady economic and political interests” behind the trial, the Hungarian press coverage not only asserted continuity between Nazi Germany and the FRG, but also implied a similar continuity between the behavior of Jewish leadership in East-Central Europe during World War II and that of the leading Israeli politicians in the 1960s. The relations between Israel and West Germany, as well as a few selected members of the Hungarian Jewish community and Nazi officers during World War II, expressed in such images are reminiscent of older anti-Semitic stereotypes of Jews as worldly, greedy and involved in questionable business transactions “behind the scenes.” The victims appear first and foremost as members of the working class, and the fact that they were deported on the basis of race is underplayed. At the same time, one gets the impression that all Jewish members of the capitalist higher elites were exempted from persecution as a result of secret negotiations. Even if we accept that the Hungarian Politburo indeed did not want to incite anti-Semitic feelings, such reports, which featured quite prominently among those before the trial (see Table 2), clearly made use of anti-Semitic imagery. In that sense, the bloc-wide use of propaganda to draw links between Nazi Germany, the FRG and Israel (and the determination to frame wartime deaths in the context of class) had the potential to override the Hungarian state’s intention to separate criticisms of Israel from anti-Semitism.

A Less Successful Implementation of Propaganda: Public Memory and the Holocaust Narrative

As Table 2 reveals, before the trial took place, the historical narrative of Eichmann’s activities in Hungary and, closely related to that, the ghettoization and deportation of Jews to Auschwitz dominated the discourse in the Hungarian press. More than sixty percent of the articles addressed these issues, making the history of the Holocaust in Hungary the most prominent theme. The articles revealed a lot of information on Eichmann’s activities before and during his Hungarian mission, as well as particulars about his relations with the leadership of the Hungarian state administration and the Budapest Jewish Council. Information about these details was available to the journalists due to a remarkable amount of publications that had been produced in the immediate postwar years,68 material to which some of the press articles explicitly referred.69

A dominant narrative in these pre-trial historical accounts in the Hungarian press portrays the behavior of the Hungarian state administration. “At the beginning of April 1944, in a meeting room of the Hungarian Ministry of the Interior,” reported Esti Hírlap, State Secretaries “László Endre, László Baky, the leaders of the gendarmerie and the German specialists gathered for a meeting to decide about deportations and discuss the details.”70 At that same meeting, an agitated Regent Horthy is quoted in Népszava as having said, in reference to the Jews of Hungary, “[o]ut with them from the country!”71 Népszabadság claimed that Eichmann’s special commando “counted on the help of the Sztójay government [for ghettoization], but it was a welcome surprise for them that the Hungarian government voluntarily provided the services of 20,000 gendarmes.”72 Not only was the Hungarian state administration presented as a willing partner of Eichmann, but on several occasions, as initiator of the deportations of the country’s Jews. For example, Eichmann was quoted as having claimed that “he had promised László Endre that not a single Jew would remain alive,”73 implying that the issue was more important to the Hungarian State Secretary of the Ministry of the Interior than to the Obersturmbannführer. As for the period following the takeover of power by the Arrow Cross movement, Esti Hírlap reported that Eichmann and his men “found in Szálasi and his men like-minded souls.”74

The leadership of the Hungarian state administration, members of the national socialist Arrow Cross (nyilaskeresztes) movement, and Regent Horthy himself were all referred to as fascists. There appeared to be no distinction between the ideas represented by the Regent, who was still in power when the deportations began (and whose political stance was based on a conservative-Christian set of values that fed on the traditions of the Hungarian nobility), the Sztójay government (which collaborated with the Germans in the implementation of the Holocaust) and Arrow Cross leader Ferenc Szálasi’s premiership (which instituted large-scale violence against Jews).

The terminology dated back to the People’s Courts (népbíróság) of the early postwar years, which were established to prosecute war criminals, but came under strong communist influence.75 In addition to convicting war criminals, they also aimed to discredit the entire Horthy period, and with that, the political adversaries of the communists, while not addressing the problem that broad segments of the Hungarian population had supported many of the ideas and policies of the Horthy regime.76 The transformation of the Horthy era into a “fascist dictatorship” tantamount to that of Hitler and Mussolini continued in Hungarian historiography during the Rákosi period.77

During its early years, the Kádár regime maintained this narrative, and its first interpretations of the 1956 “counter-revolution” established continuity between the White Terror that followed the fall of the Hungarian Soviet Republic of 1919, the “fascist” Horthy regime and the events of October 1956. According to official publications that appeared in Hungary between 1957 and 1959, the outbreak of the “counter-revolution” was linked to the infiltration of Hungary by fascist elements from the West and the re-emergence of domestic Hungarian fascists from the Horthy era and the Arrow Cross movement.78 The masses were tricked by the “nationalist, chauvinist, and anti-Soviet” catchwords used by the clandestine fascists in order to gain support. The February 1957 “Resolution of the Hungarian Socialist Workers’ Party with regards to Current Questions and Tasks” referred to the October events as a “counter-revolution” but attributed the actions of the population to a smaller group of provocateurs.79 This minority of inimical elements, the party narrative maintained, “using the dissatisfaction of the masses caused by the previous party leadership’s mistakes, aimed to confuse the working masses’ class consciousness with chauvinist, nationalist, revisionist, anti-Semitic and other bourgeois counterrevolutionary ideas.”80 In order to substantiate the interpretation of the 1956 revolution as having been instigated by (domestic and returning foreign) fascists, Kádár’s propaganda exaggerated their presence and influence during the Horthy era. Therefore, even though the Kádár regime did not prioritize the narration of the Hungarian Holocaust in relation to the Eichmann trial, the reiteration of earlier claims about the strong alliance between Horthy’s establishment and Nazi Germany, as well as the “fascism” of the former did correspond to other propaganda goals of the time related to the 1956 revolution.

After the Eichmann trial began in April 1961, however, the historical narrative spectacularly lost its prominence in the Hungarian press. Close to ninety percent of all the articles that presented the historical narrative appeared before the trial. At the same time, Hungarian propaganda was especially unsuccessful at having the Eichmann trial presented not as “a deportation story but an attack on the reviving West-German imperialism and its Nazi cadres,”81 and the trial’s certain details as a series of events that happened to “Hungarian citizens.” Such a goal would have been hard to achieve because, during the course of the trial in Jerusalem, the fact that the great majority of the Eichmann’s victims were Jews came to the fore.

The proceedings, witnesses and supporting documents of the trial became predominantly focused on the persecution of Jews during World War II. For instance, the trial highlighted the fact that Hungarian authorities had discriminated specifically against Jews with numerous anti-Semitic measures. During one session, a document presented to the Presiding Judge described a debate in the Hungarian Parliament from December 1942 on the question of labor camps for Jews and the ban on Christian women from work in Jewish homes. During the same session, another document revealed that Jewish intellectuals had been made to perform forced labor in Hungary in 1943.82 Furthermore, some eyewitness accounts mentioned the economic interests of some of the Hungarian population in acquiring Jewish property as a result of deportations. Hansi Brand remembered one of the marches on foot when thousands of Jews had been driven through the streets by the SS.83 When asked about how the Hungarian public had reacted to the scene, Brand answered that “[s]ome just stared at them dully—they were the better ones; the others were pleased that those who had been bombed out were going to have nice Jewish flats.” 84 This kind of narrative ran counter to Kádár’s grouping of all victims under the undifferentiated category of “Hungarian citizens.” On the contrary, it revealed that Jews were explicit targets of legal discrimination, that different groups within Hungarian society had different interests, and that the persecution of one group could mean potential economic gain for another.

As a result of the thematic focus of the trial in Jerusalem, very few articles during the Eichmann trial in the Hungarian press dealt with non-Jewish (or non-specified, general) suffering only. Even if one part of a certain article only mentioned the victimization of citizens in general, some other part of the piece usually revealed that they were indeed Jews. Népszabadság reported first on Hungarian issues that were discussed during the trial. One article provides a fine example of how the Party line and the story of the Jewish Holocaust both appeared within one text. When introducing the Hungarian period of Eichmann’s activities, the newspaper claimed that the documents of the prosecution had revealed “the bloody and dirty details of Eichmann’s reign of terror in Hungary...” including “the tragic history of four hundred thousand Hungarians who were killed in gas chambers and during death marches.”85 This kind of phrasing followed the party line introduced by Kádár. Yet the same report later described negotiations with the leaders of the Jewish religious community in March 1944, just days after the German invasion. The article presented how Eichmann’s subordinates had claimed that “‘[n]othing will happen to the Jews,’ they said, ‘with the exception of a few restrictive measures. Please calm the Jews down.’ At the end of May... deportations began.”86 Despite the vagueness in the introduction, the most common feature of the Hungarians killed in gas chambers—their Jewishness—was eventually made quite clear.

To determine the level of relativization of Jewish victimhood during the war, I examine newspaper reports that discuss both Jewish and unspecified or general victimhood in the same article. Before the trial, 36 articles dealt with victimhood during the war, out of which 55.6 percent (20) dealt only with Jewish victimhood, 13.9 percent (5) dealt only with unspecified victimhood and 30.5 percent (11) dealt with both issues. During the trial, 33 articles dealt with victimhood during the war, out of which 72.7 percent (24) dealt only with Jewish victimhood, 21.2 percent (7) dealt only with unspecified victimhood and only 6.1 percent (2) dealt with both issues (See Table 3). It is clear that articles and programs that dealt exclusively with Jewish victimhood were much more pronounced during the trial than before it. The first reports about the trial’s presentation of Eichmann’s activities in Hungary during World War II claimed that “Eichmann was the lord of life and death in Budapest and the despot of Hungarian Jews,”87 and, more specifically, that “Eichmann traveled to Budapest in 1944 personally to supervise the deportation of Jews.”88 Eyewitness accounts were quoted that also concentrated on Jewish persecution. According to an article in Magyar Nemzet, “Eyewitness accounts presented last Friday at the Nazi mass murderer’s trial revealed that Eichmann beat to death a Jewish boy who stole cherries from his garden in the shed of his Budapest villa in 1944.”89

Coverage of non-Jewish suffering and combined coverage (i.e. Jewish and non-Jewish suffering in one article or radio program) were much more frequent before the trial. This suggests that, because the information and conclusions resulting from the trial were determined by the Israeli attorneys, the Hungarian regime lost control over the terms of reference, and this in turn led to an increase in the number of reports and stories dealing with Jewish victimhood in the Hungarian press. The trial simply did not provide Hungarian journalists with sufficient material to allow them to focus on general/unspecified victimhood.


…the trial




Mentions Jewish victimhood during the war




Mentions only Jewish victimhood during the war




Mentions unspecified/general victimhood during the war




Mentions only unspecified/general victimhood during the war




Mentions Jewish and general victimhood during the war





Table 3: Coverage of the Eichmann trial in the Hungarian media (Holocaust)


Using the Kasztner case to imply close links between Zionists and Nazi officers in Hungary was another part of the propaganda strategy that failed. The Israeli court was very cautious not to involve Kasztner’s case in the proceedings. The whole Kasztner problem signified a deep ideological split in Israeli society and politics between the nationalist right wing and socialist-Zionist left wing. At any rate, the court was not likely to be particularly sympathetic to Kasztner; Judge Benjamin Halevi had also been the President of the Court at the Grünwald trial, in which the Israeli government had sued Malkiel Grünwald for libel against Rezső (Rudolf) Kasztner. Famously, the trial ended with Halevi ruling that three out of the four charges were true, therefore not libellous. These were: collaboration with the Nazis; “indirect murder” or “preparing the ground for the murder” of Hungary’s Jews, and saving a war criminal (Kurt Becher) from punishment after the war.90 The judge was also quoted as having said that Kasztner “sold his soul to the devil.”91 The trial shook the Israeli public and led to the resignation of Prime Minister Moshe Sharett in 1955. The government appealed to the Supreme Court immediately after Halevi had read out the ruling. However, it took another three years for a new verdict, which overturned most of the judgment against Kasztner. On March 3, 1957, well before that judgement was released, Kasztner was shot, and he died two weeks later. To avoid the possibility of a similar scandal, witnesses who would have been too supportive or too inimical to Kasztner were not invited to testify at the Eichmann trial.92 With the elimination of the Kasztner case, Hungarian propagandists lost their main angle for criticizing the Hungarian Zionist movement.

A comparison with Polish media coverage of the Eichmann trial helps provide a nuanced view of its presentation by the Hungarian press. Like the Hungarian, Polish media attempted to present the Holocaust in a manner that did not contradict the narrative of Polish victimhood by emphasizing the special significance of Poland in the Jewish genocide. Trybuna Ludu pointed out that


Polish territories have a special place in the history of the extermination of Jews. The very first acts of extermination were committed on Polish Jews. In the first phase of the criminal plan the persecutions were directed against both the non-Jewish and Jewish population of Poland.93

Yet according to the aforementioned report by B’nai B’rith, “[w]hile criticism of the current West German Government and its alleged links to Eichmann is to be found in the [Polish] press coverage, Jewish martyrdom is the dominant theme.”94 Though the report has to be evaluated with consideration of its biases originating in the Cold War situation, other sources confirm this claim. A journalist named Kazimierz Kąkol covered the Eichmann trial for the paper “Law and Life” (Prawo i Życie), and a book based on his dispatches was published in 1962 under the title “Eichmann’s Road to Beit Ha’am” (Adolfa Eichmanna droga do Beit Haam). The publication sharply criticized the Israeli government’s way of conducting the trial and accused it of cooperation with the FRG, but it also pointed out the distinctiveness of the Jewish genocide.95 Based on a rereading of various Polish literary and academic pieces of the period, social anthropologist Annamaria Orla-Bukowska also argued that, while these texts only reached a limited audience, “the Holocaust actually began to enter public discourse… in the wake of the Eichmann trial.”96 Thus, Hungary was not the only country in the bloc where the Eichmann case opened up possibilities to acknowledge the Holocaust.

Perhaps more so than in Poland, however, the press in Hungary discussed Jewish victimhood without pairing it with a specific national tragedy narrative distinct from communist ideology. In Hungary, non-Jews who might have felt that they had suffered during the war were supposed to fit into one of two the categories: the working class or the communists. Those who did not consider themselves members of either of these two groups could not identify with the story of World War II presented by the Hungarian media.

Conclusions: Hungarian Policies, Propaganda and the Eichmann Case

This paper has examined the trial of Adolf Eichmann and its presentation in the Hungarian press. Communist ideology’s anti-Fascism defined its stance as “anti-anti-Semitic,” yet the revolutionary commitment of Marxism-Leninism created a framework for an interpretation of World War II which conceptualized the conflict as one between two opposing, ideologically defined camps (fascists and anti-fascists). Consequently, it was difficult to accommodate the idea of non-political victimhood, i.e. the destruction of Jews based on racist ideas and not because of their political commitments. This represented a problem for communist propaganda during the Eichmann trial, a process that highlighted the destruction of Jews as the worst crime of the Nazi regime.

Because of the Cold War situation, during which West Germany emerged as Communism’s main “enemy” in Europe, bloc-wide attempts to control the interpretation of the trial focused on the perpetrators, whom they hoped to connect with the government of the FRG. The identity of the victims was a secondary question—and this led to the relativization of Jewish victimhood—yet it was not actively suppressed.

Despite János Kádár’s speech at the Politburo, in which he warned against emphasizing the Jewish theme, Hungarian press reports during the trial repeatedly revealed who the primary victims of Nazi persecution had been. The trial’s thematization of Eichmann’s activities during World War II and eyewitness accounts about Hungary made such revelations rather difficult for the Hungarian press to avoid. This was all the more so because some elements of the story that emerged in the Jerusalem courtroom did not contradict or hamper the goals of the Hungarian leadership. Eichmann was judged guilty even before his trial had begun, both in Israel97 and in Hungary. The Hungarian witnesses carefully chosen by the Israeli court described, in great detail, the “cruelty of the Germans,”98 just as communist propaganda emphasized the brutality of Fascism. Thus, acknowledgement of Jewish victimhood as presented during the trial of Adolf Eichmann, however limited, allowed for the surfacing of at least a partial Holocaust narrative in Hungary: the trial effectively brought knowledge of the Holocaust to the broader Hungarian public through the coverage that was given in numerous major newspapers.

The possible reasons for the emergence of this partial Holocaust narrative could be found in various factors. The lack of a considerable anti-fascist resistance movement and widespread anti-Bolshevik sentiments among the population during the 1940s made the communist anti-fascist narrative completely incongruous with details of Hungarian history that were revealed at the trial. The Israeli court’s effective control over what was being said in the courtroom made it nearly impossible for the Hungarian journalists who were present at the trial not to present Jews as the primary targets of Nazi extermination policies.

Just as the Polish state instrumentalized Auschwitz as a political site of memory for World War II, the Hungarian regime attempted to use the Eichmann trial to strengthen (indirectly) its narrative of 1956. The Kádár administration, in particular, wanted to focus on the perpetrators to showcase “fascist elements” in society that, according to its narrative, had been responsible both for many wartime deaths and for the 1956 revolution. This propaganda goal was apparent especially during the months prior to the trial, when the historical account of World War II in Hungary was a frequently recurring theme in the Hungarian press. The wartime governments’ discriminatory actions were frequently depicted as targeting communists and the working class in general. The extensive use of the term “fascist” effectively diluted its meaning (which came to signify anyone opposed to communist policies) and prevented a meaningful discussion of the sources of anti-Semitic policies in Hungary during the Horthy period. As the deportation of Jews was blamed on a few in power, any discussion of the behavior of broader segments of Hungarian society was hindered. These Kádárist policies infantilized the public and suggested that social norms against anti-Semitism were relative or even inconsequential.

Despite its obvious omissions and distortions, the Kádár regime’s critique of the Hungarian government’s behavior during the last part of the war brought important points to light. Members of the Hungarian state administration were not “fascists,” but they bore responsibility for the extermination of the country’s Jews. The Kádárist narrative tried to incorporate the Holocaust into Hungarian history (rather than just treating it as part of Jewish or German history), but also tried to frame the anti-Semitism of the period as an element of Fascism and something that the communists had defeated, both in 1945 and 1956. This narrative may be ideologically loaded, but it should not be dismissed as complete fiction, much less as entirely tabooizing the Holocaust.



Primary Sources


Minutes of the Meetings of the Politburo of the Hungarian Socialist Workers’ Party, Hungarian National Archives

Papers of the Department of Foreign Affairs, Hungarian National Archives

Papers of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Secret Documents, Hungarian National Archives

Papers of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs – Israeli Missions Abroad, Israel State Archives

Records of Radio Free Europe, Czechoslovak Unit, Open Society Archives

Records of Radio Free Europe, Hungarian Unit, Open Society Archives


Esti Hírlap

Magyar Nemzet



Új Élet

Time Magazine


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1 David Cesarani, ed., After Eichmann. Collective Memory and the Holocaust after 1961 (London–New York: Routledge, 2005), 1.

2 Michael Rothberg, “Beyond Eichmann: Rethinking the emergence of Holocaust memory,” in History and Theory 46, no. 1 (2007): 74.

3 Hannah Arendt, Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil (New York: Viking Press, 1963).

4 Tamás Stark, “A magyar zsidóság a vészkorszakban és a második világháború után,” in Regio. Kisebbség, politika, társadalom 4, no. 3 (1993): 140–51.

5 It must be noted that the Israeli court’s choice of witnesses was strategic and influenced by politics. For details see: Hanna Yablonka, The State of Israel vs. Adolf Eichmann (New York: Schocken, 2004), esp. 88–120. Thirteen witnesses of Hungarian origin testified during the trial. Pinhas (previously Fülöp) Freudiger, who had been the head of the Orthodox Jewish community in Budapest from 1939. After the German invasion, he was appointed to the Jewish Council of Budapest. He and his family escaped to Romania in August, 1944 and settled in Israel after the war. Dr. Alexander (previously Sándor) Bródy, a writer who was assigned to labor service during the war and served as the director of the Joint-funded National Hungarian Jewish Aid Action (Országos Magyar Zsidó Segítő Akció, O.M.ZS.A.) from 1944. He left Hungary in 1949 and settled in Brazil. Mrs. Elisheva (Erzsébet) Szenes, a Slovakian-born journalist who escaped to Budapest but was then captured by the SS and sent to Auschwitz. She survived and settled in Israel after the war. Margit Reich whose husband perished in Auschwitz. She lived in Givatayim, Israel at the time of the trial but her children remained in Hungary. Dr. Martin Földi, a lawyer who was taken to Auschwitz. He moved to Israel after the war. Ze’ev Sapir, who was born in the village of Dobradovo, near the town of Munkács. He was deported to Auschwitz and subsequently sent to the Jaworzno labor camp. After surviving the war, he emigrated to Israel and worked with Youth Aliyah as a youth leader and teacher. Avraham Gordon, who was a minor living in Budapest during the war, and was forced to work at Eichmann’s villa in Buda. He was living in Israel at the time of the trial and worked at the Timna Copper Works. Dr. Tibor Ferencz, lawyer, who served as Prosecutor with the People’s Prosecution Office (Népbíróság) after the war and was present at the trials of László Baky and László Endre. He moved to Israel in 1957. Joel Brand, who was born in Naszód, Transylvania but grew up in Germany. During the Second World War, he was a member of the Relief and Rescue Committee which helped Jews escape to Hungary in the initial years of the war. After Hungary’s German occupation, the organization’s main goal became to save Jewish lives. Brand emigrated to Israel and lived in Tel Aviv at the time of the trial. Hansi Brand, Joel Brand’s wife, born in Budapest in 1912. She was also a member of the Relief and Rescue Committee. Moshe (Móse) Rosenberg was born in Hungary and served as the Chairman of the Jewish National Fund and also the member of the Relief and Rescue Committee. He left Hungary on the Kasztner train and consequently moved to Israel. Arye Zvi Breszlauer, lawyer, who was born in Vyšní Ridniczi, Eastern Slovakia, an area that had belonged to Hungary until 1918. During the war, he participated in the rescue operations of the Swiss Consulate in Budapest. Aviva Fleischmann, who was a hairdresser in Budapest during the war. Leslie Gordon, who was deported from Budapest to Kamianets-Podilskyi in 1941 and was living in Canada at the time of the trial.

6 See for example: William Korey, “Down History’s Memory Hole: Soviet Treatment of the Holocaust,” in Present Tense 10, no. 2 (1983): 53.

7 See for example: Randolph L. Braham, “Assault on Historical Memory: Hungarian Nationalists and the Holocaust,” in Hungary and the Holocaust: Confrontation with the Past. Symposium Proceedings, United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, Center for Advanced Holocaust Studies, 2001, esp. 51; Shari J. Cohen, Politics without a Past: The Absence of History in Post-communist Nationalism (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1999), esp. 85–118 (on Czechoslovakia); Michael Steinlauf, Bondage to the Dead: Poland and the Memory of the Holocaust (Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 1997).

8 Zvi Gitelman, “Politics and Historiography of the Holocaust in the Soviet Union,” in Bitter Legacy. Confronting the Holocaust in the USSR, ed. idem (Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 1997), 14–42.

9 A detailed analysis of the period’s memory politics can be found in Regina Fritz, Nach Krieg und Judenmord. Ungarns Geschichtspolitik seit 1944 (Göttingen: Wallstein, 2012), 229–78. Dániel Véri has examined, in various publications and exhibitions, the memory of the Holocaust in Hungarian art during the communist period. See for example his A halottak élén: Major János világa (Budapest: MKE, 2013). Some of the contributions in Vera Surányi, ed., Minarik, Sonnenschein és a többiek: zsidó sorsok magyar filmen (Budapest: MZSKE–Szombat, 2001) show the presentation of the Holocaust in Hungarian movies between 1945 and 1989. Teri Szűcs has focused on the representation of the Holocaust in literature, see especially her book A felejtés története – A Holokauszt tanúsága irodalmi művekben (Budapest: Kalligram, 2011).

10 David Beetham, ed., Marxists in Face of Fascism: Writings by Marxists on Fascism from the Interwar Period (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1983), 197–204; Léon Trotsky, The Struggle against Fascism in Germany (London: Pathfinder, 1971), 155–56.

11 George Dimitrov, Against Fascism and War (New York: International Publishers, 1986), 2.

12 “Theses on Fascism, the War Danger and the Tasks of the Communist Parties,” in The Communist International: 1919–1943. Documents, vol. 3, ed. Jane Degras (London: Oxford University Press, 1965), esp. 296.

13 Nina Tumarkin, “The Great Patriotic War as myth and memory,” European Review 11, no. 4 (2003): 596.

14 Nati Cantorovich, “Soviet Reactions to the Eichmann Trial: Preliminary Investigations 1960–1965,” Yad Vashem Studies 35, no. 2 (2007): 106.

15 François Furet, The Passing of an Illusion: The Idea of Communism in the Twentieth Century (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1999), esp. 396–437; Mark R. Thompson, “Reluctant revolutionaries: Anti-Fascism and the East German opposition” German Politics 8, no. 1 (1999): 43; James Mark, “Antifascism, the 1956 Revolution and the Politics of the Communist Autobiographies in Hungary 1944–2000,” Europe–Asia Studies 58, no. 8 (2006): 1209–40.

16 Avigdor Dagan, Moscow and Jerusalem. Twenty years of relations between Israel and the Soviet Union (London–New York–Toronto: Abelard-Schuman, 1970), 138–39.

17 Yosef Govrin, Israeli–Soviet Relations 1953–1967. From Confrontation to Disruption (London: Frank Cass, 1997), 45.

18 Ibid., 80.

19 John Connelly, “Why the Poles Collaborated so Little: And Why That is No Reason for Nationalist Hubris,” in Slavic Review 64, no. 4 (2005): 772.

20 István Deák, “A Fatal Compromise? The Debate Over Collaboration and Resistance in Hungary,” East European Politics and Society 9, no. 2 (1995): 209–33.

21 Katharina von Ankum, “Victims, Memory, History: Anti-Fascism and the Question of National Identity in East German Narratives after 1990,” in History and Memory 7, no. 2 (1995): 42.

22 Jan Herman Brinks, “Political Anti-Fascism in the German Democratic Republic,” Journal of Contemporary History 32, no. 2 (1997): 210. On attempts of the East German Stasi to stage anti-Semitic incidents in West Germany see Michael Wolffsohn, Die Deutschland-Akte: Juden und Deutsche in Ost und West: Tatsachen und Legende (Munich: Ferenczy bei Bruckmann, 1995).

23 Brinks, “Political Anti-Fascism,” 212–16. On the politics of the past in the DDR and Nazi war crimes see for example Henry Leide, NS-Verbrecher und Staatssicherheit: Die geheime Vergangenheitspolitik der DDR (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2006).

24 Ankum, “Victims, Memory, History,” 42.

25 Barbara Szacka, “Polish Remembrance of WWII,” International Journal of Sociology 36, no. 4 (2006–07): 12.

26 Norman Davies, Heart of Europe. A Short History of Poland (London: Clarendon Press, 1984), 202; Gerhard Wagner, “Nationalism and Cultural Memory in Poland: the European Union Turns East” in International Journal of Politics, Culture, and Society 17, no. 2 (2003): 205.

27 Joanna Wawrzyniak, “On the Making of Second World War Myths. War Veterans, Victims and the Communist State in Poland, 1945–1969,” in Die Weltkriege als symbolische Bezugspunkte: Polen, die Tschechoslowakei und Deutschland nach dem Ersten und Zweiten Weltkrieg, ed. Natali Stegmann (Prague: Masarykův ústav a Archiv AV ČR, 2009), 204–05.

