Volume 6 Issue 2 CONTENTS


The Documents of a Fresh Start in Life:
Marriage Advertisements Published in the Israelite Newspaper Új Élet (New Life) Between 1945–1952

Lóránt Bódi

Institute of History, Research Centre for the Humanities, Hungarian Academy of Sciences

Almost two-thirds of the Hungarian Jewry was killed in the Holocaust. The genocide seriously distorted the sex ratio and the generational composition of the surviving Jewish community. Most married individuals lost their spouses, and the extensive networks of relatives were also eliminated. The growing nu mber of weddings after the war was the first sign of the Jewish community’s recovery from wartime traumas. This study examines how the Hungarian Jewry rose above the traumas and devastations of the war. It addresses this problem from the perspective of the matrimonial ads published in the Israelite newspaper Új Élet between 1946 and 1952. Marriage ads could be considered collective social practices that shed light on the “publicalization” of private life. Despite their rigid narrative structure, these documents also reveal the voices of the surviving community after the war. The article will address the most common themes in marriage ads, including exile, the foundation of Israel, wartime trauma, and the loss of a spouse.

Keywords: marriage ads, the Hungarian Jewry after 1945, Jewish marriage patterns, Új Élet, postwar community rebuilding


Dear Nora, Dear Erzsébet, Dear Lili, Dear Zsuzsa, Dear Sára, Dear Seréna, Dear Ágnes, Dear Giza, Dear Baba, Dear Katalin, Dear Judit, Dear Gabriella...


You are probably used to strangers chatting you up when you speak Hungarian, for better reason than they are Hungarian too. We men can be so bad-mannered. For example, I addressed you by your first name on the pretext that we grew up in the same town. I don’t know whether you already know me from Debrecen. Until my homeland ordered me to ‘volunteer’ for forced labour, I worked for the Independent newspaper, and my father owned a bookshop in Gambrinus Court. Judging by your name and age, I have a feeling that I might know you. Did you by any chance ever live in Gambrinus Court?

Excuse me for writing in pencil, but I’m confined to bed for a few days on doctor’s orders, and we’re not allowed to use ink in bed.1

This brief quote is from the novel of the writer and film director Péter Gárdos: Fever at Dawn (Hajnali láz, translated into English by Elizabeth Szász). The novel is based on correspondence between Gárdos’ mother and father, which Gárdos only learned of after his father had passed away. Both of his parents were Holocaust survivors liberated from Bergen-Belsen concentration camp and taken by the Red Cross to Sweden for care. After a couple of weeks, Miklós Gárdos (the author’s father) decided to start corresponding with women who were recovering from the traumas of the war in Sweden and originally might have come from his hometown, Debrecen. He hoped both to learn of the fates of his family members and to find someone with whom he might fall in love. He sent the same letter to 117 addresses across Sweden. Ágnes, Péter Gárdos’ mother, lived at one of them, and she wrote back. From then on (September 1945), they corresponded intensely until February 1946. They fell in love and were married in March 1946, while they were still in Sweden. The letters were buried and were not read again until after Miklós Gárdos died. His widow Ágnes, after having kept the letter hidden from her son for 52 years, decided to hand over the two packs of correspondence to Péter, who after the first reading immediately decided to use them in some way in his art. Finally, the novel, which included original passages from the correspondence, was published in 2007 in Hungarian then in 2010 in English translation (a movie was also made based on the story in 2015). The novel essentially follows the true story of the couple. Only parts of the narrative and the names of the characters were modified slightly. Fever at Dawn aptly represents a possible path for survivors of historical trauma. It illustrates that after the war and genocide, the search for new love and marriage could serve as a tool with which to work through the traumatic events of the recent past and begin a new life.

In Hungary, in addition to the demographic catastrophe caused by the Holocaust, the sex ratio and generational composition of the Jewish community also became seriously distorted. The vast majority of married couples was affected by the loss of a wife or husband. The structure of Jewish families also changed drastically with the elimination of the extensive networks of relatives. One of the first signs of recuperation was the growing number of weddings held immediately after the end of the war. In 1946–1948, the proportion of marriages among the Jewish population compared to the marriage in the non-Jewish Hungarian community was much higher than the proportion of Jews was to the non-Jewish population. This was not a unique phenomenon in Europe. In Bavaria, for example, in the relocation camps (the Displaced Person or DP Camps) from the middle of 1946 the proportion of marriages per 1,000 persons became exceptionally high among Jews (27.4 percent) compared to the proportion of marriages among members of the region’s non-Jewish population (2.8 percent).2

Examining the reconstruction of Jewish communities after the war, in his book After the Holocaust: Rebuilding Jewish Lives in Postwar Germany Michael Brenner highlights the roles played by rabbis in the process:


The rabbis’ first task after the Liberation was to bury the dead and provide emotional consolation for the sick and the weak. Another difficult rabbinical activity was issuing heterim (permission to marry) for those whose spouse was missing and who wanted to remarry. Weddings were one of the joyous experiences in camp life and were hardly rare events. Most of the survivors were young men and women between the ages of twenty and forty who could only dream of having their own families while they were in the concentration camps. Soon after the war ended, many couples formed to build a future together.3


This article examines how the Hungarian Jewry rose above the traumas of the war. It addresses this problem from the perspective of the matrimonial ads published in the Israelite newspaper Új Élet between 1946 and 1952.4 Due to their dual private and public nature, the advertisements serve as a basis for a discussion or analysis of personal intentions and self-representation strategies in such narratives. How was the genre used to convey information about historical trauma in a public space? How was trauma expressed within such a rigid textual framework, in which length and structure was predefined? What were the recurring phrases that were used to conjure or refer to the traumatic experiences of the war?

