Volume 6 Issue 2 CONTENTS


Past Traumas and Future Generations: Cultural Memory Transmission in Hungarian Sites of Memory

Zsófia Réti

University of Debrecen

Now that we have reached the mid-2010s, a new generation of Hungarian citizens has grown up; the first Hungarian adults to have absolutely no memory of the state socialist period. It is not only a matter of “reconciliation,” “coming to terms with the past,” or “confessing the past” that are at stake here, but also making the past relevant to people who were born too late to experience it. Due to their lack of information, this generation is extremely susceptible to the various, often contradictory interpretations of the past, and because of their age, they bear the specific characteristics of the so-called Gen Z, the digital natives. How is the communist legacy represented to them? What are the primary media of historical knowledge transmission about the Kádár era? What are its main claims, what kinds of narratives are being presented, and how do young people react to these narratives? How does narrating the communist past affect the national identity of the youth? These are the primary questions I seek to answer in this essay. In addition to all the hardships and horrors of the twentieth century (World War I and II, 1956), there is one more trauma that post-socialist Hungarian society needs to deal with: the cultural rupture of 1989/90, which burned all the bridges between past and future, rendering all at once the language of parents unintelligible to their children and changing the ways in which the traumas of the past were contextualized in Hungarian cultural memory. Based on this fundamental assumption, in this essay I compare the practices adopted by the two most prominent Hungarian communism-related memory projects: the House of Terror and Memento Park. I combine two methods—discourse analysis of the written materials found in the two museums and semi-structured interviews with teenagers—in order to provide a balanced, interdisciplinary approach to the topic.

The two museum spaces in question present very different segments of Hungarian cultural memory. More precisely, they reflect on different pasts. The interplay and interference of memories related to the early and the late periods of the Kádár era, which are on display in the two museums, along with the reaction of young people to these memories provide fertile grounds for an examination of collective memory practices related to both the “system change” and the preceding period. I conclude by considering the possible ways, good practices, and existing solutions to the transmission of the traumatic experiences of the recent and not so recent past to the next generation and by offering a framework in which traumatic and nostalgic approaches to the past do not contradict, but rather complement each other.

Keywords: politics of memory, memory of Communism in Hungary, transmission of cultural memory, monuments, museums, Szoborpark, House of Terror


“The past is a foreign country, they do things differently there.” This is the first sentence of L.P. Hartley’s 1953 novel The Go-Between. And indeed, especially in post-socialist countries, there seems to be a major gap between the experiences of those who were born even a narrow generation earlier and people who are in their teens right now. The first children of the post-Cold War world, i.e. children who were born after the democratic transition in Hungary in 1989/90, are now in their mid or late 20s. As of 2016, they have had a chance to vote in the national elections at least twice. These young adults form a new generation of Hungarian citizens, having absolutely no firsthand memory of Hungary’s state socialist period. And behind them, the next generation is already coming of age. These two, non-localized generations, Generation Y and Generation Z, that is, the Millennials and the Digital Natives, need to be educated about their country’s recent past.

Péter György describes the abyss of understanding that has become unbridgeable after 1989:


Talking about communism, socialism, which is hoped to be self-evident, that is, the linguistic attempt to evoke the past is both impossible and deceptive, because the cultural space in which that rhetoric was legitimate and exclusively homely is no longer available. […] For those who were born too late, the continent upon which these sentences were articulated is terra incognita.1

The transition of 1989/90 is perceived here as a rupture in the continuity of Hungarian culture, which burned all the bridges between past and future and which, all at once, rendered the language of parents unintelligible to their children and changed the ways in which the traumas of the past were contextualized in Hungarian cultural memory.

Therefore, what one can perceive here, parallel to the shift from the communicative memory of communism to institutionalized cultural memory, is an alteration in the ways in which the past is approached by professionals seeking to communicate it. Starting from the hope of the communist utopia to “erase the past once and for all”2 (which was in line with the communist pedagogical program and the vision of the new Soviet man), in 2002, a decade after the transition, the second Memorial Day for the Victims of Communism in Hungary (which coincided with the opening ceremony of the House of Terror museum) chose a completely different motto. Quoting Attila József’s poem “A Dunánál” (By the Danube), the commemoration was organized under the phrase “A múltat be kell vallani” (“The past must be confessed”). Since then, fifteen years have passed, and now the annual ceremony runs under a very different motto: “Emlékezzünk, hogy emlékeztessünk” (“Remember in order to remind!”). In other words, there is a shift from the imperative that “the past must be confessed” to a new duty: “the past must be conveyed,” and the reason for this is possibly our confrontation with a new generation the members of which cannot in fact remember anything of the earlier regime because they were born after its fall.

Hence, it is not only the matter of “reconciliation,” “coming to terms with the past,” or “confessing the past” that are at stake here, but also making the past relevant and meaningful to people who were born too late to experience it. Due to their lack of information, this generation is extremely susceptible to the various, often contradictory interpretations of the past, and because of their age, they have very different attitudes towards digital media than members of previous generations. How is the near past represented to them? What are the primary media of historical knowledge transmission about Hungary’s state socialist period? What are its main claims, what kinds of narratives are being presented, and how do young people react to these narratives? These are the primary questions I seek to answer in this essay.

In order to explore how historical knowledge is conveyed in Hungary, in the following I compare the practices used by the two most prominent Hungarian communism-related memory projects: the House of Terror and Memento Park. These two institutions are exemplary cases because of their strategic position in terms of post-Kádárian memory practices. Alongside then, a number of other projects could have been included, such as the Iron Curtain Museum of Vashegy or the Pantheon of the Workers’ Movement in the Kerepesi Cemetery. However, the House of Terror and Memento Park stand out because they have by far the largest audiences. Both sites are open to the public and adolescents are encouraged to visit them during school trips, so they can be regarded as the most central means of official practices of remembrance about Hungarian state socialism.

The purpose of the present paper is to look simultaneously at what the two memory projects have to offer, and how young visitors react to them. For this reason, along with analyses of the two sites of memory and the written and/or multimedia material distributed on the spot or available through their websites, I also conducted several semi-structured interviews with young visitors in order to explore the effects the two exhibitions had had on them (in short, to see whether or not the two museums are successful as memory and/or knowledge transmission projects). Altogether, I conducted 17 interviews between 2012 and 2016, 9 with teenage visitors to Statue Park (the first incarnation of what was to become Memento Park) and 8 with visitors to the House of Terror. The interviews were 10–15 minutes long, and they were generally performed one or two days after the trip to the museum. All of the interviewees were 13–14 years old at the time of the interview. Although such a sample is by no means representative of Hungarian youth as such, the answers given by these teenagers were often unexpected in many ways and may offer novel insights regarding the efficiency of the two institutions as memory projects.

After a brief review of the available literature, I explore the differences between various interpretations of the term “postmodern” in relation to the two museums, focusing on the mediality of the memory that they use and the coherent narrative that they seek to present. I then offer a discussion of Piotr Sztompka’s take on cultural trauma in support of my contention that the actual “cultural trauma” that influences both museums is not the terror of the 1950s, but the sudden paradigm shift of 1989. I conclude by identifying a very visible discrepancy between the heritage and the legacy of communism in Hungary. Although the two terms are sometimes used synonymously, referring to the (material, philosophical, or other) remnants of the past, they may represent two very different aspects of the same “remnants.” Heritage is understood here as a deliberately selected narrative of the past, while legacy is passed on involuntarily, usually as a set of semi-conscious actions and behavioral patterns. I conclude with the observation that while the transmission of a clearly defined heritage to subsequent generations should be the duty of any functional memory project, the legacy of the state socialist era makes it extremely difficult if not impossible for the past to be conveyed.

Memento Park and the House of Terror: A Review of the Secondary Literature

After 1989, there was growing public demand to make the “peaceful transition” of the system change visible, or rather invisible. The statues from the public spaces of Budapest were removed, and the unavoidable question about the further fate of these objects was also raised. The idea of simply destroying them was quickly dismissed, since this gesture would have contradicted the expectations that had been placed on the “new Hungarian democracy,” so alternative solutions were needed. The decision was made to remove the statues from the city center and deposit them at a site offered by the 22nd District, where they were fit into the artistic vision of designer architect Ákos Eleőd, who sought to present them in a way that enabled cool observation of the past and many other memory strategies. This is the conception story of Statue Park. Eleőd writes about this issue in his 1991 tender:


eventually, we would decide on the fate of artistic pieces based on political ideologies. At this point, the subtle dignity of art should present itself: to find and accept the responsibility, which, in this case, leads to a thin ethical path. [...] It is a joy to participate in the absence of book burning.3

Statue Park was opened in 1993, and later on, in 2006, the state owned but privately run project finally got the funding for major expansion. From that moment on, Statue Park was renamed One Sentence on Tyranny Park, being part of a larger project entitled Memento Park, hence the multiplicity of names.

The House of Terror, which was opened almost a decade after Statue Park, was based on very different considerations. The building at 60 Andrássy Road, in which the museum is housed, itself has a story to tell. First, it served as the Headquarters of the Hungarian Arrow Cross Party from 1940 to 1945. Then, from 1945 to 1956, it functioned as the center of the communist secret police services, the State Protection Department and the State Protection Authority. After it was purchased in 2000 by the Public Foundation for the Research of Central and East European History and Society, it was opened as the House of Terror Museum in February 2002, a few months before the elections, with the alleged purpose of erecting “a monument to the memory of those held captive, tortured, and killed in this building.”4

Consequently, although these two very unconventional museums are comparable because they are both related to the memory of communism in Hungary, they actually commemorate two very different segments of the past. While the House of Terror seeks to evoke the suffocating milieu of the 1940s and 1950s, Memento Park, while it certainly reflects on earlier decades, is a self-proclaimed memorial to the successful (i.e. non-violent) democratic transition of 1989/90.

Both museums have been subject to extensive academic engagement in the fields of history, sociology, cultural studies, and museology, not to mention the intellectual debates that sprang up concerning the opening ceremony of the House of Terror in the columns of the weekly Élet és Irodalom (debates which are revived from time to time). However, it is interesting to see that there are differences from the perspective of who writes about the two museum spaces. In the case of Memento Park, most reviewers are not Hungarian, and they often contrast the site with other, similar monuments, such as the Grutas Park in Lithuania,5 the Berlin Wall, and the Casa Poporului of Bucharest.6 Meanwhile, in the case of the House of Terror, the overwhelming majority of texts are written by Hungarians.

Regarding the latter case, critics of the House of Terror seem to have reached a broad consensus regarding the scientifically objectionable nature of the museum. One of the most frequent arguments made in order to support this claim (that the museum is objectionable on scholarly grounds) is that the House of Terror primarily targets emotions without presenting rational arguments along with the affective impact.7 András Rényi, for instance,8 argues that the House of Terror is less a historical and more a rhetorical achievement, proudly admitting that it does not calmly observe history from a distance, but rather directly, dedicatedly, and passionately creates history.

Another recurrent issue in the reception of the House of Terror is the inauthentic or at least unclear nature of the exhibited objects.9 Maybe the most exemplary one such object is the can of pickled cucumbers, which was later replaced with a bottle of vodka,10 as noted by Péter Apor. “The original can of cucumbers,” Apor argues, “represents an unusual epistemological position. Neither the original can nor the subsequent bottle makes any claim to any sort of historical authenticity: there is no visible intention to demonstrate that either of them might derive from the period of the past in question.”11 Aesthete Sándor Radnóti even concludes that the most important object presented in the House of Terror is the building at Andrássy Road 60 itself, as the collection is almost ridiculously modest.12

Partly based on these objections, some critiques argue (in my assessment persuasively) that the House of Terror is not even a legitimate museum. Rényi for instance offers a very sharp dividing line between the general definition of museums and the self-classification of the House of Terror: “It is common knowledge that so far the House of Terror has established no archival background, and it is more than questionable even for laypeople whether the museum’s attempt at a coherent historical conception would stand up to even the most basic professional scrutiny.”13 James Mark also argues that there is a tendency in Central and Eastern Europe to use museums of communism as places of symbolic justice instead of as places of knowledge transmission, a process which usually takes place at very significant historical sites. “The ‘cultural trial of Communism’ took place at sites of terror where the political condemnation of Communism could be made historically credible: these locations allowed their founders to present themselves as uncovering powerful direct evidence of the former regime’s violence and criminality, which could be linked to the ways in which the country as a whole had been victimized.”14

In the case of Memento Park, the early pieces of relevant literature seem to share the perception of the park as an artistic work, emphasizing a civilized, “dignified” kind of remembering, in line with the creators’ intentions. In her 1999 discussion of the site, Beverly James remarks that a number of post-communist features are relevant to an analysis of the park, including “a strong sense of national identity […] and a deep respect for the past.”15 A few pages later, she adds that the “commodification of heritage […] is not yet relevant to museums in Hungary, where […] the past is still treated with respect.”16

A few years later, Maya Nadkarni first mapped out the immense discrepancy between the idea of a past “still treated with respect” and the marketing strategies used by the park, or, more specifically Ákos Réthly, the young entrepreneur who runs it. Nadkarni argues that Réthly’s marketing plan to frame Statue Park as a site of communist kitsch was strongly based on Western expectations of socialism, its ideology, and its iconography, and the marketing did more to confirm than to contest these expectations. “Indeed,” she contends, “Western reports of the park opening often played into these fantasies of monumental ignominy: describing the park’s architecture as a humorous ‘theme park’ or ‘Leninland,’ or romantically locating the park on a ‘bleak’ or ‘windy’ hilltop.”17

The literature on the two memory projects also evokes a number of issues that come up in relation to both museums. Here, I cover only a single feature: the idea of postmodernity at the two sites of memory. Postmodernity seems to have different implications and emphases when applied to different museums. Beverly James for instance argues that Statue Park Museum is postmodern in the sense that “its holdings […] had yet another layer of meaning slapped on them when they were uprooted from their familiar locations and repositioned in the fabricated terrain of an open-air park.” Furthermore, it can be considered postmodern because “it juxtaposes pieces that embody seemingly incongruous versions of communism.”18 Parallel to that, Radnóti identifies the House of Terror as a “postmodern museum of torture,” where the architect and the curator are free to create, and where the wealth of multimedia content is mixed with traditional museum forms, relativizing them.”19 In a similar fashion, Rényi condemns the “aestheticizing intemperance of the postmodern, which, in order to have a more powerful impact, transcends each and every sacred boundary and ignores the most fundamental differences between document and fiction, object and representation, fact and opinion.20

It is interesting to see how critics use the term “postmodern” differently for the two museums. In relation to Statue Park, it can be understood as a kind of inventive, novel, and inclusive attitude towards a difficult past, while for the House of Terror, postmodernity is but a formal solution to present a modernist national grand narrative of the equally problematic recent past. This distinction in meaning is vital if one seeks to understand how the two museums function as more or less successful memory projects. The differences between the two understandings of postmodernity can be mapped out by focusing on two central axes of the exhibitions. First, their mediality, and second, the narrative they create about the past. Although these two aspects are certainly linked, it is still expedient to separate them for analytical purposes.

The Materiality of Memory

The materiality of remembering in the two museums is closely related to how the two museums deviate from the idea of written, textual knowledge. In her 2009 essay “Texts, Traces, Trash: The Changing Media of Cultural Memory,” Aleida Assmann outlines the trajectory of the written word in the realm of cultural memory, from the Renaissance up to the present day, identifying an important break in the monopoly of written knowledge, which she dates back to as early as the seventeenth century. She argues that while the privileged path to historical understanding was found in the texts of canonical male authors, “different routes of access to the past were opened by bypassing texts and tradition and concentrating on non-textual traces, such as ruins and relics, fragments and sherds, and songs and tales of a neglected oral tradition.”21 In short, what Assmann detects is the origin of mistrust in written language as the only reliable medium through which one can “speak with the dead” in the Greenblattian sense, that is, as the only plausible way to get meaningful information about the past.22 Assmann later moves on to locate one more radical change with the appearance of new media: “We might say that some contemporary writers, searching for authentic traces of the past in a mass media culture, are discovering these in trash. With the development of new technologies and channels of communication, writing is ceding its position as the foremost medium of communication and cultural transmission.”23 This second remark may have twofold consequences, not only for writers, but for more general practices of cultural memory as well. First, we need to admit that knowledge about the past is often incidental and is of an almost random nature, and the most valuable insights may be gained from things discarded, like statues that no one wishes to see in their original places anymore. Second, one also needs to see that the written word as the single most reliable medium of historical knowledge may (sadly) become obsolete; its hegemony is threatened by media, both old and new.

Instead of written media, cultural memory is transmitted through novel and not so novel ways involving tangible remembrance and multimedia devices and contents. In terms of memory projects and museum spaces, objects (remnants, replicas, and things of questionable origin) naturally acquire a key position. The importance of material artefacts as mnemonic devices enhancing individual remembering has been acknowledged since Antiquity. However, their role in establishing cultural memory has only recently been made an object of serious interrogation, and they have gained attention largely due to the contributions of museum studies.

In understanding how museum artefacts can contribute to establishing and maintaining cultural memory, Hans Ulrich Gumbrecht’s take on “presence effects” and “meaning effects” might help. In his book The Production of Presence: What Meaning Cannot Convey, Gumbrecht distinguishes between “presence effects” and “meaning effects,” the latter referring to interpretational practices as transcendental meaning attributions, usually associated with the traditionally hermeneutical practices of the humanities and social sciences. In contrast, “presence effects” are defined by the materiality of the object of study, that is, they refer to the ways in which the objects of aesthetic experience occupy a certain space within reality; they “exclusively appeal to the senses.”24 According to Gumbrecht, the metaphysical practice of interpretation should be altered considering that “we conceive of aesthetic experience as an oscillation (and sometimes as an interference) between ‘presence effects’ and ‘meaning effects’.”25 This oscillation is especially relevant in terms of museum experiences, where the materiality of the objects displayed and the interpretations attached to them rarely coincide.

To illustrate this point, let us look at two examples from Statue Park and the House of Terror: texts with very visible and significant materiality, the presence effects and meaning effects of which happen to confront each other, offering subversive interpretations.


From Tyranny to ETERNAL GLO

In Statue Park a general characteristic feature of the site is a very visible absence of written texts. Next to the works, one finds only the name of the sculptor, the title of the composition, the date of the erection of the work, and the statue’s original place. This virtual absence of text emphasizes the ideal of the neutral preservation of works of art without contextual references. True, a visitor’s guide can be purchased at the entrance, and the website offers a lot of information, but in general the visitors are left alone with the works and their very symbolic environment. The longest written text visitors encounter during their trip is Gyula Illyés’s poem, One Sentence on Tyranny, which was borrowed as the name name for the park in 2006. As visitors attempt to enter the actual territory of the park, they find their way blocked by a large and rusty iron door, the main entrance to the park, with the poem inscribed on it, exclusively in Hungarian. This manner of presentation can be regarded as a mise-en-abyme of the interplay between presence effects and meaning effects, while parallel to that, it also highlights the fundamental ambiguity between traumatic and alternative approaches to the past, such as nostalgic or ironic.

The materiality and position of the text, along with the interpretational framework it provides for an understanding of Statue Park as a whole, also assigns new dimensions of meaning to the original poem: the mutuality produced by the common context obviously influences the strategies of reading as well. The self as it is presented in the poem not only associates tyranny with a set of activities and behavioral patterns, it also describes it as a universal omnipresent feeling that is always already there in the everyday routines of the people. “Dohányod zamatába,/ ruháid anyagába/ Beivódik, évődik /Velődig” (It penetrates into the flavor of your tobacco, the fabric of your clothes, to your marrow).26 The poem’s image of omnipresent tyranny and the collection of the prominent Socialist Realist works seem to be in dialogue, which underlines the concept that the statues can be regarded as means of oppression. From this perspective, certain lines of the poem might be exceptionally illuminating in nature, since the relationship between art and social milieu (which is one of the focal points of the poem) is obviously not something to be dismissed in the case of Statue Park. Throughout the poem, as “tyranny” is personified and condensed into an indefinite third-person singular, it also penetrates deeper and deeper, from individual relationships to the general perception of the world: “Mert szépnek csak azt véled/ mi egyszer már övé lett” (For you take as beautiful only the things that have already become his). The experience of the senses becomes legible exclusively through the filter of tyranny, and thus the possibilities of artistic reflection are also to be imagined within the framework of oppression.