28 Letter from the Israeli Foreign Ministry to the Israeli Legations in Budapest, Warsaw and Bucharest, February 12, 1960. Papers of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs – Israeli Missions Abroad, Folder no. 93.10/1–22, Israel State Archives.

29 Cantorovich, “Soviet Reactions to the Eichmann Trial,” 111–15.

30 Between 1945 and 1961, about two and a half million people fled the German Democratic Republic for the German Federal Republic, reducing the population of the former by fifteen percent. Frederick Taylor, The Berlin Wall. A World Divided, 1961–1989 (New York: HarperCollins, 2006), XVIII.

31 Uri Bialer, Between East and West: Israel’s Foreign Policy Orientation 1948–1956 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990), 2.

32 Benjamin Pinkus, The Soviet Government and the Jews 1948–1967. A Documented Study (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1984), 239.

33 Ibid.

34 Proposal of the Department of Foreign Affairs of the Central Committee of the Hungarian Socialist Workers’ Party to the Politburo in relation to the Eichmann case, by Imre Hollai and János Péter, June 24, 1960. Papers of the Department of Foreign Affairs, fond no. 288.32, document no. 1960/11, Hungarian National Archives.

35 In March 1939, Nazi Germany occupied Czechoslovakia and established a German Protectorate over Bohemia and Moravia. In the summer of the same year, Eichmann became responsible for promoting the expulsion of Czech Jews from the newly annexed Protectorate. Based on the pattern of the Viennese Central Office for Jewish Emigration (Zentralstelle für jüdische Auswanderung), Eichmann created an office in Prague. Eichmann stayed in Prague until October, 1939 before being called back to Berlin. After becoming director of the RSHA section IV B 4 in March 1941, Eichmann played an important role in the deportation of over one million Jews to killing sites mostly in occupied Poland. Eichmann arrived to Budapest years later, in March 1944. By that time, Jewish emigration had been stopped and the decision about the physical extermination of Jews, the so-called “Final Solution”, had long been made. By then, Eichmann had considerable experience organizing the transportation of Jews to extermination camps. Nevertheless, Sondereinsatzkommando Eichmann’s coordination in the deportation of almost half a million Jews to Auschwitz in an extremely short time (less than two months) was unprecedented.

36 In June 1960, Argentina requested a meeting of the UN Security Council, claiming that the Israelis had violated the sovereign rights of the republic when they had abducted Eichmann in Buenos Aires. After months of negotiations and the involvement of the Security Council, Israel and Argentina eventually agreed to end their dispute with a joint statement.

37 Czechoslovak Ministry of Foreign Affairs to Antonín Novotný, August 12, 1960. Published in Marie Chrová, “Israel in the foreign and internal politics of the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia in the 1960s and beyond” in Jewish Studies at the CEU, vol. 4, ed. András Kovács and Michael Miller (2004–2005) (Budapest: CEU, 2005), 264.

38 Though the Hungarians did acknowledge it with regards to people who had become Israeli citizens by the time of the trial.

39 Chrová, “Israel in the foreign and internal politics,” 263.

40 Jenő Lévai, ed., Eichmann in Hungary: Documents (Budapest: Athenaeum, 1961); idem, ed., Eichmann en Hongrie: Documents (Budapest: Kossuth, 1961); idem, ed., Eichmann in Ungarn: Dokumente (Budapest: Univ.druck, 1961). These books were printed in Budapest but were not officially published by any publishing house in Hungary. Therefore, it is highly probable that they were not available domestically.

41 “Decision of the Politburo, 28 June 1960,” in Jewish Studies, ed. Kovács and Miller, 221.

42 András Kovács, “Hungarian Jewish Politics from the End of the Second World War until the Collapse of Communism,” in Jews and the State: Dangerous Alliances and the Perils of Privilege, ed. Ezra Mendelsohn (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003), 133.

43 George Garai’s interview with A. Yaari, Jewish Agency emissary to the Hashomer Hatzair in Hungary between 1946–1948. Quoted in George Garai, The Policy towards the Jews, Zionism, and Israel of the Hungarian Communist Party, 1945–1953 (Unpublished PhD Thesis, London School of Economics, 1979), 128.

44 “Minutes of the Politburo of the Hungarian Socialist Worker’s Party 28 June 1960,” in vol. 4 of Jewish Studies at the CEU, ed. András Kovács and Michael Miller (Budapest: CEU, 2005), 217–18.

45 Anna Porter, Kasztner’s Train (Vancouver–Toronto: Douglas McIntyre, 2007), esp. 9–50.

46 “Minutes of the Politburo” in Jewish Studies, ed. Kovács and Miller, 218.

47 The first Anti-Jewish Law of 1938 ruled that Jews could occupy only up to twenty percent of positions in the free intellectual professions. The second Anti-Jewish Law, which was enacted a year later, capped Jewish presence in intellectual occupations at six percent and forbade their employment in legal and public administrative apparatuses and in secondary school education. Jews could not be employed by theatres or in the press in positions where it was feared they might influence the organs’ intellectual focus. The law limited the number of Jews employed at companies and reinstated the Numerus Clausus in education. Jews were completely excluded from trades that were subject to state authorization. The acquisition of agricultural property by Jews was made significantly more difficult. The third Anti-Jewish Law of 1941, which appropriated the racial definition of Jews used by the Nazi Nuremberg Laws, forbade mixed marriages between Jews and non-Jews and also criminalized sexual relationships between them. Other anti-Jewish Laws enacted in the following years discriminated against the Jewish religious community, completely forbade the acquisition of agricultural property by Jews, forced Jewish men into labor service and restricted Jewish rights to free movement.

48 There were a few semi-official attempts by the Kállay government to contact the British and the Americans as early as 1942, but as of the spring of 1943 (largely triggered by the catastrophic defeat of the Second Hungarian Army in the Voronezh area in January of that year), more serious efforts were made to contact the Allies to arrange an armistice. With regards to the Kádár regime’s attitude to the Kállay government, it must be pointed out that this position was later revised by the Department of Contemporary History (MTA Történettudományi Intézet Legújabbkori Osztály) under the auspices of the Academy of Sciences. Under the leadership of György Ránki, the department reevaluated the policies of the Kállay government (in office between March, 1942 and March, 1944), with special emphasis on attempts to abandon the war and break the alliance with Nazi Germany. Ránki, together with other historians such as Iván T. Berend and later Miklós Szabó, attempted to rehabilitate Kállay’s policies and show that the attempts to get out of the war were genuine. For more details see: See: Miklós Szabó, “A Ludovikától a Magvetőig,” Beszélő 3, no. 10 (1998). Accessed October 8, 2015, http://beszelo.c3.hu/98/10/13szab.htm.

49 Baruch Hazan, Soviet Impregnational Propaganda (Michigan: Ardis, 1982), 11–12. François Furet, The Passing of an Illusion: The Idea of Communism in the Twentieth Century (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1999), 180–81.

50 Based on the Radio Free Europe Press Survey collections available at the Open Society Archives, Records of Radio Free Europe, Hungarian Unit, fond no. 300-40-1, box no. 1606.

51 On Jenő Lévai’s role and activities during the Eichmann trial see János Dési, “Lévai Jenő Jeruzsálemben,” Múlt és Jövő 24, no. 1 (2015): 76–86. I would like to thank Ferenc Laczó for providing me with the manuscript before its publication.

52 “Az Eichmann per ítéletének nemcsak Eichmannt kell sújtania, hanem bele kell világítania a náci barbarizmus mechanizmusába is,” Új Élet, August 15, 1960.

53 István Merly, “Eichmann volt cinkosai a nyugatnémet államapparátusban,” Esti Hírlap, April 11, 1961.

54 For example, Time Magazine mentioned it in an editorial entitled “The Case of Otto John” as early as August 23, 1954. Accessed October 8, 2015, http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,823490,00.html.

55 Govrin, Israeli–Soviet Relations, 77.

56 William Korey, “In history’s ‘memory hole’: the Soviet treatment of the Holocaust” in Contemporary Views of the Holocaust, ed. Randolph L. Braham (Boston–The Hague–Dordrecht–Lancaster: Kluwer Nijhoff Publishing, 1983), 152.

57 “B’nai B’rith Report on Media Coverage of the Eichmann Case in Communist Countries, June 1961,” in Jewish Studies, ed. Kovács and Miller, 242–43.

58 Moshe Hess, Deputy to the Official in Charge of the Information Section, Israel Mission in Cologne to Leo Savir, Deputy Head of the Mission, 20 February, 1960. Paper of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs – Israeli Missions Abroad, document no. RG 93.43/MFA/584/5, Israel State Archives.

59 Angelika Timm, “Ideology and Realpolitik: East German Attitudes towards Zionism and Israel,” Journal of Israeli History 25, no. 1 (2006): 206.

60 RFE Special Report, Tel Aviv, March 29, 1961. Fond 300-40-1, box. 1606, Open Society Archives. Also: John P. Teschke, Hitler’s Legacy. West Germany Confronts the Aftermath of the Third Reich (New York: Peter Lang, 1999), 197.

61 “Eichmann – Communist reporting on execution.” Records of Radio Free Europe, Czechoslovak Unit: Fond 300-30-3, microfilm no. 63, Open Society Archives.

62 Adrienne Molnár, ed., A “hatvanas évek” emlékezete (Budapest: 1956-os Intézet, 2004), 147.

63 It must be noted that Deborah E. Lipstadt claims that Ben-Gurion asked the prosecutor during the Eichmann trial not to use the word “Germany” but only “Nazi Germany” when referring to the country during World War II to emphasize the discontinuity between the Third Reich and the FRG. See: Deborah E. Lipstadt, The Eichmann Trial (New York: Schocken, 2011), 25–26. It must be at least considered plausible that in view of Ben-Gurion’s support for the “new Germany” and the reparations paid by the FRG to the Jewish State for material damages during the Holocaust at that time, Israel did not want to jeopardize its good relations with West Germany by highlighting certain sensitive continuities. Therefore, though exaggerated, communist propaganda claims were not completely unfounded regarding this issue.

64 “Az Eichmann-ügy a leláncolt kacsa görbe tükrében,” Magyar Nemzet, April 15, 1961.

65 Tibor Pethő, “Ami a jeruzsálemi perből kimaradt,” in Magyar Nemzet, 23 July, 1961.

66 Ferenc Chorin was a wealthy Jewish businessman of the Horthy period, the director of Salgótarjáni Kőszénbánya Rt., a coal mine and its adjoining factory. Through his various posts in professional and political organizations, he also belonged to the closest political circles of Regent Miklós Horthy. Chorin was forced to resign from many of his various posts as a result of the anti-Jewish legislation in 1941. After Hungary’s occupation, he was among the first to be arrested by the SS. Nevertheless, he managed to negotiate a deal which resulted in the SS taking ownership (officially for 25 years) of the largest industrial empire in Hungary in exchange for the Chorin family’s departure to Portugal and Switzerland.

67 János Komlós, “Ami az Eichmann-ügy mögött van,” Magyar Nemzet, April 6, 1961.

68 See Ferenc Laczó’s “From ‘European Fascism’ to ‘the Fate of the Jews.’ Early Hungarian Jewish Monographs on the Holocaust” and also his “The Foundational Dilemmas of Jenő Lévai. On the Birth of Hungarian Holocaust Historiography in the 1940s,” Holocaust Studies 21, no. 1 (2015). I would like to thank Ferenc Laczó for providing me with his manuscripts. Péter Dávidházi and Tamás Kisantal explored similar topics, analyzing Hungarian literary texts about the Holocaust from the early postwar years in their presentations during the conference “Trauma-Holocaust-Literature” (Petőfi Irodalmi Múzeum, Budapest, November 2014).

69 “A budapesti kollégák,” Népszava, June 4, 1960 refers Jenő Lévai’s Fekete könyv a magyar zsidóság szenvedéséről (Budapest: Officina, 1946) and his Szürke könyv a magyar zsidók megmentéséről (Budapest: Officina, 1946). “Dokumentumok Eichmann magyarországi rémtetteiről,” Magyar Nemzet, June 5, 1960 references Ernő Munkácsi, though without providing further details.

70 “A halál minisztere. Tömegirtás és üzlet,” Esti Hírlap, December 6, 1960.

71 “Horthy és Eichmann,” Népszava, June 5, 1960.

72 “Adolf Eichmann elemében,” Népszabadság, June 3, 1960.

73 “Nyugat-Németországban letartóztatták Haupsturmführer [sic] Hunsche-t, Eichmann magyarországi helyettesét,” Új Élet, December 1, 1960.

74 “A halál minisztere.”

75 László Karsai, “The People’s Courts and Revolutionary Justice in Hungary, 1945–1946,” in The Politics of Retribution in Europe: World War II and its Aftermath, ed. István Deák, Jan T. Gross, and Tony Judt (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2000), 233–51. Viktor Karády, Túlélők és újrakezdők (Budapest: Múlt és Jövő, 2002), 15; Petru Weber, “A háborús bűnök megtorlása a második világháború utáni Romániában és Magyarországon,” Korall 8, no. 28–29 (2007): 134–45, esp. 141.

76 As early as 1948, eminent Hungarian political thinker István Bibó warned in an essay about the problems concerning the way in which the persecution of Jews in Hungary was addressed during the court procedures. According to Bibó, the conviction of criminals masked the fact that during World War II Hungarian society as a whole had abandoned the Jews before it had itself become the victim of Fascism. This, according to Bibó, was nevertheless never addressed and the victimhood of Jews was incorporated into the general group of the victims of Fascism. See: István Bibó, Zsidókérdés Magyarországon 1944 után (Budapest: Neuwald, 1948).

77 See for example: Gusztáv Heckenast et al., A magyar nép története: rövid áttekintés (Budapest: Művelt Nép, 1951).

78 Heino Nyyssönen, The Presence of the Past in Politics. 1956’ after 1956 in Hungary (Jyväskylä: University of Jyväskylä Printing House, 1999), 92–95.

79 Kalmár Melinda, Ennivaló és hozomány. A kora kádárizmus ideológiája (Budapest: Magvető, 1998), 29.

80 Minutes of the meeting of the Temporary Executive Committee, November 23, 1956. Minutes of the Meetings of the Politburo of the Hungarian Socialist Workers’ Party, M-KS 288.5/4, Hungarian National Archives.

81 Letter from Ferenc Esztergályos (Deputy Department Head, 2nd Regional Department of the Hungarian Ministry of Foreign Affairs) to János Péter with regards to the Eichmann trial, February 9, 1961. Papers of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Secret Documents, XIX-J-1-j (Izrael), box no. 13, 30/c, document no. 0081/4/1961, Hungarian National Archives.

82 Session 51, documents 972 and 1341 respectively, in The Trial of Adolf Eichmann. Record of Proceedings in the District Court of Jerusalem, vol. 3 (Jerusalem: State of Israel Ministry of Justice, 1993), 929.

83 On Hansi Brandt, see footnote 5 above.

84 Ibid., 1054.

85 “Jegyzetek a jeruzsálemi tárgyalásról,” Népszabadság, May 28, 1961.

86 Ibid.

87 “Eichmann magyarországi bűnei a jeruzsálemi bíróság előtt,” Magyar Nemzet, April 19, 1961.

88 “Tanúvallomás Eichmann budapesti gyilkosságáról,” Népszabadság, May 27, 1961.

89 “Eichmann további 29 bűntársát említi meg,” Magyar Nemzet, May 27, 1961. This episode was brought up during the proceedings to prove Eichmann’s direct responsibility in the commission of murder.

90 Akiva Orr, Israel: Politics, Myths and Identity Crises (London–Boulder, CO: Pluto Press, 1994), 83.

91 “ISRAEL: On Trial,” Time Magazine, July 11, 1955. Accessed July 25, 2011, http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,807322-3,00.html.

92 Neither Andreas Bliss nor Moshe Kraus, who both had relevant information with regards to the “Trucks for Blood” deal, was invited to testify, the former because it was believed he would try everything to clear Kasztner’s name, the latter for the opposite reason. See: Hanna Yablonka, The State of Israel vs. Adolf Eichmann (New York: Schocken, 2004), 118–19.

93 “B’nai B’rith Report,” 247.

94 Ibid.

95 Anat Plocker, Zionists to Dayan: The Anti-Zionist Campaign in Poland, 1967–1968 (PhD Thesis, Stanford University, 2009), 106.

96 Annamaria Orla-Bukowska, “Re-presenting the Shoah in Poland and Poland in the Shoah,” in Re-Presenting the Shoah for the Twenty-First Century, ed. Ronit Lentin (New York: Berghahn Books, 2004), 184.

97 Hanna Yablonka, The State of Israel vs. Adolf Eichmann (New York: Schocken, 2004), 121, 141.

98 Ibid., 120.

pdfVolume 4 Issue 3 CONTENTS

Introduction by the Special Editor


The emerging scholarly interest in the Holocaust in Hungary after 1989 was coincident with the increasingly transnational framing of Holocaust research. Since the fall of communist regimes across Central and Eastern Europe, historians of the Holocaust have not only aimed to situate the genocide of European Jews in its diverse local and national contexts, but also depicted it as a mass crime to which non-German perpetrators made substantial or even decisive contributions. The Holocaust in Hungary has clearly emerged as a case in point when it comes to the multifaceted and profound involvement of the local state and society. Accordingly, in recent years historians and social scientists have been exploring a broad variety of themes and local sources related to this last major chapter of the continent-wide genocide. Applying contemporary methods, they have come to suggest novel and intriguing approaches to contextualization. However, the Holocaust in Hungary arguably has not yet been given adequate attention in the international historiography.

These considerations prompted The Hungarian Historical Review to devote its present issue to the findings of current research initiatives which place the Holocaust in Hungary in diverse contexts. András Szécsényi’s “Development and Bifurcation of an Institution. The Voluntary Labor Service and the Compulsory National Defense Labor Service of the Horthy Era” provides a thorough examination of the emergence and transformation of the institution of labor service in Hungary, an institution infamously responsible in part for the segregation and mass murder of Hungarian Jews during World War II prior to 1944. Szécsényi’s study places the history of this institution into broader geographical and temporal frames, showing in detail how what had been a voluntary system in the second half of the 1930s was made compulsory and how in the context of anti-Semitic radicalization between 1939 and 1941 the labor service system increasingly became two separate systems. Exploring another key form of anti-Jewish discrimination and exclusion prior to 1944, Gábor Szegedi’s “Stand by Your Man. Honor and Race Defilement in Hungary, 1941–1944” draws on the growing interest in the history of emotions and analyzes Hungary’s 1941 turn to racist sexual politics. Highlighting notable links to the Nuremberg laws while also exploring remarkable differences from them, Szegedi’s study of court cases dissects the conceptions and functions of “feminine,” “Jewish” and “national honor.”

Szécsényi’s and Szegedi’s in-depth analyses are followed by three case studies on the main phase of the Holocaust in Hungary in the spring and summer of 1944. Regina Fritz’s “Inside the Ghetto: Everyday Life in Hungarian Ghettos” starts from the premise that ghettoization in Hungary was not a uniform process and the exact shape ghettos took depended largely on local authorities. In addition to presenting formal differences between these comparatively short-lived ghettos, the study draws on various surviving personal documents to explore the daily lives of persecuted Jews inside them. Attila Gidó’s “The Hungarian Bureaucracy and the Administrative Costs of the Holocaust in Northern Transylvania” and Anders Blomqvist’s “Local Motives for Deporting Jews. Economic Nationalizing in Szatmárnémeti in 1944” both examine the considerations that motivated perpetrators, offering case studies on the history of 1944 from Northern Transylvania. Drawing on critical theories of modern statehood, Gidó’s research meticulously reconstructs the key tasks created by ghettoization and deportation for the Hungarian bureaucracy on a regional level and thereby shows the profound “professional” involvement of state agencies in the administration of genocide. Anders Blomqvist’s contribution grapples with the question of the motivations of perpetrators and beneficiaries in the city of Szatmárnémeti (Satu Mare). The author distinguishes various types and levels of material involvement while also clearly underlining how broad segments of local society were implicated in the persecution of the city’s Jews through their support of a radical program of “economic re-Hungarianization.”

Kinga Frojimovics and Éva Kovács’s “Jews in a ‘Judenrein’ City: Hungarian Jewish Slave Laborers in Vienna (1944–1945)” provides novel insights into the experiences of Hungarian Jewish slave laborers in Vienna, a little known chapter of the Holocaust coinciding with the late stages of World War II. Drawing on an ongoing project to reconstruct, re-localize and commemorate these experiences, the article not only makes creative use of oral history sources but also clarifies key features of what its authors call “the Vienna paradox.” Kata Bohus’ “Not a Jewish Question? The Holocaust in Hungary in the Press and Propaganda of the Kádár Regime during the Trial of Adolf Eichmann” in turn broadens the chronological scope of the issue to the postwar period. Drawing on its author’s in-depth research into the attitudes and policies of communist-ruled Hungary to its Jewish population and the newly created state of Israel, Bohus dissects the ideological framing of Holocaust history and the contested nature of Holocaust remembrance under János Kádár, but also reveals a rather high degree of simultaneous responses to the Eichmann trial that at times challenged the official framing of 1944–45.

This thematic issue of The Hungarian Historical Review thus covers a wide range of topics, including the underexplored origins of the Hungarian labor service in the mid-1930s, the ideologically charged reception of the first major trial focusing on the Holocaust in the early 1960s, the history of human emotions, the “cold” history of a bureaucracy, the economic motivation and involvement of local perpetrators, and the specific experiences of Hungarian Jewish ghetto dwellers in various ghettos and slave laborers in an unfamiliar and inhospitable metropolis. Offering several new perspectives and the findings of an array of research initiatives, the issue ultimately hopes to foster further attempts at broader contextualization of key facets of the prehistory, implementation, and aftermath of the Holocaust in Hungary.


Ferenc Laczó

pdfVolume 3 Issue 4 CONTENTS

Mary Gluck

“The Jewish Ambassador to Budapest”: Mór Wahrmann and the Politics of “Tactfulness”

In this article I explore the cultural paradoxes associated with the articulation of Jewish identity in fin-de-siècle Hungary. By focusing on the political career of Mór Wahrmann, I trace the implicit contradictions of a liberal public sphere that officially recognized freedom of religion for Jews but implicitly banned all expression of Jewish cultural or ethnic difference. Reading Wahrmann’s career through his famous joke about the “Jewish ambassador in Budapest,” I argue that this system gave rise to a radically bifurcated public culture, which prohibited even the mention of a distinct Jewish identity in official politics or social life, but tolerated and even celebrated the performance of Jewish difference in the realms of commercial entertainment and humor. The paper is part of a larger book project entitled “The Invisible Jewish Budapest,” which attempts to recuperate the lost world of Jewish urban experience that flourished in Budapest in the years between 1867 and 1914.

Keywords: Jewish identity, fin-de-siècle Hungary, tolerance, anti-Semitism, Mór Wahrmann, political culture

The Funeral

On November 29, 1892, the citizens of Budapest were treated to an elaborate state funeral, staged according to the theatrical traditions that had become the custom of the fin-de-siècle Monarchy.1 The funeral was to honor Mór Wahrmann, the first Jewish Member of Parliament, who had represented for almost a quarter of a century the affluent Lipótváros, a neighborhood closely affiliated with Jewish capital and high finance. Wahrmann’s unexpected death provoked an outpouring of tributes in the national press, which showed remarkable consensus about the significance of his life and career. Wahrmann, the prominent politician, fabulously wealthy banker and businessman, and influential President of the Neolog Jewish Congregation of Budapest, was invariably depicted as the ideal type of the assimilated Hungarian Jew. More than the sum total of his individual achievements, Wahrmann’s life was seen as the symbolic expression of the aspirations of a secular and modernizing Jewish community. “The Jews of Hungary,” proclaimed the liberal daily, Pesti Hirlap, “possessed in Mór Wahrmann their virtual chief and leader.”2 Wahrmann’s exemplary status, however, transcended the Jewish community. He was also celebrated as a symbol of Hungarian liberalism and one of the mainstays of the Compromise of 1867, which had established the constitutional framework of the Austro–Hungarian Monarchy.3

Wahrmann’s funeral represented the summation and reenactment of the progressive principles that defined the liberal party. In particular, the funeral served to showcase a series of highly controversial secularization laws, recently introduced in parliament by the liberal party, which became the fulcrum of political battles for years to come. Since the crowning achievement of these measures was the so-called Law of Reception, granting Judaism equal status with other religions of the state, Wahrmann’s figure was a particularly charged symbol for the liberal establishment. There was no attempt to disguise the political agenda that formed the subtext of the funeral. As an editorial of the illustrated family magazine, Vasárnapi Ujság acknowledged the week after the ceremony:

In these days of deepening religious antagonism and strife, the general sympathy manifested at the funeral of this veteran figure of our public life has a virtually symbolic importance. Present at the funeral were members of the ruling party and officials representing every branch of our state and national institutions. Even the man of the street, usually indifferent to such things, made an attempt to express his condolences by his participation in the event. This was the emblem of our national solidarity, an encouraging sign for the future, and a rebuttal of hundreds of dark prophesies and thousands of disquieting fears.4

The political hopes proclaimed by the Vasárnapi Ujság were echoed in the hundreds of obituaries published in the wake of Wahrmann’s funeral. The defining themes of these obituaries were already sounded at a special session of parliament convened on the Monday after Wahrmann’s death. Sándor Hegedűs, speaking on behalf of the finance committee that Wahrmann headed for years, touched on Wahrmann’s remarkable abilities as an economic and financial expert.