Marriage ads could be considered collective social practices that shed light on the “publicalization” of private life. They had a fixed narrative structure that provided the framework for conventional and even ritualized forms of self-representation, even if the identity of the advertiser was often concealed. Nonetheless, the monotony of the ads notwithstanding, the voices of the surviving community can be heard. These voices reflected on the experiences of exile and the foundation of Israel, or they touched on the traumatic experiences and the loss of family members, including husbands and wives. In contrast to the different Jewish and non-Jewish matrimonial ads that were published in daily newspapers or to the ads in Jewish newspapers printed before and during the war, the ads in all the newspapers examined in this article contain references to the wartime persecution of the Jewry.


This article concentrates on a group of sources which has not yet been made the subject of scholarly interest. Since it would be speculative to draw far-reaching conclusions on the basis of a single type of source, I will also discuss the historical background for the marriage ads, and I will also offer insights gleaned from other sources. At the same time, I aim to examine marriage ads in the context of marriage statistics, demographic data, and ecclesiastic legal documents in order to highlight the differentia specifica of such documents.

I should note, I have made only partial comparisons to the matrimonial advertisements published in other daily papers (Szabad Nép, Magyar Nemzet, Szabad Szó, Magyar Zsidók Lapja). In 1945–52,5 4,103 advertisements were published, and this high number is only partly altered by the fact that certain ads may have been published in consecutive issues of Új Élet. As it would have been impossible to analyze all the related marriage ads, I discuss only a sample of 50 marriage ads which were selected randomly. Although I extended the research to a significantly larger corpus, I only used this sample for the purposes of statistical analysis. The way information was structured and presented in the ads depended on the personality of the advertiser, the set layout, and the fee charged per character for the ads (a special fee was charged for the use of bold or larger fonts). Marriage ads were examined according to the following criteria: age, sex, social status (occupation, job), financial situation (e.g. small business, plant etc.), housing situation (was the person a property owner or renter), religion (primarily whether or not someone belonged to the Orthodox community), and attributes used for self-description (pretty, intelligent, good-natured). With regard to personal attributes, in the newspaper the advertiser usually highlighted the features he or she hoped to find in a potential partner. As could be expected, most of the ads did not incorporate all the criteria listed above. The data obtained in the course of the research was used to address the following questions: what was the average age of the advertisers? What was the sex ratio of the advertisers? What was the social background of the advertisers? What type of partner was in highest “demand”?

Új Élet

We are proclaiming ‘New Life’ on the sepulchral mound of much of the Hungarian Jewry–above its destroyed and mortified ruins. This is a clear sign of the desire to live, the encouraging miracle of healing wounds, the ceaseless heartbeat in the thousand-year-old history of the Jews, which will triumphantly work its way through the wreckage of mass destruction.6

Új Élet (New Life) was published by the National Office of Hungarian Israelites (MIOI), and its title clearly indicated the desire of the Hungarian Jewry to rebuild the community after the traumatic experience of the Holocaust. It was the first and central newspaper of the organization, and it first went to press on November 13, 1945.7 Its circulation started a bit later than that of the other weekly prints, and it remained the only nationwide weekly newspaper of the MIOI. It was published from the outset as the journal of the National Office of the Hungarian Israelites and the official and declared “forum” for the Hungarian Jewry. After the political transition, Új Élet remained the official weekly of the Jewish community, but it lost its once privileged status.

In the beginning, the chief publishing editor of the newspaper was the journalist Rezső Roóz (1879–1963), and a five-member editorial board oversaw the editing process.8 The newspaper played a crucial role in the post-1945 life of the remaining Hungarian Jewish community. In an extremely precarious and dim period, when information on victims and survivors was scarce, Új Élet became a primary source of news.9 The newspaper published the lists, compiled by the World Jewish Congress, JOINT, DEGOB,10 and the Red Cross, of the names of those who survived the deportation and the labor services. It also published news, regulations, and laws that affected the Hungarian Jewry. The issues of financial reparations and responsibility for the Holocaust or the policies of the government were constantly on its agenda. With its articles, editorials, and commentaries, Új Élet also shaped the discourse on the Hungarian Jewry and the Holocaust. Beyond practical information published in order to provide assistance for survivors, the newspaper also helped catalyze the process of confronting and working through the tragic events of the Holocaust: the newspaper regularly published short stories, poems, and personal memories. Ernő Munkácsi started a column entitled “How did it happen?” in which official documents produced at the time of the deportations were published, along with reflections on the importance of these documents. With its weekly circulation, personal and commercial ads, reports on the situation of the Jewry in rural settlements or cities other than Budapest, and coverage of Palestine (and from 1948 onwards on Israel), the newspaper offered a sense of continuity and a normal rhythm of life for the Jewish community after the traumatic experiences of the Holocaust. The shattered and tormented Hungarian Jewry could feel that through the newspaper they remained connected to the larger, even “supranational” community of Jews.