However, the fact that the poem is displayed just in front of Statue Park provides an ironic position in reading the monuments. The lines “Mert ott áll/eleve sírodnál /ő mondja meg, ki voltál/ porod is neki szolgál” (For he stands there by your grave, he defines who you were, your ashes still serve him) illuminate, for instance, the fate of Socialist Realist statues: being closed into their own materiality, deprived of what they originally signified (i.e. the heroes and ideals of a past era), they become their own parodies. Illyés’ text suggests that the oppressive power owns the soul and body of its subjects, and thus it is able to provide retrospective definitions of the people and objects serving them.

If one considers the mutual influence of site and poem, two crucial observations must be made. First, the verses are scribbled onto an enormous iron door, supposedly the main entrance to the park. Yet these doors remain closed by design, and one can only enter the museum through a tiny sideway. As Réthly explained during a guided tour, “you know that proverb that there is a side-door next to all large gates, which means that if you cannot do something in the official way, we should try to find some other solution.” Thus, the museum offers “alternative,” more inclusive approaches to remembrance of the past, while still preserving a more institutionalized, primary reading, according to which the past is presented as tyrannical: the main door that is always closed. Second, due to the corroding effects of the weather, certain parts of the text have become illegible, which could be understood as a dual game of inscribing and effacing meanings. On the one hand, there is a gesture of guiding the visitors’ frame of understanding by the position of the text, while on the other, the owners of the museum let the rust eat away the letters, making it impossible to assign one single meaning to the park. The visitors have become unable to read the text, and they are once more on their own with the statues.

Similar material damage to written words can also be found in the House of Terror. As opposed to Memento Park, where most of the on-site information texts were absent, in the case of the House of Terror there is an abundance of written texts, which nonetheless results in a similar absence of information. Almost every room in the exhibition features a take-home information sheet, both in English and in Hungarian, and in absence of a guide, most visitors spend a great portion of their time huddled up in one of the dim corners of the exhibition rooms, reading the information materials (especially in the first few rooms). Furthermore, the walls often feature quotes (typically in Hungarian only), and sometimes, as in the Resettlement and Deportation Room and the Justice Room, entire walls are covered with replicas of old reports or indictments, rendering them illegible by their position, the dim lighting, or simply their sheer volume. Words extinguish one another, and they appear as visual noise or decorative fragments that bear no particular meaning.

The Room of Soviet Advisors offers a very fitting example of the dynamics of Gumbrechtian presence and meaning effects. At the time of my last visit to the House of Terror, there was an enormous marble memorial plaque leaning against a large wooden desk, broken in half, with the parts slightly slid behind each other. 27 The visible part of the text is as follows:




I offer the following English translation of this: “ETERNAL GLO …ED ARM… THE SOVIET UN… NGARY… WAR FO… NDEPENDEN…” First, this plaque clearly demonstrates how the ideologies of communism and fascism alike created a pseudo-language that was perceived as intimidating and uncanny precisely because it was rooted in everyday uses of language, but was rendered incomprehensible by the ideological jargon. As Péter György puts it, “communists spoke and wrote in a language unknown to Hungarians, in Hungarian. […] Words partly lost their meanings, partly gained new ones.”28 On the other hand, though, this marble plaque can also be regarded as an allegory for the approach to language and the written word as a source of historical knowledge adopted by the House of Terror. Words are everywhere in the House of Terror, yet they fall apart into sub-intelligible elements, giving the impression that something beyond linguistically understandable knowledge is being conveyed here. It is as if words lost their weight as soon as one enters the realms of terror.

In this sense, there is a fundamental similarity and an even deeper difference between Memento Park and the House of Terror. While both sites of memory exhibit an underlying mistrust of written knowledge (although the websites are both rich in detail text), their reaction to this scenario is entirely different. Memento Park, with the nearly complete lack of verbal interpretational crutches (apart from the rusty poem on the front gate), almost exclusively relies on the oral narration of the site, either by the guide or by older relatives, who tend to accompany young people to the site. One could argue that Statue Park offers a nostalgic pre-literacy medial condition, seeking to evoke the immediacy and intimacy of firsthand experience and even domestic oral history. In contrast, the House of Terror presents an entirely different scenario, which might be described as a post-literal media landscape. Here, the traditional role of written texts is taken over by both affective non-verbal elements, such as smell and lighting, and also by multimedia solutions, such as endless testimonies displayed on LCD-screens and the use of the most cutting-edge technology to support a specific vision of history.


Digital Natives in a Pre-literacy or Post-literacy Situation

The use of new media to emphasize certain interpretations of history is especially important when talking about knowledge transmission to members of younger generations. As members of Generation Z, the digital natives, teenage visitors have been socialized from an early age to use all kinds of multimedia and smart devices, and they are very open to technological innovation, for leisure activities and entertainment and also for learning and knowledge acquisition. Their reactions concerning the two museum spaces also underline how the abovementioned pre-verbal and post-verbal arrangements work. In the case of Memento Park, most of my respondents visited the park as part of a class excursion, with a guide. The young visitors all agreed that the presence of the guide brought the objects on exhibit closer to the audience. As one of the 14-year-olds I interviewed remarked, “Without the guide, no one would have cared about the statues.” All of them mentioned that they had positive feelings about the tour; three out of seven said that it helped them better understand “what those symbols actually meant” or confessed that the way they analyzed a particular statue together with the guide made them change their preliminary neutral or negative opinions about the work in question. Furthermore, the guided tour also succeeded in adding a set of memorable anecdotes and humorous personal stories to the display of statues, such as the one about the Smurf marzipan figurines that were dried on the right arm of a bronze Lenin in the early 1990s. According to their accounts, the young visitors were especially keen on these otherwise digressive remarks of the guide. As one of them put it, “there are museums that are dead boring, and all you get is a schematic text that you would learn in history lessons anyway. But this guy told us about really special things. He made us involved.” In this sense, according to the teenage visitors, the Memento Park guided tour managed to convey a kind of “insider,” firsthand knowledge about the years of the democratic transition, offering a chance for a very private and personal kind of knowledge transmission. The very same magic of orality was also mentioned by my other two interviewees from Statue Park, a brother and a sister aged 13 and almost 15 at the time of their visit, which was a Sunday trip on which they had been taken by their parents. Although they said that their parents could recall the locations of only a few of the statues or reliefs, as the family was not from Budapest, they nonetheless told them interesting stories about their youth (the parents were in their early 40s).

As for the House of Terror, the generational position of my interviewees had a very visible impact on the ways in which they perceived the exhibition. Although none of them took part in a guided tour, they were invariably accompanied by older relatives who helped them understand what they were seeing. One of them, a boy of 13, offered the following reply to my warm-up question as to whether or not he had liked the exhibition: “It was interesting all right, but as a child, I didn’t understand everything, unlike mum, so she had to explain things to me.” When asked about the information sheets, all but one of the teens admitted that they had not collected, read, or even looked at them extensively. Five out of eight respondents praised the video displays of the exhibition, claiming that although they had no time to watch all of the videos, those that they did see were all interesting. Most of the teens highlighted the oral history account in the elevator as the most impressive one, while others mentioned “the one at the cashier desk about forgiveness”29 or the newsreels.

As most of the respondents were in the last two years of elementary school (7th or 8th grade), they had not had any history classes about the state socialist era.30 When asked about their knowledge of state socialism in Hungary, many of them mentioned that although they do not generally watch films about “the era,” they do have an impression of it from video games.31 This medial embeddedness was even visible in their reaction to the exhibitions. At the time of my last 3 interviews in 2016, there was a temporary exhibition for the 60th anniversary of the 1956 revolution entitled Egy akaraton (One Nation, One Will), which featured six short, 5-6 minute-long films designed for virtual reality glasses. All three of the teenagers who had seen this show were fascinated by the 360° VR films, which were, according to my respondents, so intense that they somewhat dimmed the experience of the permanent exhibition. By the time of their visit, each of them had at least tried virtual reality glasses (one of the respondents even had one at home), and they even offered technical remarks on how the glasses in the House of Terror were different from the ones they had used previously. “That was a very good point. I really liked them all. They were interesting, and it was better to see them in 360 than from an ordinary video,” one of them remarked. “And also, it was a lot better because it influenced your emotions more than looking at a whole bunch of writing. That was a great idea” another added. One could claim that teenagers are very, and perhaps dangerously, responsive to new digital media in memorial spaces, especially media that are relatively new even to them. The House of Terror presents itself as a conveyor of zeitgeist, so the primary content it seeks to transmit is an impression about the recent past, an artistic expression of the premise that “terror overshadowed daily life.”32 For this purpose, the use of digital media (especially virtual reality technologies) is perhaps the most fitting choice. The caveat concerning such techniques, especially for adolescents, is that a certain version of the past is presented as the only valid past, leaving no room either for criticism or for questions. What is seen on the screen not only becomes believable, but it turns into reality itself. Probably this is one reason why my interviewees seemed to be so a-critical with regards to the exhibition in the House of Terror, while they were considerably more reflective about their Statue Park experiences.33

In contrast, my respondents could not recall much objective knowledge that they had gained from their visit to the House of Terror. Six out of eight teenagers did not realize that the exhibition was about two kinds of dictatorships, although they had a good understanding of Hungary having been under two different forms of occupation during those times. Indeed, the House of Terror has frequently been criticized for the extremely unbalanced nature of the museum’s displays. As one reads on the English version of the House of Terror website, “[h]aving survived two terror regimes, it was felt that the time had come for Hungary to erect a fitting memorial to the victims, and at the same time to present a picture of what life was like for Hungarians in those times.”34 In other words, the House of Terror allegedly describes the two kinds of terror Hungary suffered between 1944 and 1989: the Nazi occupation and the establishment of the communist regime. The House of Terror does not include the Anti-Jewish Laws of the interwar years in its representation of terror, when Germany had not yet invaded Hungary, or the massacre of an estimated 23,000 Jews in near Kamianets-Podilskyi in August 1941, including 16,000 people who had been deported to the newly annexed territory from Hungary, hence denying any complicity Hungary might have had in these parts of the Holocaust. Furthermore, strictly speaking, only 2 or 3 of the 19 exhibition rooms focus on the Nazi occupation and the Hungarian Arrow Cross party and none focus on the crimes and massacres committed under the Horthy regime. However, as Krisztián Ungváry underlines,35 the imbalance is not merely a matter of space. Three rooms perhaps would have been enough to evoke the terror in which many Hungarians lived under Horthy and the Arrow Cross, but as Mark argues, the memory of Fascism is only evoked “where it had the capacity to demonize Communism.”36 In this, the museum succeeds, yet no body of references is actually given in support of this emotional affect.

Instead of facts, the House of Terror offers associations, but when one lacks the relevant historical knowledge, as a 13-year-old visitor sometimes does, the exhibition will not fill in the gaps. Perhaps the most telling example is the Internment room in the basement, which features a miners’ car and some rocks in the middle, next to an LCD-screen on which a formerly interned person is giving testimony. This room is right after the prison reconstruction, which is perceived by many as the most emotionally burdening part of the exhibition. One of my interviewees, whom I followed through the museum, demonstrated significant behavioral change at this point. Prior to this room, the teenage boy was very open, asked many questions, and inspected everything closely, especially the prison part, but here he just looked at the plate with the name of the room, briefly glanced at the miners’ car, and walked away. As he later informed me, he did not fully understand the word internment in this context, and due to the absence of descriptive material, he could not establish a logical link between the car that fills the whole room and the idea of internment. Although the room does have a take-home information sheet, it is only from the website that one can find out that the bogie with the rocks is in fact an original artefact from the Recsk Internment Camp.

This brief episode illustrates why the House of Terror often fails as a site of knowledge transmission about communism. The illusion of a zeitgeist conjured in its entirety by simulacra objects and multimedia devices is not suitable for knowledge transmission on its own, and the supplementary means were, in this case, insufficient to sustain an adolescent’s attention.

From Trauma to Laughter

Closely related to the materiality and mediality of remembering is the question of the various kinds of pasts that are presented to the visitors, especially younger visitors. Critics of the House of Terror condemn the exhibition for offering a one-sided interpretation of the past, which portrays Hungary as a hapless victim of evil foreign powers.37 Péter György, for instance, contrasts the presence of victim-identifications with the absence of perpetrator memories, especially concerning the way in which the past is communicated to members of the younger generations: “We do not need the younger generations to feel personal guilt for the acts committed by their predecessors. But we do need them to know what their predecessors did.”38

This idea is supported by the narrative on the information sheets: it consistently portrays “terror” and its manifestations, such as internment, deportation, secret agency, etc., as something in which Hungarians took no part and which was imposed from the outside. This process of externalization also appears on the level of grammatical structures and word choices. A prevalent use of the passive voice is a characteristic feature of the information sheets, even in Hungarian, which is unusual. While there the sentences make no mention of the names of perpetrators, the victim is almost without exception Hungary or the Hungarian people, who are depicted as silent and inert bystanders in their own history. “Hungary was plunged into a hopeless economic situation,” and then “the country became the theatre of war in the clash between the two Super Powers,” and later on, in the Changing Clothes room, the brochure explains that “the video clip depicts how an entire society was forced to ‘turn coat’, i.e. switch allies.”

The passive voice is but one example in the House of Terror of what Aleida Assmann calls “victim memory.” Assmann coined the term39 to differentiate it from “losers” inasmuch as the victim is a passive target of violence, and the term obviously implies a sense of power asymmetry, while the term “loser” still implies a sense of heroism or a sacrifice made for a cause.40 According to Assmann, the most characteristic feature of this kind of memorial practice is to offer an unambiguous image of the past, in which no dissenting opinions are appreciated or even accepted, since the whole community is imagined as the victim of a power external to it. It is also important to refer to Assmann’s comment in which she emphasizes that while in Western Europe such interpretations are being questioned and subverted, Eastern Europe is still bearing witness to the resurrection of national grand narratives emphasizing collective victimhood. With respect to the House of Terror, Zsolt K. Horváth claims that the institution is, in fact, an allegory of Hungary victimized by Communism.41

The House of Terror does not merely evoke a sense of collective victimhood, it also seeks to commemorate the collective traumatic experience that it links to foreign occupation. It focuses primarily on the “dark decades” of the 1940s and 1950s, but it also broadens the temporal spectrum of occupation significantly: from 1944 to 1989. As one reads on the website, “the Museum, while presenting the horrors in a tangible way, also intends to make people understand that the sacrifice for freedom was not in vain.”42 Such a quest could potentially allow for collective healing: the examination, understanding, and eventually the dissolution of the wounds Hungarian society has suffered (and inflicted on itself), but unfortunately the House of Terror goes down on a different path. As Miklós Takács argues, individual traumatic experiences can be identified by involuntary repetition and by their appearance next to the body and non-verbality, while the prerequisite of cultural traumas is their mediated nature. He concludes that if a traumatic experience is removed from the body and transferred into another medium, it ceases to be a psychic trauma and is considered healed.43 The House of Terror here presents just the opposite method. By using new digital media and reconstructions, such as the infamous basement prison, it de-medializes the horrors that took place in the House, and re-inscribes them into the medium of the body. The moment the visitor enters the elevator, taking a painfully slow ride down to the basement, the information sheets go missing. Visitors are left alone in the corridor with the tiny, wet cells, and they are given no information or no interpretational guidelines. Many of my respondents claimed that they felt “claustrophobic” during their visit to the basement, and although one of them, a girl of 14, ironically remarked that “it was Disneyland,” she also confessed a vague sense of sickness when listening to the testimony about executions in the elevator. This traumatic and potentially traumatizing approach does not allow for elaborate reflections on the space or the historical knowledge it might convey: where there are no words, there is no knowledge to speak of.

In Statue Park, the arrangement of “excluded” public statues enables a whole range of remembering practices, including a traumatic approach to the past. When asked about how the visitors interact with the statues on exhibit in the Park, Réthly spoke about a kind of respect for the past: “All the local visitors have a bit of an agent past, a bit of relocation, a sense of being unheeded... Everyone has a bit of pain. I wouldn’t say that these feelings are brought to the surface here, but it gives a kind of basic restraint to their attitudes.” Therefore, Hungarians would not find it funny to pose with the statues due to their “personal involvement,” or rather the communicative memory that still conveys the underlying idea of the statues being means of an oppressive, dictatorial regime.

Strangely enough, there is a certain ambiguity in the answers provided by the student visitors on this matter. When asked about the idea of posing, all of them said that their teacher had had a number of ideas about different poses even before they arrived to the park, but they also noted that by themselves they would not have thought of these statues as objects next to which to pose. One of them even mentioned that “probably it might be more exciting for the Americans, because we learn about it, we know about it, but they... they did not live through it. For them it’s fun to see... a big dictatorial man (sic!) and ha ha, let’s pose with him. But for us, we can feel what it was like for the people back then, and it’s less amusing to make fun of it.” However, based on my personal experience following them along the park, they actually enjoyed climbing onto the statues, and they started posing the minute the guide turned his back on them.

And indeed, in part due to Eleőd’s initial democratic intentions, the idea of laughter appears in many ways in the reception of the Park, ranging from mockery to irony. Furthermore, the intention of the park’s creators seems to have been very much in line with the way in which Linda Hutcheon defines irony: “Irony rarely involves a simple decoding of a single inverted message; […] it is more often a semantically complex process of relating, differentiating, and combining said and unsaid meanings—and doing so with some evaluative edge.”44 The designer envisioned a multiplicity of interpretations based precisely on this permanent ambiguity of meanings: “I would like this park to be right in the middle: neither a park to honor Communism, nor a sarcastic park that provokes tempers, but a place where everyone can feel whatever they want… People can feel nostalgic, or have a good laugh, or mourn a personal tragedy connected with the period.”45

Maya Nadkarni also identifies a kind of distanced, ironic nostalgia46 in relation to the Park. She argues that “while countless Lenins proved the infuriating fact of Soviet occupation, it was perhaps even more pressing to remove [Ilya Afanasevich] Ostapenko, who called attention to the ways in which forty years of socialism had become cozy and familiar.”47 In this fashion, along with Vergangenheitsbewältigung, or coming to terms with the past, other kinds of remembering practices, such as irony or nostalgia, are also enabled by the park’s layout.

“We don’t really ask them, so they don’t talk about it”:
Mapping Terra Incognita

Let us return to Péter György’s comment on terra incognita and the unbridgeable abyss between past and present that seems to be an underlying universal trope of the post-socialist condition. The idea of terra incognita is closely related to what Piotr Sztompka calls “cultural trauma.” Sztompka argues that sudden, unexpected, deep social change may lead to a very peculiar condition, cultural trauma, which occurs “when there is a break, displacement or disorganization in the orderly, taken-for-granted universe.”48 One of the fundamental consequences of cultural trauma, according to Sztompka, is a sense of “cultural disorientation,” when “the socialized, internalized culture that they carry ‘in their heads’ or in their semi-automatic ‘habits of the heart’ clashes with the cultural environment in which they find themselves.”49 In line with Sztompka’s definition, I argue that the actual cultural trauma that is reflected in both memory projects is not the hard dictatorship and the terrors of the 1940–50s, or even the retaliation after 1956, as recent memory politics seems to imply, but rather an event that happened much later, in 1989/90.

In the case of Statue Park, admittedly a monument for the transition itself, the narrative focus on the early 1990s is not that surprising. However, the primary cultural trauma on which the House of Terror reflects is also the “change of systems.” The sudden paradigm shift of 1989 created the imperative to remember everything that had been suppressed for decades, yet the transition provided neither a natural shift from communicative to cultural memory to support suppressed memories nor the appropriate language to present these memories to a new generation.