No one had a more impressive capacity to harmonize practical life with abstract considerations […] Thus, he never supported a practical measure without theoretical and principled justification, and he never put forth a theory or principle without practical illustration.5

Károly Eötvös, a member of the opposition Independence Party and the former defense attorney of the Jews of Tiszaeszlár,6 singled out Wahrmann’s contributions to the Budapest Jewish Congregation, and Count Albert Apponyi stressed Wahrmann’s exemplary role in the transformation of the national capital into an increasingly Hungarian-speaking city.7

In these accounts, Wahrmann assumed the larger-than-life role of a man whose sheer force of character had allowed him to transcend the myriad contradictions threatening the unity of the liberal state. Successfully balancing economic pragmatism with political idealism, Hungarian national interests with the imperatives of Dualism, Wahrmann became the symbol of an ideal liberalism that increasingly eluded political practitioners. His greatest and most frequently cited achievement, however, was his ability to align and harmonize his Jewish identity with his Hungarian identity. In the words of a representative who identified himself as a political opponent of Wahrmann’s, no other member of the Jewish elite possessed a comparable ability to “reconcile—we would say even fuse—a genuine love of his native land with an equal devotion to his religious denomination.”8

Perhaps not surprisingly, it was the Hungarian–Jewish press that produced the most effusive narrative on the theme of reconciliation embodied in Wahrmann’s figure. He exemplified, wrote the Magyar Zsidó Szemle, “all the characteristic traits of Hungarian Jewry: enthusiasm for the Hungarian state, striving for economic modernization and prosperity, a fervent liberalism and clear-sighted religious consciousness.”9 Wahrmann’s death, proclaimed the Jewish liberal weekly, Egyenlőség affected all segments of Hungarian society: “Charitable institutions mourn the loss of their benefactor; the representatives of political life, their hard-working colleague; business and industrial interests, their leader; the creators of scholarship and art, their patron; Jewish organizational life, its column of fire.”10

Challenges to the Liberal Narrative

The image of Wahrmann created by these eulogies bore only slight resemblance to the actual politician who had participated in Hungarian political life since 1868. In fact, the relationship between assimilated Jewry and the Hungarian liberal state was far more problematic than these narratives of inclusion and reconciliation suggested. Equally idealized was the narrative of liberalism presented in these commemorations. Not surprisingly, challenges to the public celebration and Wahrmann’s role within it emerged almost immediately after the funeral. Predictably, the most common objection was the alleged inappropriateness of according a mere Jewish politician the honor of a state funeral, usually reserved for prominent national figures. The Catholic conservative Magyar Állam voiced these concerns in their most explicit form. Wahrmann, suggested its editorial, was hardly equal to such political luminaries as the former Prime Minister, Gyula Andrássy, or the prominent railway developer, Gábor Baross, who had been given similar funerals in 1890 and 1892 respectively. What had been enacted in this ceremony, suggested the writer, was a defense of Jewish interests, not of Hungarian values. “At such times, the true face of the famous Hungarian liberalism is revealed: it is nothing more than Jewish liberalism!”11

Figure 3. Photograph of the young Wahrmann
Source: Magyar Nemzeti Múzeum [Hungarian National Museum] Történeti Fényképtár [Historical Photo Gallery]

The attempt to incorporate Wahrmann into the Hungarian national pantheon typically found more muted and indirect forms of opposition. One of the most bizarre was reported in the Viennese liberal paper, the Neue Freie Presse, which never missed an opportunity to embarrass the Hungarian political establishment. The episode, described in a postscript to an otherwise respectful obituary for Wahrmann, had to do with a conflict about the size of the black flag raised at the time of Wahrmann’s death above the Hungarian Lower House. The flag in question, it turns out, was not identical with the large one ordered on the occasion of the death of Archduke Rudolf in 1889 and also used to honor Dániel Irányi, a hero of the Hungarian Revolution of 1848, who had died only weeks before Wahrmann. The older, smaller flag hoisted for Wahrmann presumably denoted a lesser degree of respect than the one accorded to Irányi. When Dezső Bánffy, the President of the House, found out about the substitution, “he called to task the official responsible, explaining that he would not tolerate even the hint of anti-Semitism, and he ordered that the large flag be raised.”12

Behind the triviality of these episodes were fundamental and unresolved questions about the relationship of Jews to the nation state, which were hardly a concern unique to conservative and anti-Semitic opponents. These were issues deeply embedded within the fabric of Hungarian society and characteristic of the entire period of liberal hegemony since 1867. What political role should Jews assume within the liberal state? Under what conditions could Jews appear as Jews in the public sphere? Theoretically, these questions had been rendered irrelevant by emancipation, which had granted Jews full legal and political equality. With the rights of citizenship, Jews had presumably gained equal access to a disinterested and transparent public realm, where they could articulate their interests in the same way and under the same conditions as other citizens. In the context of liberal ideology, the discussion of Jewish collective identity or political strategies made no sense, since Jews were by definition citizens indistinguishable from others in the state. In fact, however, the ideal of a neutral public sphere was a fiction and Jews never became transparent, unmarked selves within the modern Hungarian state. The stigmatized status of Jews remained an unspoken and inadmissible fact of liberal society, creating unceasing tension between official political ideology and everyday social practice. The solution to the conflict was the repression of all public expressions of Jewish difference, which became an implicit clause of the so-called assimilation contract between Jews and the Hungarian nation.13

In theory, all representations of Jewish identity were banished from the public realm. In practice, however, Jews did not disappear from public view, but became hyper-visible. Jewish difference was performed in the ubiquitous Jewish joke, which became the lingua franca of Budapest urban culture; it was represented in venues of commercial entertainment, where parodies of Jewish life became an unavoidable staple; it was reflected in popular literature and the mass media, where the interaction between Jews and non-Jews was a constant theme. Representations of Jews were everywhere in the culture and it was impossible to navigate public life without encountering them. Significantly, however, there was nothing haphazard or improvised about these representations. They were governed by protocols that functioned as internalized reflexes, making some kinds of public statements about Jews acceptable and others not.

The Jewish Ambassador Anecdote

Perhaps no one was a more adroit practitioner of these unwritten rules than Wahrmann himself, who, through much of his life, managed to be the consummate political insider, as well as the ultimate cultural outsider. His true skills were those of the performer, who could function in different social settings and play in different cultural registers at the same time. It is not surprising that during his life Wahrmann was far better known for his wit and humor than for his elevated public sentiments. Borsszem Jankó, the major humor magazine of the age, paid him the ultimate professional compliment by writing his obituary in Wahrmann’s own distinctive voice.

I have to admit, that the speech pronounced by Miksa Falk at my graveside was brilliant. But I can’t help feeling that I would much have preferred my own speech at his gravesite.14

A connoisseur of jokes, Wahrmann frequently used the double-edged weapon of humor to deflate official ideologies and to give expression to the actual conditions of Jews in a fractured political culture. He was, in fact, the author of arguably the most famous witticism on the subject of Jews in public life, which came to be known as the “Jewish ambassador” joke. It provides an appropriate point of entry into my analysis of this tangled subject.

The joke, which circulated in Budapest as late as the 1890s, assumed the classic question and answer format, with Cohen representing the Jewish protagonist.

Question: “Why does Cohen support the establishment of a Jewish state in Palestine?”

Answer: “So he can become Jewish ambassador in Budapest.”15

In its final version, the joke was clearly a witty reference to Hungarian Jewry’s well-known patriotism and excessive devotion to the urban culture of Budapest. The historical context of the Jewish ambassador joke, however, suggests a more complex, explicitly political provenance. Despite appearances, the joke was not about the conflict between Zionism and assimilation, which only became a concern of the Hungarian–Jewish press in the course of the 1890s. The origins of the joke reached back to the late 1870s, when a new brand of political anti-Semitism was introduced to Hungarian parliament by ideologues like Győző Istóczy. Istóczy and his followers single-handedly radicalized the Jewish question by demanding the revocation of the emancipation decree of 1867 and the physical expulsion of the Jews from Hungary. The actual reference to a Jewish state in Palestine came from Istóczy, who suggested that the solution of the Jewish question would be the forced emigration of Jews to Palestine.

Wahrmann formulated the most memorable rebuttal to this proposal. Several versions of the response were passed from mouth to mouth at the fin-de-siècle,16 but the most reliable was probably the following. Wahrmann was accustomed to visiting the home of Cardinal Lajos Haynald, a prominent Catholic cleric who was a good friend of his and whose afternoon teas were attended by the political luminaries of the age. At one of these gatherings, the conversation turned to Istóczy’s recent parliamentary speech about deporting the Jews to Palestine. Haynald jokingly turned to Wahrmann with the remark:

Haynald: “If they establish a Jewish state in Palestine, all Jews will be expected to go there, including you Moric, no matter how great a patriot you are.”

Wahrmann replied: “I have no intention of going. I cannot live anywhere but here.”

Haynald: “And if you have to?”

Wahrmann: “If I have to, I will go, but I would hope to have enough influence to have myself immediately appointed Jewish ambassador to Budapest.”17

Figure 4. Wahrmann portrayed as Jewish ambassador
Source: Borsszem Jankó, June 23, 1878

The predicament at the heart of the joke was the so-called Jewish question, or the irreducible otherness of Jews within the body politic.18 In Istóczy’s radical definition of the Jewish question, Jews themselves were presumed to be alien and fundamentally threatening to the political community. In the friendly environment of Haynald’s salon, no essentialist assumption was made about individual Jews like Wahrmann, who was a welcome guest. But on the collective level, even liberal Hungarians tended to define Jews in terms of difference and incompatibility with national values.

The significance of Wahrmann’s response was that it circumvented the specific problem of anti-Semitism as posed by Istóczy’s challenge. It addressed the broader issue of the Jewish question itself, which had clearly invaded not only political life, but also semi-private spaces of sociability like Haynald’s salon. Wahrmann’s bargain to return to Budapest in the guise of Jewish ambassador from Palestine was more than a clever ploy to reaffirm his Hungarian identity; it was also a proposal to renegotiate the terms of his identity as a Hungarian Jew. It involved a strategic concession on two crucial issues that had always been central to Jewish liberal ideology. By hypothetically accepting the existence of a Jewish state, he implicitly recognized what advocates of the Jewish question had always claimed, that Judaism was not just a religion, but also a collective ethnic and political identity. By agreeing to a symbolic emigration to Palestine, he made an even bigger concession, abdicating his symbolic status as a citizen in the state. In a sense, he was withdrawing from the contested terrain of political life, where Jews continued to be considered strangers in fact, if not in law. In return, however, he gained the right to return to Budapest in the guise of the stranger with the legal credentials to settle there. The bargain was not as disadvantageous as it appears. It is true that the Jewish ambassador lost his unequivocal status as citizen, but he acquired the more tenuous, but also more creative, role of the insider/outsider, with the freedom to express his identity and interpret reality within the alternative public sphere of popular culture, commercial entertainment, and, especially, humor.

The Jewish ambassador joke was, in a sense, the unacknowledged master metaphor for the much-acclaimed Hungarian–Jewish symbiosis of the fin-de-siècle. It functioned on different symbolic and analytic levels at the same time. On the most obvious level, it provided a brilliantly subversive reformulation of the liberal ideal of emancipation, which continued to define official Jewish narratives of assimilation throughout the fin-de-siècle. It offered a sly parody of the idealized self-representation of Jewish officialdom, which refused to acknowledge the ambiguities of liberal politics, mistaking political rhetoric for reality. At a different level, however, it was also a daring thought-experiment, which used the utopian conventions of humor to reimagine the relationship between Jews and politics under the changed conditions of late-nineteenth-century nationalism. It supplied an explicitly cultural, as opposed to a social, definition of Jewish identity in an attempt to bypass the deadly and irresolvable conflicts of the Jewish question. At the most general level, however, the Jewish ambassador joke was what Kenneth Burke has called a “representative anecdote,” which provided an abstract model of actual social relations between Jews and non-Jews. According to Burke, the representative anecdote was a condensation or distillation of social realities that made no pretense at formal realism. It was, he suggested, “summational in character… wherein human relations grandly converge.”19

Viewed as a representative anecdote, the Jewish ambassador joke offered a blueprint of an empirical world that was far closer to the hypothetical logic of the joke than to the ideological formulae of politics. It suggested that in the world of social relations and collective experience, Jews did in fact function as ambassadors from a non-existent nation, and their status was defined by informal rules and unspoken conventions. Within this world, Jews alternately played the roles of insiders and outsiders, natives and foreigners, depending on the context in which they found themselves. Their dual status may not have been formally acknowledged in politics or the legal system, but it was imprinted within the subliminal cultural codes of society. This explains why the representation of Jewish themes became such a highly charged matter, in constant need of supervision and discipline. In official politics, in respectable society, in high culture; the formal principle of Jewish equality prevailed and the presentation of Jewish difference, or even references to individuals as Jews, was considered bad form and strictly banned. In popular culture, however, especially in commercial entertainment and the realm of humor, Jewish difference was not only permitted, but encouraged and given unchecked expression.

Representation of Jews in Literature, Society and Politics

One of the striking features of this bifurcated cultural system was its unofficial, informal character. There were no publicly acknowledged codes or formulae that defined the appropriate representation of Jews in public life. These matters were a part of an elaborate set of internalized cultural reflexes, which were surrounded by a peculiarly illicit, underground quality. The subject could not be openly broached and analyzed without exposing the ideological inconsistencies and even hypocrisy of the liberal order. The very definition of cultural competence at the fin-de-siècle presumed the mastery of the codes for talking about Jews in public life.

Ignorance of these codes could have serious consequences. One revealing example was recounted in the autobiography of the working class, non-Jewish writer, Lajos Nagy, whose initial attempts to break into the literary life of the capital ran aground precisely on his lack of understanding of the unwritten rules for representing Jews in literature. According to his account, he submitted to the modernist literary journal Nyugat a short story written in the naturalist style, modeled on a Polish-Jewish immigrant family living in Király Street. The point of the story, which was based on the family of his best friend, Gábor Kaufman, was to explore the complicated linguistic practices and cultural identities of a typical, lower-middle class Jewish family in Budapest. To the astonishment and indignation of the author, his short story was published in a severely truncated form. Ernő Osvát, the powerful Jewish editor of Nyugat, had unilaterally expunged nearly all references to the Jewish origins of the characters and to the ethnic features of their milieu. Even the original title, “The Schvarczes” (The Schvarcz family) was changed to the non-descript “Este van” (It is evening).20 As this painful introduction to contemporary literary life illustrated, the political shadow of the Jewish question could not be exorcised from even the most innocent and high-minded literary enterprises.21

The discrepancies between legitimate and illegitimate expressions of Jewish identity provided a virtual gold mine for the humor mills of Budapest. Indeed, central to Budapest Jewish humor was the paradoxical status of Jews, who were considered simultaneously equal, but also unequal in society. The problem found a wonderfully economical illustration in a caricature of Borsszem Jankó that focused on the common dilemma of children of mixed marriages, but implied a much broader kind of experience as well.

“Imagine papa,” asks the little girl of her father, “mama says that you are Jewish!” “I am darling,” responds the father, “and it is not something to be ashamed of. But I don’t want to hear you ever talking about it again!”22

The Jewish humorist, Adolf Ágai, provided an astute parody of the same phenomenon in one of his urban essays published in Travels from Pest to Budapest 1843–1907. The essay, which focused on commercial entertainment in Budapest, sardonically commented on Jewish middle class attitudes to parodic representations of Jewish themes in Orpheums and music halls.

Strange, he mused. If our Israelite fellow citizens are made fun of in Hungarian—be it on stage, in literature, or in art—he is full of indignation. But if the Jew is represented through the characteristic dialect and disjointed gestures of Szerecsen Street or in the Polish–Jewish inflections of ‘Ingvar,’ his amusement is without bounds.23

Ágai’s mock surprise at the apparent hypocrisy of Jewish elites, who seemed unwilling to acknowledge their Jewish identity in official culture but were more than willing to laugh at it in popular venues, was only rhetorical. He was perfectly aware of the cultural codes that constrained public articulations of Jewish identity in fin-de-siècle Budapest. Ágai’s readers, no less sensitized to these codes, recognized their own self-portrait in Ágai’s imagined Orpheum audiences. Whether they were aware of it or not, they were all “Jewish ambassadors in Budapest,” who had learned the art of monitoring their performance and self-presentation in the public sphere.

The imperative for Jewish self-censorship in all areas of public life could lead to paradoxical results, especially in the realm of politics. In 1884, when the Lower House publicly condemned anti-Semitism in the wake of the election of sixteen anti-Semitic members to parliament, the Jewish deputies conspicuously recused themselves from participating in the debate. The periodical Magyar Zsidó Szemle praised their action in the following words:

The Jewish deputies in the House displayed enough tact to refrain from participating in the pre-advertised debate, and enough self-esteem to refuse to enter into dialogue with the anti-Semitic gentlemen.24

The same strategy of non-involvement was repeated in 1895, during the final phase of the controversial Law of Reception debate. The ten Jewish deputies in the Lower House, including Wahrmann himself, agreed not to address the question as a separate group, but to have their voices represented by the liberal Hungarian leadership as a whole. Their reasoning was that the Reception of Judaism was not a parochial Jewish issue, but a universal liberal principle, and therefore, best represented by Hungarian liberal politicians. The actual reason, however, was the old fear of being perceived as acting collectively in Jewish interests.

The deputies of the Jewish faith in both the Lower and Upper Houses abstained from addressing the matter for reasons that, in my opinion, can be understood. They were concerned that if they addressed the question as Jews, their words might be construed by the nation as the collective voice of Hungarian Jewry. For this task, however, they did not feel empowered by their charge.25

The Code of “Tactfulness”

As these random episodes illustrate, the very act of representing Jewish identity in the public arena (be it in literature, in society or in politics), was surrounded by anxiety and uncertainty. The special skill needed to navigate the treacherous waters of this realm was commonly referred to as “tact” (tapintat). Wahrmann, for instance, was praised for his “discretion and tact” in dealing with the conflicts of party politics.26 The Jewish deputies who chose to remain passive during the parliamentary initiative that condemned anti-Semitism in 1884 were commended for showing “tact” in refusing to engage with their opponents. Perhaps most puzzling of all was the frequent use of the word in the context of the Tiszaeszlár blood libel affair in 1882–1883. Jews who manifested solidarity with the accused Jews were reproached for showing “tactlessness” and thus provoking public opinion. When in the summer of 1882 the Jews of the Tokaj region purchased guns to defend their property against anti-Semitic vandalism, they were sharply rebuked for their “tactlessness.”

Their first tactless act was their open decision to purchase weapons from Zákó’s gunsmith […] and this was far from the only tactless act they committed… Certain Jewish elements alienate the intelligentsia far more than the so-called common people, because the sense of justice among the intelligentsia is stronger and their displeasure against lawless, provocative and aggressive action greater and more natural.27

The very extremity of the language of the article is instructive, for it reflects the unacceptability of even the most justifiable collective action on the part of the threatened Jewish population. The fact that it was the intelligentsia, rather than the common man, who was most provoked by such acts was added as an afterthought, but suggests an important motif in the debate. Clearly, Jewish collective action in public life was perceived as a theoretical, not just a practical, infraction that seemed to be more apparent to intellectuals than to the man of the street. But why this should be the case and why such actions were invariably described as “tactless” needs further elaboration.

The word was obviously derived from the realm of etiquette, rather than politics. The notion of “tactless behavior” suggests not a transgression against impersonal rules used to regulate political society; but a breach of social courtesy in an intimate setting such as a salon or a closed circle of friends. In fact, the most fraught interactions between Jews and non-Jews often did take place in the semi-private spaces of professional life and urban sociability, where the identity and legitimacy of the Jewish participants were by definition ambiguous or imperfectly articulated. One of the paradoxical results of the success of Jewish integration within Hungarian society was the growth of opportunities for social tensions and misunderstandings between Jews and non-Jews.

The predicament could result in excruciating situations, poignantly depicted in an essay published in 1890 in Egyenlőség. Simply entitled “Jews in Society,” the article examined the common situation of individual Jews finding themselves in social settings where the general topic of conversation turned to the “Jewish question” or the negative character of the Jews, without the company being aware of, or concerned about, the presence in their midst of a member of the group under discussion. The explicit goal of the article was to provide its Jewish readers with practical guidelines for dealing with such awkward encounters. According to the author, the extremes of silent acquiescence or open confrontation were both to be avoided.

Let us admit quite openly that there are Jews who, on occasions when the ‘Jewish question’ is raised as a general topic of conversation, prove themselves quite capable of listening with external calm, though with inner disquiet, to even the most insulting details, as if they had nothing to do with the subject.28

Such behavior was condemned as both ethically contemptible and socially unrealistic. Yet, the alternate strategy of open affirmation of Jewish difference was also rejected as disruptive of social harmony among friends. “The tendency,” concluded the article, “to fall into the other extreme and exercise a kind of terrorism on the relaxed good cheer of the company would also be a pity. The Jew should have self-respect, but should be selective about the occasions on which he chooses to express it.”29

The suggested solution for the inherent ambiguities of Jewish presence in public life was, of course, “tact,” that elusive quality capable of resolving the intractable contradiction between equality and difference, self-effacement and self-assertion. The actual recipe for “tactful” behavior remained sketchy in the article, the aim of which was essentially didactic, pointing out behavior to avoid rather than practices to adopt. Its general concern, however, helps illustrate the everyday dimension of the problem of Jewish and non-Jewish interaction in the public realm. “Tact” was an indispensable requirement of everyday life, as well as of politics, which were inseparably associated with each other. The “tactful” Jew was not just an individual who had learned to avoid embarrassing confrontations in the public realm, but one capable of mastering distinct discursive realms for the appropriate articulation of his Jewishness.

The Janus Face of Wahrmann/Börzeviczy

One of the reasons the attribute of “tact” proved so difficult to define or identify lay in the fact that, for an action to be truly successful, it had to become virtually invisible and unnoticeable. Tactfulness was a social skill and political attribute that needed to be seamlessly incorporated into daily life, perceived and experienced as part of the inevitable order of things. Perhaps this is why the idealized portrait of Wahrmann, produced at the time of his death, appeared so unsurprising and “realistic” to the general public. He was able to embody and represent the ideal type of the assimilated Hungarian Jew because this is the type people expected to encounter in public life. On closer view, however, Wahrmann’s apparently harmonious persona hid a highly fragmented and paradoxical self, whose inner contradictions could still be read between the lines of the respectful obituaries. It is worth returning to these tributes, in order to analyze more fully the meaning of “tact” in the life of one of the consummate practitioners of the genre.

Wahrmann, as most of the obituaries directly or obliquely acknowledged, was not a typical Hungarian politician. He was, for one thing, a poor orator, whose skepticism toward great ideals deprived his speeches of all theatricality. “His arguments,” one obituary admitted, “often fizzled into mere cleverness.”30 Wahrmann avoided the political limelight, suggested another, preferring to express himself through “silent, tireless and successful work.” He stood outside the conflicts of party politics and “wore the honorable mantle of independence… with discretion and tact.”31 Wahrmann’s public persona, however, was not synonymous with the self-effacing technocrat, working anonymously behind the scenes. Almost every obituary made extended reference to Wahrmann’s humor, which apparently enjoyed universal acclaim.32 “Eventually,” elaborated one account, the jokes and witticisms associated with Wahrmann became independent of him, “and congealed into a recognizable social persona, constructed in part by his colleagues and in part by Borsszem Jankó, the pages of which featured him as a permanent caricature.”33

In the guise of his comic alter ego, W. M. Börzeviczy, Wahrmann regularly transgressed the boundaries of tactful behavior and confronted questions such as anti-Semitism and his own Jewish identity with remarkable directness and insight. Wahrmann’s relationship to Börzeviczy is a complex one, not easy to define in any direct or causal way. Though Wahrmann did not single-handedly create Börzeviczy, there is no question that he was the inspiration for the rotund, wisecracking Jewish businessman/politician, who became a regular feature and beloved social type of Borsszem Jankó. Börzeviczy’s physical characteristics, as well as his habit of punning in Hungarian and commenting on his own wit in German, were closely modeled on Wahrmann himself. It is also probable that most of the jokes published on the pages of Borsszem Jankó under the title, “The Witticisms of W. M. Börzeviczy,” were actual transcriptions of Warhmann’s famous jokes that circulated in parliament and beyond. At the same time, however, Börzeviczy as a social type unquestionably owed its broader symbolic power to the editors of Borsszem Jankó. It is they who assigned the Wahrmann caricature the satiric name of “Börzeviczy,” which was a reference to Wahrmann’s complex relationship to the Hungarian political elite and to the public realm in general. While the initials, “W. M.” unambiguously pointed to Wahrmann, “Börzeviczy” was a comic distortion of the name of the liberal politician, Albert Berzeviczy, a descendant of an illustrious Hungarian noble family. With the substitution of only on letter, the original historic name gained an entirely new connotation, since “börze” meant stock exchange in Hungarian. “Börzeviczy,” thus became not only the shadow of the liberal politician, but also a commerce-minded transformation and usurpation of his historic name, something that Jews were frequently accused of doing.

Figure 5. Wahrmann as W. M. Börzeviczy in Borszem Jankó

Börzeviczy was, on one level, the physical incarnation and the genial symbol of Jewish difference in public life. This idea found iconic representation in the image of Wahrmann/Börzeviczy in ill-fitting and comical Hungarian national costume, which was commonly featured on the pages of Borsszem Jankó. A particularly famous example depicted Wahrmann and a fellow politician, both wearing national costumes and swords, trying to pass each other in a narrow space. As his companion apologizes to Wahrmann for the nuisance of his sword, Wahrmann responded that his own sword bothered him far more than that of his colleague. The visual focus on the Hungarian national costume helped establish the conceptual links between public life, national culture and historic traditions, which Jews could not enter without appearing ridiculous and inappropriate.

Significantly, however, Börzeviczy was not merely a parody of the Jewish politician in public life. He was also a brilliant analyst and devastating critic of the conditions that defined this role. Börzeviczy’s dominant characteristic was his utter freedom from the constraints of tact. Indeed, his self-defined task was to expose and ridicule the contradictions of official political culture that found its reconciling principle in tactful behavior. Unlike Wahrmann the politician, Börzeviczy the humorist openly acknowledged his Jewish identity and wittily commentated on the paradoxes of Jewish collective existence in Hungary. In one of his most succinct formulations, he defined Hungarian Jewry as plaintiffs in a prolonged paternity suit filed against the Hungarian nation, which refused to acknowledged them as legitimate sons.34

In many respects, Börzeviczy was the mirror image of Wahrmann, making explicit and public what the empirical Wahrmann kept implicit and private. While Wahrmann aspired to make Jewish identity invisible and universal in the public realm, Börzeviczy performed a highly visible and culturally distinct version of the same identity. At times, Börzeviczy’s candor was remarkable, extending to the delicate issue of Wahrmann’s own self-erasure as a Jew. He admitted that his reluctance to engage openly with Jewish issues drew criticism from certain quarters. He added, however, that the opposite course of action would provoke recrimination from the very same quarters. He characterized his decision to withdraw from public activity in the House with the following witty pun: “Up till now, I had a standing in the House; now I have a seating.”35 His irony was particularly trenchant on the question of anti-Semitism, which never failed to provoke him, especially when it involved long-term friends like Franz Liszt, who regularly performed at his home.

That Liszt! I can’t calmly accept his dalliance with anti-Semitism, when he has been invited to so many soirees in so many Jewish salons. To a surprising degree he lacks rhythm [in Hungarian, the word for rhythm is taktus and therefore echoes the overcharged word, tact. – M. G.], and therefore offends against good tone! (Wird ihm wehtun!)36

The dichotomies encoded within the twin personae of Wahrmann/Börzeviczy were responses to a radically bifurcated political culture, whose official principles were increasingly at odds with its informal values and actual social practices. Already anticipated in the Jewish ambassador joke, the project of Jewish public participation required mental agility, discernment, and, of course, tact. It presupposed the ability to distinguish between the realms of political rhetoric and cultural discourse, between the appropriate venues for expressing Hungarian identification and Jewish difference. Wahrmann, the consummate political performer, rarely made the mistake of confusing the discursive territory of the two realms. Only once did the carefully constructed walls between Wahrmann, the politician, and Börzeviczy, the humorist, temporarily break down. The result was an astonishing and ultimately mock-heroic duel between Wahrmann, the discrete parliamentarian; and Istóczy, the flamboyant anti-Semite. The highly publicized social drama provoked by the duel was played out on the streets of Budapest in June 1882, only a decade before Wahrmann’s state funeral in 1892. The two events form appropriate bookends for the assessment of Wahrmann’s political legacy.