Géza Szilágyi (1878–1956), a writer and publicist who was active between the two World Wars, regularly published articles and occasionally whole series on the situation of Jewish women after the war, wartime traumas, and everyday hardships (e.g. dating) in response to the letters he received from female readers.11 In these articles, the intention to marry was exclusively represented as a “female desire,” as is amply illustrated by the series of articles published under the title “Chorus of Female Desire,” in which Szilágyi shared with his readers the difficulties of bereaved women looking for a new partner in life: 


Women, open-hearted and honest women write these letters, who survived the most devastating plague internally in Hungary, or those returning from stark and remote extermination camps [...] women who were left alone in desert like solitude: young girls who not only lost their families, but also their protective and supporting homes; young women, whose fiancés were taken to their graves by an infernal worldwide hurricane; women in bloom, who were robbed of their husbands, and in many cases their children too, by demonic powers; matronly mothers still up for an active life.

Each one of these women writing letters wished to marry or remarry, and they were searching for a suitable man, with whom they could share their lives:


Quite understandably, they assume they will find and hope to find their special men primarily among those who are companions in their distress in every aspect, who were also squeezed together in suffocating ghettoes, abducted in wagons to be killed in gas chambers, or doomed to be wasted on forced labor dictated by executioners, and who in the end survived and returned through some unfathomable miracle of mercy, but are just as bereaved, as they never saw their female partners again, partners from whom these men were taken by flogs to be led to their fateful suffering.12


In addition to texts written in various other genres (editorial, fiction column etc.), notices in which people were looking for family members or relatives were frequently published in Új Élet. From January 1946, an increasing number of marriage ads was published among the commercial advertisements and other notices. By the first half of 1946 (March), the structure of the periodical and the order of the texts began to follow a set (hierarchical) pattern, pushing the matrimonial ads to the last page (or occasionally the penultimate page, if there was not enough space).

Remarriage and Religious Law after 1945

After the “closing” of the Talmud, all of the ritual, practical, and theoretical issues that emerged within the Jewish community and were not regulated by the Talmud were settled by the rabbis.13 The answers and recommendations of the rabbis were considered guidelines based on the religious laws (halacha).14 Due to the so-called reception law, which had been ratified in 1895, civic mixed marriages were legal in Hungary. The institution of civic registration significantly reduced the administrative role of the rabbis.15 In the same year, the National Rabbi Association (Országos Rabbi Egyesület, ORE) was formed, primarily because of the changes in the issuing of birth-certificates. In addition, the association had many other responsibilities, including the provision of advocacy for the rabbis. It also became the highest forum for discussion of religious laws, and it tried to improve relations between the rabbis and the congregation. According to an ORE-decree issued in 1936, the right to decide in the first instance on the matter of religious laws belonged to the local rabbi, but the congregation could appeal to the National Rabbinic Association.16

ORE resumed its operation on February 26, 1945, two weeks after the liberation of Budapest.17 Its first chairman was Zsigmond Groszmann. Its main goal was to reorganize the religious life of the Hungarian Jewish community. The most pressing issues after the war were the high rate of people abandoning the Jewish religion and the clarification of the legal stance of war widows (agunahs).

Based on official statistics, there were 21,833 cases of apostasy between 1920 and 1942.18 According to a binding statement issued by ORE in 1946, individuals who had not fulfilled the formal requirements of the apostasy and who declared their Jewishness in their official documents after 1945 remained members of the congregation. Those who had abandoned the Jewish faith or obtained fake documents had to meet the criteria of religious re-engagement (Tvila and Kabala). Marriages which had been contracted before the 1941 Anti-Jewish law (without the civil registry) were considered authentic by the interim, but the congregation also required a posterior civil registry certification as well. Dealing with the problem of agunahs was a serious religious issue for the rabbinate. Certificates confirming women’s status as widows and the deaths of husbands were issued by the military, but the interpretation of these documents also depended on sulchan aruch.19 In many cases, death during the war could not be proven by witnesses or by any official institutions.20 As the leader of the ORE, dr. Ernő Roth explained,


World War II and the killing of Jews during the war resulted in a completely different situation: there are many women who don’t know anything about the whereabouts of their husbands, and most of these women are young; they must endure alone the hardships of life without the support of children or relatives.21

The list of Holocaust victims is not complete even today. From May 1945 onwards, committees visited the former camps to collect data concerning the survivors. The guidelines and prohibitions established in the Talmud for uncertain deaths could not be applied in these cases. The wives of those who could not be found were considered widows by the committees. Roth reached the following conclusion:


due to the results of this horrible war, husbands who have not yet shown up are probably dead. […] Is it appropriate to discourage a lot of religious and virtuous women from remarrying with if one considers this improbability? I believe that we can give only a negative answer to this question.22


ORE feared that a rigid insistence on observance of religious laws from these widows would push them towards civic marriages instead of religious ones, so they tried to lighten the religious regulations. With regard to the institution of chalicha (i.e. levirate), the rabbis were of the same view. According to the laws of the Torah, the brother-in-law was obliged to marry the widow after the death of her husband. ORE tried to disregard such regulations, thereby allowing widows who wanted to follow religious ordinances and have families and children to remarry.