The consequences of cultural traumatization to contemporary museum practices display a sharp dividing line between the heritage and the legacy of communism in Hungary. Heritage may be understood as a selection of items, opinions, or perspectives that can be used by the present in order to create a coherent narrative of the past. This definition bears close resemblance to what Jan Assmann calls “hot memory.”50 This is the realm in which historical museums can feel most at home. Although the two sites discussed here theoretically reflect on two very different pasts, this is not self-explanatory at first sight. Yet they both present a narrative about the past, which, strangely enough, ends with the foundation of the museum: Statue Park or the House of Terror, respectively. However, in both cases, the language they use is not suitable for the transmission of historical knowledge to post-socialist generations, because it is rooted in the legacy of the late Kádár era (and not the hard dictatorship of the earlier decades): the involuntary remnants, the doxa of how people interacted with one another before 1989.

“If a disturbance occurs,” writes Sztompka, “the symbols start to mean something other than they normally do; values become valueless or demand unrealizable goals; […] gestures and words signify something different from what they meant before; beliefs are refuted, faith undermined, trust breached; charisma collapses, idols fall.”51 And this is precisely what happened after the democratic transition. The web of comfortably allegoric, familiar language, the depth of omissions, hints at things or events already known, associative networks of words unspoken, all this was suddenly lost, as it was no longer necessary to learn or reproduce them. In the case of cultural trauma, the language beyond the language is the first to go after such a rupture in the tissue of culture, and this trap might have been overlooked by both memory projects discussed here. The deeply allegorical visual language and the very specific arrangements and combinations of objects they use (such as the infinite circles leading to a wall in Memento Park, allegedly symbolizing the communist project, or the various kitchen interiors in the Resistance room of the House of Terror, alluding to the practice of critics of the system gathering in one another’s kitchens) remain unintelligible to the youth.

One of my interviewees, when I asked him whether he had heard anything about the past from his older relatives, gave the following answer: “Yes, sometimes I hear things. Mum’s mother and father were, well, they were taken away [elvitték őket]. But we don’t really ask, so they don’t talk about it.” This fragment gives a sobering illustration of the unbridgeable hermeneutical gap that lies between Hungarian teenagers and their parents generation and grandparents generation today, and this is by no means a regular “generation gap.” I am convinced that my respondent had no idea what being “taken away,” one of the most euphemistic expressions referring to non-localizable terrors of the recent past, might mean, which is why he never asked questions about it.

Although the legacy of the late Kádár era can be regarded as a burden for Hungarian museums that promote the transmission of historical knowledge, it is also a challenge to be met. The task of such memorial sites is not simply to initiate young people as full-fledged members of a memory community or convey some kind of objective knowledge about the past, but also to awaken their curiosity and make the past seem relevant to them. If they are successful in this, perhaps next time a child will ask his or her grandmother the obvious questions: Why? Where? When? By whom?



Apor, Péter. “An Epistemology of the Spectacle? Arcane Knowledge, Memory and Evidence in the Budapest House of Terror.” Rethinking History 18, no. 3 (2014): 328–44.

Apor, Péter. “Hitelesség és hitetlenség: emlékezet, történelem és közelmúlt-feldolgozás Kelet-Közép-Európában” [Authenticity and incredulity: Memory, history, and examining the recent past in East Central Europe]. Korall 41 (2010): 159–83.

Assmann, Aleida. “Texts, Traces, Trash: The Changing Media of Cultural Memory.” Representations 56 (1996): 123–34.

Assmann, Aleida. Der lange Schatten der Vergangenheit: Erinnerungskultur und Geschichtpolitik. Munich: C.H.Beck, 2006.

Assmann, Jan. Cultural Memory and Early Civilization: Writing, Remembrance, and Political Imagination. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011.

Frazon, Zsófia, and Zsolt K. Horváth. “A megsértett Magyarország: A Terror Háza mint tárgybemutatás, emlékmű és politikai rítus” [Hungary wronged: The Terror House as a presentation of objects, a monument, and a political rite]. Regio: Kisebbség, Politika, Társadalom 9, no. 4 (2002): 303–47.

Greenblatt, Stephen. Shakespearean Negotiations: The Circulation of Social Energy in Renaissance England. Berkeley–Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1988.

Gumbrecht, Hans Ulrich. Production of Presence: What Meaning Cannot Convey. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2004.

György, Péter. “Az elveszett nyelv” [The lost language]. Élet és Irodalom 61, no. 15 (2012). Accessed October 31, 2016. http://www.es.hu/gyorgy_peter;az_elveszett_nyelv;2012-04-11.html.

György, Péter. “Múzeumkritika: A terror háza / A terror topográfiája (Budapest, Berlin)” [Museum criticism: The Terror House / The topography of terror (Budapest, Berlin)]. Élet és Irodalom 54, no. 24 (2010). Accessed October 31, 2016. http://www.es.hu/gyorgy_peter;muzeumkritika;2010-06-20.html.

György, Péter. Az ismeretlen nyelv: A hatalom színrevitele [The unknown language: The staging of power]. Budapest: Magvető, 2016.

Hutcheon, Linda. “Irony, Nostalgia and the Postmodern.” Studies in Comparative Literature 30 (2000): 189–207.

Hutcheon, Linda. Irony’s Edge: The Theory and Politics of Irony. London–New York: Routledge, 1994.

Ihász, István: “Gomb és kabát: A profán valóság bemutatásának kísérlete a Terror Háza Múzeumban” [Button and coat: The attempt to present the profane reality in the Terror House Museum]. In Történeti Muzeológiai Szemle: A Magyar Múzeumi Történész Társulat Évkönyve [Historical museological review: Yearbook of the Hungarian Museum Historian’s Society], vol. 2, edited by János Pintér, 97–105. Budapest: Magyar Múzeumi Történész Társulat, 2002.

James, Beverly. “Fencing in the Past: Budapest’s Statue Park Museum.” Media, Culture, Society 21 (1999): 291–311.

K. Horváth, Zsolt. “The Redistribution of the Memory of Socialism: Identity Formations of the ‘Survivors’ in Hungary after 1989.” In Past for the Eyes: East European Communism in Cinema and Museums after 1989, edited by Péter Apor and Oksana Sarkisova, 247–73. Budapest: Central European University Press, 2008.

Kovács, Éva. “Az ironikus és a cinikus: a kommunizmus emlékezeteiről” [The ironic and the cynical: On remembrances of communism]. Élet és Irodalom 47, no. 35. (2004). Accessed October 31, 2016. http://www.es.hu/kovacs_eva;az_ironikus_es_a_cinikus;2003-09-01.html.

Light, Duncan. “Gazing on Communism: Heritage Tourism and Post-communist Identities in Germany, Hungary and Romania.” Tourism Geographies 2, no. 2 (2000): 157–76.

Losonczy, Anne-Marie. “Le patrimoine de l’oubli: Le «parc-musée des Statues» de Budapest.” Ethnologie francaise 29 (1999): 445–52.

Mark, James. “Criminalizing Communism? History at Terror Sites and in Statue Parks and National Museums.” In idem. The Unfinished Revolution: Making Sense of the Communist Past in Central-Eastern Europe, 61–91. New Haven–London: Yale University Press, 2011.

Memento Park website. Accessed July 17, 2017. www.mementopark.hu.

Nadkarni, Maya. “The Death of Socialism and the Afterlife of Its Monuments: Making the Past in Budapest’s Statue Park Museum.” In Contested Pasts: The Politics of Memory, edited by Katharine Radgkin and Susannah Radstone, 193–207. London: Routledge, 2003.

Pabis, Eszter. “A múlt hosszú árnyéka: Történelempolitika és az emlékezés kultúrája Németországban 1945 után” [The past and its long shadow: History politics and the culture of remembrance in Germany after 1945]. Klió, no. 1 (2008). Accessed October 31, 2016. http://www.c3.hu/~klio/klio081/klio103.html.

Radley, Alan. “Artefacts, Memory and a Sense of the Past.” In Collective Remembering, edited by David Middleton and Derek Edwards, 46–59. London–New Bury–New Delhi: Sage, 1990.

Radnóti, Sándor. “Mi a Terror Háza?” [What is the House of Terror?]. Magyar Múzeumok 2 (2003): 6–9.

Rényi, András. “A retorika terrorja: A Terror Háza mint esztétikai probléma” [The Terror of rhetoric: The House of Terror as an aesthetic problem]. In idem. Az értelmezés tébolya: Hermenutikai tanulmányok [The folly of interpretation: Hermeneutic essays], 215–31. Budapest: Kijárat, 2008.

Rév, István. “A Terror Házának előképeiről” [Archetypes of the Terror House]. Élet és Irodalom 47, no. 10 (2003). Accessed October 31, 2016. http://www.es.hu/rev_istvan;a_terror_hazanak_elokepeirol;2003-03-10.html.

Seres, László. “Andrássy út 60” [Andrássy Avenue 60]. Élet és Irodalom 46, no. 6 (2002). Accessed October 31, 2016. http://www.es.hu/seres_laszlo;andrassy_ut_60;2003-01-03.html.

Sztompka, Piotr. “Cultural Trauma: The Other Face of Social Change.” European Journal of Social Theory, no. 4 (2000): 449–66.

Takács, Miklós. “A kulturális trauma elmélete a bírálatok tükrében” [The theory of cultural trauma from the perspective of its critics]. Studia Litteraria, no. 3–4 (2011): 36–51.

Terror Háza website. Accessed July 17, 2017. http://www.terrorhaza.hu/en/museum.

Ungváry, Krisztián. “A káosz háza” [The house of chaos]. Magyar Narancs, no. 10 (2002). Accessed October 31, 2016. http://magyarnarancs.hu/konyv/a_kaosz_haza-59381.

Williams, Paul. “The Afterlife of Communist Statuary: Hungary’s Szoborpark and Lithuania’s Grutas Park.” Forum for Modern Language Studies 44, no. 2 (2008): 185–98.

1 György, “Elveszett nyelv.” If not marked otherwise, all of the quotes from Hungarian texts are my translation.

2 Echoing the Hungarian translation of the Internationale, “a múltat végképp eltörölni,” which is a close translation of the French original: “du passé faisons table rase.”

3 Memento Park website.

4 House of Terror website. Although the English introduction to the website only mentions the need to “erect a fitting memorial to the victims and at the same time to present a picture of what life was like for Hungarians in those times,” the Hungarian variant is more specific about “those times”: “Forty-six years had to pass for 60 Andrássy Street, this neo-renaissance building, to resurrect truly. The authorities, who were defending the communist state at the cost of the sufferings and violent deaths of many, only left the palace in 1956.”

5 Williams, “The Afterlife of Communist Statuary.”

6 Light, “Gazing on Communism.”

7 Ungváry, “A káosz háza.”

8 Rényi, “A retorika terrorja.”

9 See for instance Frazon and K. Horváth, “A megsértett Magyarország” for an in-depth description of the issue.

10 At the time of my last visit in October 2016, the “original” cucumber jar was back in place.

11 Apor, “Rethinking History,” 329.

12 Radnóti, “Mi a terror háza?.”

13 Rényi, “A retorika terrorja.”

14 Mark, “Criminalizing Communism?,” 62.

15 James, “Fencing in the Past,” 302.

16 Ibid., 304.

17 Nadkarni, “Making the Past,” 203.

18 James, “Fencing in the Past,” 294.

19 Radnóti, “Mi a Terror Háza?”

20 Rényi, “A retorika terrorja.”

21 Assmann,Texts, Traces, Trash,” 129.

22 Stephen Greenblatt begins his book Shakespearean Negotiations with the following sentence: “I began with the desire to speak with the dead,” identifying the voice of the past in the textual residues it leaves behind, and the act of reading them: “It was true that I could hear only my own voice but my own voice was the voice of the dead, for the dead had contrived to leave textual traces of themselves, and those traces make themselves heard in the voices of the living.” Greenblatt, Shakespearean Negotiations, 1.

23 Ibid., 132.

24 Gumbrecht, The Production of Presence, xv.

25 Ibid., 2.

26 Although there at least two English translations of the poem, I felt it necessary to provide a more faithful, yet less artistic interpretation, since the exact meaning of the original poem is not transmitted in either of the English translations with which I am familiar, even if my rendering destroys the inherent presence effects, such as the rhythm and rhyme of the original poem.

27 The House of Terror website features a photo on which the entire plate is behind another one, with the Soviet crest on it.

28 György, Az ismeretlen nyelv, 10–11.

29 An approximately 30 second-long piece, played in an infinite loop while visitors wait in line.

30 The history curriculum of the 7th grade ends with World War I.

31 One of my respondents mentioned Call of Duty and Battlefield, while another one named Metro 2033 and Red Faction, neither of which is strictly about communist dictatorships. Other, similar video games, such as Command & Conquer: Red Alert or Red Orchestra, could also be mentioned.

32 This is the very last sentence of the information sheet for the Everyday Life room, which might as well be regarded as an underlying concept for the entire museum.

33 In addition, their reluctance to say negative things might also be attributed to the fact that due to my position as a researcher, they regarded me as a representative authority (much like a teacher of some sort), and they sought to comply with what they thought I expected to hear. In future research, this observer’s paradox could perhaps be overcome if I were to spend extensive time with the adolescents.

34 Terror Háza website.

35 Ungváry, “A káosz háza.”

36 Mark, “Criminalizing Communism?” 77.

37 See for example Apor, “Rethinking History,” Ungváry, “A káosz háza” or K. Horváth, “The Redistribution of the Memory of Socialism,” Mark, “Criminalizing Communism,” among others.

38 György, “A terror háza/A terror topográfiája.” In the same work, he also dismisses Statue Park as a “Disneyland-ghetto of state socialist sculptures.”

39 Assmann, Der lange Schatten der Vergangenheit, 218.

40 Pabis, “A múlt hosszú árnyéka.”

41 K. Horváth, “The Redistribution of the Memory of Socialism,” 270.

42 Terror Háza website.

43 Takács, “A kulturális trauma elmélete a bírálatok tükrében,” 49–50.

44 Hutcheon, Irony’s Edge, 85.

45 Quoted by Nadkarni, “Making the Past,” 194.

46 To resolve the apparent contradiction in terms, cf. Hutcheon, “Irony, Nostalgia and the Postmodern”: “Our contemporary culture is indeed nostalgic; some parts of it—postmodern parts—are aware of the risks and lures of nostalgia, and seek to expose those through irony,” 206.

47 Nadkarni, “Making the Past,” 201. Ilya Afanasevich Ostapenko was a Soviet soldier who was killed during the Siege of Budapest. A statue of him by Jenő Kerényi was erected in 1951 at a major road intersection on the outskirts of Budapest. The statue was taken down in 1992.

48 Sztompka, “Cultural Trauma,” 457.

49 Ibid., 454.

50 Assmann, Cultural Memory, 50.

51 Sztompka, “Cultural Trauma,” 458.

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.

Koerner, András. Family, Religious, and Social Life, Learning, Military Life, Vacationing, Sports, Charity. Vol. 2 of How They Lived: The Everyday Lives of Hungarian Jews, 1867–1940. Budapest: CEU Press, 2016.

Lőcsei, Pál, and Mária Neményi. Emberpár és család az államszocializmusban, 1945–1985: Válogatott családszociológiai írások [Couples and family under state socialism, 1945–1985: Selected writings on family sociology]. Budapest: Gondolat, 2008.

Mankowitz, Zeev W. Life between Memory and Hope: The Survivors of the Holocaust in Occupied Germany. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2007.

Róth, Ernő. “Az Aguna kérdéséhez” [On the question of agunah]. Az Országos Rabbi Egyesület Értesítője [Bulletin of the National Rabbi’s Association], August 1946, 14–19.

Standeisky, Éva. “Tétova újraértelmezések” [Hesitant reinterpretations]. In Tudomány és ideológia között: Tanulmányok az 1945 utáni magyar történetírásról [Between science and ideology: Essays on Hungarian history writing after 1945], edited by Ádám Takács and Vilmos Erős. Budapest: ELTE Eötvös Kiadó, 2012.

Stark, Tamás. “Vándormozgalom a vészkorszak után” [Migration after the Holocaust]. In idem. Zsidóság a vészkorszakban és a felszabadulás után 1939–1955 [The Jewry during the Holocaust and after the liberation, 1939–1955], 90–108. Budapest: Institute of History, Hungarian Academy of Sciences, 1995.

Stein, Arthúr. A zsidók anyakönyvei és konskripciói [Registry and conscription papers of Jews]. Vol. 2 of A felekezeti anyakönyvek Magyarországon [Denominational registries in Hungary]. Budapest: Neuwald, 1941.

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.

Toronyi, Zsuzsanna. “Halachikus problémák a neológiában 1945-1950 között” [Halakha problems in neology in 1945–1950]. In Küzdelem az igazságért: Tanulmányok Randolph L. Braham 80. születésnapjára [Struggle for the truth: Essays in honor of the 80th birthday of Randolph L. Braham], edited by László Karsai and Randolph L. Braham, 723–30. Budapest: Magyarországi Zsidó Hitközségek Szövetsége, 2002.

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.

Volume 6 Issue 3 CONTENTS



Introduction to the Special Issue:
Migration and East Central Europe – a Perennial but Unhappy Relationship

Ulf Brunnbauer

IOS – Regensburg


In March 1929, the ambassador of the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes sent a query to the Kingdom’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. His message concerned the repatriation of immigrants who were citizens of the country but were of Magyar or German ethnic background:

Since these people had left our Kingdom dissatisfied with the new conditions, and because they represent an alien ethnic element which is of no use to our national state – on the contrary, according to the embassy’s opinion it should be in our interest that there are as few of these people as possible, especially in the border areas –, the embassy kindly requests instructions from the Ministry as to whether the return of these people is opportune.1

Five months later, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs replied:

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs has the honor of informing the Royal Embassy that requests for repatriation to the Kingdom by our citizens of Magyar and German nationality should be dismissed under whichever pretext. The return of these a-national elements to our country must be obstructed to the furthest extent possible.

Obviously, the government of the Kingdom wanted to impede the return of citizens who were not considered part of the South Slavic nation, while “Yugoslav” emigrants were encouraged to return. The same reasoning based on a notion of ethnic selection also applied to applications for permission to leave the country. In 1924, the Ministry for Social Policy, which was responsible for emigration affairs, informed its departments that the emigration of so-called “a-national” families should be encouraged, while “national” families should be denied permission to emigrate. In 1925, the same ministry sent a circular to the Department for State Security with the following declaration:

Regarding the emigration of national minorities the Ministry shares the view that their emigration must be favored. The relevant authorities have agreed and maintain their interest in this issue; from that it follows that this is the official line for implementing emigration policies.

In 1926, the director of the Kingdom’s Emigration Commissariat in Zagreb, Fedor Aranicki, joyfully reported to the Minister for Social Policy that almost half of the emigrants who had left the country over the course of the few years that had passed had been “a-national” elements, and he recommended setting higher goals for the future: “One of the tasks of our emigration policy is to exert influence over the emigration of the a-national minorities in the future as well, in order to return the affected regions to their original national character.”

Fast forward some ninety years and the region appears still to be obsessed with the connection between migration and ethnicity. Control of migration continues to be seen as a tool of nation-building, and officially spread fears of immigrants underpin the legitimacy of increasingly authoritarian governments. Today, though, attention is paid primarily to immigration. The Visegrád governments in particular excel in promoting xenophobic stances in their concerted efforts to prevent the immigration of people seen as innately alien and unassimilable. Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orbán uses his hardline policies against refugees from the Middle East to portray himself as the defender of Europe against imagined Islamization. Polish strongman Jaroslav Kaczynski claims that refugees and immigrants would spread unknown diseases, and in doing so he ironically employs stereotypes similar to those prevalent (and used) in Germany in the first years of the twentieth century, when the public began to grow increasingly concerned about the millions of Eastern Europeans (among them many Poles) traveling through Germany on their way to North America.