The Duel

The duel was precipitated by a controversial parliamentary debate about Russian-Jewish immigration to Hungary in the wake of massive anti-Jewish pogroms that had broken out in Russia in early 1882. Despite his previous resolution to keep silent, Wahrmann decided in the last minute to speak on the issue after the inflammatory speech of Istóczy, who insisted on connecting the immigration discussion with the status of Hungarian Jews. Wahrmann began his speech with the familiar Jewish parliamentary gesture of refusing to recognize the anti-Semites as debating partners.

A man, who incites to unlimited internal warfare within this house may have the right to such expressions as a representative enjoying the privileges of parliamentary immunity, but he can have no right to claim me as a participant in debate.37

Having rejected political dialogue with anti-Semitism, Wahrmann then proceeded to express his own views as to why mass immigration on the part of Russian-Jews was undesirable. Veering self-consciously away from the specifics of the Jewish question, Wahrmann suggested that the issue was not whether Russian Jews, but whether any foreign group, be they “Russian Jews or Russian nihilists, German Social Democrats or Irish Fenians, Serbians, Romanians, or Saxons,” should be allowed to settle in the country. With this shift of emphasis, Wahrmann succeeded in grounding the debate on questions of utility and national self-interest, rather than on issues of religion or national character. Only at the end did he permit himself to drop the language of pragmatism and to address the House directly through the familiar rhetoric of Hungarian patriotism.

Honorable House! I have no fear of the emergence of a Jewish Question in this country, no matter how much some individuals might agitate for this […] I trust in the wisdom of this legislative body, in the justice of this administration […] I trust in the level headedness and in the sense of fair play of the Hungarian people, which will not easily allow itself to be led astray.38

Wahrmann concluded his speech with a rhetorical flourish that seemed to point toward Istóczy. The gesture set in motion a sequence of implausible and melodramatic events that were to culminate in the much-publicized duel between the two deputies. The steps leading to the duel were exhaustively reported in the daily press and had the appearance of inevitability. The overall logic of the confrontation, however, is less apparent, especially in light of Wahrmann’s well-known cautious and skeptical temperament. It appears that Istóczy took offence at Wahrmann’s concluding gesture and immediately left the floor of the House in seeming agitation. Within minutes, two of his friends approached Wahrmann with the demand of satisfaction in the form of a duel for the recently inflicted insult on Istóczy. Reasonable bourgeois that he was, Wahrmann refused the challenge, explaining that his were oratorical gestures not intended for Istóczy personally, and that, in any case, parliamentary immunity would preclude his talk from being construed as a personal affront. After the message was relayed to Istóczy, he decided to confront Wahrmann in person. Overtaking his antagonist in the parliamentary library in the midst of conversation with a group, Istóczy accused Wahrmann of cowardice for refusing to accept the duel. Wahrmann repeated his previous claim that he had not insulted Istóczy and that he was, in any case, not obliged to offer satisfaction for words spoken in Parliament. After an exchange of unflattering epithets, physical violence suddenly erupted, as Istóczy lounged toward Wahrmann in an attempt to slap him. Bystanders intervened just in time to deflect the blow from Wahrmann’s face to the back of his neck.39

This unconventional confrontation in the parliamentary library resulted in an even more unlikely event: a dual between Wahrmann and Istóczy. The Wahrmann–Istóczy affair, as it rapidly came to be known, was played out according to a carefully constructed choreography that took the form of a social drama. It was the anthropologist Victor Turner who coined the phrase “social drama” to refer to certain kinds of collective conflicts or crisis that tend to be acted out in patterns strongly resembling, indeed, anticipating aesthetic drama and theatrical performance. The social drama, as Turner described it, has two distinguishing features that are of particular relevance to the events that erupted in Budapest in the aftermath of the immigration debate on June 8. The first is that it takes place outside the boundaries of normal, institutional social action. It has, to use Turner’s word, “‘liminal’ characteristics since each is a ‘threshold’ (limen) between more or less stable and harmonious phases of social processes.”40 The social drama, thus, represents a breach in the public norms and values of a collectivity, exposing precisely those fault lines that underlie existing social consensus. The social drama, to return to Turner, “takes up its menacing stance in the forum or agora itself, and as it were, challenges the representatives of order to grapple with it.”41 The second characteristic of the social drama is that it is “processually structured”; that is, it unfolds according to a fairly coherent sequence of events or moments that Turner considered inherent in the very nature of human agonistic behavior. Beginning as an infraction in the rules of social norms, the social drama opens up a deeper cleavage in social relations. After attempts to adjudicate the breach fail, the conflict is ritually enacted between the conflicting parties. The social drama ends, Turner claimed, either with the reintegration of the disturbed groups within the community or the recognition that an irreparable breach has occurred that can only be resolved by separating the hostile parties. 42

Applying Turner’s model to the Wahrmann–Istóczy conflict, it is clear that a symbolic breach had occurred within the dominant liberal order, which ordinarily kept such conflicts under check and outside the public arena. As was apparent to all participants, the confrontation between Wahrmann and Istóczy was not simply between two individuals, but between Jews and anti-Semites, who enacted their hostility within a public arena outside of liberal institutions. The transformation of the initial breach of parliamentary conventions into generalized social crisis was well under way by Friday afternoon of June 8, when a crowd of four or five hundred people gathered outside Parliament in hopes of finding first-hand information about the rumored conflict between Wahrmann and Istóczy. As excited groups collected throughout the city, on street corners, in coffee houses, and in stores and offices, contradictory versions of the story circulated, especially concerning the crucial issue of who had insulted whom. One popular rumor held that Wahrmann had initiated the provocation and that the House, bribed by the Jews, had supported him. Among the majority of Jews, on the other hand, it was Wahrmann who was perceived as the victim, and fears of anti-Semitic violence, ever present under the surface of liberal society, were flamed into new life.43

The affair rapidly divided the capital, and eventually the nation, into two antagonistic camps, cheering on their respective champions in a ritualized confrontation minutely reported, embroidered upon, and analyzed by the popular press. According to one report, “Every layer of society was feverishly preoccupied with the affair.”44 The process of polarization continued over the weekend, which proved unsuitable for the duel for religious reasons: Wahrmann refused to fight on Saturday and Istóczy on Sunday. Each side found dramatic public gestures through which to express its commitment to its cause. Wahrmann’s constituents in the Lipótváros planned a torchlight procession with music to show their support for their champion. As one article reported:

In this well-to-do neighborhood, every individual feels himself personally affronted […] Several members of the younger generation want to ask for personal satisfaction from Istóczy, since they strongly condemn an act that forces a half-blind man to fight a duel. [Wahrmann had very poor eyesight and wore thick glasses. – M. G.] Calmer elements, fearing possibly dangerous consequence, are scarcely able to restrain them.45

Istóczy, too, was overwhelmed by gestures of support from all over the country. On Sunday, his apartment was thronged with visitors and inundated with letters and telegrams “commending his true cause under the protection of God.” Typical of the overheated atmosphere was his associate’s formal petition to the prime minister for guards to assure his safety, for rumors were rife that Jewish army officers were planning to assassinate Istóczy if Wahrmann should be injured in the duel.46

The much-awaited and highly publicized duel was to take place on Monday morning at 6:00 a.m. on the site of the old racetrack at the edge of the city. The antagonists, their seconds, and their respective physicians, were ready at 5:50, and the formalities of the duel were scrupulously played out. Perhaps the most important participants were the representatives of the press, who were present in full force, ready to inform the nation of the antagonists’ every move. After the space had been measured out and the pistols filled, one of the seconds undertook the traditional role of attempting to reconcile the parties. Both refused any thought of reconciliation, Istóczy curtly, with the words, “Let’s get down to business,” Wahrmann, more expansively, with, “After such an insult, there is no room for reconciliation.”

At this critical junction, the figure of a mounted police officer suddenly appeared from behind the bushes. He trotted up to the duelers and declared that his mission was to “prevent the enactment of illegal deeds.”47 (Dueling was technically illegal in Hungary, through in practice it was never interfered with.) This sudden intervention by the liberal government initiated what Turner refers to as the third phase of the social drama: the application of “redressive or remedial procedures” by the collective authority of the community in order to contain the contagion and prevent the crisis from spreading. The liberal government had intervened in the final moment to stop the conflict, but, typically, the mechanisms for redress that were brought into play were only symbolic and entirely ineffectual. Instead of behind-the-scenes negotiations, influence, or pressure, which were well within their means, the liberal authorities chose to intervene through a highly theatrical gesture that could have had no impact on the events.

The police interruption only delayed the duel by a few hours. The participants and their entourages reassembled near the estate of Count Brunswick outside of Budapest to finish what they had started in the morning.

The two shots went off almost simultaneously, and to the question, did anyone get hurt, both parties answered in the negative. At this point, the seconds shook hands with the duelers. The duelers, however, remained cool and distant from each other. Ónódy, Istóczy’s second, briefly suggested reconciliation, but Wahrmann shook his head and Istóczy said: “Let everything remain as before.”48

The two parties drove separately to the nearby town of Ercsi to await the midnight train back to Budapest. Istóczy and his friends spent the intervening hours in a tavern, where they were joined by local intellectuals. They drank wine and sang anti-Semitic ditties to the accompaniment of a Gypsy band. Wahrmann and his party retired to the private home of a coreligionist, where they were greeted by an official delegation of the local Jewish community. The contrast between the patterns of social interaction characteristic of the two groups could not have been more revealing. As readers of these accounts would have been quick to grasp, the duel had ritually enacted not only collective grievances, but also different ways of life, different modes of being Hungarian. Graphically juxtaposed were the traditional habits of the Hungarian gentry on the one side, and the culture of the newly assimilated bourgeoisie on the other.

The social drama, with its collective enactment of breach, crisis, attempted redress, and final resolution, seemed over by Tuesday morning, when editorials scrambled to clarify the implications of what had taken place. In the words of one summary:

The Jewish question, in the sense that it was defined by the movement against Russian immigration, is now over. It began quietly, it rapidly generated public passion, and it ended with pistol shots. After the nerve-wracking excitement of the past few days, moods are ready to return to normal.49

The assessment that the duel had somehow put to rest the Jewish question, or in any case made it retreat from the public forum to the recesses of private opinion, proved to be a mistaken conclusion. Indeed, the final phase of the social drama did not play out according to the classic pattern suggested by Turner. It brought about neither “the reintegration of the disturbed social groups” nor “the social recognition of irreparable breach between the contending parties.”50 What happened, instead, was a radical reinterpretation and transformation of the meaning of the duel itself, accomplished by the humor magazine, Borsszem Jankó. The week after the confrontation between Wahrmann and Istóczy, it published as its frontispiece a satirical depiction of the recently concluded duel, entitled, “The End of the Comedy.” The caricature portrayed Wahrmann and Istóczy holding hands on stage, smoking pistols in hand, taking self-satisfied bows in front of a wildly enthusiastic audience, half of whom were cheering Wahrmann, the other half, Istóczy. Between the two actors on stage was the prompter’s box, conspicuously labeled “Noble Casino,” to symbolize the highly ambiguous role of the Hungarian liberal establishment in the affair.

Figure 6. The Wahrmann–Istóczy duel.
Source: Borsszem Jankó, June 18, 1882

By reframing the Wahrmann–Istóczy affair and placing it within the realm of the melodrama, Borsszem Jankó trivialized the event and made explicit what seems to have been common knowledge among its contemporary spectators; namely that the duel had been rigged and the guns had been fixed to fire awry, so that the participants would not sustain injuries. The confrontation that had held the capital spellbound for days was, after all, only a theatrical production that did not need to be taken overly seriously. The mock-heroic image of Wahrmann and Istóczy, united by the professional bonds of actors, though divided by the popular passion of their followers, repudiated the political legitimacy not only of anti-Semitism, but of all ideological interpretations of the Jewish question. The duel, which had briefly threatened to disrupt public life and transform politics into popular action, could once again be returned to its appropriate place: the non-serious realm of humor and parody. 51

The final assessment of the Wahrmann–Istóczy duel came a year after the event, from one of the wittiest novelists and parliamentary reporters of the age, Kálmán Mikszáth, who was famous for his ironic parliamentary vignettes, printed in Pesti Hirlap.

Gentlemen, let us not condemn all duels, since there are some that are, by their very nature, convivial affairs, which bring a smile to people’s faces, or even cause gales of laughter among those hearing about it. Such was the duel fought by Wahrmann and Istóczy, which needs no detailed description, since its entire text conforms perfectly to the conventions of the classic operetta.52

What had apparently taken place was not a social drama, but a farce, a comic reenactment on the streets and in the popular press, of a dangerous social conflict that had been disallowed in the official forums of political life.

The Possibilities of Jewish Politics in a Liberal State

How are we to assess the long-range implications of this political operetta? How does it fit into the larger problem of the relationship of Jews to the liberal state? Such questions cannot avoid confronting Hannah Arendt’s devastating critique of Jewish assimilation in Central Europe, most fully articulated in The Origins of Totalitarianism, but already anticipated in her Jewish essays of the 1940s. According to Arendt, secular Jews showed dangerous myopia and unwarranted indifference to politics when they failed to oppose anti-Semitism directly. Lacking political traditions or experiences of their own, she contended, Jews placed excessive faith in the liberal state that had protected them since emancipation.53 In this respect, even Heine, that most astute observer of the limitations of assimilation, manifested the kind of “worldlessness” commonly displayed by traditional Judaism. His “attitude of amused indifference,” she claimed, was inadequate, “when measured by the standards of political realities.” “When one comes down to earth,” she concluded, “one has to admit that laughter does not kill and that neither slaves nor tyrants are extinguished by mere amusement.”54

Arendt’s critique, infused by tragic historical hindsight and an abstract, macro-political perspective, is irrefutable. Yet, it is also historically inaccurate. It fails to take into sufficient account the limited political options available for Jewish political practice within the liberal state. Given the contradictory impulses of Central European liberalism, which simultaneously granted Jews the roles of legal insiders and of cultural outsiders, the possibilities for autonomous Jewish political action were severely circumscribed. Wahrmann was fully aware of these limitations and illustrated their consequences in his famous Jewish ambassador joke. As Jewish ambassador in Budapest, he provided an example of how to wield influence through indirection and how to use humor to confront, and even triumph, over ideology. This practice can hardly be called “worldless” or indifferent to political affairs. It was, on the contrary, highly pragmatic and brilliantly calibrated to the paradoxical realities and possibilities of liberal politics.


Primary Sources

Borsszem Jankó [Tom Thumb], 1879, 1881, 1882, 1884.

Budapesti Hirlap [Budapest Daily], 1892.

Egyetértés [Agreement], 1892.

Magyar Állam [Hungarian State], 1892.

Magyar Hirlap [Hungarian Daily], 1892.

Nemzet [Nation], 1892.

Neue Freie Presse, 1892.

Pesti Hirlap [Pest Daily], 1892.

Pesti Napló Esti Lapja [The Evening Edition of the Pest News], 1892.

Szabadság [Freedom], 1892.

Vasárnapi Ujság [Sunday Paper] 1892.


Képviselőházi Napló [Parliamentary Records], 1884–1887.


“A Tisza-eszlári gyilkosság” [The Murder at Tiszaeszlár]. Függetlenség [Independence], July 1, 1882.

“A Wahrmann–Istóczy ügy” [The Wahrmann–Istóczy Affair]. Egyetértés, June 11, 1882.

“Az Istóczy–Wahrmann féle ügy” [The Istóczy–Wahrmann Affair]. Függetlenség, June 11, 1882.

“A zsidó papság és a zsidóság” [The Jewish Clergy and Jewry]. Függetlenség, June 14, 1882.

“Az Istóczy–Wahrmann botrány a képviselőházban” [The Istóczy–Wahrmann Scandal in the Parliament]. Függetlenség, June 10, 1882.

“Az országházból” [From the Annals of Parliament]. Magyar Zsidó Szemle [Hungarian Jewish Quarterly] 1, no. 9 (1884): 580.

“Börzeviczy W. M. élczei” [The Witticisms of W. M. Börzeviczy]. Borsszem Jankó, December 4, 1892. 4.

„Budától Ercsiig” [From Buda to Ercsi]. Függetlenség, June 12, 1882.

Bűcher, Sándor. “Wahrmann Mór életrajza” [Biography of Mór Wahrmann]. Magyar Zsidó Szemle 10, no. 3 (1893): 9.

Haber, Samu. “Wahrmann Mórról” [About Mór Wahrmann]. Egyenlőség [Equality], December 2, 1892.

Hegedűs, Sándor. “Wahrmannról” [About Wahrmann]. Vasárnapi Ujság, December 4, 1892.

„Istóczy és Wahrmann párbaja: A párbaj meghiúsitása a lóverseny téren” [The Duel of Istóczy and Wahrmann: The Prevention of the Duel on the Racing Track]. Függetlenség, June 12, 1882.

Mikszáth, Kálmán. “A hősök sorsa. Karcolat” [The Fate of Heroes. A Sketch]. In Honszeretet és felekezeti hűség: Wahrmann Mór, 1831–1892 [Love of Nation and Loyalty to Religion: Mór Wahrmann, 1831–1892], edited by Tibor Frank, 568. Budapest: Argumentum, 2006.

Palágyi, Lajos. “Zsidók a társaságban” [Jews in Society]. Egyenlőség, November 17, 1890. 7–8.

“Polgári házasság” [Civil Marriage]. Borsszem Jankó, April 3, 1881. 10.

Szabolcsi, Miksa. “A mi nagy veszteségünk” [Our Great Loss]. Egyenlőség, December 2, 1892.

Vajda, Béla. “A zsidóság és a prozelita-csinálás” [Jewry and the Making of Proselytes]. Magyar Zsidó Szemle 12, no. 3 (1895): 260.

“Wahrmann Mór” Egyetértés, November 27, 1892. 328.

Secondary Sources

Arendt, Hannah. “The Jew as Pariah: A Hidden Tradition.” In idem. The Jewish Writings, edited by Jerome Kohn and Ron H. Feldman, 275–97. New York: Schocken Books, 2007.

Bauman, Zygmunt. “Allosemitism: Premodern, Modern, Postmodern.” In Modernity, Culture and ‘the Jew’, edited by Bryan Cheyette and Laura Marcus, 143–56. Cambridge, UK: Polity Press, 1998.

Burke, Kenneth. A Grammar of Motives. Berkeley–Los Angeles–London: University of California Press, 1969.

Feldman, Ron H. “Introduction: The Jew as Pariah: The Case of Hannah Arendt.” In Hannah Arendt. The Jewish Writings, edited by Jerome Kohn and Ron H. Feldman, xli-lxxvi. New York: Schocken Books, 2007.

Frank, Tibor. „Magyar és Zsidó: a Wahrmann-életrajz kérdései” [Hungarian and Jew: the Questions of the Biography of Wahrmann]. In Honszeretet és felekezeti hűség: Wahrmann Mór, 1831–1892 [Love of Nation and Loyalty to Religion: Mór Wahrmann, 1831–1892], edited by Tibor Frank, 11–36. Budapest: Argumentum, 2006.

Frank, Tibor ed. Honszeretet és felekezeti hűség: Wahrmann Mór, 1831–1892 [Love of Nation and Loyalty to Religion: Mór Wahrmann, 1831–1892]. Budapest: Argumentum, 2006.

Kovács, András. “A magyar zsidók és a politika” [Hungarian Jews and Politics]. Világosság 39, no. 2. (1998): 78–85.

Nagy, Lajos. “Este van” [It is Evening]. Nyugat 1, no. 10 (May 16, 1908): 554–58.

Nagy, Lajos. A lázadó ember, 1883–1914 [The Rebel, 1883–1914]. Budapest: Szépirodalmi Könyvkiadó, 1956.

Porzó (Ágai, Adolf). Utazás Pestről – Budapestre 1843–1907: Rajzok és emlékek a magyar főváros utolsó 65 esztendejéből [Travels from Pest to Budapest 1843–1907: Sketches and Memories about the Last 65 Years of the Hungarian Capital]. Budapest: Fekete Sas Kiadó, 1998.

Tóth, Vilmos. “Wahrmann Mór temetése és a Wahrmann-mauzoleum” [The Funeral of Mór Wahrmann and the Wahrmann Mausoleum]. In Honszeretet és felekezeti hűség: Wahrmann Mór, 1831–1892 [Love of Nation and Loyalty to Religion: Mór Wahrmann, 1831–1892], edited by Tibor Frank, 205–11. Budapest: Argumentum, 2006.

Turner, Victor. “Social Dramas in Brazilian Umbanda: The Dialectics of Meaning.” In idem. The Anthropology of Performance, 33–71. New York: PAJ Publications, 1986.

Turner, Victor. “Social Dramas and Stories about Them.” In idem. From Ritual to Theater: The Human Seriousness of Play, 61–88. New York: PAJ Publications, 1982.

1 See Vilmos Tóth, “Wahrmann Mór temetése és a Wahrmann-mauzoleum,” in Honszeretet és felekezeti hűség: Wahrmann Mór, 1831–1892, ed. Tibor Frank (Budapest: Argumentum, 2006), 205–11.

2 Pesti Hirlap, November 27, 1892, XIV, no. 328. Wahrmann’s obituaries were collected in “Néhai Wahrmann Mór országgyűlési képviselő, a Pesti Izraelita Hitközség elnöke stb. stb. emlékezete” [Rememberances of the Deceased Mór Wahrmann, Member of Parliament and President of the Budapest Jewish Congregation] by the Magyar Zsidó Múzeum és Levéltár [Hungarian Jewish Museum and Archives], Budapest.

3 For a comprehensive account of Wahrmann’s life, see Tibor Frank, “Magyar és zsidó: a Wahrmann-életrajz kérdései,” in Honszeretet és felekezeti hűség, 11–36. For collected primary sources, see: Országos Széchényi Könyvtár [National Széchényi Library], “Jüdische Delikatessen,” Öregebb Bonyhády Perczel István, Oct. Hung. 730.

4 Vasárnapi Ujság, December 4, 1892, XXXIX, no. 49.

5 Sándor Hegedűs, “Wahrmannról,” Vasárnapi Ujság, December 4, 1892.

6 In 1882, the Jews of Tiszaeszlár were accused of ritual murder in connection with their Passover celebration. The ritual murder trial, in which Károly Eötvös acted as the defense attorney of the accused Jews, became one of the notorious events in the history of late nineteenth-century Hungarian anti-Semitism.

7 Pesti Napló Esti Lapja, November 28, 1892, no. 329.

8 Egyetértés, November 27, 1892, no. 328.

9 Sándor Bűcher, “Wahrmann Mór életrajza,” Magyar Zsidó Szemle 10, no. 3 (1893): 9.

10 Samu Haber, “Wahrmann Mórról,” Egyenlőség, December 2, 1892, XI, no. 49.

11 Magyar Állam, November 30, 1892, III, no. 274.

12 Neue Freie Presse, November 28, 1892, no. 10153.

13 About this contract see András Kovács, “A magyar zsidók és a politika,” Világosság 39, no. 2 (1998): 78.

14 “Börzeviczy W. M. élczei,” Borsszem Jankó, December 4, 1892, 4.

15 The joke still had enough traction as late as 1972 to find its way into Georg Lukács’ autobiography, Gelebtes Denken, where he characterized his father’s conformism and patriotism with the dismissive phrase: “Jewish ambassador in Budapest.”

16 A version of the episode found inclusion in one of Wahrmann’s obituaries, which recounted that, “[m]any of his [Wahrmann’s] former colleagues in parliament still remember the following witty saying of his. It took place during the outbreak of anti-Semitism, when Istóczy suggested that the Jews of Hungary should be deported to Jerusalem. Wahrmann humorously commented on this idea to his friends: ‘The plan is not a bad one and I have no objections to it. But I reserve the right to stay among you as ambassador from Jerusalem.’” “Wahrmann Mór” Egyetértés, November 27, 1892, no. 328.

17 For a full version of the incident, including its sources, see Tibor Frank, “Magyar és zsidó: a Wahrmann-életrajz kérdései,” in Honszeretet és felekezeti hűség, 36–37.

18 For an analysis of this problem, see Zygmunt Bauman, “Allosemitism: Premodern, Modern, Postmodern,” in Modernity, Culture and ‘the Jew’ ed. Bryan Cheyette and Laura Marcus (Cambridge, UK: Polity Press, 1998), 143–56.

19 Kenneth Burke, A Grammar of Motives (Berkeley–Los Angeles–London: University of California Press, 1969), 324.

20 Lajos Nagy, “Este van,” Nyugat I, no. 10, May 16, 1908, 554–58.

21 Idem, A lázadó ember, 1883–1914 (Budapest: Szépirodalmi Könyvkiadó, 1956), 484–87.

22 “Polgári házasság,” Borsszem Jankó, April 3, 1881, 10.

23 Porzó (Adolf Ágai), Utazás Pestről – Budapestre 1843–1907: Rajzok és emlékek a magyar főváros utolsó 65 esztendejéből (Budapest: Fekete Sas Kiadó, 1998), 408.

24 “Az országházból,” Magyar Zsidó Szemle I, no. 9 (1884): 580.

25 Béla Vajda, “A zsidóság és a prozelita-csinálás,” Magyar Zsidó Szemle XII, no. 3 (1895): 260.

26 Budapesti Hirlap, November 30, 1892, XII, no. 331.

27 “A Tisza-eszlári gyilkosság,” Függetlenség, July 1, 1882.

28 Lajos Palágyi, “Zsidók a társaságban,” Egyenlőség, November 17, 1890, VIII, no. 42, 7–8.

29 Ibid.

30 Pesti Hirlap, November 27, 1892, XIV, no. 328.

31 Budapesti Hirlap, November 30, 1892, XII, no. 331.

32 Nemzet, November 27, 1892.

33 Szabadság, November 27, 1892, XVII, no. 293.

34 Borsszem Jankó, November 4, 1884.

35 Ibid., October 5, 1879.

36 Ibid., December 4, 1881.

37 “Az Istóczy–Wahrmann botrány a képviselőházban.” Függetlenség, June 10, 1882.

38 Ibid.

39 Ibid.

40 Victor Turner, “Social Dramas in Brazilian Umbanda: The Dialectics of Meaning,” in Victor Turner, The Anthropology of Performance (New York: PAJ Publications, 1986), 3.

41 Ibid.

42 Victor Turner, “Social Dramas,” in idem, From Ritual to Theater: The Human Seriousness of Play (New York: PAJ Publications, 1982), 71.

43 “Az Istóczy–Wahrmann botrány a kéviselőházban,” Függetlenség, June 10, 1882.

44 “Az Istóczy–Wahrmann féle ügy,” Függetlenség, June 11, 1882.

45 “Az Istóczy–Wahrmann botrány a képviselőházban,” Függetlenség, June 10, 1882.

46 “A Wahrmann–Istóczy ügy,” Egyetértés, June 11, 1882.

47 “Istóczy és Wahrmann párbaja: A párbaj meghiúsitása a lóverseny téren,” Függetlenség, June 12, 1882.

48 “Budától Ercsiig,” Függetlenség, June 12, 1882.

49 “A zsidó papság és a zsidóság,” Függetlenség, June 14, 1882.

50 Turner, “Social Dramas,” 71.

51 Frontispiece, Borsszem Jankó, June 15, 1882.

52 Kálmán Mikszáth, “A hősök sorsa. Karcolat,” Pesti Hirlap, March 29, 1883. Cited in Honszeretet és felekezeti hűség, 568.