The Demographic Situation of the Hungarian Jewry after the Holocaust

The period between 1945 and 1948 is called the coalition period or the years of transition in Hungarian historiography.23 After the defeat in the war, the political, social, and economic structures of Hungary were in ruins. According to the World Jewish Congress’ calculations, approximately 569,700 Hungarian Jews (69 percent of the Hungarian Jewry in the state of 1944) died in concentration camps or as a result of various atrocities in the forced labor service or during deportation. Thus, the rebuilding of the country began in the midst of post-war traumas, upheavals, and uncertainties. The numbers of “remaining Jews”24 in the territory of post-war Hungary were the following: there were approximately 190,000 Jewish people in the country, of which 119,000 resided in Budapest. The human casualties according to territorial breakdown were the following: Of the Jewish denizens of Budapest, 47 percent were killed in the war. Of those living in the rest of the country, 78 percent perished.25 War and genocide also changed the sex ratio and the generational composition of the Jewish community significantly. In Budapest, women outnumbered men, while in the rest of the country more Jewish men survived the Holocaust than Jewish women. In Budapest, there were 1,577 women for every 1,000 men, while in the rest of the country there were 915 women for every 1,000 men.26 As for the age distribution, the proportion of the population in reproductive age (people between 20 and 40 years of age) distorted the statistics further both in Budapest (1,784 to 1,000) and in the rest of the country (860 to 1,000).27 Moreover, according to the estimations of Eugene Duschinsky, 70 percent of the women who had been married and 65 percent of the men who had been married had become widows and widowers.28 In addition to these demographic effects, the Holocaust also had a major impact on the structure of Jewish families: the strong networks of relatives simply vanished. These networks had had a considerable influence on the practice of endogamy, which had been characteristic of the marriage habits of the Jewish community before the war. Statistics show that 41 percent of the total number of marriages between cousins were contracted by Jews.29

Demographic changes heavily influenced the mating and marriage patterns of the community members. The rising number of mixed-marriages in the age group between 20 and 60 was an inevitable consequence of these demographic traumas. The disproportionalities and the distortions of the post-war Jewish community (with regard to the population pyramid, different mortality rates in Budapest and the rest of the country, etc.) were connected to the differences by territory in the wartime deportations, forced labor services, and other atrocities. The Jewry of Budapest, for example, was less exposed to deportations than the communities in the countryside, in part because regent Miklós Horthy stopped the deportations on July 7, 1944.

Jewish Marriages after 1945

According to the data from Budapest collected by sociologist Viktor Karády,30 the proportion of Jewish marriages compared to non-Jewish marriages was much higher than the proportion of Jews in Hungarian society at the time.31 Karády came up with the following estimates with regard to the number of Jewish weddings:32



Jewish marriages

Other religions




















804 (estimated)



Table 1. Marriages in Budapest.

There are no data for 1944, but probably the number of Jewish marriages was the lowest if compared with other years. Such marriages could be interpreted as group-specific phenomenon, since there is no indication of a similar tendency among non-Jewish men after the end of World War II. The high number of non-Jewish men fleeing the Soviet army and the growing number of prisoners of war may explain this discrepancy.

Karády attributes the rising number of Jewish marriages to the fact that after the war the Hungarian Jewry “compensated” for the marriages that had been postponed because of the war and the deportations. Apart from this compensatory attitude, the growing tendency to remarry among the widows of the Holocaust was an important factor which contributed to the rise in marriage rates. This article is based on a textual analysis of marriage ads, and it complements Karády’s argument, according to which, due to the strengthening of a minority identity among the Hungarian Jews, the community was able to generate solidarity and strengthen a sense of bonding among its members. László Csorba also reflected on the link between group identity and the issue of marriage and childbearing among Hungarian Jews:


The successful ambition to rejuvenate the family was a sign that the Hungarian Jewry was gradually regaining its physical and mental health, and it was a clear sign of the communal desire to live and to establish personal security. As early as 1946, the proportion of Jewish remarriages was twice the proportional number of Jewish residents in Budapest, and the rate of childbearing, which was facilitated by in kind and financial assistance and cost-free benefits (and encouraged by the official propaganda), almost tripled compared to the rate the previous year […] their efforts, which were also supported by the “dating services,” were especially effective among the Jews in the parts of the country outside of Budapest.33

Marriage Advertisements


I am searching for my relative living abroad,

having an unchallengeable background,

an exceptional, religious youngish dame

recognized for her beauty and coming from the higher circles.

With highest discretion.

Please send your detailed letter to motto “Nagypartie.”

(December 27, 1945)34

Matrimonial ads could be interpreted as a manifestation of the “marriage market,” in which the exchange of goods is replaced by people trying to “sell” themselves. This ambition strongly shaped the narratives in the ads, and it influenced the keywords that individual advertisers chose when referring to their own social and financial status (properties). The person posting the advertisement was supposed to clarify who he/she was and what kind of partner he/she was looking for in a concise manner.35 These advertisements offer a sketch of the kind of person who would have been considered an eligible partner (“jó partie”) at the time, in other words, who would have had a “premium value” in the marriage market. The anonymity of the ads, the conventional self-descriptions, and the use of mottoes helped the advertiser conceal his/her identity. The matrimonial ads examined in this article contain three basic types of information. The first type is the age of the advertiser and the age of the desired partner. The second type indicates the financial and social status (divorced, widowed, unmarried) of the advertiser, his/her tangible assets (apartment, villa, car, rented property), and whether he/she had a job or not. The last type was included in the motto, and it could be a simple word or a brief statement (“America,” or “I wish to start a new life,” for example). In the sample examined in this article, there was only one motto that resurfaced several times: “Sufficient means of subsistence.” Mottoes could also contain additional references to the advertiser (“Brunette Woman,” “Music Fan,” “I own a small business and an apartment”), or they could include indications of preferences regarding the other party (“Up to 65,” “Marriage into the family”). In most cases, however, mottoes simply implied the desire to build a happy and stable life with a new partner (“Happy Life,” “Optimism,” “Sufficient means of subsistence”). Personal information with regard to religion, family (number of children), and events from the recent past was not normally included in the ads.