Similar to interwar Yugoslavia, East Central and Southeast European governments pursue a highly selective policy of entry: while they present non-European immigrants as mortal dangers, they invite co-ethnic citizens of neighboring countries to immigrate and generously extend citizenship to them. Hundreds of thousands of citizens of Moldova and Macedonia have enjoyed the privilege of receiving, respectively, Romanian and Bulgarian passports, only to use them to settle in one of the prosperous countries in Europe. Two things seem obvious: conceptualizations of international migration are highly ethnicized or even racialized. People’s alleged cultural or biological properties determine whether they are welcome or not, not for instance economic of humanitarian considerations. Second, public and political attitudes towards migration are closely tied to deep-seated anxieties, including fears of loss, alienation, domination, and marginalization, and these fears can be easily exploited by populist politicians.

One of the factors contributing to these fears is the demographic crisis in which all of the countries of the region find themselves, though to different degrees. What the Hungarian demographer Attila Melegh has pointedly termed “demographic emptying” underpins much of the hysteria about defending the nation and ensuring its survival (right-wing populists would rather see their nation die out than to let migrants in). Similar fears about emigration as a loss to the nation sparked attempts to restrict it a century ago. As Tara Zahra has persuasively shown in her recent book, political debates about international migration in East Central Europe and the Balkans have been closely tied to perceptions of marginalization and peripherality and visions of state development since the late nineteenth century.2

East Central and Southeastern Europe past and present offer textbook examples of what Sebastian Conrad examines in his seminal global history of the (pre-1914) German Empire:3 the globalization of the flow of labor, goods, and ideas breeds its own contradiction in the form of nativist responses, which define belonging not in terms of shared citizenship, but in terms of narrow kinship solidarity, i.e. “blood” vs. cosmopolitan ideas. This contradiction is hardly new. Transnationalism and nationalism flourish not only in tandem but even in a synergetic or parasitic relationship. These ironies, however, are usually lost on nationalists. In the most extreme case, this connection is not ironic but fatal: extreme nationalisms regularly produce waves of refugees, which generate new transnational entanglements, both on the level of everyday social interactions and on the level of high diplomacy.

Here again, the Balkans and East Central Europe offer a great deal of material for comparative research, for example on refugee accommodation strategies after World War One and today, resettlement practices in empires and nation states, and international relief efforts in the interwar period and after 1945. Large-scale refugee movements, such as the flight of almost 1.5 million Greeks from Turkey to Greece in 1923, were met with new patterns of state intervention. The Balkans and Central Europe in the interwar period and again after 1945 were essential laboratories for the development of international refugee protection mechanisms which still exist today and which we now see crumbling in Europe as, one by one, the countries of the region ignore their obligations according to the Geneva Convention. The politics of asylum is, unfortunately, terribly ignorant of its history.

The close link between nationalism, nation-building, and migration is not the only continuity in the rich migration history of the region. East Central European and Balkan societies have also faced an almost constant pressure to emigrate for economic reasons. With the exception of the period of communist rule, when voluntary emigration was banned or highly restricted in all of the states of Eastern Bloc (with the exception of Yugoslavia), significantly more people left the region than immigrated to it. Under communism, these streams were partially redirected to domestic destinations (for example, from rural settlements to larger cities or to areas from which German speakers had been expelled). This points to the structural position of the region in the international division of labor. It is a reservoir of relatively cheap labor from where, most of the time, workers go to places where capital can employ them, and not the opposite way round (though the inflow of foreign direct investment after 1989 has somewhat reversed this relationship). In many ways, the region can therefore be considered a laboratory for the study of the long-term (and also short-term) effects of migration and the ways in which the dynamics of economic migration interrelate with state-building and political change.

As a social process with manifold, complex and often contingent cultural, economic, and political consequences, migration has shaped the societies of East Central and Southeastern Europe in many, often unforeseen ways. It helped connect the region with global currents, but it also regularly was met with nationalistic backslashes which aim to reinforce borders and state control over movement. Yet despite the widely recognized significance of migration for the past and present of the region, the scholarship about it is still very unbalanced, with important lacunae, especially with regard to its history. This was motivation enough for the Hungarian Historical Review to solicit contributions for a special issue on the history of migration and refugee movement in East Central Europe and the Balkans. The editors hope that this initiative will be another step in firmly putting the region on the map of international historiography about migration. The late Holm Sundhaussen’s call to consider the history of Southeastern Europe as a history of migration (and to strengthen research efforts towards that goal) should not have been in vain.4

The articles in this issue explore a wide range of topics, and their geographic and chronological spread is also broad. Taken together, they not only highlight the importance of migration for the history of all the countries of the region, they also make clear that the current hysteria about migration is misplaced: first, because migration has been a fact of life for centuries and second, because societies prove remarkably successful in the integration of newcomers in the long term. Migration is one of the driving forces of cultural innovation, and more often than not, its economic benefits outweigh its costs. The articles also point to one of the many paradoxes of migration: while it is often a result of constraints, despair, or even violence, it also offers a chance for individual agency. Migration is linked not only to fears but also to hopes. Its consequences can never be predicted because each act of migration creates new social interactions, which in turn generate new dynamics which ultimately can change underlying social structures. But this is precisely the business of historians: to reveal the structural determinants of human life on the one hand and highlight the contingent practices enabled (and constrained) by these structures on the other. Hindsight teaches us at least one lesson: history never ends.

1 This and the following quotes are from Ulf Brunnbauer, Globalizing Southeastern Europe. Emigrants, America and the State since the 19th Century, (Landham, Md.: Lexington, 2016), 236–38. See also: Ulf Brunnbauer: “Emigration Policies and Nation-building in Interwar Yugoslavia,” European History Quarterly 42, no. 4 (2012): 602–27; Aleksandar R. Miletić, Journey under surveillance: The overseas emigration policy of the kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes in global context, 1918–1928 (Berlin–London: Lit, 2012).

2 Sebastian Conrad, Globalisierung und Nation im Deutschen Kaiserreich (Munich: Beck, 2010).

3 Tara Zahra, The Great Departure: Mass Migration from Eastern Europe and the Making of the Free World (New York–London: W.W. Norton & Company, 2017).

4 Holm Sundhaussen, “Geschichte Südosteuropas als Migrationsgeschichte: Eine Skizze,” Südost-Forschungen 65/66 (2006/2007): 422–77.

Volume 6 Issue 3 CONTENTS



Integration Through Confession? Lutheran Migration from Upper Hungary to Sibiu After 1671 – Isaak Zabanius

Sever Cristian Oancea

University of Frankfurt am Main

In Memoriam Prof. Krista Zach

This study addresses the Hungarian migration in the Early Modern Era from Upper Hungary to Transylvania, focusing primarily on the biography of the Slovak Lutheran theologian Isaak Zabanius. Beginning with current historiography debates and covering the spectrum of anthropologic social historical views, it follows the exile story of this migrant, beginning with his departure for Toruń and Danzig (today Gdańsk, Poland) until his final settlement in Sibiu (Hermannstadt). I address two main questions in this article: did Zabanius migrate to Transylvania for confessional reasons, or was he motivated by economic considerations? How did he integrate into Transylvanian Saxon society? The contemporary sources indicate that he came to Transylvania because of his social network and only after having been given a position at the gymnasium of Sibiu. His integration was a success: he and his offspring became part of the local elite by ascending into the highest church and occupying political positions. Social integration in this case also represented assimilation and Germanization.

Keywords: Early Modern Transylvania, confessional persecution, Upper-Hungarian exile, confessional migration, Isaak Zabanius

The period after the conspiration of Count Ferenc Wesselényi represents one of the darkest times of Hungarian Protestantism. The Habsburgs endeavored to follow the Bohemian model and forcefully implement the Westphalian (1648) credo, cuius regio eius religio. Hundreds of Lutherans were convoked and some of them were put on trial in Bratislava (Pressburg by its German name and Pozsony in Hungarian). They were arrested and coerced to admit having been part of a conspiracy against the Habsburgs. Protestant churches and schools were confiscated or closed, and Protestant services were forbidden.1 Even radical measures against the Protestants were not unheard of in the high Catholic clerical circles.2 Under these circumstances, protestants from Upper Hungary (the territory which today is the state of Slovakia), i.e. Lutherans and Calvinists, had only two alternatives: either convert to Catholicism or emigrate.3

Confessional (e)migration was a common and mass phenomenon in Europe in the seventeenth century.4 The exiled man [Lat. exul] was a familiar baroque personage, like the nobleman, the burgher, the priest, or the convert.5 This was an enduring phenomenon and was widespread in the Habsburg Monarchy in the Early Modern Era,6 as scholars have clearly demonstrated over the course of the past decade.7 Thomas Winkelbauer refers to hundreds of thousands of confessional émigrés between 1598 and 1660.8 Hungarian migration after 1670, to the extent that it has caught the attention of scholars over the course of the past ten years, was focused mostly on the German Lands. It was perceived as an important part of the confessionalization process9 meant to discipline disobedient subjects.10 Considered more from the social and cultural historical perspectives, it was defined by Eva Kowalská as a mostly elite and confessionally “motivated” movement.11 The lives of migrants in exile, the success or failure of their integration, and their self-perception became focal subjects of study for the reputed Slovak scholar.12 However, the subject of emigration from Upper Hungary and notably the Spiš region (Zips in German, Szepes in Hungarian, and Spiş in Romanian) to the so-called “blessed Land” (Paul Philippi) of Transylvania and especially the city of Sibiu (Hermannstadt in German, Nagyszeben in Hungarian] has been not integrated into the current historiographic debates. This sub-field of the scholarship on migration still suffers an acute “backwardness” compared to the scholarship on other areas of Central Europe.

Studies on Early Modern Spiš Lutheran migration to Sibiu in the seventeenth century are not a historiographic novelty. A list of the exiled pastors and theologues was drawn by Johannes Bureus13 and the phenomenon also captured the interest of Lorenz Sievert, teacher of mathematics and physics at interwar Sibiu. By focusing primarily on the life of the silversmith Sebastian Hann, Sievert reopened a path into this research area. He provides us with the names of some thirty emigrants from the Spiš region, and also their places of origin and professions. Moreover, he assessed their emigration as a phenomenon conditioned by confessional considerations.14 Later studies on this topic focused mostly on notorious craftsmen and artists already mentioned by Sievert, or on what current debates refer to as technology or cultural transfer.15 Reasons for confessional migration were reassessed, together with the policies adopted by the city to attract qualified people.16 The stress was put on the German ethnicity of these subjects, a thesis to which some nuance should be added. The question became a research topic in the frame of the Transylvanian Saxon publication “Siebenbürgische Familienforschung.”17 Still, during my last discussion with the recently deceased German scholar Krista Zach during a friendly meeting in Cluj (Kolozsvár in Hungarian, Klausenburg in German) in 2015, we agreed that there is still much to be done on this research area. The issue of religious mobility and the “real” reasons for emigration demand deeper analysis, as does the mere question of the number of emigrants. The journeys of the common emigrants to Sibiu and their lives there are a blank page in the history books, and the question of the welcomes these migrants were given by the local guilds and churches is still insufficiently researched. The theology and political stances of the emigrants have also been quite neglected.

This study addresses the migration of Lutherans from Upper Hungary to Sibiu from the point of view of a social historian. My approach is not exhaustive, as I intend only to address some of the questions raised above, primarily by relying on the biography of the Lutheran theologue Isaak Zabanius (1632–1707).18 Drawing on a model of analysis used in the field of social-cultural history and anthropology (i.e. motivations for migration and exile evolution, reception, integration, and “cultural transfer”), I assess the peculiar meanings of these terms in the concrete case of the Transylvanian Saxon Lutheran city of Sibiu. The published and unpublished sources (most of which are Church sources) and theology books on which I draw have allowed me to reevaluate the biography of Isaak Zabanius and, to some extent, to correct, revise, and add to our knowledge of this famous Lutheran theologue. My comparison of his life with the lives of other exiled theologues and craftsmen refugees in Sibiu integrates his exile story into the history of migration from Upper Hungary and the history of Slavic migration to Transylvania during the second half of the seventeenth century. As the sources are descriptive and leave generous interpretative space, I will construct my arguments on the issue of identities. In order to do this, first it is important to assess the significance of the fact that Zabanius was both an exile and a theologue. “Exile fellow” is a term of Lutheran origin initially meaning exiled man. The term “Exul Christi” is found in the theological literature and was connected to the abandonment of office or the expulsion of Lutheran clergy around the Augsburg Interim (1548). Later, it also was used to refer to other groups which explained their migration as a decision influenced at least in part by confession.19 According to Eva Kowalská, Hungarian contemporaries used this term to designate “people who were deprived of their offices as a result of governmental regulations and the direct actions of the authorities, and those who were banished from their parishes and from the country as religious outcasts and suffered poverty as a result.”20 The analysis must take into account the importance of the status of “exile,” but it also must not fail to consider the importance of Zabanius’ clerical identity, i.e. a special consciousness or what Luise Schorn-Schütte defined as “Sondernbewustsein.”21 Thus, we must keep in mind that “historical analysis must therefore hold on to both paths of knowledge, which act as mutual constraints, and try to determine, and thus to explain, the typical form of mental disposition, of social activity, and of institutional structures.”22 Applying this to Zabanius, I will answer the following questions: was Isaak Zabanius an exiled Lutheran theologue in Sibiu? Until now, literature has generally assessed his career success, but how easily did he move in an Orthodox Lutheran Transylvanian Saxon society? What was his political and confessional behavior after he had settled in Sibiu? Can we speak of his family’s integration as well?

A Town Sui Generis:
Transylvanian Saxons and Hungarian Lutherans in Sibiu

Sibiu is a city in southern Transylvania. It constituted the capital of the so-called Saxon Land or King’s Land, and it enjoyed a large degree of political and church autonomy since the Middle Ages.23 According to the town constitutions from 1598, only free Germans could be granted citizenship, as they had exclusive rights on the Saxon territory.24 The nobles were not allowed to settle, though the constitutions of 1598 made some exceptions for people from foreign countries and nations. Physicians, surgeons, and “procurators,” for instance, could be granted citizenship under specific conditions.25 Once having become a citizen of the town, one could buy a house, be admitted into the guild and the community of the one-hundred men [Hundertmannschaft], and even serve on the town council. The constitutions did not impose Lutheranism as a sine qua non, but the apology of Albert Huet clearly designates Lutheranism as a main “nation” feature. The Saxons adopted the Wittenberg reforms in the sixteenth century, and the “confessio augustana invariata” became a mandatory norm for all burghers of the Saxon Land, and any apostasy from this faith after 1621 could represent an act of treason against the Saxon nation.26 Whether this signifies a “Volkskirche,” as it is deemed by positivist historians (for instance Georg Daniel Teutsch), remains an open question, as it was years ago, when Krista Zach addressed this issue.27 Certainly, Sibiu represented a homogenous German Lutheran town with a well determined social structure as established by the cloth orders (Kleiderordnungen). The Orthodox Romanians and Greeks lived around Sibiu, but they did not enjoy any right to citizenship, very much like the Hungarian nobility in the seventeenth century. Although the Andreanum (1224) prescribed the theoretical equality of all burghers of this territory, the social stratification of the town became vertical in the Middle Ages and remained vertical well into the Modern Era.28 Beginning in the seventeenth century, the term “elite” designated primarily a member of the town council,29 whereas the Apafi Era brought about the emergence and rise of a new social class, the intelligentsia: town inspectors, outstanding guild masters, clergy and teachers.30 Still, most of the burghers were craftsmen and artisans, as the list of burghers from 1657 clearly shows.31 Did this confessional and social reality appeal to the persecuted and exiled Lutherans from eastern Upper Hungary?

Seventeenth-century migration to Transylvania32 and Sibiu was constant.33 Compared to other Early Modern European migration waves, we can assess only individual or family settlements in Sibiu. Lorenz Sievert refers to some thirty-three Spiš migrants in the time frame 1647–76. About eighteen of them migrated before 1672. Surprisingly, the period after the trials of Bratislava was not characterized by massive migrations. People did not migrate en masse. On average, there were only one or two migrants per year (including the family when it was the case). The accuracy of the data presented by Sievert still needs to be researched, but in the absence of the Lutheran register with the deaths in Sibiu during the second half of the seventeenth century, it would be very difficult to assess what the real number of the Spiš migrants was, or how many of them settled down permanently in Sibiu. In as little as we are informed about their towns of origin, we have on the list the relatively compact region of Spiš and its surroundings: Dobra (Kisdobra in Hungarian), Prešov (Preschau in German, Eperjes in Hungarian), Kremnica (Kremnitz in German, Körmöcbánya in Hungarian), Kežmarok (Käsmark in German, Késmárk in Hungarian), Levoča (Leutschau in German, Lőcse in Hungarian), and Rožňava (Rosenau in German, Rozsnyó in Hungarian). It is not always easy to determine someone’s “ethnic” background, but names like Elias Ladiver, Elias Nicolai, Andreas Rutkai, Jeremias Stranovius, and certainly Isaak Zabanius clearly suggest that, the interpretations found in the historiography up until now notwithstanding, the alleged German ethnicity of the migrants from Upper Hungary should be reassessed. The Slovak component should be taken into consideration, as should their assimilation and quick Germanization in the span of only one generation. Their journeys to Sibiu have only rarely been studied. Instead, the documents used by Sievert (church records, testaments, guilds registers) reveal the professions of most of the migrants. About thirteen of the migrants presented by him were craftsmen and guilds “servants” (Ger. Knechte, Geselle). Others were the two town riders, one carpenter, one book binder, one organ builder, a writer (scriba), a goldsmith, two musicians, a chemist, a pharmacist, and five literati, namely Johann Fabricius, Elias Ladiver, Georg Hirsch, Isaak Zabanius, and his eldest son, Johann Zabanius.34 These literati migrated to Sibiu after the trials of Bratislava. The extent of their acceptance on account of their confession into the Saxon community is little known. The contemporary church annals, chronicles, and diaries show scarcely any interest in these migrants, and in most cases mention only individuals. Thus, in his ecclesiastic annals, David Hermann refers to a letter from the Transylvanian Prince Mihály Apafi, who demanded the intervention of the Lutheran Superintendent with the kings of Denmark, Sweden, and the Saxon Elector in favor of the protestants of Upper Hungary, who were persecuted by the Catholic Clergy.35 There is little evidence of any confessional solidarity with the persecuted brothers from Upper Hungary. Thus, one must ask whether these migrants were really perceived as exiled protestants in Sibiu. Were there other reasons which would demand further investigation? As in the case of the conversion phenomenon in Early Modern Europe, the high number of people involved makes it impossible to identify every single “reason.” A more contextual analysis would be more supportive and might well yield some answers.

The Exile Story of Isaak Zabanius

The life of Isaak Zabanius offers an interesting case for the study of how a migrant to a new community perceived himself, how he was perceived by his contemporaries, and how he behaved in confessional and ecclesiastical contexts. Zabanius was born to a Lutheran family from Brodzany (Brogyán in Hungarian). His father was the Lutheran nobleman and pastor Johann Zabanius and his mother was Sophia Niecholcz. He attended the university of Wittenberg, where he received the academic title “Magister” under the dean Georg Caspar Kirchmayer (1657–59). After having returned to Upper Hungary, he received the office of gymnasium con-rector (1661) thanks to the intervention of Johann Bayer and the chair for polemical theology and theological worldly wisdom (1669) in Prešov. He lost his office due to the changes of 1670s, and, according to the sources, he ended up in penury. Three years later, his school in Prešov was closed. From this moment on, the choices he made suggest that he perceived himself as a persecuted and exiled Lutheran.36 He first fled to Toruń (Thorn in German), a Pomeranian town with many Lutherans from Upper Hungary. Some of them later left for Transylvania as well.37 From here, Zabanius went to Gdańsk (Danzig in German) in January 1674, a place where he strove to obtain an office, but as had been the case in Toruń, he failed.38 His experience in Gdańsk was typical of the exile, who faces an insecure future, as expressed in the exile exegetes for cases of other refugees.39 From this point on, his experience of exile was to change radically. His mobility was no longer a response to confessional constraints. Rather, he chose a destination where he would be confessionally secure. Unlike most of his fellow exiled fellow, he traveled to Transylvania and never returned home.