53 Ron H. Feldman, “Introduction: The Jew as Pariah: The case of Hannah Arendt,” in Hannah Arendt, The Jewish Writings, ed. Jerome Kohn and Ron H. Feldman (New York: Schocken Books, 2007), li.

54 Hannah Arendt, “The Jew as Pariah: A Hidden Tradition,” in The Jewish Writings, 280.


Figure 1. Ceremonial image of Wahrmann

Source: Neues Politischer Volksblatt,
November 27, 1892


Figure 2. Wahrmann’s Funeral Procession

Source: Neues Politischer Volksblatt,
November 30, 1892


pdfVolume 3 Issue 4 CONTENTS

Frank Henschel

Religions and the Nation in Kassa before World War I

The paper aims to evaluate the role of religion in the everyday life of a multilingual town in the former Hungarian Kingdom in the second half of the long nineteenth century. It focuses in particular on the adaptation to and adoption of nationalist discourse and practice in religious communities. Religion as traditional and nation as modern ideological concept and symbolic order competed against each other for influence in society. However, religious representatives and nationalist activists also worked together in mutual initiatives. The main goal of the Hungarian nationalist program was linguistic homogenization, i.e. the Magyarization of society, and churches were assigned a special role in this project. They provided the possibility of gaining mass attention and could serve for mass inducement. At the same time, church institutions and services were spaces of everyday multilingual practice in mixed lingual areas. In the end, different confessional communities in Kassa (German: Kaschau; today Košice, Slovakia)1 showed different strategies. The Roman Catholic Church and the Lutheran Church, due to the resistance from the majority of believers or church clerks (who protested against Hungarian-only services), remained multilingual up to World War I. Other communities transformed themselves quite smoothly from multilingual to Hungarian-only and therefore “patriotic” or “loyal” communities, e.g. the Jewish Reform (Neolog) Community or the Local Greek Catholics, whereas the Calvinists had always regarded themselves as the true “Magyar Denomination.” In general, the churches always played a vital role in the social and cultural life of the town, in school and educational systems, in associations, or in the culture of memory. But many questions and discussions of the era were linked to nationalist requirements and objectives which concerned the church representatives.

Keywords: confessional community, church, multilingual town, Kassa/Košice/Kaschau, Magyarization, nationalism

The Nineteenth Century: Age of Confession or Age of Nation?

For a long time, the nineteenth century was primarily regarded as the age of emerging industrialization and the rise of the nation state, whereas the significance of religion was marginalized, since secularization seemed to have succeeded. Religion was considered a mere pre-modern, traditional factor of the ancient régime, and religious belief was said to have been replaced by the modern belief in the nation as a rational type of collective organization. Theorists of nationalism tended to exclusively tie nation and modernity to the progress of secularity.2

In 1995 Dieter Langewiesche, in an elucidating review on the international historiography of nationalism, still ascertained a certain “blindness on confession.”3 The historiography of East-Central Europe also widely neglected the religious factor in studies of nationalism and national movements.4 The relevance of religion within modern societies was reconsidered in general. Calling into question the abovementioned hegemonic narrative of the nineteenth century, Olaf Blaschke claimed that at least for Germany it is better described as a “second confessional age,” emphasizing the high relevance of church and religion in different domains of society.5 In his monumental Die Verwandlung der Welt: Eine Geschichte des 19. Jahrhunderts, Jürgen Osterhammel confirmed this assessment from a global perspective. 6

As a result, the late nineteenth century has to be regarded as both an age of the nation and an age of religion. But how can we describe the relationship between religion and nation(alism)? Instead of simply opposing religion and nation, Hartmut Lehmann analyzed them in a more complex and dialectic context. Neither was religion unaffected by the rise of the new national semantics, nor did nationalism simply replace it. In fact, the development can be better described as mutual adaptation, as a “secularization of religion and consecration of the nation.”7 Martin Schulze Wessel refined the concept towards a sophisticated approach of mutual “nationalization of religion and consecration of nation.” Instead of contending that nationalism marginalized or replaced religion, he encouraged a focus on “the processes of displacement, hybridization and synthetization of religion and nationalism.”8

Nationalists, in East-Central Europe and elsewhere, used functions and forms of expression of religion for propaganda and mass mobilization, and religious representatives and institutions had to and often wanted to adapt to nationalist ideas in order to compete for authority, influence and resources.9 The churches remained a very important, if not the most important sphere, especially in small and middle towns, where people of nearly all social classes took part in religious life. This is why nationalists attached considerable importance to these institutions, since in doing so they were able to reach broader parts of the local society. I therefore would like to offer a detailed study of the attitude of the six religious communities of Kassa towards the Hungarian national idea during the period that began in the second half of the nineteenth century and lasted until the outbreak of World War I. Since the length of this article is limited, I won’t be able to make more than a few observations about local practices of the “consecration of the nation,” but I do take into account “the diverse manners in which religious and national practice overlapped and interrelated, which led rather to mutual amplification, not supersession of religion by nation.”10

“Nation,” “Ethnicity” and the nationality question in the Nineteenth-century Hungarian Kingdom

With the Compromise of 1867, Hungary became a nearly independent, autonomous state within the Austro–Hungarian Dual Monarchy.11 In addition to its confessional heterogeneity, it was one of the most multilingual and multinational states in Europe. The titular people, the “Magyars,” formed a relative majority of 54.5 percent within the state only just before World War I according to the 1910 census. The fear of the demise of “Magyars” and their language and the attempt to build a modern nation-state led to the emergence of a strong Magyar nationalism. Nationalists propagated the Magyarization of the country, i.e. the linguistic homogenization and assimilation of the “nationalities” or “national minorities.” The most populous nationalities in Hungary were the Germans, the Romanians and Slovaks. With the nationality law, which was passed in 1868, everyone was indeed allowed to use his or her mother tongue when addressing lower levels of administration. However, the status of Hungarian as the official language was unquestioned, as was the principle of the “national unity” of the country. This was a clear denial of collective rights for “non-Magyars” and more or less a compulsion to assimilate into the Hungarian nation. This pressure also led to resistance in the form of separate national movements within the kingdom. Magyar nationalism and national movements among the minorities in Hungary are therefore important aspects of the complex “national question” in Hungary.12

This brief overview shouldn’t offer a misleading portrayal of the character of “nationality.” It is clearly not an objective and stable feature of individuals or groups, but has to be understood as a highly constructed product of the discourses and practices of nationalist activists, who claimed to speak for a specific “national” or “ethnic” group.13 According to Rogers Brubaker, both “Nation” and “Ethnicity” are specific interpretative sets or prisms, “a way of making sense of the social world,” just slightly differing regarding the founding categories. The basic misconception is that “Nation” is an inclusive, liberal, tolerant, and modern concept, whereas “Ethnicity” is an exclusive, repressive and primordial one. Both are highly intertwined, since every national idea, may it be liberal and tolerant as the Hungarian one was in some respects, bears ethnicized borders that can be used for the demarcation of “them” and “us.”14 Taking this into account, I will also avoid the ascription of national group identity to an unspecific collective in Kassa, e.g. talking about “the Slovaks,” “the Germans,” “the Ruthenes” or “the Magyars” of the town, since this would be a retrospective ethnicization of the past. Were I to use such terms, I would be taking for granted constant, unchanging ethnic or national groups in history.15

Regarding the relationship between nation and religion in Hungary, the “nationality question” did not arise in a secularized environment, although the Hungarian political elite followed an agenda of strict liberalism.16 Nonetheless, as Árpád von Klimó has pointed out, the century between 1848 and 1948 can be characterized as a “confessional age.”17 Religion mattered in Hungary, but the relationship between religion and the nation was a complex one. Since there was no single denomination that could be connected with the nation (as was the case in France, Spain and Britain), every church had to position itself individually with regard to nationalist programs. My analysis of a single city will uncover how different religious communities dealt with the national idea.

The question is if and how the Hungarian national idea and practice were adapted by churches in Kassa. Did they remain multi-lingual, “non-national” spaces, did they support Magyarization, or, in contrast, did they provide the foundation for the emerging minority nationalism of “Slovaks” or “Germans.”18

I venture answers to these questions in this article. I provide a short introduction to the history, structure, staff and affairs of the six local communities: Roman Catholics, Greek Catholics, Lutherans, Calvinists, Orthodox Jews and Neolog (Reform) Jews. How were they regarded by nationalist activists? What conflicts arose due to the fulfilling or failing of nationalist claims? Did church representatives engage in nationalist programs and campaigns? Did the communities take measures to meet the expectations of nationalist activists, and if so, what were these measures, and what expectations were they trying to meet?

Religion and Nation in Kassa

Kassa was (and actually is) characterized by an outstanding diversity of religions, which mirrored the profound linguistic diversity (see Table 1). Roman Catholicism remained the dominant confession over time, but the smaller communities consolidated and even gained new members. Between 1880 and 1910, the percentage of inhabitants of the city that followed the Roman Catholic Church declined from 70 percent to 63 percent. In contrast, the percentage of the population that was Greek Catholic increased from 6.5 to 8 percent, Calvinists from 4 to 8 percent, and the percentage of citizens of (one of the) Jewish Confession(s) expanded from 11 to 15 percent. Only the Lutheran Church lost a respectable share in the population – from nearly 8 down to 5.5 percent. This shift in the ranking of churches was—in comparison with other Hungarian cities of the same size, like Székesfehérvár, Pécs, Győr and Miskolc—a unique feature of Kassa.19




















































Inhabitants in total











Table 1. Inhabitants and mother tongues in Kassa 1857–191020

Catholics between Panslavism and Magyarization

The two Catholic denominations of Kassa—Roman and Greek—constituted an absolute majority. In Hungary the bishop of Esztergom as entitled Prince-Primate controlled the dioceses, abbeys and other church institutions. He also was in charge of the Greek Catholics, who in the Union of Uzhorod (1646) had accepted the pope as head of the church but adhered to their orthodox rites and liturgy.21

Although the Greek Catholic community could be viewed as something a bit exotic in Kassa, they actually looked back on a long local tradition as well as a contemporary atmosphere of tolerance regarding their religious culture and practice. As early as the late fifteenth century, even before the official Union, Christian Orthodox believers lived in Kassa and its surroundings.22 Some historians equate the Greek Catholic belief with the ethnic group of Ruthenians, an eastern Slavonic people living in Transylvania, Galicia and the Carpatho-Ukraine, a region east of Kassa. Their belief and the use of Old Church Slavonic as the language of liturgy distinguished them from other denominations, but the idea that they saw themselves as a special ethnic group is questionable.23 At the beginning of the nineteenth century, the Greek Catholics of Kassa were subordinated to the eparchie (Greek Catholic diocese) of Eperjes (today Prešov, Slovakia). They lacked an administration and chapel of their own, but the Roman Catholic bishop of Kassa allowed them to use the Franciscan Monastery in the city center. Nevertheless, representatives of the faith, specifically the chaplain Matej Bräuer (1817–71),24 a teacher at secondary school and city councilor, continued to push for an upgrade of the Greek Catholic community to an autonomous parish. His involvement in local schooling and politics already indicates the integration of Greek Catholics in Kassa. Bräuer’s successor Julius Viszlocky (1832–1907) finally succeeded in collecting thousands of Gulden for the erection of a Greek Catholic Church, which was finished in 1901.25 The fact that the lion’s share of the 40,000 Gulden project was contributed by people of other confessions in Kassa and the whole country confirms the contention that the Greek Catholic Church was seen as an integral part of the local society.

Although even in the new chapel the old liturgy in the Slavonic language was used, the community didn’t come under fire from nationalists. An occasion for Greek Catholics to demonstrate their national loyalty came in 1896, the year of the Hungarian “Millennium.”26 Chaplain Viszloczky arranged a festival service and gave a patriotic speech in Hungarian, which had to be translated for the audience. Ten years later, on the occasion of the reburial of Prince Ferencz Rákóczi II in Kassa,27 the press praised Viszloczky for organizing a mass service in the Greek Catholic chapel in Hungarian, which no longer needed to be translated. This, in the eyes of Hungarian nationalists, demonstrated the efforts of the community to assimilate linguistically and represented an example of extraordinary patriotism.28

The Greek Catholic leaders encouraged the national assimilation of their believers. The last step was taken by the Bishop of Eperjes’ eparchie Miklós Csoma (1863–1922), who pushed for the comprehensive Magyarization of the community. In 1909, the bond between the Greek Catholic church and the Hungarian nation became irresolvable. A country-wide congregation met in Kassa and decided to abolish the Old Church Slavonic language from all church services in favor of Hungarian. This, according to Bishop Csoma, was an expression of love and loyalty to the nation, which was given the same value as the love to Christ.29

Thus, the Greek Catholic community of Kassa seemed to have adapted quite smoothly to the Hungarian national idea. This followed an integrative strategy. By breaking with the character of strangers and strengthening the support for their administrative autonomy, the Greek Catholic priests and bishops tried conspicuously to adapt to the ruling national concept of the united Hungarian state-nation by switching languages and showing patriotism.

In contrast, the negotiation of the relationship between religion and nation in the Roman Catholic community reveals much more ambivalence and conflict. In general, as research on Catholicism and nationalism indicated, there was an elementary difficulty of harmonizing the transnational, ultramontane character of the papal church with nationalist demands for nation-centered loyalty.30 In the special case of Hungary the tight bond of Roman Catholicism and the Habsburg emperors always provoked strong anti-Catholic resentments among Hungarian nationalists, although most Hungarians were actually Catholics.31

As of 1804, Kassa was a diocesan town. The share of Roman Catholic believers among the city’s population decreased, but the church held the dominant position within the urban society. In addition to the bishops, several Roman Catholic representatives played a vital role in various institutions. The chaplain Endre Kozora, for example, was elected head-solicitor of the city under the 34 year-long leadership of mayor Tivadar Münster and thus one of the most influential people within the magistrate. The bishops and many Roman Catholic officials were institutionally and personally involved in diverse activities related to Magyarization. Thus the church itself wasn’t a target of nationalist attacks, but the local order of Dominicans was due to its language practice. In particular, József Timkó (1843–99), the editor-in-chief of the most nationalist weekly, Abauj-Kassai Közlöny, who was yearlong assemblyman and—not unimportantly—a Lutheran, used his public roles to agitate against their alleged “Panslavism.” Timkó argued that the Dominicans were spreading Slovak nationalism by holding church services in Slovak and using the language in elementary schools. He demanded the formation of a committee that would investigate the activities of the order. The idea was supported even by Roman Catholics like the theologian and subsequent school inspector Márton Mártonffy (1848–1917), who published a plea for the national mission of the Roman Catholic Church. According to him, the Church had the duty to magyarize the non-Hungarian “nationalities” among its believers by introducing Hungarian services and patriotic sermons.32

The targets among the Dominicans were the priests Anton Dominik Rašovsky (1815–94) and Hyacinth Vlačil (1857–92). They were accused of being “fanatic panslavists,”33 because they ordered Slovak-speaking prayer books, which was regarded as an attempt to “slovakize” the city.34 Strangely enough, accusations were even interchangeable. In 1895, the slightly less nationalist newspaper Felsőmagyarország called the Dominicans a “cancer” because the order ostensibly had submitted some documents in German to the financial board of Kassa. Now, the friars undoubtedly were “Germanizators.”35

After several years of recurring attacks, the head of the order, Father Gergely, submitted a long letter to the press, in which he explained his standpoint to the nation and defended the practices of his priests. According to him, the order already limited Slovak-speaking services to the level that was still necessary. The main services had been held in Hungarian for years. But since there were still a lot of Slovak-speaking believers, the order couldn’t put a complete end to services in Slovak. However, Gergely assured the public, everyone was committed to use all means to encourage patriotism and the use of the Hungarian language.36 So, in the end, nationalist activists forced the order to issue a statement regarding their position towards the nation.

The concentration on the Dominicans should not lead to a misunderstanding of the practice with regards to language in other Roman Catholic churches of Kassa: the Dome of the Holy Elisabeth—the biggest cathedral in the region—, the Michael-Chapel, the Premonstratensian-Abbey, the Franciscan-Abbey and the Ursuline-Abbey—not to mention the numerous smaller chapels in the city’s periphery. The Roman Catholic bishops and priests of Kassa in general had to be aware of the linguistic diversity of their community. Even in the Dome, Slovak-speaking services were provided until World War I. Priests mostly had to master at least two languages, which again was regarded as scandalous in the Hungarian nationalist press.37

For the common believers, language use in church had little to do with the demonstration of national loyalty. Language, rather, was a tool with which to serve individual needs for religious guidance. This was without a doubt best fulfilled in one’s mother tongue or a common language, which in many cases wasn’t Hungarian, even if people understood or spoke it in other situations. Ignoring the desire of the believers to at least pray and confess in the language of their choice also led to open conflict. In more than one case, some of the congregations stubbornly and resolutely insisted on the services being held in Slovak and even interrupted the priests and started a fray.38 To classify such a spontaneous event as nationally motivated would be a misleading conclusion. This wasn’t an expression of a specific national consciousness, but a demand for appropriate language use as usual.

Taking this into account, it’s hardly surprising that the Fathers of the Dominican order were not the only people who were accused of not fulfilling their national duties. The bishops had to cope with attacks in the press too, due to the fact that church services continued to be held in the three main languages of the city, German, Slovak and Hungarian. The newspaper Kassai Hirlap argued that 98 percent of the city’s population was able at least to understand Hungarian, so the author asked why bishop Zsigmond Bubics (1821–1907, bishop 1886–1907) allowed priests to use several languages, even though he in general was an advocate of Magyarization.39 Bubics, for example, even tried to influence Greek Catholics who had emigrated to the United States of America by sending priests who would re-Magyarize or de-Americanize them.40

In fact every bishop—whether we are speaking of Bubics’ predecessor Constantin Schuster (1817–99, bishop 1877–86) or his successor Ágoston Fischer-Colbrie (1863–1925, bishop 1907–25)—was engaged in associations and campaigns which served to propagate Hungarian national identity, language and culture. In doing so, they always were flanked by other Roman Catholic officials like Menyhért Takács. The vicar of the Premonstratensian order served for a long time as head of the Közművelődési Egyesület (Society of Public Education), the main instrument of Magyarization in Kassa, which was under auspices of the bishops and the főispán, the governor of the Abaúj-Torna district, the capital of which was Kassa.

The main engagement of Roman Catholic officials in nationalist affairs didn’t take place during church services, but rather on occasions that were part of the public culture of memory. Every event of “national” importance, e.g. the anniversary of the Revolution of 1848, the “Hungarian Millennium” in 1896, or the cult of Ferenc Rákóczi II, was celebrated in the Dome of St. Elisabeth with huge services. The “nationalization of religion and consecration of nation” was most obvious on these festivities. Roman Catholicism and the “nation” were at least temporarily bound together in the performance and staging of national collective memory.41 In general, the Roman Catholic community remained multilingual, and for most believers, the church was still a rather non-national marked sphere of everyday life.

Protestants and Ethnic Segregation

The Protestant communities of Lutherans and Calvinists differed remarkably in their adaptation to Hungarian national idea. The latter had already been generally analyzed as bearing the self-image of being the true “Magyar confession,” since they had always used Hungarian and had fostered myths of struggling for the best of the nation since the sixteenth century.42 The Hungarian Lutherans, in contrast, used various strategies. Some felt as exceptional as the Calvinists in respect of their ethno-national quality as “Magyars.” German-speaking Lutherans, on the one hand, fostered a state-centered patriotism, which acknowledged multilingualism and multiethnicity. Some Slovak-speaking communities, on the other, developed a separate national idea, based on the strong ties between the lower Lutheran clergy and the Slovak speakers of the community.43

As far as the Calvinists of Kassa were concerned, the above statement was true. They cultivated an image of themselves as the national elite, which was expressed, for example, by the construction of the highest spire in the city in 1895, measuring 40 meters. The censuses—though the results should be interpreted critically—indicated a rate of 98 percent of Calvinists in Kassa who identified themselves as “Magyars.” According to a local Calvinist chronicle, the community was proud that it always used the Hungarian language in church and was the strongest supporter if not the founder of the “Kuruc” movement, a series of anti-Habsburg rebellions in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries led by princes like the prominent members of the Rákóczi family.44 Ironically, the Calvinists of Kassa were not willing to tear down their church in favor of the construction of a statue of Prince Ferenc Rákóczi II.45 However, all in all nationalist ideology was deeply integrated into religious practice, the more so as many Calvinist officials held positions in magyarizing institutions like the Közművelődési Egyesület. But the confessional elitist and nationalist attitude of Calvinists did not lead to total segregation from other communities. Together with the Lutherans they organized several cultural events in the Grand Hotel Schalkház, which were also joined by Catholic or Jewish personalities.46

Whereas Calvinists represented themselves as the Magyar confession, Lutherans had to deal with the same situation as the Roman Catholics. The community was multilingual, since speakers of Hungarian, German and Slovak were among the believers. Using their administrative autonomy,47 the Lutheran church found its own solutions to the situation.

In mid-nineteenth-century Kassa two communities existed that were separated along linguistic borders. Contemporaries, however, obviously tried to avoid the impression of ethno-national segregation, since they simply named the German-Hungarian the “First” and the Slovak the “Second” community. Both shared one church in the city center. But it cannot be assumed that national arguments did not play an important role. Since the Slovak-speakers formed the overwhelming majority within the whole Lutheran church in Kassa compared to German- or Hungarian-speakers, the unification of the latter two in the 1840s can be interpreted as an attempt to form a block against a formidable “Slovak” hegemony. It was presumably expected that German-speaking Lutherans would soon magyarize themselves. Afterwards, a powerful “Magyar community” could more easily absorb the “Slovak” one by arranging a second unification. But up to the end of the nineteenth century German remained the predominant language even in the “First” community. Because of this, Abauj-Kassai Közlöny published a plea to all Lutherans asking them to support Hungarian-language church services, which often were poorly attended.48

The second (“Slovak”) community nevertheless worked steadily and despite the tense situation nearly undisturbed. Up to the late 1880s, it even ran a Slovak-speaking elementary school, which later fell victim to the Magyarization of the school system.49 After the turn of the century, the question of language became virulent again. The “German-Hungarian” community felt strong enough to promote a merger. A roundtable was created by the lawyer Géza Benczur (1843–1908) and priest János Csikó for the “German–Hungarian” community, and the teacher János Kresz (1843–1912) and priest István Homola (1864–1952) for the “Slovak” community. These four representatives decided to merge the two communities, which in the end was supposed to result in the abolition of all non-Hungarian church services.50 But the Lutheran believers themselves had to be asked for approval in separate assemblies. Despite a plea of Kresz to his Slovak-speaking believers to show “national morals,” they refused the unification.51 Services in Slovak and German remained untouched until World War I.

To understand the complexity of the case, one should note that it wasn’t only the program of Magyarization that led to negotiations for unification. The financial problems of the Lutheran church at the time had led to a cut-back in staff.52 Therefore it would have saved a lot of money to recruit just one or two priests with knowledge of Hungarian instead of three or four with knowledge of different languages. Furthermore, church officials hoped to gain financial support from the city’s magistrate with which to maintain the Lutheran elementary school in exchange for formally magyarizing the community.

In the end, the unification of the “German–Hungarian” and “Slovak” community never happened. Both communities refused to vote in its favor. The Slovak-speaking believers—despite the insistent plea of Kresz—feared the abolishment of Slovak-speaking church services. The “German–Hungarian” community also stopped all negotiations because the representatives feared a “Slovak” majority in the church institutions—although there never was a Slovak-national movement based on the Lutheran church in the region.53

Schism and Assimilation: the Local Jewry

Jews were in a historical sense the “youngest” religious group in Hungary, since their immigration increased just around the turn of the eighteenth and the nineteenth centuries. They came from all over Europe and the Monarchy to Hungary, since in 1840 nearly every legal restriction for the settlement of Jews was banned in the law XXIX/1840. Full equality was only legalized in 1896, when the Judaism was granted the same legal status as Christian denominations. However, as Viktor Karády has described, Jewish immigration to Hungary was promoted by an implicit “Assimilatory Contract.” This contract included the grant of full civil rights and protection against discrimination or anti-Semitic violence in exchange for linguistic and national assimilation to Magyardom. Jews were regarded as the missing percentage that would help to lift the share of “Magyars” in Hungary from a relative to an absolute majority compared to the national minorities.54 Other historians have therefore characterized Jewish strategies of assimilation in Hungary as “Magyar–Jewish Symbiosis.”55

Jews had lived in Kassa since the fifteenth century, but the consolidation of the local Jewish community dates back to 1844, when Abraham Seelenfreund was elected rabbi. The first prayer room was situated in Harang-út (today Zvonárska) on the brink of the city center, but it soon provided too little space for the rapidly growing community. In 1867, they erected one of the country’s biggest synagogues in the Old Town, but soon the emerging schism in Hungarian Jewry affected the community in Kassa, too. At the Jewish Congress in Pest in 1869, Jewish Orthodoxy separated from Reform-Jewry (called “Neologs”), which sought to modernize the religion in theory and practice and voted for further secularization towards an ethno-national assimilation.56

The Neolog-community in Kassa was soon a clear majority within the Jewish community. In 1899, 2,500 males were declared members of the reform community, in contrast to just 1,600 of the orthodox.57 From the 1870s onwards, the Orthodoxy tried desperately to achieve its interests, be it a separate cemetery for orthodox funeral rites or a separate synagogue. Even after Markus Hirsch, a Budapest Rabbi who was sent by Minister of Culture József Eötvös to mediate the conflict, attested full congruence between the new contested synagogue and religious rules, local Orthodoxy refused to use it.58 However, bit by bit Orthodoxy lost ground, since a socio-economic, demographic and religious change took place, as Sándor Márai, the great “biographer” of fin-de-siècle Kassa, describes in his memoirs. 59

The consequence of the ongoing modernization of Jewry in Kassa was a changing self-relation towards the Hungarian national idea, but assimilation did not change everything immediately. Up to the turn of the century, multilingualism in the communities, whether the orthodox or the neolog, was an unquestioned practice. The Jewish elementary school taught Hebrew and German; most Jewish associations, e.g. the Charity Club of Godparents, used German in their meetings and for written correspondence, educated Jews in general used German and Hungarian equally.60 Therefore, more than once the liberal-nationalist press, in a strange phalanx with the conservative Catholic press, attacked local Jewry for using German in public or within community life.61

There was no climate of permanent Anti-Semitism, but there was remarkable pressure to assimilate to the “Magyar” majority. This pressure, in connection with a desire for definite acceptance on behalf of Jewish representatives, led to a final decision. In 1904, the Jewish neolog community decided to magyarize itself. The respected physicians József Spatz and Elek Neuwirth submitted a proposal which stipulated the exclusive use of Hungarian for church services, correspondence and meetings. Violation of the stipulation was threatened with sanctions. The Jewish elementary school had already switched from German to Hungarian as the language of instruction. Furthermore, every member should be obliged to join the “Közművelődési Egyesület,” the main instrument of local Magyarization.62

This was not the first expression of strategic assimilation within the Jewry of Kassa, but it was a remarkable one, since it affected all community members. Ten years earlier, the wealthier among them had already founded the “Kassai Társaskör” to promote Magyarization within the Jewish upper class.63

There were also remarkable individual actors who can be described as national activists. One of them was the lawyer Sámu Fényes (1863 as Feuerlicht–1937), who founded the “Sovinista Egyesület” in 1901, which introduced strong nationalist semantics into the field of local economy.64 In his fight for general suffrage, Fényes emphasized its importance for the regions in Hungary, where according to him the system of voting at the time privileged the leaders of nationality movements, like Slovak or Romanian priests.65


The question I have sought to address in this essay concerns how the six religious communities in multilingual Kassa positioned themselves with regards to the Hungarian national idea during the age of Austro–Hungarian Dualism. National activists claimed supremacy for the Hungarian language, demanded individual and collective assimilation of non-Hungarian “nationalities,” and regarded the use of other languages as a sign of a lack of national loyalty or an attempt to cultivate a separatist national idea. One can venture the conclusion that no religious community remained unaffected by nationalist demands and claims, but the scope of Magyarization was quite different from denomination to denomination. The small community of Calvinists regarded itself as an originally and essentially “Magyar” denomination. They did not have to find a new way to adapt to the national idea, but strengthened their symbolic affiliation.