A discussion of marriage advertisements in Új Élet, needs to be complemented with a brief reflection on similar advertisements found in non-denominational newspapers (Szabad Nép, Szabad Szó, Magyar Nemzet) at the time, and in the predecessor of Új Élet, Magyar Zsidók Lapja (Hungarian Jews’ Journal), before and during the war. In the case of Magyar Zsidók Lapja, I examined the issues published between 1939 and 1944. As for the most popular advertising forms and typical phrases, the ads posted before and after the war did not reflect any significant differences. For example, the colloquial salutation used to address a young woman, or dame (úrileány, úrinő), continued to be used until as late as 1951. Another example for the survival of pre-war linguistic traditions and manners of speech is the regular mention of a woman’s “dowry,” which in most cases simply referred to a certain sum of money. It seems that certain patterns of self-representation were not radically altered by the war or the traumatic experience of the Holocaust. However, one does notice some changes. After the war, and especially in Új Élet, the ads became more detailed and assumed the characteristics of a (simple) narrative. In addition, more personal information with regard to the identity of the advertisers was included in post-war ads.


Young lady wishes to find a fair husband

with good financial situation

from 45 to 53 years of age

please reply to the publisher under the motto 8 thousand in cash.

Agents excluded.36

In addition to Új Élet, other dailies, such as Szabad Nép (until 1950), Magyar Nemzet (until 1951), and Szabad Szó (until 1949) also published matrimonial advertisements. In the first two papers, Jewish advertisers (“Isr.,” “Israelite”) also frequently posted advertisements. Szabad Szó was the only one in which Jewish advertisers did not place their ads, as it was used in particular by Christian (Roman Catholic) farmers, agricultural workers, and craftsmen. Like Új Élet, Szabad Nép and Magyar Nemzet also published ads containing implicit references to the Holocaust (“widow of a person taken for labor service,” “deported”). However, one can also identify differences, especially regarding the issue of emigration to Israel, which was not mentioned at all. In addition, in the dailies read nationwide non-Jewish advertisers did not make any references to wartime traumas or personal losses.

The advertisements published in Szabad Nép after 1948 reflected the increasing politicization of private and public life in the wake of the Communist takeover. However, it is not clear whether the salutation conventions—i.e. the use of the term ‘comrade’—were a requirement of the newspaper or simply a linguistic indication of one’s commitment to the party. It is worth noting, however, that this type of salutation was used exclusively in the columns of Szabad Nép.

Due to my other engagements

I seek my partner in life, an intellectual

Isr. comrade, by this method

a 29-year old, pretty “Female Teacher.”37

Marriage Advertisements in Új Élet

In the overall corpus of documents, marriage ads that contained information about wartime deportation, experiences in concentration camps, or the loss of family members or a spouse were rare. This was not necessarily because the subject was taboo; there may well have been other reasons. Among the members of the surviving Jewish community, the various atrocities and stories of deportation were well known. Thus, the fact that the advertisers did not describe the traumas they had endured in detail does not necessarily mean that they wanted to avoid mentioning their past, although this may also have been a deliberate strategy. Since the Holocaust affected the entire community, no explicit references were needed to evoke the horrors of the past. The desire to remarry already implied experience with wartime trauma and the desire to move on and start a new life. However, the linguistic conventions used in marriage advertisements to a certain extent enabled a discrete and anonymous method of self-representation, and they were also suitable for conveying confidential or sensitive information with regards to the recent past. Although the act of publicly expressing the wish to remarry could be interpreted as a form of dealing with the traumatic past, the decision to start searching for a new spouse must have been incredibly difficult from a psychological point of view. To create a new, intimate relationship with someone after having suffered through the traumatic experiences of the Holocaust and after the having lost a partner or an entire family must have been a very hard choice to make. Therefore, marriage after the Holocaust and the desire to share the difficulties of the present (and the past) with a new person could be regarded as one of the most significant post-war rituals of coming to terms with the past. Marriage in this specific social and historical context was a ritual way of dealing with wartime trauma, a ritual which did not necessarily involve much (public) discussion of the actual traumatic events.

The majority of advertisers resided in Hungary, although occasionally family members in Hungary sought the help of relatives abroad (primarily in Israel and the USA) in their search for a spouse. There were also cases in which advertisements were posted directly from Israel without an intermediary. In addition, advertisements were not always placed by individuals who wished to get married, but by mediators or “guarantors” representing the person in question. It was mostly women who sought the assistance of these people. In these cases, the advertisement was posted by a family member (father, brother, or a female friend) or a close relative on behalf of the woman looking for a husband. According to traditional social practices with regards to marriage, the father or brother was responsible for searching for a husband for a Jewish woman. The male members of the family were also supposed to guarantee the reputation of the woman in question. As the quote below shows, male relatives were occasionally involved in the search for husbands for middle-aged widows, as well.


I wish to marry off

my pretty young female relative,

who earns her living as a lingerie seamstress,

who owns an apartment, to a recognized

craftsman or merchant up to the age of 48-55.