The contemporary Johann Burius situates Zabanius and other theologues from his circle as exiled fellows in Transylvania,40 an assessment that requires more profound explanations. Social networks and friendships functioned during the Early Modern Era just as they do today. Sources mention that Zabanius came to Transylvania thanks to the interventions of Georg Femger, a former colleague from Prešov and a pastor in Sebeş (Mühlbach in German, Szászsebes in Hungarian). Femger intervened on Zabanius’ behalf with the Saxon bailiff from Sibiu, Andreas Fleischer, who eventually approved Zabanius’ appointment as an instructor at the Sibiu gymnasium, and public funds were used to finance his voyage to Transylvania.41 Moreover, the sources suggest that his migration to Transylvania was mainly due to promptings by Elias Ladiver and Johann Fabricius, two of his former colleagues in Upper Hungary.42

Indeed, Zabanius presented himself as a persecuted Lutheran “exul,” but only until 1677, the year when he assumed his office at the Sibiu gymnasium: “cum in exilio vixis sum ad annum usque 1677” and “vis exillium passus.”43 Moreover, contemporary sources and the eighteenth-century Transylvanian Saxon historiography acknowledged his status as an exiled Lutheran, who had had to flee due to the persecution and hatred propagated by the Catholic or Pontifical clergy in Hungary.44 These assessments describe his flight to Toruń and Gdańsk, but his decision to come to Transylvania was a consequence of his “penury” in these Pomeranian towns. Had he not been offered the office of teacher, he might well not have come to Sibiu. This question might be worth raising, if not in the case of theologues who fled to Transylvania from the very beginning,45 at least in the cases of craftsmen who were usually described in the literature as persecuted protestants from Upper Hungary. Did they settle in Sibiu as part of a flight from persecution, or did they come to the relatively prosperous city in pursuit of stable livelihoods?

Eighteenth-century sources mention that Zabanius was welcomed in Sibiu and appreciated for his work at the gymnasium.46 There is little mention of his being regarded as a foreigner, a Slav, or a Slovak.47 Apparently, this was not an issue, much as it was not an issue in other cases when Slovaks were granted citizenship, perhaps only because of their profession and confession. Moreover, when he ran for the parish office in Hannersdorf in 1685, he lost to another village priest, as Zabanius was not considered a Slovak, but a German, he was not given the parish under the pretext that the community would not properly understand the sermons.48 He advanced in his career as a pastor only two years later, when he was ordinated pastor in Gârbova (Urwegen in German, Szászorbó in Hungarian) by his old Prešov schoolmate, superintendent Michael Pancratius.49 One can only guess whether his attainment of the parish office was connected to the fact that Pancratius had been elected superintendent only one year earlier and had supported Zabanius, but there is no direct evidence of any such link. Afterwards, Zabanius enjoyed a quick ascension in his career. He received the parish office of Sebeş in 1690, and one year later, he was given the parish office in Sibiu, a city which became the capital of the Habsburg Principality of Transylvania. Moreover, he was elected dean of the Sibiu Lutheran Chapter. He died in 1707.

Undoubtedly his life represents both a success story in exile and a paradox. Unlike Ladiver and many other Hungarian Lutheran theologues from the German Lands who returned to Upper Hungary, Zabanius remained in Transylvania even after the Habsburg occupation in 1687. Under these circumstances, we may assume that he stopped playing the role of an exiled Hungarian and assumed the position (or identity) of a Transylvanian Saxon clergyman with origins in Upper Hungary. Having come from a region where the main rival of the Lutheran Church was Catholicism and not Calvinism (as was the case in Transylvania), Zabanius imported the traditional polemics with the Jesuits from Košice (Kaschau in German, Kassa in Hungarian), and thus we can speak of a transfer of theological culture. He was hardly inclined to make peace with the Catholic fathers, as he had been described negatively in the book by Lucas Kolich.50 Moreover, unlike his colleagues from the other Saxon towns, he was more “experienced” in polemics. He continued his fights against the Catholic Church, including for instance the debates concerning the irenics (theology focusing on the question of reconciliation with the Church of Rome and the creation of Christian unity) and the Holy Spirit. The conflict with the Jesuits became personal. He openly criticized the Sibiu Saxon Count Valentin Frank von Frankenstein for having supported the Jesuits in the town,51 and through his clerical mission to defend what he perceived as religious truth, he ended up in a conflict with his own son, the Saxon mayor of Sibiu, Johann Zabanius.52 Nonetheless, his confessional encounter with the Hungarian Calvinists and Unitarians determined his alignment to the local confessional reality: he published a book on the debates between the Calvinists and Unitarians.53 Furthermore, Zabanius became the most energetic advocate of the Lutheran community of Cluj in debates with the Unitarians and Calvinists (1695). In addition to his apologia for the reestablishment of the Lutheran cult in Cluj, there is a very important mention of how he perceived the interconnection between Lutheranism and Saxons: “compositam esse rem inter Ecclesiam et Saxones Reformatos, dictum est heri; sed ubi est unitas, ibi comparatione opus non est,”54 i.e. the Saxons must be united. This sentence can be interpreted to suggest that he had come to consider himself a “Saxon.”

Unlike Hungarian Lutherans who emigrated to the German Lands, Zabanius did not write an apologia of the exiled clergyman in Transylvania. There is no sign indicating that he aligned himself with the ideology of Georg Lani or other exile theoreticians. There is little sign that the protestants from Upper Hungary remained a segregated theological group or unified minority in Transylvania, as Zabanius ended up in a personal conflict even with his old friend Elias Ladiver. They exchanged blows during a synod on the issue of the existence of atoms. Instead of assessing his membership in the group of persecuted Lutherans, I would rather assess his status as a representative of the Transylvanian Saxon clerical estate and a defender of its privileges. He continued old local disputes with the local potentati politici on behalf of the chapter, and he faced the new issues created by the advent of the House of Austria in Transylvania through the eyes of a Transylvanian Saxon pastor. Very expressive in this sense is his rejection of the demands of the Romanian United (Greek Catholic) clergy on the Saxon tenths, his manifold demands on behalf of the Sibiu Lutheran chapter (well documented in the sources of the Sibiu Chapter), and his constant quarrels with the Saxon count and Lutheran Superintendent concerning the issue of Sibiu ecclesiastic jurisdiction. He integrated into the Transylvanian Saxon Lutheran Church.

From a social point of view, his family also succeeded in fully integrating, not only into the Saxon society, but even into the local town elites. Integration was successful in many other cases of migrants from Upper Hungary, as genealogists have pointed out (for instance, the notorious exiled Lutheran Johann Vest managed to integrate, as did Johannes Löw and the aforementioned Elias Nicolai).55 Zabanius’ eldest son Johann, after studying in Tübingen and becoming Magister in theology (1688), married Elisabeth, the daughter of the Saxon bailiff Johann Haupt, in 1690. Instead of following the family tradition and becoming a theologian, he entered into the service of the town, and he ascended the professional ladder very quickly, much as his father had. He was appointed provincial notary in 1690, he represented the interests of the Saxon nation in Vienna in 1691, and he was ennobled by Leopold I and given the title Sachs von Harteneck. He was also elected mayor of Sibiu and later Saxon bailiff. Eventually, he became a martyr of the Transylvanian Saxons, after being executed in 1703 due to a conspiracy.56 His second son Jakob (later Sachs von Harteneck, 1677–1747) married Anna Maria Bakosch, the daughter of Sibiu town councilor Johann Bakosch, and became chair judge. His third son, Daniel Zabanius (later Sachs von Harteneck, 1680–1720), married Katharina Fabritius in 1701 and later Katharina Schirmer, the daughter of a pharmacist. He became a merchant. Zabanius’ daughter Rosina first married the pastor Johann Fleischer and later the pharmacist Michael Ahlfeld. As Harald Roth displayed in the genealogy, this family became part of the Transylvanian Saxon patriciate. They were integrated into the Sibiu political and social elites.57 The title Sachs von Harteneck is very revealing. It very clearly suggests that the family wanted to be “Saxon.” Moreover, eighteenth-century documents reveal that they abandoned the name Zabanius and remained known in collective memory as Sachs von Harteneck. In other words, they became a Saxon family.

The Catholic “seduction” of the eighteenth century also tempted members of Zabanius’ family: although most of the Harteneck family remained faithful to Lutheranism, a few members converted to Catholicism. This phenomenon was not uncommon. Indeed, it affected most of the patrician families of Sibiu, including the offspring of the notorious exiled Lutheran Johann Vest. Sebastian Vest converted to Catholicism in 1705 and thus became part of the Catholic patriciate.58

Final Considerations

Confessional migration to Sibiu during the second half of the seventeenth century differs in its meanings and motivations from the migration waves to the German lands. I am thinking of individual migrants and not large groups of migrants. Since Sibiu was Lutheran, “qualified” Lutheran subjects from Upper Hungary were well received. Their reasons for settling in Sibiu are open to interpretation, but I would suggest that economic considerations were more important than confessional ones. To the extent that it concerns his identity as a theologian, Isaak Zabanius’ status of “exile” applied more to the period before his arrival in Transylvania, i.e. the period when he lived in Toruń and Gdańsk. The insecure life in exile as presented by historians dealing with other European regions essentially matches his personal experience. Nonetheless, when he relocated to Sibiu, he ceased living a life in exile in the widespread understanding of the term, as he clearly pointed out after his arrival in Transylvania. His decision was influenced more by his social network and the help he was given by friends and colleagues from Prešov, as he came to Transylvania only after funds had been provided to cover the cost of his trip and he had been offered an office at the local gymnasium. He had the typical career of a successful Transylvanian Saxon Lutheran pastor, who fought for (what he perceived as) the theological truth. As an experienced polemist, he brought with him his earlier theological disputes with the Jesuits and accommodated to the local political and confessional reality, becoming an assiduous advocate of the Saxon Lutheran Church. His family represents a model of integration success à longue durée: it rose to the top of the Saxon social hierarchy, although the price was assimilation into the Saxon natio and a break with their Hungarian past. Certainly, the confession played an integrative role, as German and Slovak Lutherans were easier to assimilate than Catholic Germans in the eighteenth century. His profession also played a fundamental role. In revealing contrast, the masses of protestant peasants from Austria who were deported in the eighteenth century could not be integrated into the society of the town. His life story raises important questions concerning migration and integration patterns: had the migration of Lutherans from Upper Hungary to Sibiu in the seventeenth century taken place en masse, would it have been similarly successful? Had Catholic subjects migrated to Sibiu in the seventeenth entury, would the city have been so welcoming? These questions lead me to my conclusion: confession played an integrative role in Early Modern society. In this case, it also constituted a form and means of assimilation.


Archival sources


Arhivele Naţionale, Serviciul Judeţean Braşov [Romanian National Archives, County Archives of Braşov], Fond Colecţia de documente Biserica Neagră, Annales Ecclesiastici ab Anno Christi M.D.C.L.VIIII quo Cl. David suos finivit ad finem usque saeculi illius ex Documentis publicis adeoque authenticis et indubut continuata a Luca Graffio Ecclesiarum Augustanae Confessionis per Transilvaniam addictarum Superintendente. Descripti A 1762 diebus martii.

Arhivele Naţionale, Serviciul Judeţean Sibiu [Romanian National Archives, County Archives of Sibiu] (further quoted ANSJS), Fond Colecţia acetelor de stare civilă, 53

ANSJS, Colecţia de documente Brukenthal, B 1-5, no. 48: David Hermannii Annales Politici.

ANSJS, Colecţia de documente Brukenthal, H 1-5, no. 14: I.S.C. T., Von der Glaubens Verbesserung und ihrer Lehrern zu Hermannstadt in Siebenbürgen.

ANSJS, Colecţia de documente Brukenthal, H 1-5, no. 199.

ANSJS, Consistoriul Superior Evanghelic C.A., no. 1.

ANSJS, Episcopia Bissericii Evanghelice, Cutia 4, no. 123, 211.

Evangelisches Pfarramt Hermannstadt: Matricola Parochiae Cibiniensis

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Oancea, Sever Cristian. “Stehe Wanderer und beweine die Siebenbürger, die heute Freiheit und Privilegien verloren haben! Die ‘Wahl des Sachsengrafen Stefan Waldhütter von Adlershausen. Zeitschrift für siebenbürgische Landeskunde 38 (2015): 81–103.

Repčák, Jozef. Izák Caban, 1632–1707: personálna bibliografia. Prešov: Štátna vedecká knižnica, 1977.

Roth, Harald. “Einzelzuwanderungen nach Siebenbürgen.” Siebenbürgishe Familienforschung 4, no. 1 (1987): 18–31.

Roth, Harald. Hermannstadt: Keine Geschichte einer Stadt in Siebenbürgen. Cologne–Weimar– Vienna: Böhlau Verlag, 2006.

Roth, Harald. “Von den Hutteren zu den Landlern in Siebenbürgen.” In Glaubensflüchtlinge: Ursachen und Auswirkungen konfessioneller Migration im frühneuzeitlichen Osteuropa, edited by Joachim Bahlcke, 355–44. Berlin: LIT Verlag, 2008.

Roth, Harald. “Zur Geschichte und Genealogie siebenbürgisch-sächsischer Geschlechter. 5. Die Familie Zabanius Sachs von Harteneck.Siebenbürgische Familienforschung 3, no. 1 (1986): 1–12.

Schilling, Heinz. “Die frühneuzeitliche Konfessionsmigration.” IMIS Beiträge 20 (2002): 439–58.

Schorn-Schütte, Luise. “Prediger an protestantischen Höfen der Frühneuzeit: Zur politischen und sozialen Stellung einer neuen bürgerlichen Führungsgruppe in der höfischen Gesellschaft, dargestellt am Beispiel von Hessen-Kassel, Darmstadt und Braunschweig Wolfenbüttel.” In Bürgerliche Eliten in den Niederlanden und Nordwestdeutschland. Studien zur Sozialgeschichte des europäischen Bürgertums im Mittelalter und in der Neuzeit, edited by Heinz Schilling and Herman Diederiks, 275–36. Cologne–Vienna: Böhlau Verlag, 1985.

Schorn-Schütte, Luise. “Priest, Preacher, Pastor: Research on Clerical Office in Early Modern Europe.” Central European History 33, no. 1 (2000): 1–39.

Schuler von Lobloy, Friedrich. Materialien zur siebenbürgischen Rechtsgeschichte. 1. Merkwürdige Municipal-Constitutionen. Hermannstadt: Steinhausser, 1862.

Schunka, Alexander. “Emigration aus den Habsburgerländern nach Mitteldeutschland: Motive und soziale Konsequenzen.” In Staatsmacht und Seelenheil: Gegenreformation und Geheimprotestantismus in der Habsburgermonachie, edited by Rudolf Leeb, Susanne Claudine Pils, and Thomas Winkelbauer, 333–46. Vienna–Munich: R. Oldenbourg Verlag, 2007.

Schunka, Alexander. “Lutherische Konfessionsmigration.” Europäische Geschichte Online. Accessed January 31, 2017. http://ieg-ego.eu/de/threads/europa-unterwegs/christliche-konfessionsmigration/lutherische-konfessionsmigration.

Seivert, Gustav. Die Stadt Hermannstadt: Eine historische Skizze. Hermannstadt: Steinhaussen, 1859.

Sievert, Johann. “Sebastian Hann. Ein Beitrag zu seiner Lebensgeschichte.“ Mitteilungen aus dem Baron Brukenthalischen Museum N.F. 2 (1932): 5–36.

Steiner, Stephan. Rückkehr unerwünscht: Deportationen in der Habsburgermonarchie der Frühen Neuzeit und ihr europäischer Kontex. Vienna: Böhlau, 2014.

Szegedi, Edit. “Confesionalizarea” [The confessionalization]. In Istoria Transilvaniei Vol II (de la 1541 până la 1711) [History of Transylvania, from 1541 to 1711], edited by Ioan Aurel Pop, Thomas Nägler, and András Magyari. Cluj-Napoca: Centrul de Studii Transilvane, 2005.

Szinnyei, József. Magyar írók élete és munkái XIV [The Lives and Works of Hungarian Writers XIV]. Budapest: n.p., 1908.

Szirtes, Zsofia. “Andreas Gunesch: Fides Saxonum in Transylvania (1697): Történeti apológia az erdélyi Habsburg-uralom kezdetéből” [Andreas Gunesch: Fides Saxonum in Transylvania (1697). Historical apology from the beginning of Habsburg Rule in Transylvania]. Levéltári Közlemények 82 no. 2 (2011): 78–123.

Terpstra, Nicholas. Religious Refugees in the Early Modern World: An alternative history of the Reformation. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2015.

Trausch, Joseph. Schriftstellerlexicon oder biographisch-literarische Denkblätter der Siebenbürger Deutschen III. Kronstadt: Krafft, 1871.

Van Der Linden, David. Experiencing Exile: Huguenot Refugees in the Dutch Republic, 1680–1700. Fanham: Ashgate Publishing Limited, 2015.

Várkonyi, Ágnes. “Az önálló fejedelemség utolsó évtizedei (1660–1711)” [The last decades of the independent principality (1660–1711)]. In Erdély története [The history of Transylvania] Vol. 2. 1606-tól 1830-ig [From 1606 to 1830], edited by László Makkai and Zoltán Szász. Budapest: Akadémiai Kiadó, 1987:

Wagner, Ernst. “Zuwanderer aus der Zips und aus ‘Oberungarn’ nach Siebenbürgen bis zum Ende des 18. Jahrhunderts (I).” Siebenbürgishe Familienforschung 4, no. 1 (1987): 1–17.

Wagner, Ernst. “Zuwanderer aus der Zips und aus ‘Oberungarn’ nach Siebenbürgen bis zum Ende des 18. Jahrhunderts (III): Die Nachkommen des Orgelbauers Johann Vest.” Siebenbürgishe Familienforschung 7, no. 2 (1990): 83–85.

Winkelbauer, Thomas. Ständefreiheit und Fürstenmacht: Länder und Untertaner des Hauses Habsburg im konfessionellen Zeitalter. Vol 2. Vienna: Verlag Karl Ueberreuter, 2003.

Zabanius, Isaak. Amica Consideratio Eorum, quae Fratres Unitarii, in Apologia sua contra Reformatos, paucis ab hinc annis, publicae luci exposuerunt. Hermannstadt: n. p., 1705.

Zach, Krista. “Religiöse Toleranz und Stereotypenbildung in einer multikulturellen Region. Volkskirchen in Siebenbürgen.” In Das Bild der anderen in Siebenbürgen: Stereotype in einer multiethnischen Region, edited by Konrad Gündisch, Wolfgang Höpken, and Michael Markel, 109–54. Cologne–Weimar–Vienna: Böhlau Verlag, 1998.

1 See the general presentation at Fata, “Glaubensflüchtlinge,” 520–22.

2 Bahlcke, Gegenkräfte, 102–17.

3 Eva Kowalská refers to a crisis of conscience engendered in this context. See Kowalská,Seelenheil,“ 354.

4 For a typology of confessional migration in Early Modern Europe see the concise analysis by Schilling, “Frühneuzeitliche Konfessionsmigration,” 67–89. A generous description of the phenomenon as an alternative to the Reformation is found in Teprstra, Religious refugees.

5 Bobková, “Exulant,” 297–326.

6 See in this regard the book by Stephan Steiner, Rückkehr unerwünscht.

7 See the articles by Jörg Deventer, Eva Kowalská, Regina Pörtner, Harald Roth, Arno Strohmeyer, and Thomas Winkelbauer in the book edited by Bahlcke, Glaubensflüchlinge.

8 Winkelbauer, Ständefreiheit, 192.

9 This paradigm most recently revised with further literature in Holzem, Christentum, 7–32.

10 Fata, “Glaubensflüchtlinge,” 519; Kowalská, “Confessional exile,” 230.

11 Kowalská, Konfesia; Idem, Exil als Zufluchtsort.“

12 Kowalská, “Georg Lani.” For a typology of the Hungarian exile perception see also Kowalská, “Günther, Klesch, Lani,” 49–64.