The other communities had to cope with the challenges of Magyarization in a more complex way. They all looked back on long traditions of multilingualism and an institutionalized system of church services in different languages. Quite often, even the language of church administration was not Hungarian, but was at least in part German/Hebrew (Jews), German/Slovak (Lutherans), Old Church Slavonic (Greek Catholics) or Latin (Roman Catholics). All denominations were confronted with demands for Magyarization, but in different ways.

The most complex case was the Roman Catholic Church. It represented the overwhelming majority of people in Kassa, but therefore had to manage the widest diversity of mother or colloquial languages. It was under steady surveillance by national activists, even more so because Catholicism was seen as something in opposition to the mostly Protestant national-liberal political elite. Thus, the officials tried to demonstrate loyalty to the nation. Bishops, priests and other representatives were engaged in several local nationalist institutions. They were involved in Hungarian nationalist memory culture and promoted the “consecration of the nation.” They tried to increase the number of church services in Hungarian, but linguistic homogenization failed because churchgoers also stood up against Magyarization, since it affected the very private practice of praying.

The Lutheran church was confronted with the same problems, since their community was trilingual and until the mid-nineteenth century separated into three entities. After unification, a German–Hungarian and a Slovak community coexisted, but until World War I the leaders of both communities tried to enforce a final merger which in their eyes would lead to financial savings and Magyarization. This goal was not attained and a Slovak-speaking Lutheran community existed up until 1914, but never was a protagonist in a local or regional Slovak national movement.

Jews and Greek Catholics used different strategies. Both communities had a status of subtle “strangeness.” The Greek Catholics were a local particularity and had no country-wide church structure, but rather were subordinated to the Roman Catholic diocese until they were assigned an autonomous eparchy in Eperjes. Despite their “Slavic” background, they had little problem with local Hungarian nationalism and adapted to the Hungarian national idea by pushing forward linguistic Magyarization and ideologically avowing the fatherland. The bishops and priests had chosen an assimilative strategy to integrate their communities. They were able to avoid hostilities by replacing the Old Slavonic church language with Hungarian. They even generated support for the strengthening of their institutional autonomy.

The Jewry of Kassa, as the sole non-Christian community, was assigned a different status of strangeness. But here as in the whole country the mechanism of the “assimilatory contract” took effect. The schism of Hungarian Jews into Orthodox and Neologs lead to remarkable confessional conflict. Both competed for hegemony within the local community, but Neologs soon became the majority and thus their concept of national assimilation prevailed. Some turned into dedicated national activists, but it took until the first decade of the twentieth century to magyarize the community officially. Until then, and this is an important difference from the Greek Catholics, the Jews weren’t immune against attacks from the liberal nationalist or the conservative Catholic press, since many used the German language in business, public and private. But by World War I, the public, school and church life of the Neolog community was widely magyarized.

I have attempted to present the complex entanglements of religion and nation in a specific local context. Neither was there a simple replacement of religion by nation, nor was there complete immunization of multilingual, non-nationalist traditions in churches. Rather, there was mutual interaction that can be described as a local form of “nationalization of religion” and “consecration of the nation.”


Archival Sources

Archiv Mesta Košíc (= AMK) [Municipal Archive of Košice], Fond Magistratus (= FM)

Archive Materials on Košice Jewry, I/7, 1888, kart. 1701.

II/5252 1914, kart. 2281. Körmendy-Ékes, Lajos. A Rákóczi-szobor elhelyezése [The Placement of the Rákóczi-statue]. September 25, 1912.

VII/32-b 1888, kart. 1897. A kassai társaskör alapszabályai [Statutes of the Club of Kassa]. Kassa, June 5, 1893.

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Szarvady, Pál. “A kassai görög szertartásu r. Katholikusok szervezkedése” [Organization of the Greek Catholic Rite in Košice]. Abauj-Kassai Közlöny, April 22, 1909. 4–5.

“Terjed a magyarosodás: Egy hazafias indítvány” [Magyarization is Spreading. A Patriotic Proposal]. Felsőmagyarország, May 31, 1904. 3.

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1 It would be appropriate, given the perspective of the article, to use all three forms of the city’s name consistently in order to emphasize its multiethnic and multilingual character in the past (and actually also in the present). But for easier reading, I will restrict to the official Hungarian name from the period under discussion, knowing that it wasn’t a “Magyar” city in the nineteenth century (nor was it a purely “Slovak” or “German” one). For personal names I will also use the most popular form in the sources, the Hungarian one, although a German or Slovak form often existed as well.

2 Ernest Gellner, Nations and Nationalism (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1983), 138; Karl W. Deutsch, Nationalism and Social Communication: An Inquiry into the Foundations of Nationality (Cambridge, Mass.: M.I.T. Press, 1962).

3 Dieter Langewiesche, “Nation, Nationalismus, Nationalstaat: Forschungsstand und Forschungsperspektiven,” Neue Politische Literatur 40 (1995): 216.

4 Hans-Christian Maner and Martin Schulze Wessel, “Einführung,” in Religion im Nationalstaat zwischen den Weltkriegen 1918–1939: Polen, Tschechoslowakei, Ungarn, Rumänien, ed. Hans-Christian Maner and Martin Schulze Wessel (Stuttgart: Steiner, 2002), 7–12.

5 Olaf Blaschke, “Das 19. Jahrhundert: Ein Zweites Konfessionelles Zeitalter?” Geschichte und Gesellschaft 26 (2000): 38–75.

6 Jürgen Osterhammel, Die Verwandlung der Welt: Eine Geschichte des 19. Jahrhunderts (Munich: Beck, 2011), 1239.

7 Hartmut Lehmann, “Die Säkularisierung der Religion und die Sakralisierung der Nation im 20. Jahrhundert: Varianten einer komplementären Relation,” in Religion im Nationalstaat, 13–27.

8 Martin Schulze Wessel, “Die Nationalisierung der Religion und die Sakralisierung der Nation im östlichen Europa,” in Nationalisierung der Religion und Sakralisierung der Nation im östlichen Europa, ed. Martin Schulze Wessel (Stuttgart: F. Steiner Verlag, 2006), 9.

9 Heinz-Gerhard Haupt and Dieter Langewiesche, “Einleitung,” in Nation und Religion in Europa: Mehrkonfessionelle Gesellschaften im 19. und 20. Jahrhundert, ed. Heinz-Gerhard Haupt and Dieter Langewiesche (Frankfurt am Main–New York: Campus Verlag GmbH, 2004), 11–23.

10 Joachim v. Puttkamer, “Nationalismus in Ostmitteleuropa: Eine Zwischenbilanz,” Zeitenblicke 6, no. 2 (2007): 27, accessed June 23, 2014, http://www.zeitenblicke.de/2007/2/puttkamer/index_html.

11 Agnes Deak, From Habsburg Neo-Absolutism to the Compromise: 1849–1867 (Bradenton: East European Monographs, 2008).

12 Robert J. W. Evans, “Der ungarische Nationalismus im internationalen Vergleich,” in Nationalismen in Europa: West- und Osteuropa im Vergleich, ed. Ulrike von Hirschhausen and Jörn Leonhard (Göttingen: Wallstein-Verl., 2001), 291–305; Alice Freifeld, Nationalism and the crowd in liberal Hungary, 1848–1914 (Washington, DC: Woodrow Wilson Center Press, 2000); Tomasz Kamusella, The Politics of Language and Nationalism in Modern Central Europe (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan Ltd., 2008), 431–80; Szarka, László, ed., Hungary and the Hungarian Minorities: Trends in the Past and in Our Time (Highland Lakes, New Yersey: Atlantic Research and Publications Inc., 2004).

13 Pieter M. Judson, Guardians of the Nation. Activists on the language frontiers of imperial Austria (Cambridge: Harvard Univ. Press, 2006); Rogers Brubaker Ethnizität ohne Gruppen (Hamburg: Hamburger Ed., 2007) first published Rogers Brubaker, Ethnicity Without Groups (Cambridge, Mass: Harvard Univ. Press, 2004).

14 Rogers Brubaker, Nationalism reframed: Nationhood and the national question in the new Europe (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1997); Rogers Brubaker, “The Macnichean Myth: Rethinking the Distinction between ‘Civic’ and ‘Ethnic’ Nationalism,.” in Nation and National Identity: The European Experience in Perspective, ed. Hanspeter Kriesi et al. (Chur: Rüegger, 1999), 55–71; Rogers Brubaker, Nationalist Politics and Everyday Ethnicity in a Transylvanian Town (Princeton, NJ: Princeton Univ. Press, 2008), 15.

15 Jeremy King, “The Nationalization of Eastern Central Europe: Ethnicism, Ethnicity, and Beyond,” in Staging the Past: The Politics of Commemoration in Habsburg Central Europe, ed. Maria Bucur and Nancy M. Wingfield (West Lafayette: Purdue Univ. Press, 2001), 112–52.

16 István Diószegi, “Die Liberalen am Steuer: Der Ausbau des bürgerlichen Staatssystems in Ungarn im letzten Drittel des 19. Jahrhunderts,” in Liberalismus im 19. Jahrhundert: Deutschland im europäischen Vergleich: dreissig Beiträge, ed. Dieter Langewiesche (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1988), 484–98; András Gergely, “Der ungarische Adel und der Liberalismus im Vormärz,” in Liberalismus im 19. Jahrhundert: Deutschland im europäischen Vergleich: dreissig Beiträge, 458–83.

17 Árpád von Klimó, “Ein »konfessionelles Zeitalter« Ungarns (1848–1948),” in Religion und Nation: Katholizismen im Europa des 19. und 20. Jahrhunderts, ed. Urs Altermatt and Franziska Metzger (Stuttgart: Kohlhammer, 2007), 216.

18 There are numerous studies of multiethnic East-Central European cities, but only two of them focus in detail on religious communities: Till van Rahden, Juden und andere Breslauer (Göttingen–Bielefeld: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2000); Iris Engemann, Die Slowakisierung Bratislavas: Universität, Theater und Kultusgemeinden 1918–1948 (Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz, 2012).

19 Ernő Deák, Das Städtewesen der Länder der ungarischen Krone (1780–1918), vol. 2/A, Königliche Freistädte – Munizipalstädte 2. (Vienna: Verl. der Österr. Akad. der Wiss., 1989), 38, 62, 80, 124, 164.

20 Data taken from: Michal Potemra, Politický život v Košiciach v rokoch 1848–1900, vol. 2 (Košice: Štátna Vedecká Knižnica, 1983), 520; Pavol Šalamon, “Demografický vývoj Košíc v Rokoch 1848–1870 I,” Slovenská Archivistika 26, no. 1 (1991): 56–77; Pavol Šalamon, “Demografický vývoj Košíc v Rokoch 1870–1918 II,” Slovenská Archivistika 26, no. 2 (1991): 44–61.

21 Emanuel Turczynski, “Orthodoxe und Unierte,” in Die Konfessionen, ed. Adam Wandruszka and Peter Urbanitsch, vol. 4 of Die Habsburgermonarchie 1848–1918 (Vienna: Verl. d. Österr. Akad. d. Wiss., 1995), 399–478.

22 The following information is taken from Gabriel Szeghy and Peter Jambor, Košickí gréckokatolíci: Dejiny farnosti v rokoch 1797–1950 (Košice: Gréckokatolícky farský úrad, 2007).

23 For an affirmative approach of Ruthenian nationality see Paul R. Magocsi, and Ivan Pop, Encyclopedia of Rusyn History and Culture (Toronto, Ont.: Univ. of Toronto Press, 2002). More critical of that Wolfdieter Bihl, “Die Ruthenen,” in Die Völker des Reichs, vol. 2, ed. Adam Wandruszka and Peter Urbanitsch, vol. 3.2 of Die Habsburgermonarchie 1848–1918 (Vienna: Verl. d. Österr. Akad. d. Wiss., 1980), 555–84.

24 All biographical data is, except as noted otherwise, taken from: Mária Mihóková, Slovník košických osobností: 1848–1918 (Košice: Štátna Vedecká Knižnica, 1995).

25 The history of the church construction in: Szeghy and Jambor, Košickí gréckokatolíci, 79–110.

26 Thomas Barcsay, “The 1896 Millennial Festivities in Hungary: An Exercise in Patriotic and Dynastic Propaganda,” in Festive Culture in Germany and Europe from the Sixteenth to the Twentieth Century, ed. Karin Friedrich (Lewiston, NY: Mellen, 2000), 187–211.

27 On the Rákóczi-Cult in Košice see Frank Henschel, Vereinswesen und Erinnerungskultur in Kaschau / Košice / Kassa zwischen Nationalismus und stadtbürgerlichem Pragmatismus (1867–1918), Working Paper Series der Research Academy Leipzig 12. (Leipzig: Leipziger Univ.-Verl., 2013).

28 “Isteni tisztelet a hazáért a görög-katolikus templomban,” Napló, March 27, 1906, 2.

29 Pál Szarvady, “A kassai görögszertartásu r. katholikusok szervezkedése,” Abauj-Kassai Közlöny, April 22, 1909, 4–5.

30 Urs Altermatt, “Katholizismus und Nation: Vier Modelle in europäisch-vergleichender Perspektive,” in Religion und Nation: Katholizismen im Europa des 19. und 20. Jahrhunderts, ed. Urs Altermatt and Franziska Metzger (Stuttgart: Kohlhammer, 2007), 15–33.

31 Ernst Bruckmüller, “Österreich: Eine ‚katholische‘ Nation?” in Religion und Nation: Katholizismen im Europa des 19. und 20. Jahrhunderts, 69–93; Moritz Csáky, “Die römisch-katholische Kirche in Ungarn,” in Die Konfessionen, 285–89.

32 Márton Mártonffy, “A domonkosok és a magyarosodás ügye,” Abauj-Kassai Közlöny, November 27, 1884, 1.

33 “A tiszteletreméltó Domonkos atyákról,” Abauj-Kassai Közlöny, August 14, 1890, 3.

34 “Tótosító dominikánusok,” Abauj-Kassai Közlöny, September 4, 1890, 2.

35 “Csakazért is!” Felsőmagyarország, January 17, 1895, 3.

36 “A domonkosok és a hitélet magyarsága,” Felsőmagyarország, July 20, 1902, 4–5.

37 “Bonyodalmak a plébánosi állás betöltése körül,” Abauj-Kassai Közlöny, April 5, 1913, 1.

38 (Dr. H.) [Ignác Hohenauer,], “A magyar nyelv,” Felsőmagyarország, October 25, 1903, 1–2; “Slowaken gegen ungarischen Gottesdienst,” Kaschauer Zeitung, January 1, 1904, 1.

39 “Tót és német nyelv a kassai templomokban,” Kassai Hirlap, December 3, 1904, 1–2.

40 “Amerikai pánszlávok a kassai gör. kath. egyház ellen,” Kassai Hirlap, June 29, 1905, 2.

41 I’d like to refer to the publication in which I analyze parts of the local culture of memory of Kassa in detail: Henschel, Vereinswesen und Erinnerungskultur.

42 Árpád von Klimó, Nation, Konfession, Geschichte: Zur nationalen Geschichtskultur Ungarns im europäischen Kontext (1860–1948) (Munich: Oldenbourg, 2003), 55–79.

43 Juliane Brandt, “Konfessionelle und nationale Identität in Ungarn: Die protestantischen Kirchen,” in Religion im Nationalstaat zwischen den Weltkriegen 1918–1939, 31–71.

44 Lajos Szabó, Kassai kálvinista krónika 1644–1944 (Kassa: Wiko, 1944).

45 Archiv Mesta Košíc (= AMK), Fond Magistratus (= FM), II/5252 1914, kart. 2281, Lajos Körmendy-Ékes, A Rákóczi-szobor elhelyezése, September 25, 1912.

46 “A Protestáns-estély,” Felsőmagyarország, March 15, 1910, 4.

47 Friedrich Gottas, “Die Geschichte des Protestantismus in der Habsburgermonarchie,” in Die Konfessionen, 495–543.

48 “A fővárosi lapok,” Abauj-Kassai Közlöny, January 8, 1880, 3.

49 Joachim v. Puttkamer, Schulalltag und nationale Integration in Ungarn: Slowaken, Rumänen und Siebenbürger Sachsen in der Auseinandersetzung mit der ungarischen Staatsidee 1867–1914 (Munich: Oldenbourg, 2003).

50 “Kassai evangélikusok egyesülése: Nincs több német és tót egyház,” Felsőmagyarország, May 13, 1903, 3–4.

51 Cs-y., “A kassai két evangelikus egyház egyesitési ügye,” Felsőmagyarország, October 7, 1904, 2–3.

52 “Die Vereinigung der beiden Kassaer evang. Kirchen,” Kaschauer Zeitung, May 14, 1903, July 4, 1903, July 9, 1903.

53 “Az egyházak egyesitése,”Kassai Hirlap, July 22, 1905, 3.

54 Viktor Karády, Juden in Ungarn: Historische Identitätsmuster und Identitätsstrategien (Leipzig: Simon-Dubnow-Inst. für Jüdische Geschichte u. Kultur, 1998); Viktor Karády, “Elitenbildung im multiethnischen und mutikonfessionellen Nationalstaat: Ungarn in der Doppelmonarchie 1867–1918,” in Aufsteigen und Obenbleiben in europäischen Gesellschaften des 19. Jahrhunderts: Akteure, Arenen, Aushandlungsprozesse, eds. Karsten Holste, Dietlind Hüchtker and Michael G. Müller (Berlin: Akademie Verlag, 2009), 63–81.

55 Rolf Fischer, Entwicklungsstufen des Antisemitismus in Ungarn: 1867–1939; die Zerstörung der magyarisch-jüdischen Symbiose (Munich: Oldenbourg, 1988); Peter Haber, “Ungarische Assimilationsstrategien,” in Jüdische Identität und Nation: Fallbeispiele aus Mitteleuropa, ed. Peter Haber, Erik Petry, and Daniel Wildmann (Cologne: Böhlau , 2006), 3–6. The importance of Jews for the Hungarian political establishment rapidly diminished after the Treaty of Trianon in 1920, because they were no longer needed as a surrogate of the modern bourgeoisie and allies against the national minorities. Vera Ránki, The Politics of Inclusion and Exclusion: Jews and Nationalism in Hungary (New York: Holmes & Meier, 1999); Paul A. Hanebrink, In Defense of Christian Hungary: Religion, Nationalism, and Antisemitism, 1890–1944 (Ithaca, NY: Cornell Univ. Press, 2006).

56 Wolfdieter Bihl, “Die Juden,” in Die Völker des Reichs, 880–948.

57 Alajos Klekner, “Vallási élet,” in A Kassai Egyetem: Emlékkönyv, ed. Kassa szab. kir. város tanférfiai (Kassa: Kassa szab. kir. város tanférfiai, 1901), 137–48.

58 Emanuel Enten, “Zur Geschichte der Juden in Košice (Kaschau),” Zeitschrift für die Geschichte der Juden in der Tschechoslowakei 2, no. 4 (1932): 279–91.

59 Sándor Márai, Bekenntnisse eines Bürgers: Erinnerungen (Munich: Piper, 2000), 12.

60 AMK, FM, Archive Materials on Košice Jewry 1888, I/7, kart. 1701.

61 “Germanizáló rabbi,” Abauj-Kassai Közlöny, September 10, 1891, 2; “A magyarosodás tengelyakasztói városunkban,” Felvidéki Ujság, June 18, 1908, 1.

62 “Patriotischer Antrag,” Kaschauer Zeitung, June 2, 1904, 2; “Terjed a magyarosodás: Egy hazafias indítvány,” Felsőmagyarország, May 31, 1904, 3.

63 AMK, FM VII/32-b 1888, kart. 1897, “A kassai társaskör alapszabályai,” Kassa, June 5, 1893.

64 Dr. M. I. [Mitzger Imre], “Sovinista egyesület,” Felsőmagyarország, April 24, 1901, 1.

65 “Egy szép beszédről,” Kassai Hirlap, September 10, 1905, 1–2.


pdfVolume 3 Issue 4 CONTENTS

Martin Jemelka

Religious Life in an Industrial Town The Example of Ostrava, 1850–1950*

In the first half of the twentieth century, Ostrava (Moravian Ostrava, Greater Ostrava), as the center of the Ostravian industrial area (with a high concentration of plants that use coal, iron, and steel and were involved in the chemical industry in the nineteenth century), was not only an important center of Austria–Hungary and then Czechoslovakia, but also served as an important center of modern religious life in the Czech lands. Between the two world wars, the Ostravian area was the center of the Czechoslovak atheistic movement, the National Czechoslovak Hussite Church, and the Middle-European spiritualistic movement. In this essay, which is based on records and statistic materials from Ostrava City Archive and other Czech archives, will map religious life of Moravian Ostrava in relation to two social groups, the working class and the middle class of both the Czech and the German speaking populations, including German speaking people of Jewish origin. The second observed phenomenon, proselytism, will be described based on Books of religious conversions of the Roman Catholic Parish Office from 1854 to 1920. I consider the frequency of conversions between individual confessions, the most frequent reasons given for conversion, mixed marriages within working class and middle class environments, and Jewish converts to Roman Catholicism.

Keywords: religious life, industrial town, atheistic movement, national church, spiritualistic movement, proselytism, Ostrava, 1850–1950

There is a stereotype prevalent in the Czech and Central European historical scholarship in connection with a territory of temporal Ostrava and the Ostrava industrial area according to which they were the most important centers of the coal and iron industries of the Austro–Hungarian Monarchy and Republic of Czechoslovakia.1 However, to mention Ostrava and the Ostrava industrial agglomeration2 as an important center of modern Czech, Czechoslovak and even Central European religious and spiritual history may sound a bit sensationalist.3 Nevertheless, Ostrava and Ostravsko underwent before and after World War I a dynamic economic, social and religious development that resulted in the emergence of interwar Ostrava as a center of the atheist movement, one of the Czechoslovak centers of the National-Catholic Czechoslovak Church,4 and local spiritualists who changed Ostravsko into a Central European spiritualistic movement.5

The following text is devoted to collective (institutional) and individual actors of the religious and confessional development of the region of Ostrava in 1850–1950 on the basis of the example of Moravian Ostrava. First, I consider the two traditional institutions of that process, the Roman Catholic Church and the Lutheran Church (the Evangelical Church of Augsburg) and the local Jewish community. The second part of the text is devoted to new institutional actors. They entered the religious life of the region and the whole state after World War I. The motivation for the establishment varied. The Czechoslovak Church used reformed Catholicism. The Association of Social Democratic Atheists was based on a scientific world view. The religious views of spiritualists were outside of the frames of institutional confessions. An analytical part of the text is addressed to inter-confessional mobility, conversions between individual confessions (with particular focus on conversions between Jews and Roman Catholics), and mixed marriages (which were the main reasons for conversions).

Traditional Actors in Religious Life in Terms of Industrial Cities

Up to the proclamation of the December Constitution in 1867, Moravian Ostrava kept the character of a homogenous town by confession, with clear domination of leading Roman Catholics. From the 1850s, however, the Roman Catholic town had to absorb Jewish immigrants from traditional Moravian Jewish centers and North-Eastern Hungary (Trencsén), and Lutherans from near Těšín Silesia. Up to January 1, 1907, a parish office of Moravian Ostrava provided the diocese and four other villages with 65,839 inhabitants (1900)6 and belonged to the deanery of Místek. The medieval church of Saint Wenceslas was the parish church up to the year 1890. Between the two world wars, the redemptorist convent for pastoral duties of the Eastern Catholics Rite emerged. It was then the newly built parish and dean Church of the Divine Saviour, with a capacity of 4,000 people, that was the second largest Roman Catholic church in Moravia, first consecrated in the year 1889.7

In Roman Catholic churches services had been held in Czech for a long time, but as of the 1880s attempts were made to preach in German as well, and in Moravian Ostrava Polish missionaries from the area of today’s Poland, who led the missions for the Catholics from Silesia and Galicia, also held services in Polish. The last decade of the nineteenth century brought the enforcement of bilingual sermons in the main church, which was a great wish of the urban congregation. So already at the end of the century the linguistic or national part of the congregation played an important role in local religious life.

In addition to Czech, German and Polish nationalists from the municipal council and members of the nationally conscious working class, another opponent to Roman Catholicism emerged around the year 1900, and not only in Ostrava. This new opponent was the socialistically oriented industrial working class. The workers of rural origin were confronted, in the difficult conditions of Ostravian agglomeration, with the harshness of the reality of the industrial region and severed from traditional agricultural society. Paradoxically, the vast majority of Ostravian clergy of the second half of the nineteenth century and the first third of the twentieth originally came from the country.8 Priests who were not yet Roman Catholic were able, with some exceptions,9 to react around 1900 to the pastoral challenges of an industrial town and society, (matrimonial law and coexistence, birthrate regulation, political activities of labor.) The lack of social empathy, which can be excused by the rural origin of Ostravian clergy and its conservative value horizon, played a key role in the process of secularization, or at least in its interpretive narrative. This reality is retrospectively verified by the success of the Ostravian Salesian mission from the 1930s, which settled in Salesian oratory between two biggest Ostravian working class settlements of Hlubina a Šalomoun mines (approximately 5,000 inhabitants),10 and a role of socially empathic Roman Catholic priests in the collective memory of Ostravian working class.11

Between the two world wars, Ostravian Roman Catholic priests opposed not only the organized working class and its political (The Czechoslovak Social-Democratic Labour Party, The Communist Party of Czechoslovakia) and worldview organizations (physical training and atheist social-democratic and communist organizations), but also the growing influence of the Church of Czech Brethern and the National-Catholic Czechoslovak Church, which grew from the postwar nationalist and pro-reformed ferment of Czecho(slovak) Roman Catholic clergy. During World War II, the majority of Ostravian priests managed to avoid any direct confrontation with the Nazi regime, but P. Štěpán Trochta (1905–74, 1969 cardinal “in pectore”), a cofounder of the Ostravian Salesian, work did not escape its attention.12 However, the open confrontation with the regime was about to break at the end of the 1940s, when the era of state socialism began.13

Whilst the Christians who spoke Czech had the support of Roman Catholic priests in Ostrava, the local Lutheran Protestants were put under the intensive pressure of German speakers. They disappeared from Moravian Ostrava in the first half of the eighteenth century, but they were supported to come back after the Patent of Tolerance (1781) and the emancipation after 1848. Because of the insatiable demand for manpower in the following decades, at the height of industrialization the Lutherans from Těšínsko and Prussian Silesia began to arrive. The religious situation of Ostravian Lutherans was complicated by the resistance of the Catholic clergy, which through the municipal council interfered in the religious duties of Evangelical Christians. The local Lutherans nevertheless used the protection of coreligionists among the clerks of Emperor Ferdinand Northern Railway, who extorted permission to perform religious services in workshops and railway depots and also the protection of some influential industrialists and German members of the municipal council headed by mayor Dr. Gustav Fiedler (1849–1936). The first step towards the public emancipation of Ostravian Lutherans was the foundation of their cemetery and chapel (1862). In 1871, the first Protestant vicar was named. The independent Protestant community with its own rectory, with a congregation that numbered 1,456 souls, was formed in Moravian Ostrava only in 1875. The construction of a rectory was begun in 1901, and on October 22, 1905 the cornerstone of Moravian-Ostravian Lutheran Church was laid (Christuskirche). It was opened with the strong support of Prussian Gustav Adolf Foundation in 1907.