Please reply to the publisher under the motto “Domesticated 100” 38

Marriage advertisements were also posted by marriage brokers (shadchan), who advertised their services in various newspapers (Magyar Nemzet, Új Élet). Traditionally, shadchans played an important role arranging marriages among religious Jews (Orthodox, Hasidic, but even for assimilated families) and in helping find a suitable husband or wife.39 Considering the demographic situation in Hungary after the war, the services of shadchans were more readily accepted by the general public.


Marriages are brokered 

discreetly and efficiently by:

MRS. GOLD Alsóerdősor Street,

former Ground Floor No. 2

Visiting hours: 10:00am–12:00pm

and 2:00pm–6:00pm. Telephone: 223-48040

Who posted marriage advertisements after the war, when, and why, and what were the main themes addressed by the advertisers? After the Holocaust, the first people to return to Hungary were the men who had been conscripted into the forced labor service.41 The sample of ads selected for statistical analysis contained altogether 50 advertisers, including 30 women and 20 men (thus a female majority of 20 percent), with the average age of 42, although only 30 of the advertisers disclosed their ages. The great majority of the advertisers were from Budapest. Only 12 of them indicated that they were from the “countryside” (i.e. the rest of the country). Interestingly enough, a significant number of advertisers was seeking to marry for the first time. Although obviously they had not lost a spouse during the Holocaust, they most likely had lost relatives or nuclear family members. Another category of the advertisers was the widows/widowers. There are 12 people in the sample—2 men and 10 women—who noted that they were widowers or widows. The dates when these advertisements were posted indicate the time when the person in question felt ready to close the traumatic chapters of the past and move on.

An important phenomenon in the postwar Jewish community was emigration to Israel (alija). Even before the wave of immigration after the war, many people had already left for Israel, either during the war or between 1930 and 1941. Approximately 5,870 people left the country between 1930 and 1941.42 With the proclamation of the state of Israel in May 1948, alija—conducted illegally in previous years—became legal. However, the Communist leadership never supported alija openly. Passports were issued by the Ministry of Internal Affairs, and the applicants could only obtain travel documents if they were able to verify that they had performed military or labor service. The leaders of the Jewish community were also ambivalent about this issue, despite the fact that they were generally expected to support the process. In December 1948, the national assembly adopted legislation on citizenship that imposed strict sanctions for illegal border crossing, and this included illegal alija. If someone was caught while attempting to cross the border illegally, he/she could be sentenced to confiscation of property and could even be deprived of his/her citizenship.

Based on official Israeli statistics, the country admitted 13,631 people from Hungary between May 1948 and the end of 1951.43 This left its imprint on the marriage ads published in Új Élet. A growing percentage of the advertisements began to focus on immigration. In addition, numerous ads were published in which people living abroad—in America or Australia—looked for wives (husbands) from among people in the Jewish community in Hungary. This shows that the growing Jewish diaspora remained committed to the practice of endogamy, and marriages were arranged with people who had similar cultural, linguistic, and historic backgrounds. There were also advertisers who searched for a partner before emigrating in order to be able to leave the country and start a new life elsewhere with someone from the same socio-cultural background. In 1948, Új Élet switched to an anti-Zionist tone, complying with the official policy of the Communist regime. However, the newspaper could still publish ads posted by Israeli advertisers inviting people to emigrate, as the example below demonstrates:


27-year old young man returning from captivity,

having lost his beloved ones 

wishes to find his partner,

possibly a serious girl, 18-22 years old young lady

with modern thinking,

also returning from deportation. Please enclose photograph,

if possible. Please reply to the publisher

under the motto “We start a new life in Erec”44


As indicated above, it was not general practice to make references to the Holocaust in the advertisements.45 The most frequently used phrases that indicated a traumatic experience were: “musz” (person taken for labor service) (6) and “deported,” or “deported person is preferred” (2). Both expressions functioned as umbrella terms referring to a wide range of traumatic experiences that were familiar among people in the Jewish community but were rarely discussed in public. Interestingly, although most of the advertisers were from Budapest, the ghetto was not referenced in any of the ads. In addition to the expressions above, there were other phrases that implied some experience with the Holocaust. These expressions included “recently returned,” or “completely bereaved without any living relative.” The words and phrases used by Holocaust survivors in marriage ads were strikingly different from the terminology used at the time. It should be noted that the terms concentration camp, lager, death camp, and ghetto were not mentioned at all in the ads, although they were often referred to in post-war colloquial language. The second advertisement listed below is an exception to the rule:


I wish to follow the example of my two siblings

who found their happiness in the countryside,46

I am 48 years old, the widow of a person taken for labor service,

as well as a domesticated wife and a business woman,

I wish to get married, and I would not mind living in the countryside.

Please send your reply up to 55 years of age.

Please reply to the publisher under the motto “Modest.” 47


Pretty, middle-aged woman recently returned from Auschwitz,

a primary lessor of an apartment, wishes to get married to an independent craftsman or merchant aged between 55–69,

and would not mind living in the countryside.

Please reply to the Propaganda publisher under the motto “I was left completely alone,”

Teréz Avenue 50.48


Another typical feature of the advertisements posted during the time period under examination here was that the advertisers were looking not only for a future spouse, but also for a future associate/business partner. These ads were posted by “small entrepreneurs,” most often owners of small or mid-size industrial plants.49 It should be highlighted that the key expressions associated with this type of marriage ad (“would marry into” or “invited to marry into” a family) continued to figure in similar ads even after the post-1948 era, until 1951.