13 Burius, Micae historico-cronologica, 170, 171.

14 Sievert, “Sebastian Hann,” 6-8.

15 Krasser, “Sigismund Moss,” 117–40; Guy Marica, Sebastian Hann.

16 Roth, Hermannstadt, 123.

17 Wagner, “Zuwanderungen I”; “Zuwanderungen III”; Roth, “Einzelzuwanderungen.”

18 Selected published biographies of Isaak Zabanius: Szinnyei, Magyar irók, Schriftssteller Lexikon, 513–32; Mikles, Izák Caban; Repčák, Izák Caban.

19 Schunka, “Konfessionsmigration,” 3.

20 Kowalská, “Confessional Exile,” 234.

21 Schorn-Schütte, “Prediger,” 284.

22 Schorn-Schütte, “Priest,” 6.

23 Roth, Hermannstadt, 3–56.

24 Seivert, Die Stadt Hermannstadt, 395: “...keine auswärtige Nation, es sei Ratzen, Walachen, Ungarn, Horvaten, Wallon, Spanier, Franzosen, Polacken oder dgl. zu keinem Hauskauf oder auch Bestand [zugelassen werden]… unsre Nation in deutschen Städten, Märkten und Stühlen wie auch in dieser Stadt nichts anders wünschen, begehren und suchen als Gottes Ehre, des Landesfürsten Nutz, züchtiges stilles Leben und wachsen beianander.”

25 Schuler von Libloy, Municipal-Constitutionen, 111.

26 Szegedi, “Confesionalizarea,” 257.

27 Zach, “Religiöse Toleranz,” 110–14.

28 See Gündisch, “Oberschicht,” 3–21.

29 Gündisch, “Soziale Konflikte,” 60.

30 Várkonyi, “Az önálló fejedelemség,” 837.

31 Albrich, “Bewohner,” 256–90.

32 See Roth, “Hutteren,” 335–44,

33 In the Sibiu chapter marriage records, I could identify only a few migrants for whom the place of origin is mentioned. Most of them were German servants (Knechte): ANSJS, 53.

34 Sievert, “Sebastian Hann,” 6–8. When Johann Zabanius emigrated to Transylvania, he was only fourteen years old. He could not have been a “literatus.”

35 Lucas Graffius, Annales, 14.

36 ANSJS, Consistoriul, 665.

37 Ďurovič, Slovenčine, 370–78.

38 Ďurovič,Izáka Cabana”, 121–37.

39 See for instance Van der Linden, Experiencing exile, or Schunka, “Emigration.”

40 Burius, Micae historico-chronologicae, 106.

41 Trausch, Schriftssteller Lexicon, 524.

42 I.S.C.T., Glaubensverbesserung, 107, 108.

43 ANSJS, Consistoriul, 665, ANSJS, Episcopia, IV, 123.

44 David Hermanii, Annales, “Hoc anno inter alios exules ex Hungaria, atroce a Clero Pontificio Persecutionem patiente celebrimi quoque viri M. Isacus Zabanius cum universa sua familia conjuge scil. tribus filiis magne filia, et Elias Ladiver in Transilvania se receperunt....,” Matricola Parochiae, 31: “Zabanius itaque hoc modo patria extoris Gedanum profectus est, incertus consilii, quo possimum se ac rem suam familiarem sustentsaret.”

45 For instance, the Calvinists from Eastern Upper Hungary, Juhász, “Ellenreformáció,” 186–92.

46 I.S.C.T., Glaubensverbesserung, 107, 108.

47 ANSJS, “Natione Sclavicis ex Hungaria,” 366.

48 ANSJS, Brukenthal, H 1–5, no. 199, 46.

49 ANSJS, Consistoriul, 665, ANSJS, Episcopia, IV, 123.

50 Kolich, “Praefatio ad lectorem.”

51 Szirtes, “Fides Saxonum,” 85.

52 ANSJS, Episcopia evanghelică, IV, 211.

53 Zabanius, Amica considersatio.

54 I.S.C.T., Glaubensverbesserung, 116.

55 Zentralarchiv, Löw, 503/331: Johannes Löw married in Sibiu in 1681. His daughter Maria married a craftsman from the town in 1700 and they had a daughter, Maria, who also married a craftsman.

56 Trausch, Schriftssteller Lexicon, 523–31.

57 Harald Roth, “Geschichte und Genealogie.“

58 For eighteenth-century conversions to Catholicism see Oancea, “Catholic seduction” and Oancea, “Stehe Wanderer.”

Volume 6 Issue 3 CONTENTS



From Forced Migration to New Patterns of Social Life: Bulgarian Refugees in Teleorman County, Romania, in the Nineteenth Century1

Stelu Şerban

Institute for South East European Studies, Bucharest

The aim of this paper is to discern the insertion strategies of the Bulgarian migrant waves to Wallachia, focusing on Teleorman County as a case study. The largest waves of Bulgarian migrants to Wallachia occurred in the first half of nineteenth century as a consequence of the two Ottoman–Russian wars. Teleorman County is a special case, as with its four urban centers, it had more such settlements than any other county in Wallachia. The Bulgarian migrants to Teleorman settled mainly in these centers. One must draw a distinction between the patterns of the upper social strata (which included city dwellers, merchants, and landowners) and the “common” Bulgarians, who lived in rural areas and worked in the fields and gardens. I focus on the urban strategies of insertion in the first half of the nineteenth century and on the ways in which these strategies persisted in the latter half of the century, with the foundation of the city of Alexandria as a privileged site. I offer sketches of the lives of important Bulgarophone families from Teleorman and contextualize their experiences in the framework of urban and economic development.

Keywords: Bulgarian migrants, Wallachia, social strategies, urban development


Bulgarians came to Romania as migrants over the course of several centuries, especially to the southern part of the country, Wallachia, where they settled on the boyars’ estates, becoming tenant farmers. However, the largest waves of Bulgarian migrants arrived in the first half of the nineteenth century during the two Ottoman–Russian wars.2

In this context, the case of Teleorman County is at first sight significant given the relatively large size of the Bulgarophone population.3 Thus, looking beyond some exaggerations concerning the number of such migrants,4 the statistics for 1838 indicate that, after the two Russo–Turkish wars, the number of Bulgarophone families in Wallachia reached almost 12,000,5 with 1,400 of them settled in Teleorman County.6

What is really significant, however, is the large number of families settled in the county’s four towns or townlets, namely, Ruşii de Vede (today Roşiori de Vede), Zimnicea, Alexandria, and Mavrodin. With its four urban centers, as shown by the 1838 census, Teleorman had more such settlements than any other county in Wallachia. The Bulgarian migrants who came to Romania in the first half of the nineteenth century settled mainly in these centers. Thus, of the 1,400 Bulgarian families that remained in Teleorman, 520 settled in the four towns of the county.7 Teleorman differed from other counties in this respect too, since between 1831 and 1848 it occupied the third place among the counties entitled to organize fairs (83 of them), after Vlaşca and Dâmboviţa Counties.8

The aim of this paper is to discern the insertion strategies of the waves of Bulgarian migrants who arrived in Wallachia in the first half of the nineteenth century, focusing on Teleorman County as a case study. The central contention is that the arrival of waves of Bulgarian migrants and the further consolidation and growth of their communities overlapped with the accelerated economic and urban development of the Wallachian principality. The Bulgarians made use of the incentives and opportunities generated by this wider process, and within two or three generations, they had integrated into Wallachian society. Moreover, though they lost their ethnic identity, they perceived their integration as a success. On the one hand, the Bulgarophone population was not exclusively focused on one type of modern economy linked to capitalism and social modernization. Furthermore, as the geographic dictionary authored by Pandele Georgescu,9 a former Teleorman prefect, shows, the Bulgarophone migrants who settled in villages adapted to the local subsistence economy. However, the migrants adopted these strategies only as means of adapting. On the other hand, there was a current of modernizing ideas, the promoters of which were foreign landowners and traders, like, in Teleorman County, the Serbian prince Miloš Obrenović and the Bulgarian merchants. The coping strategies adopted by Bulgarian migrants were largely based on this newly emerging urban network and of their increasingly significant place in the trading exchanges. A good illustration of this fact (i.e. the importance of the emerging urban network in the coping strategies adopted by the Bulgarian migrants) is the foundation in 1834 of the town of Alexandria, in which Bulgarian traders played significant roles. In the second part of this article, I examine the case of Alexandria in connection with two stories of successful Bulgarophone families.

Settling the Migrants

Apparently, there was a locality with a Bulgarian population in Teleorman County before 1700, but scholars have not reached any consensus on which settlement it actually was.10 It is certain, however, that in this area, as in fact was the case in all of Wallachia, in the first years of the nineteenth century localities with Bulgarophone populations suddenly seemed to emerge. Thus, there is evidence of one locality in Teleorman County before 1739, one between 1769 and 1774, and one between 1793 and 1806, to which 23 were added between 1806 and 1814 and 19 between 1828 and 1834. The total number of settlements with inhabitants originating from the eastern side of the Danube, Bulgarians in their majority, in the counties in Wallachia in the same periods of time was 6, 32, 14, 174, and 198, respectively.11 The aggregate number of 424 spots in all of Wallachia is impressive, even if we take into account the high mobility of the migrant population. This total number, as well as the evolution of the Bulgarophone population over the course of different time periods, proves that its emergence was caused by the Russo–Turkish wars of 1806–12 and 1828/29.

The reaction of the Wallachian administration was positive. With the assistance of the representatives of the Russian army, they attempted to keep the migrants in Wallachia with various fiscal incentives, the most common of which was an exemption for up to 10 years from property taxes.12 Still, these efforts were only partly successful, as only some of the Bulgarians decided to stay. The rest of them either returned to their homeland or was resettled by the Russian administration in southern Bessarabia.13

In addition to the upheavals caused by the wars, the policy of the Wallachian administration also facilitated the creation of this Trans-Danubian economic and social network. At the end of the eighteenth century and the beginning of the nineteenth, the administration in Wallachia implemented a series of tax exemptions for commercial activities carried out in the capitals of the Ottoman rayas on the left side of the Danube, namely Brăila, Giurgiu, and Turnu, the commercial and social effects of which spread to the neighboring towns and townlets.14 Furthermore, due to the Adrianopole Treaty and the liberalization of trade on the Danube in 1829, these commercial and urban centers spearheaded social and economic change on both sides of the Danube.15 As for Teleorman, pair cities on both sides of the Danube emerged and grew, such as Turnu–Nikopol and Zimnicea–Svištov.

At the same time, the Wallachian administration also took a series of coherent steps in certain specific situations, such as the forced migration of the Bulgarophone population during the Russo–Turkish war of 1828/29 and the detailed regulations aimed at settling the immigrants coming from the right side of the Danube, which were debated and voted on in the Communal Assemblies of Moldova and Wallachia.16 They provided for the appointment of deputies of the immigrant Bulgarophone population who would participate in legislative assemblies and thus be able to present issues pertinent to this population. Later, the Bulgarophone population elected Vasil Nenovič, who was continuously and persistently active.17

The origin of these representatives is not accidental. The conditions favoring the development of trading activities in Wallachia, especially after 1829, enticed traders from the entire region of southeastern Europe.18 The Bulgarian merchants, who were important because of the size of the community they represented and their geographical proximity, played a significant role in the Wallachian economy and in internal and regional political networks. They often tried to change certain geopolitical contexts to their own advantage, for instance through their involvement in the events of the 1848 revolution in Wallachia.19 One might also think of the Georgiev brothers, very successful traders from Bucharest, who supported the unification of the two Romanian principalities after the Crimean War.20

In addition to the upper stratum of immigrants who brought forward evolution strategies, many local landowners hired the majority of the Bulgarophone population to work on their estates, thus integrating them into the local traditional family-type economy. I identified local landowners in 10 villages populated by Bulgarian immigrants in Teleorman County in the 1830s.21 In only two of these villages were the Bulgarians settled on monastery properties. The rest of the properties were owned by higher-ranking or lower-ranking rulers (so-called “dregători”)22 or by their relatives.

Most of these landowners, who were Romanian ethnics, owed their position and wealth to the social shifts which took place at the end of the eighteenth century, brought about by the Phanariote reforms. Their upward move on the social ladder was due to their appointment as “dregători” by the Phanariote rulers. Still, there were among them people who were not Romanian, including Greeks, Serbs, or Bulgarians. They had all come into conflict with the local boyars and members of boyar families before the start of the Phanariote era at the beginning of the eighteenth century. There was an intense and explicit opposition by the boyars to the appointment of newcomers to positions in the administration, which found expression at the end of the eighteenth century in many memoirs and the taking of public stands.23

The competition between these two top groups in Wallachian society was also based on the creation of often fictitious kinship and alliance networks intended to carry forward the surnames and properties. The cases of future Wallachian rulers, such as Gheorghe Bibescu or Barbu Ştirbei, who came to power after the removal in 1821 of the Phanariote rulers, are good examples in this respect. It should be added that the middle boyars used the same strategies.24

The presence of the Bulgarian merchants in these kinds of social networks in Wallachia is significant because it promoted the integration of the two waves of Bulgarophone migrants in the first half of the nineteenth century.25 Representatives like Vasil Nenovič belonged to a category well positioned in Wallachia’s social and economic structure, and they acted as political, social, and economic mediators in the process of integrating the Bulgarian immigrants.26 I will illustrate this in the case of Teleorman County with the examples of the Butculescu family, a native family which received many Bulgarian immigrants on its lands, and the Deşu family from Veliko Tuˇrnovo, according to some sources, or Pleven, according to others. In the early nineteenth century, members of the two families began to marry.

The most prominent member of the Butculescu family was Marin (1760–1830), a resident of Ruşii de Vede. Marin was a descendant of a modest family. His genealogy began with Mihai Butculescu (1505–68), also called Roşioru, an elite cavalry (roşiori) captain.27 Marin was born in Slatina, in the neighboring Olt County. In 1799, he married Maria Mihăescu, from an Olt County family which had never had a prominent place in the ruling hierarchy. In 1800, Marin Butculescu was a middle treasurer (biv treti vistiernic). He then became a grand serdar, an army commander member of the group of Divan boyars. Marin funded the painting of a church in Ruşii de Vede, in the founding of which his family had participated. The church had been erected in 1780 by Marin’s father, Ion Butculescu, and his father’s uncle, Radu Butculescu.28 In 1811, Marin Butculescu moved the entire townlet to the opposite bank of the Vedea River to protect it from frequent flooding.29 In 1829, Marin Butculescu was appointed prefect (ispravnic) of Olt County by the Russian administration, after having served as a tax executor (mumbaşir) in the Russian army in 1828.

Marin Butculescu had large properties in Teleorman and in the neighboring Argeş County as well, but he settled Bulgarophone refugees only on the two properties in Teleorman, in Sârbii Sfinţeşti, today Gratia, and Ţigăneşti Calomfireşti, near the future town of Alexandria.30 The origins of the two Teleorman estates are indicative of the strategies of the Butculescu family: one had been inherited (the one located at Sârbi Sfinţeşti), while the other (Calomfireşti) had been purchased by him in 1808, partly from the common land owned by free peasants (moşneni) and partly from the Bucharest monastery of Cotroceni.31

One of Marin Butculescu’s brothers, Gheorghe, born in 1765, also had a military position, that of şetrar, and was married to Manda Deşu, the daughter of Tudor Deşu, a Bulgarian settled as a postelnic in Ruşii de Vede at the end of the eighteenth century. Manda’s brother was Andrei Deşu, also known as “the Serb from Târnova”.

Andrei Deşu (1786–1882) offers the best example of the insertion strategies of the Bulgarian ethnics in the Wallachian social hierarchy in the first half of the nineteenth century. The son of a Bulgarian ethnic settled in Ruşii de Vede at the end of the the eighteenth century, Deşu extended its network of influence over the entire territory of the Wallachian principality. Deşu was appointed vice-treasurer (vtori vistier) by Grigore Ghica in 1827,32 against the backdrop of a large campaign aimed at “cleansing” the Wallachian administration of the Phanariote cadres.33 Grigore Ghica the IVth became in 1822 the first native ruler after the end of Phanariote period, which had begun in Wallachia more than one century before (1716). Holding the position of vice-treasurer, in the 1830s, Deşu acted as a mediator between the immigrant Bulgarian traders and the local landowners by purchasing portions of the Brânceni and Smârdioasa estates. The Bulgarian traders who immigrated in 1830 together with those who had immigrated two decades earlier were aiming to found the town of Alexandria. Nevertheless, although they expressed a strong interest in the estates purchased by Deşu, they feared that Deşu would attempt to swindle them. The traders rejected the offer, and Deşu was left with the estates.34 But he sold them later to Miša Anastasiević, an important figure of Serbian immigration to Wallachia.35

At the same time, Andrei Deşu became active in Wallachian politics in the first half of the nineteenth century. People said of him that he would have been a Wallachian or Serbian candidate for rule,36 but that seems an exaggeration. However, there is a lot of data suggesting that he organized the revolts against Ottoman rule in Brăila in 1841–43. He would have been the main provider of funds, along with the Serbian envoys of Miloš Obrenović.37 For these acts he was put in prison until 1848 at the Telega salt mine. This is why he did not participate in the 1848 revolution in Wallachia, but of his sons, Ionuţ, a land leaseholder himself in Teleorman and holder of a minor administrative position (that of pitar), fired his weapon in 1848 at the Organic Regulations (hanging on a wall) in the main square in Ruşii de Vede.38

Still, in terms of family alliance strategies, Deşu preferred local connections, first with the Butculescu family, which, as mentioned above, was highly influential in Teleorman and, moreover, was important in the settlement of the Bulgarian immigrants. Also, Andrei Deşu became related through his wife, Bălaşa, to another highly influential Teleorman family, the Depărăţeanus. The three related families, Butculescu, Depărăţeanu and Deşu, funded the construction of the main Ruşii de Vede parish churches,39 a very telling sign of their social position.

The case of Andrei Deşu illustrates the subsequent evolution of the Bulgarian ethnics against both the precise backdrop of the waves of Bulgarian immigrants and the larger backdrop of their adaptation to Wallachian society. They used the emerging urban network, the importance of trading exchanges, and new networks of power and influence. As we will see in the next sections, the opportunities these latter frames offered were used by the next generation of Bulgarian immigrants, though the social, political, and economic context changed. In this sense, the foundation of the town of Alexandria constitutes a telling example.

In Search of an Urban Life

In the second half of the nineteenth century there were no longer large waves of Bulgarian immigration across the Danube, in spite of the outbreak of two new Russo–Turkish wars between 1853 and 1856, the Crimean War, and the 1877/78 war. Having participated in these two wars, even indirectly, or in the preceding events, the Bulgarophone people already had important social and economic positions. Moreover, the powerful Bulgarian intellectual and economic diaspora in Wallachia ended up making a bridgehead for the Bulgarian movement for empowerment in the face of the domination of the Ottoman Empire, including through shadow governments capable of leading the new Bulgarian state.40

Bulgarian immigrants held such important positions because they had adopted successful economic and social strategies, as shown in the previous section of this essay. After 1850, the second generation of immigrants would continue the same strategies, adapting them to new social contexts. One of the most efficient ways in which these strategies were used was through the settlement of the Bulgarian population in the Wallachian urban area. As I argued at the beginning of this paper, the case of Teleorman County is relevant in this respect.

Still, after 1850, the Bulgarian immigrants had to cope with two questions linked to the more general context of social change in the entire Wallachian principality. The first concerned the removal of the bureaucratic system of ranks and functions (dregătorii) of the Phanariote era. This measure, which was mentioned in the political program of the 1848 revolution in Wallachia, was achieved in the following decade in spite of the revolution’s failure. A string of reforms implemented by Barbu Ştirbei, the new Wallachian ruler, and the express introduction of these measures in the peace treaty signed after the Crimean War in 1856 led to the replacement of the Phanariote bureaucratic system by a model inspired by the modern bureaucracies of West European countries.41 The Bulgarian community of immigrants, which used (as exemplified by the case of Andrei Deşu) the Phanariote system of appointment in administrative positions, had to adapt its social strategies accordingly. And it did so successfully, engaging in local competitions for politic and bureaucratic positions. The cases mentioned below of the Repanovici and the Noica families are good examples of this.