While the Roman Catholic diocese was consistently bilingual with a predominantly Slavic element, the Lutheran community in Moravian Ostrava was completely dominated by Germans.14 Only at the end of World War I and with the establishment of the Protestant Church of Czech Brethern, which also had the support of the new Czechoslovak elite, headed by president Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk (1850–1937), there were significant linguistic and social-professional changes among Ostravian Protestants who called for a declaration of Hussite and Brethern Czech statehood. While the newly established national Church of Czech Protestant Brethern (constituted in December 1918) only addressed believers in Czech, the Protestant Church of Augsburg, which shared the Christ’s church together with Czech Brethern, brought together mainly German and Polish speaking Ostravian Protestants who got no support from the Nazi occupation administration. After 1948 they had to go into internal exile.

The Protestant Church of Augsburg became a home for German and Polish speaking Protestant Ostravians after 1918, but before World War I even Ostravian Jews who had converted to Christianity either for personal or professional reasons sought refuge there. Up to 1860, the town of Moravian Ostrava managed to protect its right to prohibit Jews from settling in the town, so in the 1850s Jews first settled in the neighboring Polish-Silesian settlement of Zámostí. In the following decade they were able to move to Moravian Ostrava itself. In 1860, a Jewish Iconic Association for Moravian and Polish Ostrava (Židovský kultovní spolek pro Moravskou a Polskou Ostravu), which belonged to Těšín Jewish community, had already formed, but the Ostravian Israelites did not form their own religious community until February 9, 1875. After the cholera epidemic in 1873 the number of Jewish immigrants on both banks of the Ostravice River temporarily fell, but the following migration waves in the 1880s and 1890s brought a great number of poor Galician Hasidic Jews. The newly established Jewish religious community for Moravian and Polish Ostrava and the surroundings (Židovská náboženská obec pro Moravskou a Polskou Ostravu a okolí, 1873) included, in addition to the neighboring villages, the towns of Frýdek-Místek and Bohumín. The original chapel in Zámostí was replaced by the Reform Synagoge in Pittler Street (1879), and even seven years earlier the local Jews had begun to bury their deceased in the cemetery in Říšská Street next to the Municipal central cemetery. At the end of the nineteenth century, the Moravian-Ostravian Jewish religious community boasted numerous groups, such as a women’s society, a choir, a crafts association, and scholarly and charitable foundations, as well as their own County House (1901) and organizationa physical education organization named Turnverein Bar Kochba (1899). The first rabbi of Moravian Ostrava was Samuel Friedmann (1875–90), who commuted to Ostrava from Těšín. His successors were Dr. Bernard Zimmels (1890–93), a native of Sankt-Pölten native, and Dr. Jakob Spira (1894–1942). The long-time chairman of the Jewish religious community was Markus Strassmann (1875–1903), an entrepreneur in brewing, who was followed by Dr. Alois Hilf (1903–34).15

After World War I, like the Czech or Czechoslovak Jewry in general, the Ostravian Jewry found itself at a crossroads, compelled to decide whether to acculturate in the conditions of a new Czechoslovak state in which Czech and Slovak were the prevailing languages or to remain among the more than three-million German speaking inhabitants of the newly formed state. Only a few of Ostravian Jews used the opportunity to register as Jewish in interwar censuses of in 1921 and 1930.16 Together with the threat of the approaching invasion of Nazi Germany into the territory of Czechoslovakia, the flow of Jews seeking the exile in Palestine, the USA or Shanghai grew.17 About 8,000 Ostravian Jews who remained in the territory of the Czech lands even after the foundation of the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia died in the Nazi extermination camps, and only 200 Ostravian Jews came back to Ostrava in 1945. The restoration of the religious life of the Jewish community in Ostrava after 1948, however, was in the hands of the Jews from other Czechoslovak towns, since, apart from a few individuals, the Jews who had survived went abroad in 1945–1948.

Up to the foundation of the independent Czechoslovak state (October 28, 1918), the religious rituals of the followers of other faiths (Helvetic, Old Catholic and Orthodox) were limited in Ostrava and the surrounding industrial villages to isolated visits of the clergymen, occasional visits to the nearest rectory, or giving confession. (For example the Catholics of Byzantine-Slavic Rite had to attend Roman Catholic services before they gained their own parish, which was provided for them as of 1927 by the redemptorists in Saint Wenceslas Church in Moravian Ostrava). Together with the foundation of the new Czechoslovak state, the diocese of the confessions that were only rarely represented before 1918 in Moravian Ostrava or had been newly established (The Czech Brethern Church, Baptists etc.) came into being. Nevertheless between the two world wars Greater Ostrava and the surrounding villages became important centers of the the Czechoslovak Church, Social-Democratic and Communist atheistic movement and spiritualism.





















Without confession






































Roman Catholic













other/not stated


























Table 1. The Confessions of Moravian Ostrava Citizens in 1880–193018

Ostrava as a New Center of Interwar Spiritual Life

Immediately after the foundation of the Czechoslovak Republic (October 28, 1918), in its industrial center three new institutional actors entered interwar religious life. They were the Czechoslovak Church, the Association of Social Democratic Atheists and a spiritual organization called the Brotherhood. These new players in both regional and national religious histories had several common denominators. They included Czech nationalism, hostility to the Roman Catholic Church, enthusiasm for modern science, support of women‘s emancipation, identical ethical imperatives (the struggle against alcoholism and opposition to smoking), and open attentiveness towards new mass media (radio, slides). With a few exceptions, the activities of all three groups targeted only Czech-speaking inhabitants. However they were widely shared both by working class people and by state employees. The postwar liberalization of religious life helped them freely articulate their political rights and share cultural patterns.

The Czechoslovak Church

The important role of national and social fights in the spiritual and religious history of the Czech lands in the first third of the twentieth century can be illustrated by the adversities faced by the National-Catholic Czechoslovak Church (Církev československá) (since 1971, the Czechoslovak Hussite Church, Církev československá husitská). It rose within the two years between 1918 and 1920 from the unfulfilled requirements of the reform-oriented, modern Union of the Catholic Clergy (Jednota katolického duchovenstva), from the conditions of national rise around the establishment of Czechoslovak Republic, and from the resistance of a significant part of the Czech by nation clergy and believers to the aristocratic Roman Catholic hierarchy of German and Hungarian nationalities. The radical wing of the Union, the Catholic clergy organization, which had never been officially accepted by the ecclesiastical hierarchy, held a Congress of the reform priests in Prague, which on January 8, 1920 declared the foundation of the new Czechoslovak Church, which was legalized by the state on September 15, 1920. While the Czechoslovak Church, under patriarch Karel Farský (1924–27), officially declared itself an heir to the Hussite tradition and aimed to return to the early church principles, in reality it introduced the Czech national language as a liturgical language and, even before the official establishment of the church, it abolished celibacy. As early as 1921, 5.23 percent of the Czechoslovak population joined the church, and apart from the so-called Orthodox crisis (1924), which led a part of the clergy and believers (mainly in Moravia) to support the Serbian Orthodox Church19 (srbská pravoslavná církev), the percentage of believers grew to 7.3 percent in 1930, and to 10.6 percent in 1950. In March 1939 the Czechoslovak Church was disbanded in Slovakia and Carpathian Ruthenia and it survived the Protectorate years as the Czecho-Moravian Church (Církev českomoravská). The Protectorate period, which was marred by the collaboration of the hierarchs, was followed after 1945 by a period of open cooperation with the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia, even before the beginning of state socialism (1948).20

Immediately after the end of World War I, in the atmosphere of the Czech-Polish border controversy about Těšínsko and in the climate of postwar existential reflection on the events of the war, the industrial Ostravsko (Region of Ostrava), headed by (Polish) Silesian and Moravian Ostrava, with surrounding urban and rural villages became the center of the forming Czechoslovak Church. On January 15, 1920, a week after the church constituent congress, a religious community of the Czechoslovak Church formed in Radvanice in Silesia as the first one in the republic. Two years later, it became the seat of the Moravian-Silesian diocese, headed by the bishop Ferdinand Stibor (1869–1956), originally a Roman Catholic priest who in 1908 became the first vicar in the newly established parish in Radvanice, which had predominantly a working class population. The immediate confrontation with complicated social, political and national reality put him on the side of Czech inhabitants of working class origin, and he was thus in conflict with the German authorities and Roman Catholic hierarchy. The marriage with the parson’s cook in 1920 made the births of his two sons (one in 1910, the other in 1920) legal, and it became the first step towards his public affiliation declaration of the newly formed Czechoslovak Church, of which he was a signatory in January 1920. As of 1923, he served as a bishop, and in 1942–45—after the death of patriarch Gustav Adolf Procházka—even a land administrator.21 Stibor’s lifelong popularity—as demonstrated by the crowds that attended his funeral—was a sign of recognition among the people of his profound social empathy and the emphasis he placed on on Christian social practice in the difficult postwar times in a socially, politically and nationally heterogeneous region.

After Radvanice, Heřmanice, Michálkovice and Silesian Ostrava, in 1920–23 chapels of the the Czechoslovak Church were established in twelve parts of today’s Ostrava, where up to the year 1934 the same number of Hussite chapels were built. However, at least in Radvanice and Michálkovice the establishment of the chapels and the temporary occupation of the Roman Catholic churches were dramatic, involving the police, organs of state administration, and the courts:22

Just after the end of a political fight for Těšínsko and after the plebiscitary storms there appeared new nuisances, now the religious ones. [...] The vicar in Radvanice Ferdinand Stibor started to perform the speeches about the needs to establish the Czechoslovak Church in Michálkovice. [...] At the meeting of the local council in April 1920, the seizure of the Roman Catholic Church was negotiated because there was a majority of Czechoslovaks, and both Catholic and Czechoslovak worships were to be held. The Catholics could not give in without the church being taken from them by force. [...] After the negotiation with the representatives of both sides, the government bodies ordered that the church be handed up by a specific date. There was nothing else for the Czechoslovaks to do but to build their own church.23

The success of the Czechoslovak Church among the Ostravian working class can be shown with numbers: in 1921 the members of the Czechoslovak Church was constituted 10.2 percent of the population, and by 1930 this number had grown to 15.8, while in the whole republic it was 5.2 percent in 1921 and 7.3 percent in 1930.24 But one could also cite recollections of inhabitants from working class settlements:

In the class and in the settlement there were many Protestants and kids from the Czechoslovak Church, which was the largest, after the Catholic Church. Out of thirty kids in the class, there were ten who did not attend the religious education: three were atheists, two Protestants and the rest were from the Czechoslovak Church.25

Social-Democratic Atheistic Movement

Atheism became the most important opponent of the Christian religions in the territory of interwar Ostrava. Before World War I, it was promoted by Social Democracy and occasionally by Free Thought. In the interwar period atheism was propagated by the Association of Social Democratic Atheists and by the competitive Federation of Communist Cultural Units or by the Union of Proletarian Atheists. The first postwar census from February 16, 1921 indicated the significance of the tendency among inhabitants of Ostrava towards atheism. In the region of Moravian Ostrava, there were 81.5 people out of 1000 without faith (in Moravia this figure was 18.4 people and in the Czech Silesia it was only 14), which is unambiguously the highest rate in Moravia. The figure for Brno (land capital) was 40.8 and for Silesia (the region of Frýdek-venkov icluding Silesian Ostrava) it was 46.0.26 Nine years later, the rate of people without faith was 11.1 out of 100 inhabitants in the region of Moravian Ostrava, 7.5 in the region of Frýdek (including Silesian Ostrava), 6.6 in the political region of Brno, and 5.0 in the political region of Fryštát.27

Unambiguously the largest atheistic organizations in the region was the Union of Czech Atheists (Sdružení českých bezvěrců, 1919), the Union of Social Democratic Atheists (Sdružení sociálnědemokratických bezvěrců, 1919), and as of 1933 the Union of Socialist Free Thinkers (Unie socialistických svobodných myslitelů), one of the most powerful non-political and non-physically educational organizations of interwar Ostravsko.28 The development of organized atheistic movement in Ostravsko, which benefitted from failure to translate Christian principles into social doctrine and from the anti-Catholic approach of the socially oriented working class majority, was allowed by the independent Czechoslovak state, and a postwar liberal social life was able to develop that followed the amended law about the right of association from November 15, 1867.29 The postwar development of the atheist organizations in Ostravsko was not so much determined by prewar activities of Free Thought. This was mainly because of civilization and value changes in society after World War I. The Czechoslovak state had its war experiences, anti-clerical propaganda of a socialistic press, and anti-Catholic ideology. As of 1924, the Ostravian Social-Democratic atheists were affiliated with the Atheists’ International and together with three other Czechoslovak atheist organizations (the Federation of Communist Cultural Units, Bund der proletarischen Freidenker, the Socialist Atheists in Most), they counted some 35,000 paying members by the mid-1920s.30

An initial step towards founding the first Czechoslovak atheist organization was the establishment of Volné slovo [Free Word], a periodical which, according to the subheading of its first edition (which came out in Přívoz on March 1, 1919), “defended and promoted the interests of Czech atheists” and used the slogan according to which “a Czech man cannot be a man of Rome.”31 In the first half of the 1920s, the Ostravian Social-Democratic atheists were agile in establishing of local organizations, in addition to leaving legally and officially the Church. They promoted the secularization of schools and funerals in the newly built (Feb. 1, 1925) crematorium in Ostrava.32 They mainly used common activities, such as slide lectures and theater performances, to fight the opponents among the communist atheists and the priests of the Czechoslovak Church, which was labelled “the old fiddle under a new firm.”33 Ostravian atheists demonstrated for freedom of conscience (1925) and secular education (1935). They also held ceremonies, such as the unveiling of a monument to the Spanish agnostic Francesco Ferrer (1935). However, the key period for the unification process of the Czechoslovak atheist movement was 1932, when the Union of Socialist Free Thinkers (Unie socialistických svobodných myslitelů) was established. In the district of Moravian-Silesia 68 local branches were established in 1933.34 Before the clouds began to gather over the Ostravian atheist Union in 1938–39, they had problems with memberships waning (1925: 7,516 members, 1937: 3,500 members), out of which only a small fraction stayed in the successor to the organization, the Educational Union (Osvětový svaz, November 20, 1938).35 The last issue of Volné slovo was edited on October 1, 1939. The activities of The Educational Union were brought to an end in 1940 and two years after the Reinhard Heydrich assassination (June 4, 1942) it ceased to exit.


Lesser Ostravsko was not only the Moravian-Silesian center of the National-Catholic Czechoslovak Church and the midpoint of the Czechoslovak atheistic movement, in its history the spiritual movement played an important role with its Czechoslovak and Central European center in Radvanice in Silesia (today’s Ostrava-Radvanice), with the spiritual association Brotherhood (Bratrství) (1914), and with its Association house and periodicals entitled Spiritistická revue [Spiritual Revue] (1920–38), Československá revue psychická [The Czechoslovak Psychic Revue] (1938–40), and Psychická revue [The Psychic Revue] (1946–49). Radvanice and Silesian Ostrava36—where the roots of spiritualism dated back only to the last decade of the nineteenth century (the miners’ settlement of Zárubek) and the beginnings of an organized spiritual movement up to the time of the association of Brotherhood—formed (apart from the Protectorate period up to the liquidation of Brotherhood in the early 1950s) the midpoint of the Czechoslovak spiritual movement. In interwar period, the latter had almost 200,000 followers and supporters, agnostics as well as denominationally organized Christians.37

Whilst the spiritualists and the occult devotees are connected in the Czech lands consistently with the Czech Krkonoše and Jizerské mountains, the Ostravian spiritual tradition was essentially forgotten. Both Czech and Ostravian spiritualists read the spiritual literature of German origin, and this connected them, but the multi-cultural background of Ostravsko, with its Czech, German and Polish languages and international contacts in the interwar period (at least with the spiritualist circles in Vienna) separated them. Ostravsko bore witness to the birth of a specific spiritual culture and spirituality connecting the Czech tradition of Anti-Catholic individual religiosity with rational moral imperatives on the one hand with the Polish exalted rural religiosity on the other, which was also influenced by the major Jewish Hasidic community in the south of today’s Poland, which neighbors Ostravsko and is to the northeast of the Czech Republic.

In northern and northeastern Bohemia the central person of spiritualism was Karel Sezemský (1860–1936) and his periodical Posel záhrobní and Edice Spirit. In Ostravsko the same role went to Jan Rösner, an editor of the Spiritistická revue [Spiritual Revue] and a front person of the Brotherhood. Spiritistická revue was addressed to those interested in somnambulism, magnetism, levitation, occultism, metaphysics, predictive power, telepathy, suggestion, phrenology, hypnotism, graphology, astrology, abstinence, non-smoking, morals and psychology:

Spiritualism is not about faith, it asks for study and research. Spiritualism works for intellectual and emotional purification, it leads mankind towards brotherhood, and it lessens social differences [...]. Spiritualism does not agree with clergy or religious dogmas, however it teaches the religion of tolerance.38

These official spiritual documents were referring ecclesiastically to the Old and New Testament tradition, as well as to Ancient Egyptian and East-Asian religious traditions. While in the Czech spiritual regions, in addition to reading the spiritual texts, the mediumistic paintings played an important role, in the Association house in Radvanice theater performances were in the focus (one-act plays on spiritual topics), together with the contemporary classical music of the composers who were respected by spiritualists (Leoš Janáček).

While the members of the spiritual association of Brotherhood were organized in three hierarchical stages and only abstinent non-smokers and vegetarians could become proper members, the charismatic spiritualism and its practices (raising a spirit of deceased) met with an enthusiastic response among the Ostravian working class, mainly among working class women, who had never lived in the shadow of aggressive social agnostics.

Grandma prayed secretly, but only when grandpa was not at home. Once grandpa was not at home, I came home from school and I was passing two or three women in the hall. Grandma sent me away and did not explain to me who those women were. When I had come back from the aunt’s place or somewhere grandma was in tears, her eyes were really weepy. The women were apparently the spiritualists who would go around the settlement and who raised spirits of deceased. They were in the bedroom and had raised my mom, who had talked to my grandma. My mom apparently knew that I studied well and that she was in purgatory and that we were to pray for her to get into heaven.39

While in the interwar period the Ostravian spiritualists could rely on their own organized membership base and on numerous supporters in culturally and denominationally heterogeneous working class background, in the period of the Bohemian and Moravian Protectorate and later on after the disbanding of the Brotherhood in 1950 (in other words during the times of liquidation of the association life after February 1948), Ostravian spiritualism fell into isolation, persecution and in the end into oblivion. Spiritualism plays only a tiny role in collective memory, mainly with reference to the moment when the Association house of Brotherhood in Radvanice was expropriated after 1950.

Proselytism and Mixed Marriages as Modern Phenomena

Collective (institutional) actors in the religious life of Moravská Ostrava, both traditional and new ones, communicated with one another in public spaces via cultural and political entities and community life. In the city, the population of which was growing, schools and cemeteries proved especially neuralgic points of confessional coexistence. In the era of modernization and emerging civil society, individual actors became bearers of denominational mobility, the main manifestation of the conversions between different confessions. As the population grew, the number of conversions increased. Conversion ceased to be rare, and pragmatic reasons for the change of religion (usually a marriage) gave way to philosophical and political reasons. The study of denominational mobility is limited by methodological constraints, corresponding to the intimate nature of conscious confessional affiliation. The following section shows, within the limits set by the types of available sources, changes in the correlation of Roman Catholic denomination and other confessions. The most intimate area of research is the analysis of mixed marriages that were and still remain a conflicting point of inter-confessional dialogue.

Changes in confession

The primary source of this section of my inquiry is Kniha o změnách vyznání (1854–1920) [The Book of Conversions (1854–1920)], held in Ostrava City Archive,40 which reflects Moravian Ostrava in the period of the transformation from a serf town with traditional society to an industrial center of the Austrian state to an administrative, industrial and cultural metropolis of the infant Czechoslovak state. Kniha o změnách vyznání was formed as an official book into which the priests in the frame of the parish region recorded the reported changes of confession, in other words people who converted to the Catholic Church of Roman Rite and instances of people who left this Church. With 863 records, Kniha o změnách vyznání includes some columns that were meticulously filled in up to World War I, when the book recordings became schematic because of a change of conditions in the society and because of mass conversation from Roman Catholicism. After 1920, conversions to Catholicism and instances of people who left the Catholic Church had to be registered in different books.41

The first column contained data about the date of converting to or leaving the Roman Catholic faith, the certificate identification of the district office which had to be informed about the changes even after the foundation of the Czechoslovak Republic, and identification about ordination permission to enter the Catholic Church. The second column contained the information about the name, age, address and the birthplace of the registered person, as well as the names and marital status of his or her parents. The other column concerned the act of converting to or leaving the Church, and the original and new confessions are included. The penultimate column gives the name of the priest who led the catechization, and accepted the confession with a witness (frequently it was only a sacristan) or baptized the convert, in the company of the godfathers. The last column contained reasons for the change in confession (this column was often filled in schematically or even contained conflicting information).

Kniha o změnách vyznání begins in the year 1854 with the data about three converting female Protestants of the Augsburg Confession (in the source there is no information about the conversion of a Protestant of Helvite Confession) who converted to Catholicism in order to be able to marry a Catholic. Up until 1920, 97 Lutheran males and 159 Lutheran females converted and became members of the Roman Catholic Church. The wave of Lutheran conversions to Catholicism culminated in 1897–99, 1901, and 1905. From 1906 on, a permanent decrease of conversions among Protestants can be seen, because they could already support an agile clergy administration with a new church. The main reason for Lutherans’ conversion to Catholicism was marriage, mainly the marriage of Lutheran girls from nearby villages who married local Catholics and worked in Moravian Ostrava as workers, day laborers, charwomen and laundresses. Among men, miners were the largest group (17.5 percent of all converting Lutherans), then workers, metallurgical workers and day laborers. While among the converting Lutherans there was not a single convert with a so-called liberal profession, among the Catholics converting to Lutherans this situation was quite the reverse.

The most numerous group was formed by Roman Catholic believers who converted to the Augsburg confession. There are only twenty entries up to 1898, but from 1899, when more people left the Roman Catholic Church in Moravian Ostrava than entered it, there were several such people every year. The wave of conversions from Catholicism to Protestantism culminated in the years 1901, 1909 and 1919. While among the Protestants, women dominated, in the reverse direction men outnumbered women (in a proportion of 144:126). If among the female Catholics who converted to the Augsburg confession there were mainly housekeepers, charwomen, cooks and single girls as future brides, among new male followers of the Augsburg confession there were, in addition to workers, also members of liberal professions (an editor, sons of the pharmacist and the mayor, etc.). The reason for their conversions could have been “frenzied German nationalism,” the movement “Los vom Rom,” “Romhetze” or “furor teutonicus.” The local Lutheran community thus grew not only by its own reproduction but also by a linguistically, nationally and culturally German oriented movement which was supported by women from the local notables. For example, in 1903 the factory owner Karel Elbertzhagen’s granddaughter Alice Elisabeth Koberová, converted. Her mother Božena Elbertzhagenová, who was the wife of an entrepreneur who belonged to a Protestant confession, converted in 1910, and Ida Fiedlerová converted in 1904 (she was the daughter of a Moravian-Ostravian sugar refinery owner and the wife of advocate and burgomaster Dr. Gustav Fiedler, who was mayor in 1901–18). The reason for her conversion was recorded as “indifferentism and modern movement.”

The third largest group was formed by people who left the Catholic Church and did not join another confession: there were 299 such cases in the period that began in 1854 and ended in 1920. The first “renegade” was Konrád Kubala, who at first left the Catholic Church in 1882 but five years later, presumably because of a marriage, entered its ranks again. In the Knize změn vyznání the Catholic Church withdrawals and subsequent agnosticism can be found only from 1900. Men outnumbered women among those who left the Catholic Church and did not join another confession (170:59), and the number of withdrawals rose rapidly after the foundation of the newly independent state—up to 1918 inclusive there were 117 believers who left the Catholic Church and did not join another denomination, and in the last two years (1918–20) it was just 112 believers. Before the foundation of the Czechoslovak Republic the withdrawals culminated in 1909 and 1913–14. Allegedly, the main reason were “agitation against Rome” (around 1900), “spiritualism” (1905, 1907) and only then such influences as “socialist thought, social movements, democratic socialism and frenzied socialism.” In 1911 Dr. Mořic Kohn, advocate, left the Roman Catholic Church. His example may suggest the fragility of the attachment of a Jewish proselyte to the new religion. Eight years later, a town mayor Jan Prokeš (mayor in 1925–35) did the same thing. The reasons for withdrawals might have been just personal ones, for example a bad experience with pastoral duties or with an individual priest. So in 1908, a twenty-year-old student left the Catholic Church and the priest recorded the reason simply as the “student’s stupidity and vindictiveness.”

Kniha o změnách vyznání also provides data about sporadic conversions between the Catholic Church and other confessions than the Augsburg confession. In 1882, the twenty-four-year old native from Moravian-Ostrava who dwelt in Galician Czernowice converted because of a marriage to Catholicism of the Eastern Rite—the conversion had only an administrative character, not a dogmatic one. The conversion of a single girl in 1918, who converted to Judaism, is also rare. The Jewish wedding was a presumable reason for a nineteen-year-old girl’s conversion, though together with the other seven girls—during the period under investigation—she did not specify the confession she was adopting. The conversions of three men Catholicism (1905–06, 1919) for which the priests recorded “Romhetze” and “the renegade’s agitation work” as the reasons for the conversions were also rarities. World War I, which turned Moravian Ostrava into a military town, might have attracted four men of Orthodox confession from the Eastern parts of the monarchy to have found their partners there and then to have accepted their Catholic confession.

The specific group is formed by about twenty people who as agnostics entered the Catholic Church in 1887–1919. There are people among them who stated the traditional reason (marriage) for entering the Catholic Church, but there was also a primary school teacher (25 years old) and a municipal clerk (27 years old) for whom the reason for entering the Catholic Church could have been evoked by the pressure from their employer. In 1903, a non-practicing Jew named Gisela Munková, the daughter of Viennese innkeeper Josef Krippl, converted to Catholicism, and after a civil wedding in 1894 so did the wife of Moravian-Ostravian notary Dr. Richard Munk. In 1854–1920, 862 people entered or left the ranks of the Roman Catholic Church in Moravian Ostrava. Before 1918, this happened primarily mainly due to a marriage with a member of the Lutheran Confession. In 1899, for the first time more people left the Roman Catholic Church than entered it. While transfers between the Roman Catholic and Lutheran churches had the character of social advancement, Jewish conversions were, up to the foundation of the Czechoslovak Republic, a manifestation of the decision assimilate completely with the majority society.