Middle-aged shoemaker with industrial authorization


the family of a widow having a

prospering business and a spectacular apartment.

Mrs. Márton Weisz (widow)

VI. Szondi Street 38”50


There were also ads in which the advertisers were specifically looking for a religious or Orthodox spouse. In some cases, Orthodoxy was only referred to with a Hebrew expression.


A diligent, religious young woman wishes to get married.

I would be a faithful and understanding wife for an around 40-year old serious, religious man, under the motto

“Bász Talmudchachem”51


As I have noted, in 1946–48 the proportion of Jewish marriages compared to non-Jewish ones was much higher than the proportion of Jews in the Hungarian population. This indicates that in the shattered post-war Jewish community marriage functioned as one of the tools with which to attempt to work through and move beyond the traumatic past and start a new life. Instead of public discussions about the details of the genocide, the traditional social institution of marriage was supposed to bring about (ritual) closure and signal the beginning of a new life. Although in several cases, marriage ads contained explicit references to the Holocaust, the shared trauma was only the specificity of Jewish ads in comparison with non-Jewish texts. Yet, coming to terms with the traumatic past did not happen in complete “silence.”52 Subtle references to wartime experiences implied whether one had been affected by wartime traumas or not. No further details were needed in a community that had been devastated by genocidal violence. However, matrimonial ads do reveal some information about the consignors—the majority of the consignors were secular Jews—and about the forms the narratives took. While there was no significant change in the cultural tradition of posting marriage ads in the time period covered in this article (the institution of shadchan continued to exist, for example), the narratives evoked the shared traumatic experiences of the recent past, as well as the post-war existential dilemmas of the remaining Jewish community (the Alijah, for example). Matrimonial advertisements also show that survival and the need to start a new life was a powerful motivation that led to some public—albeit very subtle—discussion or disclosure of the unspeakable sufferings which had determined the fate of the entire community.



Botos, János. “Mit tudott a magyar közvélemény az Endlösungról?” [What did the Hungarian public know about the final solution?]. In Nyitott/zárt Magyarország [Open/Closed Hungary], edited by István Feitl, 304–06. Budapest: Nagyvilág, 2013.

Braham, Randolp R. A népirtás politikája: A holokauszt Magyarországon [The politics of genocide: The Holocaust in Hungary]. Vol 2. Budapest: Park Kiadó, 2015.

Brenner, Michael. After the Holocaust: Rebuilding Jewish Lives in Postwar Germany. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1999.

Čapková, Kateřina. Czech, Germans, Jews, National Identity and the Jews of Bohemia. New York: Berghahn Books, 2012.

Cesarani, David, and Eric J. Sundquist. After the Holocaust: Challenging the Myth of Silence. London: Routledge, 2012.

Csorba, László. Izrealita felekezeti élet Magyarorszáon a vészkorszaktól a nyolcvanas évekig (1945–1983) [Israelite denominational life in Hungary from the Holocaust to the 1980s (1945–1983)]. Vol 2. of Hét évtized a hazai zsidóság életében [Seven decades in the life of the domestic Jewry], edited by László L. Lendvai, Anikó Sohár, and Pál Horváth, 64–66. Budapest: MTA Filozófiai Intézet, 1990.

Duschinsky, Eugene. “Hungary.” In The Jews in the Soviet Satellites, edited by Peter Meyer, Bernard Dov Weinry, and Eugene Duschinsky. Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 1953.

Havasréti, József. “Vitustánc: A ‘társadalmi fiziognómia’ és a szexualitás megítélésének kérdései Szilágyi Géza írásaiban.” [Sydenham’s chorea: ‘Social physiognomy’ and the questions of judgments of sexuality in the writings of Géza Szilágyi”]. Thalassa 4, no. 19 (2008): 43–61.

Gárdos, Péter. Fever at Dawn. Translated by Elizabeth Szász. London: Transworld Publishers, 2016.

Horváth, Rita. A magyarországi zsidó Deportáltakat Gondozó Országos Bizottság története [History of the National Committee for the Provision of Care for Deported Persons]. Budapest: Magyar Zsidó Levéltár, 1997.

Karády, Viktor. Túlélők és újrakezdők: fejezetek a magyar zsidóság szociológiájából 1945 után [Survivors and people starting over: Chapters in the sociology of the Hungarian Jewry after 1945]. Budapest: Múlt és Jövő, 2002.

Katona, József. “A zsidó megújhodásért: A fővárosi zsidóság lelki képe” [For a Jewish renewal. The psychological image of the Jews of the capital]. Az Országos Rabbiegyesület Értesítője [Bulletin of the National Rabbi’s Association], April 1947: 18–24.

Komoróczy, Géza. 1849-től a napjainkig [From 1849 to the Present Day]. Vol. 2 of A zsidók története Magyarországon [The History of the Jews in Hungary]. Bratislava: Kalligram, 2012.

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Szél, Tivadar. Budapesti házasságok [Marriages in Budapest]. Statisztikai Közlemények 86, no. 4 (1936).

Szilágyi, Géza. “Vágyak női kórusa” [The female choir of desires]. Új Élet, April 10, 1947.

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1 Gárdos, Fever at Dawn, 14.