The second aspect stems from the economic modernization of the Wallachian principality triggered by the post-1829 liberalization, which continued throughout the nineteenth century. The mushrooming of the trading network (a process in which Teleorman County occupied a leading place), the circulation of goods (including real estate properties), and the demand for monetary capital to fund such activities was exploited successfully by immigrants from southeastern European countries, including Bulgaria. One could mention, for instance, Serbian immigrants active in Teleorman County, such as the aforementioned Miša Anastasiević or the former Serbian ruler Miloš Obrenović, or even members of the other Serbian ruling family, Karageorgević. They all owned large estates purchased with funds obtained from various commercial activities, while another portion of the funds was lent, including the Wallachian government.42 Since the eighteenth century, loans had also been given to the boyars and the government by Bulgarian traders, a practice which continued into the next century.43

The founding of the town of Alexandria illustrates and embodies the link between the migration of the Bulgarian population into Teleorman County and the shift of the region’s political economy towards relative urbanization and the adoption of market economy relationships. The town was founded in 1834 with the active involvement of Bulgarian traders and craftsmen. The town’s administration was made up from the outset of a group of 52 individuals, who pooled together the amount of money necessary to purchase the land on which the town was founded. Half of the founders originated from the townlet of Mavrodin, which itself had been founded in 1810 in part by traders who had immigrated from Svištov after the destruction of Svištov by fire. The other half originated from Zimnicea, where traders who had immigrated in 1810, also from Svištov, lived. The ethnicity of the town’s founders is not mentioned. Some of the Alexandria monographers argue that they were Bulgarian,44 although one finds among them people whose names sound Romanian and even Aromanian.45 They had the official permission of the ruler Alexandru Ghica, who in 1840 issued a deed in which he acknowledged the privileges of the new town. As a matter of fact, the town’s name was given in the honor of and as an act of gratitude for the ruler. The initial group was organized as a council with preferential rights in favor of the founding members, such as the preemptive right, and collective decision-making procedures.

Another urban project, this time a failed one which nevertheless merits mention, since in a way it mirrors the foundation of Alexandria, was the aforementioned attempt to establish a town on a portion of the Mavrodin estate by the Serbian prince Miloš Obrenović.46 Mavrodin was established as a townlet in 1810, when the şetrar Constantin Mavrodin won, after a long lasting and extremely controversial trial, portions of the surrounding estates. By establishing the townlet, he thought, as Constantin Gane puts it in his work dedicated to the Mavrodin family (a family with many branches), of helping “the poor Shishtovians,” but he had in mind the idea of profiting from tax cuts for goods sold there.47 In 1825, Constantin Mavrodin died suddenly, and the estate was taken over in exchange for a debt by a man named Hristofor Sachelarie, who was married to a member of the Bălăceanu family, to whom the Mavrodin family was related. The two families also owned neighboring estates in the northern part of Teleorman County. Sachelarie sold the estate in 1835 to prince Miloš Obrenović. The prince had a cadastral survey made in 1850 for his share of the Mavrodin estate with the intention of building a new urban settlement. He submitted an application to the Romanian government in 1860, but the spot he had requested was not given governmental approval. Instead, a nearby place on the right bank of the Vedea river was offered as the new site. Land sale announcements in the Official Gazette followed. The name of the new town should have been Cuza, after the name of the ruler of the two Romanian principalities, which had just been unified. But the ruler disagreed. Miloš died in 1860, and his son Mihail carried on with the project, which was continued under the name town Buzescu. But Mihail was assassinated in 1868, and the project failed. In 1885, Mavrodin was a village inhabited by only 320 families.48

Having as the town of Alexandria as a center, the Bulgarians succeeded in gaining top positions in the social and economic life of local society. The town enjoyed considerable local autonomy until the administrative reform of 1864.49 Instruction in most of the schools was in Bulgarian, and this reflected the predominance of the Bulgarian population in the town.50 On the one hand, the Bulgarian population was cosmopolitan, with connections throughout southeastern Europe. This explains why education here was organized by figures like Hristo Zlatovič.51 On the other hand, there was an internal conflict with regard to attitudes towards Ottoman power between the radical Bulgarian groups, represented by Hristo Botev (who taught in the school) and some traders on the one hand and the descendants of the čiorbadzia, traders themselves as well, but mostly landowners, on the other.52

After 1875, the majority of the population became Romanian and Romanian cultural institutions developed.53 Subsequent demands by the Bulgarian population to reinstate education in Bulgarian were turned down.54 Under these circumstances and after the declaration of the Bulgarian autonomous state, which polarized a segment of the Bulgarian local elite, the Bulgarophone population, descendants of the immigrants who came in the first half of the nineteenth century from Alexandria and all of Teleorman County, preferred to declare themselves Romanians. This decision seems to have been strictly pragmatic, motivated by the political strategies of property capitalization and social development.55 Whatever the case, they proved successful once again. Two cases of Alexandria families support this argument: the Repanovici family and the Noica/Noikov family, both of which contributed to the town’s foundation in 1834.

Apparently, Avram Repanovici was the most enthusiastic of Alexandria’s founders, since he was the first person to erect his house on the territory of the future town. He also immigrated after the destruction of Svištov in 1810, and along with Genku Noikov/Noica and a few other representatives, in 1832 he negotiated the purchase of the land on which the town was built. Thus, he was one of the town’s founders.56 His son Anghel Repanovici took over his father’s business, by the mid-1860s he had become the most important merchant in Alexandria.57 His commercial connections included business with the Georgiev brothers in Bucharest.58 Still, he did not go beyond strictly commercial relations, as he did not extend his economic activities with agricultural land purchases. Anghel Repanovici got involved politically, developing connections with the Bulgarian radical militant Giorgi S. Rakovski, whom he supported in his work as editor of the newspaper Budušnost (“The Future”). He did not espouse radical options, however, and between 1870 and 1873 he was the town’s mayor.59

After 1880, Repanovici was a member of the Conservative Party, on behalf of which he ran several times in the local elections. As someone who held an important position in the party’s local branch, he was elected municipal council chair between 1889 and 1891, and he wrote a series of articles on the town’s Bulgarian past for the local party gazette, Vedea. The local liberal opponents often stigmatized him, referring to his ethnic origin and the links he maintained with Bulgarians from across the Danube.60

Much like Andrei Deşu in Ruşii de Vede, Anghel Repanovici remained a notable of the town in which he lived, Alexandria. Although the socio-political contexts are profoundly different in the two cases, they are examples of the plasticity and adaptability of the strategies espoused by the members of the two waves of Bulgarian immigrants in the first half of the nineteenth century to the north of the Danube. I conclude this paper with the case of the Noica family, descendants of Genku Noikov/Noica, himself a founder of the town of Alexandria. This case also constitutes an example of the various adaptation strategies adopted by the Bulgarian immigrants, from family alliances to competition for political positions and the accumulation of land.

From Merchant to Landowner

The Noica family became famous because of Constantin Noica (1909–87), a philosopher and prominent personality in Romanian public life. He and his family’s biography deserve consideration, even if Constantin Noica himself ignored this subject. Genku, his great grandfather, was among the participants in the foundation of the town of Alexandria, as Constantin Noica himself confessed.61 In truth, Genku Ilie Noica (1790–1858)62 is at the top of the list of the 52 traders and craftsmen who founded the town. Genku Noica came from the aforementioned Mavrodin, a townlet at the time, where he settled after immigrating along with a significant group of merchants after the destruction of Svištov in 1810.63

Seemingly, Genku Noica’s ethnicity was more a matter of trajectory than inheritance. Some of the authors of local monographs contend that he was of purely Bulgarian origins (though they offer no persuasive arguments in support of this contention), i.e. part of the significant group of Bulgarians who founded the town of Alexandria.64 What really matters, however, is that Genku Noica was strongly attached to the Bulgarian national cause, since his name was on the list of those who in 1842 ordered the book authored by I.N.Velinin, Zaradi vŭzrozhdenie novoi bolgarskoi slovenosti ili nauki (“For the rebirth of the new Bulgarian literature and sciences”).65 The book had been translated from Russian into Bulgarian, and it was intended to mobilize the Bulgarian intelligentsia which had emigrated to Wallachia. At the same time, Genku Noica knew Bulgarian, and he drew up the town’s administrative deeds.66

It was also argued that Genku Noica was an Aromanian,67and that he had been adopted by a Romanian family from Svištov, Ilie and Anica Dogaru. Genku was the biological son of Anghel Gigantu, a brother-in-law of Anica. The Gigantu family was Aromanian, according to an oral statement made by Emanuel Văcăreanu (1884–1916), the first person to draw up the Noica family tree. Ilie Dogaru acknowledged the adoption through a testament clause dated February 10, 1825.68 The Dogaru family emigrated from Svištov to Zimnicea and then to Mavrodin, where Genku came into conflict with his adoptive father. He subsequently left for Alexandria.

Genku Noica had two wives, Niculina,69 with whom he had three daughters, and Maria Constantinescu. Neither of Genku’s wives had prestigious social backgrounds. Iacovache, born in 1828 in Mavrodin, was Genku Noica’s son from his second marriage.70 In the testament concluded on February 1, 1857, the three daughters from his first marriage are mentioned, namely, Paraschiva, Teodosia, and Chiriaca. According to the will, he “[bequeathed] them movable assets and money, as much as I wish, and I agree with my sons-in-law according to the customs, by means of marriage contracts... as per my sons-in-law’s desire, and no other movable or immovable asset can be taken.” At the same time, he left Iacovache, his only son from his second marriage, “all the movable and immovable assets... and he will have to pay to whomever I owe something and receive from whomever owes me... and must organize and pay for my funeral and memorial services up to three years from my death.71 The bequeathed assets are not mentioned, but as I discuss below, when Iacovache died in 1890, a hotel that his father had left him in 1857 still existed.72

If Genku Noica’s ethnic origin is uncertain or simply multiple, since he belonged to a southeastern European culture in which multiethnic identities were not rare, especially with regard to elites, his son Iovache Noica nonetheless came to be one of the Teleorman liberal leaders in the 1880s. The notice of his death published in the local liberal journal Jos reacţiunea on October 14, 1890 (Iacovache died on October 5) says almost everything about the “adoption” of the Noica family: “He (Iacovache Noica) was a significant landowner with many town assets as well, he served twice as a deputy in the Parliament, a knight of the Royal House of Romania, and vice-chair of our local committee.” Unlike cases such as that of the conservative deputy Anghel Dumitrescu, who was censured in the local liberal press for having Bulgarian origins,73 Iacovache Noica’s ethnic origin was not questioned. Iacovache Noica was married twice,74 fathered 17 children, had daughters-in law, sons-in-law, etc. about whom one finds many references in the local press, including the conservative press. We can infer that he was a highly reputed local figure and had extended family connections.

In addition to being a political personality, he was also a real estate investor. The division of his inheritance in 1892, two years after death, reveals that Iacovache had accumulated significant and large land acreage, two estates—Frăsinetu and Schitu/Poienari, the first of 1,700 ha, the second of 570—a hotel in Alexandria (as it so happens, the only one in town), a residential house also in Alexandria, and granaries in the city of Giurgiu. This inheritance would be split in 12 equal portions, 9 corresponding to the two estates and three to the other three properties, and would be divided up by lots by the legal heirs.75 The resolve to invest in land seems to have been one of Iacovache’s later decisions. The first plots of the Frăsinetu estate were bought in 1881,76 through the purchase was only completed in 1888, when Iacovache acquired the debts that the previous owners had to the Rural Credit House.77

Among Iacovache Noica’s sons, three continued their father’s strategy, following both a political career and making investments meant to capitalize their wealth. Two of these sons, Andrei and Paraschiv, were initially members of the liberal party, though they switched sides and went over to the conservatives. Andrei Noica became conservative in 1897.78 He then served twice as the mayor of Alexandria,79 while Paraschiv Noica was already a member of the conservative party. Grigore Noica, Constantin’s father, opted for the conservatives from the very beginning. But he was not as dedicated to politics as his other two brothers. He authored articles on agriculture in the conservative newspaper Alexandria, which was published for a short period of time in 1903, and he also edited an independent agronomical journal intended for the large landowners of Teleorman County.

All three brothers were interested in capitalist investments in agriculture. In order to settle their father’s bequest and also to avoid having to fragment the estates, Andrei and Paraschiv Noica purchased half of the Vităneşti estate, which they ceded to their elder brother Grigore in 1904 in exchange for 280 ha as inheritance rights from their father.80 One year after having acquired the Vităneşti estate, Grigore Noica married Clemenţa Casassovici, who would later give birth to Constantin Noica.81 Whether intentionally or not, here too family affiliation was decisive. Clemenţa’s paternal grandfather was Ivanciu Casassovici, an Aromanian trader, according to the family history, and also a founder of the town of Alexandria after his 1810 emigration from Svištov to Zimnicea.82 The Vităneşti property was enlarged by Grigore Noica up to almost 2,000 ha, and it proved sufficient to sustain the family, which would live partly in the countryside and partly in Bucharest.83

The exchange with Grigore was for the estates from the Frăsinet village. These estates were first purchased by Iacovache Noica in 1881. Andrei and Paraschiv owned this property jointly, as they did in the case of other properties as well, until 1917. The division was forced by the arrest of the two brothers, who chose to remain at their estates after the government retreated to Iaşi as Romania became involved in World War I.84 As it so happens, Andrei Noica died a year later. The division deed included, along with the Frăsinet estate (which had been reunited by means of agreements like the ones concluded with Grigore), other land properties acquired together by the two brothers: two estates in the neighboring Vlaşca County with an aggregate area of 4,250 ha, two other estates in Teleorman County with an aggregate area of 1,420 ha, a mill and the Alexandria residence and hotel inherited from Iacovache, which had been overhauled and extended.85

The difference between the properties owned by the grandfather, Genku, the father, Iacovache, and the three brothers, Andrei, Paraschiv, and Grigore, illustrates the success of the Noica family’s economic strategies. Moreover, Iacovache’s sons engaged in local matrimonial alliances meant to strengthen and stabilize their growth. Grigore married a descendant of the Cassasovici family (a founding family of Alexandria which enjoyed similar success in climbing the social ladder), and Andrei Noica and Dimitrie Noica (the latter also a son of Iacovache) married either members of former local boyar families, such as Depărăţeanu and Burcă of Roşiori de Vede, or members of economically successful families, such as the Capră family, a former land leaseholder family members of which in 1900 worked large properties in Teleorman County.86 The Noica family case is also significant as an example of the traditional pattern of Bulgarian migration across the Danube as workers on agricultural holdings. Paraschiv Noica, for instance, often hired Bulgarian workers skilled in handling water extraction hydraulic equipment to work on his estates.87


The main stimulating factor which made the Bulgarophone population settle permanently in Teleorman County, as it did in all of Wallachia after 1800, was its inclusion in the area’s political economy and urbanizing social milieu. On the one hand, it was the active policy of the Wallachian government to integrate the Bulgarian migrants. As I have shown at the beginning of the first section in this article, the government took a range of measures to keep the Bulgarian migrants on Wallachian lands. This is even more obvious in the case of the second wave of migrants, whose arrival overlapped with the economic liberalization underway after the Adrianopole Treaty. The reasons for these policies were economic, but not related to the development of the rural areas and agriculture. The main target of the government policies was rather the groups of merchants, big leaseholders, and intellectuals who were able to participate actively in the urban and capitalist development of the principality. In this respect, the case of Teleorman County is telling, since at the time it was one of the most urbanized Wallachian counties. On the other hand, the Bulgarophone population easily entered the dense fabric of social and economic relations created by the vertical stratification of the landowners, land workers, and rural dwellers and also by the horizontal relationships of the large landowners. This population was made up of “common people” hired as tenants or simple agricultural workers and individuals engaged in land-related commercial and ownership relations. Particularly in the second half of the nineteenth century, this latter group became significant landowners who often hired members of the Bulgarophone population, either locals or migrants coming from the far side of the Danube. The motives brought forward by the novel economic relations gave rise in the first half of the century to collective projects undertaken by the Bulgarophone economic and social elites, such as the project of founding urban centers. This is how the town of Alexandria took shape, creating opportunities which were used by the Bulgarophones in the second half of nineteenth century to forge new adaptation strategies.



Archival sources

DJANG – Arhivele Naţionale ale Romaniei. Direcţia Judeţeană Galaţi/Romanian National Archives. Galaţi County Departament. Fond Inspecţia Fluvială/River Inspection Fund

DJANTr – Arhivele Naţionale ale Romaniei. Direcţia Judeţeană Teleorman/Romanian National Archives. Teleorman County Departament. Fond “Paraschiv Noica”/ “Paraschiv Noica” Fund


Alegătorul liber / Free elector, National Liberal Party journal, Alexandria, 1905.

Jos reacţiunea / Down with reaction, National Liberal Party journal, Turnu Măgurele, 1889–1901.

Vedea, Conservative Party journal, Alexandria, 1893–1898.


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Velichi, Constantin. “Emigrări la nord şi la sud de Dunăre în perioada 1828–1834” [Migrations at the north and south of the Danube between 1828–1834]. Romanoslavica 11 (1965): 67–116.

Velichi, Constantin. “Bulgarii din Ţara Românească participanţi la revoluţia burghezo-democratică din 1848” [Bulgarians in Wallachia participating in the 1848 revolution]. In Relaţii româno–bulgare de-a lungul veacurilor XII–XIX. Studii [Romanian–Bulgarian relationships from the 12th to 19th centuries. Studies]. Vol. 1, collective edition, 253–82. Bucharest: Editura Academiei RSR, 1971.

Veliki, Konstantin. “Materiali ot rumunski arhivi za bulgarskite emigranti vuv Vlashko (1831–1855)” [Sources from Romanian archives about Bulgarian immigrants in Wallachia (1831–1855)]. Izvestija na durzhavnite arhivi 64 (1992): 233–66.

Veliki Konstantin, and Veselin Trajkov. Bulgarskata emigratsija vuv Valahija sled rusko–turskata vojna 1828–1829: Sbornik ot dokumenti [Bulgarian emigration in Wallachia after the 1828–1829 Russian–Turkish war: Collection of documents]. Sofia: Izdatelstvo na BAN, 1980.

1 I pursued the research on which this article is based within the framework provided by the Institute for South East European Studies, Bucharest. I warmly thank Ms. Sanda Stavrescu, who allowed me to study the family archive of her grandfather Paraschiv Noica, and my colleague Andrei Sora for several bibliographical suggestions.

2 Velichi, “Emigrarea bulgarilor în Ţara Românească,” 27–57; Velichi, “Emigrări la nord şi la sud de Dunăre,” 67–116; Kosev, Paskaleva, and Diculescu. “Despre situaţia şi activitatea economică ,” 253–82; Roman, “Aşezări de bulgari şi alţi sud dunăreni în Ţara Românească,” 126–43; Trajkov and Jechev, Bulgarskata emigratsija v Rumunija; Mladenov, Bulgarskite govori v Rumunija.

3 According to the Ottoman traditional concept of state border, the Danube was a buffer area where people of various ethnicities were colonized (Popescu, “Ester au XVIe siècle – nouvelles contributions,” 193–94; Molnár, “Borders of the Ottoman Empire: Theoretical Questions and Solutions in Practice (1699–1856),” 34–44). Thus, alongside the refugees (most of whom were Bulgarian-speaking), Romanians crossed the Danube as well. See for instance, Romanski, Bulgarite vuv Vlashko i Moldova, 70–76, 99–116.

4 The number of the Bulgarians in the nineteenth century in Wallachia, Moldova, and Transylvania was estimated at 800,000–900,000 (Trajkov and Jechev, Bulgarskata emigratsija v Rumunija, 154).