Jewish proselytism

The last two cases have brought me to the specific group of people of Jewish confession whose decision to convert to Catholicism, even after the emancipation of the Jew of the Monarchy (1867), was one further step towards their full assimilation with the majority Christian (Catholic) society. The oldest recordings42 about two female Jews’ decisions to convert to Catholicism in the presence of Roman Catholic Church priests from Moravian Ostrava are from 1870 and 1873. The other sporadic recordings appear in the 1880s, however from 1890 several people converted annually, with the exceptions of the years 1893, 1900, 1905, 1908–10 and 1919. Almost one-third of the entries about Jews who converted to Catholicism come from the last decade of my research (1911–20). The largest number of people converted in 1906, 1915 and 1920. The vast majority of Jewish proselytes in the period in question were females (43 women compared to only 15 men) who converted to Catholicism almost exclusively for the sake of marriage (seventeen of them explicitly stated that they were single, only three were married). The average age (24.8 years) corresponds with this. Professionally, most of them were cooks, charwomen, rentiers, or around the years of World War I also clerks.

While marriage remained the main reason for conversions among female converts in the period, the men’s situation was not so clear. In addition to two people for whom profession is not specified, there were eight manual laborers, a locksmith, a fitter or a stable-boy and two sales agents among the male converts, as well as three members of liberal professions—a doctor at the municipal hospital, a physical education teacher at a secondary school and a manager of the municipal power station. For these men, conversion could have been a precondition for social advancement. The fact is that the priests in principle did not mention the reason for conversions men, unlike in the case of female converts. The possible success of conversions and the fact that the majority society accepted proselytes is proven by the fact that in the Knize o změnách vyznání I have found three (maybe four) cases in which both sisters converted: thus marriage was a common fate for sisters Marie Josefa and Antonie Tereza Perlová (1870, 1882), Vanda and Terezie Geradová (1911, 1913), and three sisters Marta, Kamila and Flora Wulkanová (1917, 1918, 1918) and maybe also sisters Olga and Hermína Bergová (1911, 1913).

After the foundation of the independent Czechoslovak state and after the liberalization of Czechoslovak society, conversion to Catholicism lost its power for Jews, and they basically disappeared from Ostravian religious life in the second half of 1920s and first half of the 1930s.43 They appeared again only in the second half of 1930s, as Nazi ideology was gaining ground to the west and the threat of German occupation of the Czechoslovak Republic was ever more imminent.

Mixed marriages

Marriage was the most frequent reason for religious conversion in 1854–1920, but after 1900 national and political reasons came to play increasingly important roles. In spite of the fact that at the beginning of the twentieth-century inter-confessional marriages attracted attention and were causes of many family conflicts, marriages that were confessional mixed do not belong to the frequent topics of the Czech historiography or historic demography.44 While proselytism and changes of religion were widely accepted after the foundation of the Czechoslovak Republic in the times of political and social liberalization, at the beginning of the twentieth century changes in religion and inter-confessional marriages were a phenomenon peculiar almost exclusively to the middle or upper classes. For example, one can consult a statistical survey of 376 Christian household owners with 2,174 citizens (7.2 percent of all present inhabitants) of the town center of Moravian Ostrava who lived in 1900 on the territory of two main Moravian-Ostravian squares—the Main Square (Marktplatz) and Rynek (Franz-Joseph-Platz)—and ten adjacent streets in the town center.45 While the lesser central Rynek was mainly inhabited by Jewish merchants, craftsmen and members of liberal professions, the Main Square and newly built Johanny Avenue was home to the majority of Moravian-Ostravian atheists, who still were quite rare.46 Four out of sixteen atheists of Moravian Ostrava lived in this part of the town, forming 0.05 percent of the population of Moravian Ostrava in 1900. Out of 248 married couples at the end of 1900, there were thirteen inter-confessional couples (5 percent), eleven of which were Protestant-Catholic, one of which was Jewish-Protestant, and one of which was Jewish-Catholic. The majority was formed by a Catholic man and a Lutheran woman from near Těšínsko or from Lutheran regions of Moravia, Galicia and Rhineland. Usually they had gotten married only after having come to Moravian Ostrava. Thus inter-confessional marriages had strong ties with a new dwelling in a dynamically changing industrial center that was affected by the largest immigration wave in the last decade of the nineteenth century. The town was flooded by single young men, and with the growing wave in marriages the rate of inter-confessional marriages also rose, and that happened despite the existing social and administrative barriers. Without meticulous study of the records of the church registry office, it is not possible to prove precisely if the marriages were of a socially exogenous character or not, but they seem to be registered within the frame of identical social groups. Even today, Christian Churches pay attention to the religious education of the children of an inter-confessional married couple, and this issue is still a key point of Christian ecumenicalism. In Moravian Ostrava at the end of the nineteenth century it was the fathers who made decisions about the child’s religion, as evidenced by the fact that there was only one case in which the children were recorded as belonging to either the father’s or the mother’s confession, depending on the gender of the child in question.47

The example of the family of Dr. Gustav Fiedler, one of the wealthiest inter-confessional families in the community, is worth citing. He was a Protestant, the mayor of Moravian Ostrava (1901–18), and a local politician. In 1919, he served as a member of a delegation demanding, on the basis of the example of Gdansk, that Ostrava be withdrawn from the Czechoslovak state and be a multinational region subordinated to the League of Nations. Fiedler as a Protestant—with his wife Ida as a Catholic (born Goldová, she was a native Jew) and their only son as a Protestant—dwelt in the luxurious newly constructed residential house at no. 1083 of Johanny Avenue. He was a leader in the Lutheran community, and he represented Ostravian German nationalists. Also in his case the connection between Lutheranism and aggressive German nationalism was significant.48

In the case of a couple both members of which had a working class background, a difference in confessional belonging was more a cultural barrier than a social one. The progressive prevalence of inter-confessional marriages among members of the lower classes can be demonstrated with reference to the following examples from the working class environment. In 1890, in the largest Moravian-Ostravian workers’ settlement of the Šalomoun mine, there were 1,632 inhabitants and 218 married couples, out of which only four were inter-confessional (all four were Protestant-Catholic). Children were recorded in accordance with their fathers’ or their mothers’ confessions, depending on gender. In 1910, when 2,094 inhabitants and 330 married couples lived in Šalomouna, only one marriage was mixed (Protestant-Catholic). Twenty years later, this community, the largest Moravian-Ostravian workers’ settlement, was inhabited by 2,078 people and 336 married couples, out of which twenty were mixed (6 percent). Half of the mixed marriages were formed by a couple consisting of an atheist man and a Catholic woman when a child’s future confession was a decision shared equally by parents. Three couples were between members of the Czech Brethern Church and atheists. Two couples were relationships between male atheists and female members of the Czechoslovak Church, and another five couples were marriages between members of the Roman or Greek Catholic Church on the one hand and members of Protestant, Czech Brethern or Czechoslovak Churches on the other. While the growing number of inter-confessional marriages proves the modernization and liberalization of the working class and the liberalization of matrimonial law, the available data does not prove that the children’s membership to either their mothers’ or their fathers’ confessions was strictly ruled or dominated by the Roman Catholic Church.49


In 1890–1950, the villages in the center of today’s Ostrava underwent great economic, social, demographic and cultural changes. The town completely changed its urban profile, and habits and attitudes in the at times confrontational environment of an industrial town and region also changed.50 The tendency to base identity on denominational belonging was gradually waning as other factors gained prominence in the social life of a nationally, linguistically, and religiously diverse industrial town undergoing relatively rapid change. Moreover, given the absence of traditional rural society and the pressures of atheist attitudes and increasingly prevalent anti-Catholicism (which was also linked to Czech nationalism), confessional belonging came to be seen increasingly as a private matter, making conversion less socially problematic and at the same time also less of a precondition of acceptance or social advancement (for intance for Jews). Catholicism stopped being the dominant confession, and in 1900 the town was affected by waves of conversions to Lutheran Protestantism under the influence of German national propaganda (Kulturkampf). Already before the war, people had begun leaving the Church under the influence of agnosticism, and the declared reasons for change of confession shifted from purely pragmatic (marriage, work) to ideological (socialism, German nationalism, free thinking, atheism). World War I, the creation of the Czechoslovak Republic, and foundation of the Czech Brethern Church and the Czechoslovak Church are usually considered breaking points in the religious life of Czech citizens. In Ostrava, however, 1899 can be regarded as a breaking point. More people left the Roman Catholic Church in Moravian Ostrava in 1899 than entered it.

The geopolitical position of Ostrava on the border of the historical lands of Moravia and Silesia, on the borders of state formations (in 1742–1920 and 1938–45 Ostrava was a border town), and on the borders of linguistic and ethnological regions (Lutheran Těšínsko, the Catholic northeast of Moravia, the closeness of Protestant centers in German Silesia, the economic pull of Ostrava for Jewish immigrants from Galicia, Moravia and Hungary) predestined the town to play the role of a social, national and cultural melting pot and a pioneer in the modernization of religious life, giving its religious heterogeneity. The anonymous environment of industrial Ostrava severed immigrants from their traditional and family relationships and confronted their religious and ideological orientation with the socially, culturally and nationally precarious conditions of modern industrial society. The most visible signs of these processes can be seen in marriages that were mixed by confession (though they were socially more endogenous than exogenous in the period) and the growing influence of atheism. Before World War I, conversion to Catholicism played a particularly important role for Jewish immigrants because it meant a step towards full assimilation. However, this strategy lost its meaning after the foundation of the new state. Before the foundation of the Czechoslovak Republic, inter-confessional marriages in Moravian Ostrava were peculiar to the middle and upper classes. In the working class milieu, they were more frequent only after the liberalization of religious life after 1918. In the pre-war middle class environment, fathers decided about the confessional belonging of children. In the working class environment, children were usually equally recorded according to the denominational affiliation of their parents, on the basis of gender.

Precarious social and national conditions, sharply socially stratified local society, and the explosive postwar development of Ostrava, which became an important administrative and cultural center of the region and which played down the importance of the traditional centers of Opava and Těšín, all made Ostrava a center of religious and spiritual life, at least in the sphere of atheism, spiritualism and the mass operation of the Czechoslovak Church. All three spheres were connected by resistance to traditional Catholicism and the support of the infant modern Czechoslovak state, with its Hussite and Hus ideology.51 Whilst during the First Republic, atheists, spiritualists and the Czechoslovak Church believers competed against one another, during World War II they had to face together the decline or even illegality of their systems of faith, as they lost their Czechoslovak identity and were under the tightening control of Protectorate and Nazi authorities. After World War II, under state socialism they had to go the ways of ideological canonization (agnosticism), instrumentalization in the service of communist propaganda (the Czechoslovak Church), or a proscription, which led to elimination from collective memory (spiritualism).


Archival Sources

Archiv města Ostravy (=AMO) [Ostrava City Archive]

Fond Okresní úřad Moravská Ostrava, Sčítání obyvatelstva 31. 12. 1910,

Moravská Ostrava (karton č. 88, 91, 92, 95, 97, 103–105).

Fond Římsko-katolický farní úřad Moravská Ostrava, Kniha o změnách vyznání (1854–1920), Kniha vystouplých z církve (1920–1922), Kniha vystouplých z církve (1923–1930), Kniha vystouplých z církve (1931–1952), Kniha přijatých do církve (1922–1938), Kniha přijatých do církve (1939–1947).

Fond Spolky na území města Ostravy, Župní výbor Unie socialistických svobodných myslitelů, Stanovy Unie socialistických svobodných myslitelů (přírůstkové č. 216, karton č. 1, evidenční číslo 1).

Sbírka novin a časopisů: Duch času (1899), Volné slovo (1919–1938).

Národní archiv Praha [National Archives Prague]

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Státní okresní archiv Frýdek-Místek

Fond Okresní úřad Místek, Sčítání obyvatel 31. 12. 1890, Moravská Ostrava (inv. č. 1039, mikrofilmy č. 1, 6, 7, 10, 11, 13).

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Statistický lexikon obcí v zemi Moravskoslezské. Úřední seznam míst podle zákona ze dne 14. dubna 1920, čís. 266 Sb. zák. a nař. Prague: Vydán Ministerstvem vnitra a Státním úřadem statistickým na základě výsledků sčítání lidu ze dne 1. prosince, 1930, 1935.

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1* This study was written within the scope of grant project no. 13-28086C “Historical process of modernization (on the basis of the example of Austrian Silesia)” of the Czech Science Foundation.

Karel Jiřík et al., Dějiny Ostravy (Ostrava: Archiv města Ostravy, 1993), 7–10; Blažena Przybylová et al., Ostrava: historie/kultura/lidé (Prague: Nakladatelství Lidové noviny, 2013), 7–8.

2 Milan Myška, “K vymezení ostravské průmyslové oblasti,” Český lid 53 (1966): 121–33; Olga Skalníková, “Problém Ostravska jako průmyslové oblasti (příspěvek ke studiu vytváření novodobé etnografické oblasti),” Český lid 60 (1973): 358–65. The Ostrava industrial area developed without regard to state, administrative, ethnic or ethnographic borders as an industrial region with an extreme concentration of industrial plants and workers’ colonies, and without a connection to an older industrial tradition. The core of the Ostrava industrial area became the communities of Moravian and Polish (Silesian) Ostrava, Vítkovice, Petřvald and Karviná, and within the industrial area two settlement agglomerations emerged, Moravian (Greater) Ostrava and Fryštát (Karviná).

3 Martin Jemelka, “K náboženskému životu v Moravské Ostravě (1854–1920),” Acta Facultatis Philosophicae Universitas Ostraviensis, Historica 15 (2008): 41–63; Martin Jemelka, “Proselytismus jako modernizační fenomén (na příkladu Moravské Ostravy v letech 1850–1920),” in Město a městská společnost v procesu modernizace 1740–1918, ed. Pavel Kladiwa, and Aleš Zářický (Ostrava: Ostravská univerzita v Ostravě, 2009), 168–78, 376–77, 393; Martin Jemelka, “Sociálnědemokratické bezvěrecké hnutí na meziválečném Ostravsku,” Ostrava: sborník k dějinám Ostravy a Ostravska, 26 (2012): 135–65; Martin Jemelka, “The Social Democratic Atheist Movement in Interwar Ostravsko,” in Secularization and the Working Class: The Czech Lands and Central Europe in the 19th Century, ed. Lukáš Fasora, Jiří Hanuš, and Jiří Malíř (Eugene, Oregon: Wipf and Stock Publishers, Pickwick Publications, 2011), 174–92; Martin Jemelka, “Židovský proselytismus jako modernizační fenomén (na příkladu Moravské Ostravy v letech 1854–1920),” in Židé a Morava XVI.: sborník z konference konané v Muzeu Kroměřížska 11. listopadu 2009, ed. Petr Pálka (Kroměříž: Muzeum Kroměřížska, 2010), 75–88.

4 Antonín Barcuch, “Počátky církve československé (husitské) v Radvanicích,” Těšínsko 48, no. 3 (2005): 20–23.

5 Martin Pilař, “Blouznivci a spiritisté v Ostravě,” in Bílá kniha: 17 příběhů z ostravské kulturní historie, ed. Ivo Kaleta et al. (Ostrava: Statutární města Ostrava, 2009), 169–70.

6 Jiřík et al., Dějiny Ostravy, 670–71.

7 Libuše Cimalová and Karel Jiřík, Farní úřady římsko-katolické církve na území města Ostravy: sdružený inventář (1609–1950) (Ostrava: Archiv města Ostravy, 1963), 10; Jiřík et al., Dějiny Ostravy, 526, 536, 562, 614.

8 More Lukáš Vaculík, Dějiny římskokatolického děkanství v Moravské Ostravě (1948–1989) (Ostrava: Katedra historie Filozofické fakulty Ostravské univerzity v Ostravě, rukopis diplomové práce, vedoucí diplomové práce PhDr. Martin Jemelka, Ph.D., 2011), 104–10. We come across members of the Catholic clergy with proletarian origins only after World War II, when state socialism, at least in the 1950s, was supported by many priests of working class origin.

9 Petr Přebinda, “Působení kněze a pozdějšího slavného orientalisty Aloise Musila v Moravské Ostravě (1891–1895),” Ostrava: příspěvky k dějinám a současnosti Ostravy a Ostravska 26 (2012): 190–230. For example a legendary Biblicist, orientalist and traveler Alois Musil (1868–1944), who worked as a curator in Moravian Ostrava in 1891–95.

10 Martin Jemelka, Na Šalomouně: společnost a každodenní život v největší moravskoostravské hornické kolonii (1870–1950) (Ostrava: Filozofická fakulta Ostravské univerzity v Ostravě, 2008), 128–33.

11 “After Karas the other vicar from Heřmanice came to the Roman rectory, Václav Petr. He was the son of a peasant. When he came to us, he was a young, handsome man. He was frank, open-minded, he loved children, he was a priest, a democrat. He spoke openly with everyone, whether you were a member of the other church or not in a church at all. He came here in about 1935 and he was liked by everyone.” Ludmila Turecká, “Kronika,” in Lidé z kolonií vyprávějí své dějiny, ed. Martin Jemelka (Ostrava: Repronis, 2009), 124.

12 Jemelka, Na Šalomouně, 132.

13 More Vojtěch Vlček, Perzekuce mužských řádů a kongregací komunistickým režimem 1948–1964 (Olomouc: Matice cyrilometodějská, 2004).

14 Die ewangelische Gemeinde in Mährisch Ostrau (Mährisch Ostrau: n.p., 1905; Miroslav Kroček, “Z místopisu staré Moravské Ostravy,” Ostrava: sborník příspěvků k dějinám a výstavbě města 14 (1987): 238, 246.

15 Jiří Fiedler, Židovské památky v Čechách a na Moravě (Prague: Sefer, 1992): 117–18; Jaroslav Klenovský, Židovské památky Ostravy (Brno–Ostrava: Moravskoslezské nakladatelství, 1997–1998), 4–12.

16 The interwar Greater Ostrava was more than the center of conservative Jewry or an important destination for the Czechoslovak reform-oriented Jews. It was the center for secularized Czechoslovaks of Jewish origin for whom Greater Ostrava, with its agile Zionist organizations, was a training ground and a transfer station on the way to Palestine, as it was described by Ivan Olbracht in his works (a novella O smutných očích Hany Karadžičové of the trilogy Golet v údolí from the year 1937).

17 Mečislav Borák, Transport do tmy: první deportace evropských Židů (Ostrava: Moravskoslezský den, 1994), 31–52, 67–116.

18 Sources of Table 1: Special-Orts-Repertorium von Mähren. Band X., Mähren (Vienna: K. K. Statistischen Central-Commission, 1885), 90; Special-Orts-Repertorium von Mähren. Neubearbeitung auf Grund der Ergebnisse der Volkszählung vom 31. Dezember 1890 (Vienna: K. K. Statistischen Zentral Kommission, 1893), 117; Gemeindelexikon von Mähren. Bearbeitet auf Grund der Ergebnisse der Volkszählung vom 31. Dezember 1900 (Vienna: K. K. Statistischen Zentral Kommission, 1906), 120; Statistický lexikon obcí na Moravě a ve Slezsku. Úřední seznam míst podle zákona ze dne 14. dubna 1920, čís. 266 Sb. zák. a nař (Prague: Vydán Ministerstvem vnitra a Státním úřadem statistickým na základě výsledků sčítání lidu z 15. února, 1921, 1924), 97; Statistický lexikon obcí v zemi Moravskoslezské. Úřední seznam míst podle zákona ze dne 14. dubna 1920, čís. 266 Sb. zák. a nař (Prague: Vydán Ministerstvem vnitra a Státním úřadem statistickým na základě výsledků sčítání lidu ze dne 1. prosince, 1930, 1935), 92.

19 Pavel Marek and Volodymyr Bureha, Pravoslavní v Československu v letech 1918–1942 (Brno: Centrum pro studium demokracie a kultury, 2008); Jaroslav Šuvarský, Biskup Gorazd (Prague: Metropolitná rada Pravoslávnej cirkvi v ČSSR, 1979). Moravian native Matěj Pavlík (1879–1942) was ordained a Roman Catholic priest in 1902. After serving in some Moravian parishes (during World War I among others as a padre in the military and mental hospital in Kroměříž), he was excommunicated from the Roman Catholic Church in 1920 for holding the Catholic liturgy in Czech. In the nascent Czechoslovak Church, he promoted an Orthodox orientation, and after he had separated from its members he was ordained a bishop of the Serbian Orthodox Church. As bishop Gorazd of Prague, he established fourteen Orthodox churches in the Czech lands and became the main representative of Czech interwar Orthodoxy. He was shot to death in September 1942 in the Prague Orthodox Cathedral for sheltering the deputy Reich Protector Reinhard Heydrich’s assassins. He was canonized as a martyr by the Ortodox Church in 1987.

20 Radoslav Daněk, “Tagliaferro Jan,” in Biografický slovník Slezska a severní Moravy, 10, ed. Lumír Dokoupil, and Milan Myška (Ostrava: Ostravská univerzita v Ostravě, 1998), 146–48; Pavel Marek, Církevní krize na počátku první Československé republiky (1918–1924) (Brno: L. Marek, 2005), 212–13.

21 Jaroslav Pleskot, “Stibor Ferdinand,” in Biografický slovník Slezska a severní Moravy, 9, ed. Lumír Dokoupil and Milan Myška (Ostrava: Ostravská univerzita v Ostravě, 1997), 100.

22 Jiřík et al., Dějiny Ostravy, 498, 519, 526, 531, 547, 568, 593, 599.

23 Turecká, “Kronika,” 121. Ludmila Turecká (1907–2005) described the situation in Michálkovice (today Ostrava-Michálkovice). She grew up in a Czecho-Polish Galician miner family in a miners’ settlement.

24 Jemelka, “Sociálnědemokratické,” 163–64.

25 Milík Gaj, “Všecko mělo smysl a jedno zapadalo do druhého,” in Lidé z kolonií vyprávějí své dějiny, ed. Martin Jemelka (Ostrava: Repronis, 2009), 271.

26 Statistický lexikon obcí v Republice Československé: úřední seznam míst podle zákona ze dne 14. dubna 1920 čís. 266 Sb. zák. a nař., II – Morava a Slezsko (Prague: Nakladatelství Státního úřadu statistického, 1924), tabulka IIA, XIX–XXII.

27 Statistický lexikon obcí v Republice Československé, Místní obce, osady a jejich části v Zemi moravskoslezské (Prague: Nakladatelství Státního úřadu statistického, 1934), XX–XXII.

28 Jemelka, “The Social Democratic.”

29 Jemelka, “K náboženskému životu,” 41.

30 AMO OMA, Volné slovo, 7, 11. 9. 1925, č. 34, s. 1: Mohutná protiklerikální manifestace v M. Ostravě.

31 Ibid., 1, 1. 3. 1919, č. 1, s. 1. [Enhancement – M. J.]

32 Ibid., 7, 1925, č. 3, s. 6 a č. 4, s. 3–4.

33 Ibid., 1, 1. 10. 1919, č. 15, s. 3.

34 AMO OMA, Fond Spolky na území města Ostravy, Župní výbor Unie socialistických svobodných myslitelů, Stanovy Unie socialistických svobodných myslitelů (přírůstkové č. 216, karton č. 1, evidenční číslo 1).

35 AMO OMA, Volné slovo, 20, 1. 12. 1938, č. 12, s. 1.

36 In fiction, see for example Ota Filip, Nanebevstoupení Lojzka Lapáčka ze Slezské Ostravy (Prague: Československý spisovatel, 1994).

37 Jiřík et al., Dějiny Ostravy, 568; Pilař, “Blouznivci,” 169–70.

38 Pilař, “Blouznivci,” 169–70.

39 Jaroslava Houžvová, “V naší havířské rodině v životě nepadlo sprosté slovo” in Lidé z kolonií vyprávějí své dějiny, ed. Martin Jemelka (Ostrava: Repronis, 2009), 239.

40 AMO, Fond Římsko-katolický farní úřad Moravská Ostrava, Kniha o změnách vyznání (1854–1920), inv. č. 73.

41 AMO, Fond Římsko-katolický farní úřad Moravská Ostrava, Kniha vystouplých z církve (1920–1922), Kniha vystouplých z církve (1923–1930), Kniha vystouplých z církve (1931–1952), Kniha přijatých do církve (1922–1938), Kniha přijatých do církve (1939–1947), inv. č. 74–78.

42 Blažena Przybylová, “Projednávání přestupu židovky Rachel Tausk na katolickou víru magistrátem Moravské Ostravy v roce 1831,” Ostrava: příspěvky k dějinám a současnosti Ostravy a Ostravska 26 (2012): 328–35.

43 Jemelka, “Židovský proselytismus,” 187–213.

44 About the retrospective and contemporary context of the problem, see for example: Walter Schöpsdau, Konfessionsverschiedene Ehe: Ein Handbuch. Kommentar und Dokumente zu Seelsorge, Theologie und Recht der Kirchen (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1995); Beate Bayer, Konfessionsverbindende Ehe: Impulse für Paare und Seelsorger (Mainz: Matthias Grünewald, 1991); Uwe Begerhause, Die konfessionsverbindende Ehe als Lehr- und Lernprozess (Mainz: Matthias Grünewald, 2001).

45 Martin Jemelka, Křesťanské domácnosti centra Moravské Ostravy roku 1900: ke srovnání jejich biologických, kulturních a socioprofesních charakteristik se zvláštním zřetelem k ženské populaci (Ostrava: Katedra historie Filozofické fakulty Ostravské univerzity v Ostravě, rukopis diplomové práce, 2002), 1, 10.

46 Ibid., 17.

47 Ibid., 64–67.

48 Ibid., 70–71.

49 AMO OMA, Fond Okresní úřad Moravská Ostrava, Sčítání obyvatelstva 31. 12. 1910, Moravská Ostrava (karton č. 88, 91, 92, 95, 97, 103–05); Národní archiv Praha, Fond Státní úřad statistický I – sčítání obyvatelstva v roce 1930, Moravská Ostrava (karton č. 9016 – sčítací obvody č. 62, 63; karton č. 9018 – sčítací obvod 66); Státní okresní archiv Frýdek-Místek, Fond Okresní úřad Místek, Sčítání obyvatel 31. 12. 1890, Moravská Ostrava (inv. č. 1039, mikrofilmy č. 1, 6, 7, 10, 11, 13); Jemelka, Na Šalomouně, 88–89.

50 Martin Jemelka, “The Ostrava Industrial Agglomeration in the First Half of the Twentieth Century: Where the Urban Countryside met the Rural Town,” in Mastery and Lost Illusions: Space and Time in the Modernization of Eastern and Central Europe, ed. Włodzimierz Borodziej, Stanislav Holubec, and Joachim von Puttkamer (Europas Osten im 20. Jahrhundert 5) (Munich: De Gruyter Oldenbourg, 2014), 71–98.

51 Andrea Hudáková, “Spiritistický pohřeb: sonda do praxe slezských spiritistů,” Dingir 3 (2011): 92–93.



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