2 Mankowitz, Life between Memory and Hope, 133.

3 Brenner, After the Holocaust, 26, see also Čapková, Czech, Germans, Jews.

4 On the history of personal ads, see: Cocks, Classified: The Secret History. Új Élet was the central newspaper of the newly formed National Office of Hungarian Israelites (Magyar Izraeliták Országos Irodája), so it can be reasonably assumed that the people who were placing their advertisements in the paper were specifically searching for a “Jewish” (in the broad cultural, religious and historical meaning of the term) spouse. Based on the ads, it is not clear who considered themselves part of the Hungarian Jewry. Only a small number of the ads made mention of the practice of religion by using the following expressions: Sabbatarian, religious, Orthodox. The distribution of the number of advertisements by years was the following: 1946: 977, 1947: 1,340, 1948: 836, 1949: 379, 1950:336, 1951: 235, 1952: 13.

5 An average of 15-20 advertisements was published in each publication, but this number increased to approx. 35-40 in the volume of 1948. This latter fact meant that the last page of the 10-page Új Élet was completely devoted to marriage ads, while the second to last page was partly covered by such ads (i.e. 15-20 percent of the entire newspaper).

6 Új Élet, November 13, 1945, 1.

7 Most of the Hungarian newspapers and journals gained the permission for publication from the Allied Commission during the spring and the summer of 1945. See Botos, “Mit tudott a magyar közvélemény.”

8 The members of the the editorial boards were: Béla Dénes, Ferenc Hevesi, Ernő Munkácsi, Szigfried Róth, and Samu Szemere. The composition of the board was the same as the earlier board of the denomination. Ernő Munkácsi was the secretary of the Central Jewish Council, which operated during World War II.

9 Csorba, “Izraelita felekezeti élet Magyarországon.”

10 National Committee for the Provision of Care for Deported Persons (Deportáltakat Gondozó Országos Bizottság). Horváth, “A magyarországi zsidó Deportáltakat”.

11 Havasréti, “Vitustánc.”

12 Szilágyi, “Vágyak női kórusa,”  15.

13 The effects of technological development on the everyday lives of the communities were among the typical problems that were resolved by the rabbis.

14 Toronyi, “Halachikus problémák a neológiában.”

15 Stein, A zsidók anyakönyvei és konskripciói.

16 Rabbisági szabályzat, 1936. Magyar Zsidó Múzeum és Levéltár (MZSML), II-A-5, ORE iratai, 1936.

17 The Soviet army captured Buda on January 18, 1945 and Pest on February 13.

18 Katona, “A zsidó megújhodásért.”

19 The Sulchan Aruch is the universal corpus juris of the Jews which was compiled by Josef ben Efraim Karo (1488–1575).

20 Róth, “Az Aguna kérdéséhez.”

21 Ibid., 16.

22 Ibid., 18.

23 Standeisky, “Tétova újraértelmezések.”

24 Komoróczy, 1849-től a napjainkig, 881–85.

25 Braham, A népirtás politikája.

26 Ibid.

27 Karády, Túlélők és újrakezdők.

28 Duschinsky, “Hungary.”

29 Szél, Budapesti házasságok, 199.

30 Due to internal migration and the declining Jewish community, Budapest gained a demographic predominance compared with the rest of the country.

31 Karády, Túlélők és újrakezdők, 72.

32 Ibid., 83.

33 Csorba, “Izraelita felekezeti élet.”

34 I have striven in my translations to maintain the cited marriage ads in their original form and style by preserving their respective layouts, segmentation, and emphasis.

35 “A wife and mother for the children, a companion, ‘a travelling partner’ an associate/business partner?”

36 Magyar Zsidók Lapja, January 11, 1940.

37 Szabad Nép, May 19, 1948, 16.

38 Új Élet, January 22, 1948.

39 Koerner, Family, Religious, and Social Life.

40 Új Élet, June 27, 1946.

41 Braham, A népirtás politikája.

42 Stark, “Vándormozgalom a vészkorszak után.”

43 Komoróczy, 1849-től a napjainkig, 975.

44 Új Élet, November 18, 1948.

45 It is worth noting that after the reopening of the ad’s section in Új Élet (1957), the “traces” of the shared trauma entirely disappeared. This suggests that only between 1946 and 1952 could the traumatic experiences be integrated into the narrative canons of the matrimonial ads.

46 I.e. somewhere in Hungary other than Budapest.

47 Új Élet, January 1, 1948.

48 Új Élet, February 19, 1948.

49 Before I discuss the summarized statistics based on the occupations and activities mentioned in the ads, I wish briefly to clarify some of the difficulties I encountered when making these statistics. I defined altogether three occupational categories based on the selected sample. By definition, this meant that certain occupations and social circles were left out, e.g. skilled workers or “craftsmen.” In addition, in many cases only vague references were made to someone’s financial status, without specific definitions (terms like “well-off,” “in a good financial situation” (4) or “in employment” were used). In one instance, the advertiser used the term “worker,” which (knowing the contemporary political language) was a reference to one’s adaptation to the new political regime or the emerging political identity. In a total of five cases, the advertisers indicated their actual financial situation (“HUF 7,000”). Based on the selected sample, most advertisers were involved in trade (“merchant”) (8), followed by business owners (3), an industrial plant owner (1), a landowner (1), and a farmer (1). The last two people may very well have been involved in essentially the same kind of work.

50 Új Élet, January 17, 1946.

51 Új Élet, January 24, 1946.

52 Cesarani and Sundquist, After the Holocaust.