5 Velichi, “Emigrări la nord şi la sud de Dunăre,” 108.

6 Ibid., 114.

7 Ibid.

8 Penelea-Filitti, Les foires de la Valachie, 66–67, 160–63.

9 Georgescu, Dicţionarul geografic.

10 Stănescu and Preda, Licuriciu. 29; Roman, “Aşezări de bulgari,” 142.

11 Ibid., 129.

12 Romanski, Bulgarite vuv Vlashko i Moldova, 152–56.

13 Velichi, “Emigrarea bulgarilor în Ţara Românească,” 52–54.

14 Kosev, Paskaleva and Diculescu, “Despre situaţia şi activitatea economică,” 284–85.

15 Hardi, “Spatial structure and urban types,” 59–73.

16 Veliki and Trajkov, Bulgarskata emigratsija vuv Valahija, 84–88; Trajkov and Jechev, Bulgarskata emigratsija v Rumunija, 96ff.

17 Velichi, “Emigrări la nord şi la sud de Dunăre,” 100–03.

18 Diculescu, Iancovici, Danielopolu and Popa, Relaţiile comerciale ale Ţării Româneşti.

19 Velichi, “Bulgarii din Ţara Românească,” 266–70.

20 Davidova, Balkan transitions to modernity, 47–48.

21 Mladenov, Bulgarskite govori v Rumunija, 31–47; Donat, Pătroiu and Ciobotea, Catagrafia obştească, 70, 151–64.

22 For the definition of dregători see Sachelarie and Stoicescu, Instituţii feudale din Ţările Române, 174–75. Basically, they were state-appointed bureaucrats who in exchange for a given privilege performed various tasks in the local and central government.

23 Georgescu, Istoria ideilor politice românesti, 187–88.

24 Iancu, “Defining the Patrimony,” 56–60.

25 Velichi, “Emigrarea bulgarilor în Ţara Românească,” 48.

26 Romanski, Bulgarite vuv Vlashko i Moldova, 376; Kosev, Paskaleva and Diculescu, “Despre situaţia şi activitatea economică,” 297.

27 Sturdza, Familiile boiereşti din Moldova, 623–38; Chefani-Pătraşcu, Moşieri teleormăneni, 62. Mihai Sturdza claims Butculescu died in 1632.

28 Stroescu, Oraşul Roşiorii de Vede, 63.

29 Ibid., 24.

30 Donat, Pătroiu and Ciobotea et al., Catagrafia obştească, 152; Staicu, Aşezările judeţului Teleorman, 191.

31 Pascal, Carte de hotărnicie, 2.

32 Filitti, “Arhondologia Munteniei la 1822–1828,” 148.

33 Amongst 750 dregători enlisted in 1829, 342 were given their positions by Grigore Ghica. In this latter group, only 62 were foreigners, mainly Greeks, while 20 came from the big and middle boyar families, 110 from obscure boyar families, and 150 “new men...the trustees of the Principe Ghica and of the great boyars, the people educated in the Wallachian schools, etc.” (Filitti, “Arhondologia Munteniei la 1822–1828,” 152).

34 Velichi, “Emigrarea bulgarilor în Ţara Românească,” 49.

35 About Miša Anastasiević (1803–1885) see Iancovici, “Din legăturile lui Miloş Obrenovici,” 164–66; Brătulescu, “Maiorul Mişa Anastasievici,” 274–75; Chefani-Pătraşcu, Moşieri teleormăneni, 42.

36 Stroescu, Oraşul Roşiorii de Vede, 65.

37 Trajkov and Jechev, Bulgarskata emigratsija v Rumunija, 248; Velichi, “Bulgares, serbes, grecs et roumains,” 256–60.

38 Stroescu, Oraşul Roşiori de Vede, 65.

39 Ibid., 63–66.

40 Siupiur, Intelectuali, elite, 168–216.

41 Guţan, Istoria administraţiei, 23–24, 45ff.

42 Chefani-Pătraşcu, Moşieri teleormăneni, 47; Iancovici, “Din legăturile lui Miloş Obrenovici,” 164.

43 Iancu, “Stingerea familiei boiereşti,” 182.

44 Catalina, Oraşul Alexandria, 37, 79.

45 Nour, Istoricul oraşului Alexandria, 50.

46 Staicu, Aşezările judeţului Teleorman, 54; Chefani-Pătraşcu, Moşieri teleormăneni, 47ff.

47 Gane, Neamurile Mavrodineşti, 36.

48 Pătrănescu, Monografia comunei Buzescu, 45ff. Another town that Bulgarian migrants attempted to found was Noul Sliven (New Sliven), near Ploieşti. The same Hristofor Sachelarie intervened for land acquisition (Velichi, “Emigrarea bulgarilor din Sliven,” 302–08).

49 Trajkov and Jechev, Bulgarskata emigratsija v Rumunija, 124.

50 Georgescu, Dicţionarul geografic, 8–9; Catalina, Orasul Alexandria, 79. In 1844, a Bulgarian primary school functioned in Alexandria, where Mihail Hristidi/Hristov was one of the instructors (Trajkov and Jechev, Bulgarskata emigratsija v Rumunija, 295). The brothers Mihail and Simeon Hristidi were born in Stara Zagora and finished secondary school in Athena. They taught Greek in Bucharest and edited several books there as well (Ibid., 311; Davidova, Balkan transitions to modernity, 145–46).

51 He was the director of the Bulgarian school in Alexandria between 1855 and 1874. Zlatovič born in Provadia, near Varna, in 1816. He graduated in Athens, got Greek citizenship, and was hired in the 1840s in the service of the Greek government. He knew Romanian, as he had finished the Greek primary school in Bucharest. Between 1845 and 1853, he taught in Šumen and Anhialo (today Pomorje) (Geleleţu, Aspecte ale tradiţiei bulgare, 24; Trajkov and Jechev, Bulgarskata emigratsija, 295; Siupiur, Bulgarskata emigrantska inteligentsija, 215). After 1858, in accordance with Wallachian legislation, they maintained 44 Bulgarian schools to the north of the Danube ( Ibid., 30).

52 Geleleţu, Aspecte ale tradiţiei bulgare, 12–13. According some authors, the weak participation of the population of Alexandria in the 1848 revolution was due at least in part to this conservative attitude (Velichi, “Bulgarii,” 270).

53 Georgescu, Dicţionarul geografic, 8–9.

54 Mladenov, Jechev and Njagulov, Bulgarite v Rumunija, 102, 149–50.

55 On the local politics see my article, Şerban, “Obrazat na bulgarite v mestnite vestnitsi,”, 235–49.

56 Trajkov and Jechev, Bulgarskata emigratsija v Rumunija, 126; Nour, Istoricul oraşului Alexandria, 20

57 Trajkov and Jechev, Bulgarskata emigratsija v Rumunija, 141, 192.

58 Ibid., 192; Kosev, Paskaleva and Diculescu, “Despre situaţia şi activitatea economică,” 328–29.

59 Trajkov and Jechev, Bulgarskata emigratsija v Rumunija, 141. Mladenov, Jechev and Njagulov, Bulgarite v Rumunija, 24.

60 Jos reacţiunea, nos. 17 iunie 1890, 22 iulie 1890.

61 Liiceanu, Jurnalul de la Păltiniş, 188.

62 Chefani-Pătraşcu, Moşieri, 55.

63 Noica, Neamul Noica, 13–17.

64 Geleleţu, Aspecte ale tradiţiei bulgare, 8. The name Noikov was common at the time among Bulgarian migrants (Veliki, “Materiali ot rumunski arhivi,” 258).

65 Mladenov, Jechev and Njagulov, Bulgarite v Rumunjia, 68. The acquisition of the Bulgarian books was very common at the time in the entire Balkan space, representing a “symbolic geography of the Bulgarian identity” (Davidova, Balkan transitions to modernity, 145–46). The book in question was bought by 377 persons from 6 Wallachian towns (Bucharest, Brăila, Galaţi, Craiova, Ploieşti, Alexandria) and one Moldovian (Focşani). The number of volumes purchased was 1,290 (Mladenov, Jechev and Njagulov, Bulgarite v Rumunija, 60–69).

66 Noica, Neamul Noica, 17.

67 Ibid., 13.

68 DJANTr, Fond “Paraschiv Noica,” doss. 1/1992.

69 His first wife, Niculina “Sârba” [Niculina, the “Serb”] was definitely Bulgarian (personal communication with Ms. Sanda Stavrescu).

70 Noica, Neamul Noica, 22–28.

71 DJANTr, Fond “Paraschiv Noica,” doss. 2/1992.

72 Noica, Neamul Noica, 22. Genku Noica/Noikov preferred to lease the land only, while his son Iacovache decided to buy big properties. Thus, Iacovache “makes the step from leaseholder to landowner” (Chefani-Pătraşcu, Moşieri teleormăneni, 56).

73 Ecoul Teleormanului, no. 24, January 1888.

74 According the family oral testimonies, his second wife, Maria, was the daughter of Petre Câncea, a merchant who also fled from Svištov and participated in the founding of Alexandria. Still, his name is not found on the town’s list of founders, since he moved to Moldova and added to the original family name, which was very close to the Bulgarian name Kanchov, the name Ornescu, after the locality in which he settled (Noica, Neamul Noica, 30).

75 DJANTr, Fond “Paraschiv Noica,” doss. 9/1892, 2–6.

76 Nica, Studiu monografic, 92ff.

77 DJANTr, Fond “Paraschiv Noica,” doss. 9/1892, 7–12.

78 The news appeared in the Conservative newspaper Vedea, no. 12, October 1897.

79 Cristea, Ţânţăreanu and Avram, Alexandria, 24.

80 Pascal, Carte de hotărnicie, 4ff.

81 The wedding is announced in the liberal newspaper Alegătorul liber, no. 1, May 1905.

82 Gherman, “Inginerul Corneliu Casassovici,” 391–92.

83 Chefani-Pătraşcu, Moşieri teleormăneni, 61.

84 Ibid., 59.

85 DJANTr, Fond “Paraschiv Noica,” doss. 20/1917.

86 Chefani-Pătraşcu, Moşieri teleormăneni, 62.

87 Nica, Studiu monografic complex, 150. The local newspapers around 1900 are full of information about more or less illegal Danube crossings by the Bulgarian workers who sought to find employment on the big estates. The policies of the Romanian government reflect this situation, as well. For instance, around 1910, the main river firms which brought the migrant workers from the southern side of the Danube in Teleorman County were controlled by Bulgarians. This fact enraged the boatmen from Romania, and the Bucharest government was obliged to intervene and mediate in the conflicts (DJANG, Fond Inspecţia Fluvială, doss. 9/1910, doss. 13/1911).

Volume 6 Issue 3 CONTENTS



Mobile Elites: Bulgarian Emigrants in the Middle of the Nineteenth Century and the Accommodation of Difference in the Balkans

Ana-Teodora Kurkina

Graduiertenschule für Ost- und Südosteuropastudien, Universität Regensburg

This article addresses the issue of accommodating difference through an analysis of a specific group of mobile public actors who can be defined as “mobile elites.” Using the Bulgarian emigrants in the middle of the nineteenth century as a typical case of an exiled elite, I link this case to other European Romantic intellectuals and sketch a grand-scale scheme of regional traffic in ideas. I suggest that emigration as such instigates the consolidation of nationalist elites. Thus, elites can be viewed as large, separate, and often mobile groups, which negotiate their respective interests and search for compromises.
I contend that mobile public actors influence the societies in which they dwell by creating sets of networks which stretch over the whole region. The notion of “mobile elites” can therefore be a helpful tool in defining emigrant intellectuals. Furthermore, the activities of these intellectuals shed light on the ways in which migrant groups seek accommodation, pursue their political aims, and attempt to find compromises which can eventually yield beneficial outcomes.

Keywords: migration, elite theory, social networking, Bulgarian nation and state-building, Georgi Rakovski, Hristo Botev, othering.

In 1877, Ivan Ivanov, the head of the “Society for the spread of education among the Bulgarians,” wrote a letter to Ivan Aksakov, a prominent Russian Slavophile, discussing the destinies of the many Bulgarian volunteers employed by the Russian Army in the Russian-Turkish war. These men were mostly young and active individuals living scattered in Romania and Serbia. Ivanov mentioned that these migrant-volunteers (around 200 people) were paid 15 rubles a day, which assured their wellbeing and covered most of their needs. Yet, these men became a highly problematic group to accommodate when they lost this income, leaving them in foreign lands without legitimate means of supporting themselves. Ivanov contended that “[m]any of them are incapable of work.”1 They were primarily “hajduks,” i.e. outlaws, and their lifestyle preferences hardly coincided with the grand-scale nation and state-building ideas cherished and preached by the mobile ideologists, who sought their cooperation.

Bulgarian vagabonds who found temporary or permanent shelter in Romania, Serbia or Russia represent a typical case of migrants who were led and coordinated by a cohort of intellectuals. The ideologists were a different type of migrants altogether: they were organizers involved in mediating relations between their compatriots, the Great Powers, and the host states in which they lived. They were emigrants, but their position was different from that of their less prominent peers in a number of subtle ways which made their voices convincing and their ideology significant to the local governments, their followers and even their opponents. Nevertheless, the reality of migration united them with a much larger mass of their misplaced compatriots.

Migration is a notion that refers to a wide array of mobile people, often ignoring the fundamental differences between various groups of individuals who are considered migrants. However, different clusters of migrants have different patterns of movement which cannot all be brought together under one umbrella term. Therefore, in this article, I explore a case of the accommodation of a foreign group by several host states. In other words, I am examining the case of an emigrant elite involved in what Joep Leerssen describes as “the cultivation of culture”2 and intellectual and artistic creativity. The issue emerges in the wake of population movements and remains vital in the process of negotiating difference in the Balkans, a region contested by the authors of multiple state-and nation-building projects during the long nineteenth century and beyond. Furthermore, the discourses initiated and perpetuated by the mobile elites persisted well beyond the nineteenth century, leaving their imprints on the ideologies, paths, and propagandistic strategies of their later adherents.

When examining the case of mobile elites, one can present them as arguably the most influential group of migrants, a group that has potential power to influence their less-engaged compatriots.3 Because of their ideological activities, the mobile elites can be regarded as a link between migrants and host states. I suggest that these elites can either facilitate or hamper the accommodation of their peers into a foreign society, while relying mostly on their vast social networking and knowledge exchange.4 I analyze the ways in which these networks function by examining the example of the Bulgarian mid-nineteenth-century emigrants in Serbia, Romania, and Russia.

Building on Bernhard Giesen’s theory regarding intellectual elites which generate national communities,5 I use a comparative approach to differentiate groups of mobile ideologists from their less involved compatriots and to investigate the potential sway of their arguments among their respective national groups. Moreover, an analysis of the writings of the mobile elites offers an opportunity to trace their interconnections and follow their state-building plans, some of which later influenced regional politics. While many projects turned out to be wildly unsuccessful, most of them had lasting consequences. Lyuben Karavelov became an apostle of Balkan federalism for the future generations of socialists from the region.6 Hristo Botev claimed the place of a national Romantic poet, whose influence on Bulgarian literature crossed over into politics. Georgi Rakovski became an ideological symbol for the future generations of the Balkan politicians, and one could list many other similar examples.7

The emigrants who left Bulgaria in the middle of the nineteenth century represent a typical case of an exiled elite that can be linked to other European nationalist intellectuals (such as the post-1849 Hungarian emigrants). They can be viewed as a large, separate, transnational group, which negotiated its national interests and searched for compromises. Although they did not necessarily contribute to the economic development of their host states, they initiated and influenced the regional traffic in ideas, promoting and cultivating their national culture and state-building aspirations.

I begin by analyzing the concept of mobile elites and examining how the multiple identities of migrants can facilitate the accommodation of their national group in a host state or influence the politics within the borders of their own country. The second section of my essay deals with the networking systems developed and sustained by the emigrants and their methods of transmitting information that influenced their societies and those of others. It also addresses the idea of a common space shared by the European Romantic elites, which enabled them to promote their state-building and nation-building ideas and defend the rights of their respective groups internationally. The final section explores the impact of the mobile elites on their peers and host-societies and examines how the extent of this impact was determined by their active networking, lack of resources, or proposed goals.

Mobile Elites and Their Troublesome Identities: Refugees, Emigrants, Exiles, and Romantic Heroes

The term “migrant” encompasses people with dramatically diverse lives, political views, and destinies. The story of the protagonists of the current article is not different. The nineteenth-century Bulgarian revolutionaries whose destinies have been thoroughly studied by researchers and iconised by their descendants comprised only a tiny share of all the Bulgarian migrants living in the Romanian cities of Brăila or Bucharest or settled in Odessa or Belgrade.8 One thinks of penniless hajduks and rich merchants when dealing with people who moved for economic or political reasons.

While most inquiries “encompass theories about the motivations for migrations, about how migration is shaped by local, regional, and international economies,”9 as well as other important interdependencies, the classification of migrants as such remains a topic only rarely addressed. And yet, in addition to the economic outcomes associated with migration, one should also address the ways in which certain groups can influence and determine how their peers and they themselves integrate into a foreign society.10 Those who form a mobile elite constitute an entirely different group within the existing community of migrants.

Although “well-integrated migrants can become ‘nearly one of us’ (but never completely so), whilst the ‘underserving’ are seen as ‘too different’, as an impediment and, indeed, at times, as a threat to a sustainable society,”11 the cases of mobile elites demonstrate another picture. Moreover, that picture is paradoxical. The protagonists of the current inquiry belonged to a group of Romanticist intellectuals, and as members of this group they shared more with one another than they did with their regular compatriots. In fact, it was the reality of political emigration that forced the nineteenth-century elites to acknowledge and later exploit regional political situations, searching for allies for themselves as individuals and for their groups.

The Bulgarian mobile elites often repeated the strategies adopted by their Polish, Hungarian, and even Romanian predecessors. The defeat of the Hungarian revolution and the fall of a short-lived Hungarian state in 1849 created a cohort of brilliantly educated individuals who chose the path of emigration.12 Pushed out of the Habsburg Empire, these individuals had to reconsider not only their relations with the former host state, but also their relations with fellow minorities and their strategies of accommodation.13 They had to become diplomats and mediators who negotiated with the elites of the states which hosted them. A complicated web of interconnections stretched from one cohort of emigrants to another. Hungarian emigrants became acquainted with the Romanian “fourty-eighters” and Polish emigrants in Paris. The Romanian exiled ideologists (including the future prime minister of the Danubian Principalities, Ion Brătianu), were later the ones to accept the Bulgarian emigrants into their state.

What unites all these outstanding individuals and their less prominent compatriots was the reality of their exile. The Polish community of outstanding “cultivators of culture” in Paris and its much less notable peers shared the same experiences, but they shared them differently. Mobile elites were a thin layer of the privileged (due to their education, social status etc.), holding power in accordance with elite theory.14 They were intellectual elites who happened to be in exile. Their social capital had greater significance than that of their regular compatriots. Most of them profited from their imperial background to some extent, preserving the connections they had gained in their respective empires (as was true in the case of Prince Adam Czartoryski, for instance). Yet they were shrewd enough to formulate their subsequent political stances in accordance with the general Romanticist trends. Their political Romanticism came from cultural Romanticism,15 which in its turn made them primarily European romanticist nationalists, whose approaches, if not possible state-building plans, did not differ significantly.

Emigrant elites, like regular migrants, use their connections as important sources of social capital consisting essentially of “social networks and the associated norms of reciprocity and trustworthiness.”16 Yet networks often transcend the bounds of local communities,17 becoming links that bind together different ideologists, who exchange ideas and aspire to win one another’s support or debate with one another. Through networks, the elites rely on social resources that are accessible through one’s direct or indirect ties.18 While social resources exert a significant effect on the attained statuses, they can also be transferable. It is through those resources that the emigrant elites managed to become a part of a nationalist Romanticist intellectual group and simultaneously remain within their smaller community, originating among the aspiring minorities. The public sphere they addressed, however, transcended that modest group.

“Public sphere initially emerged as a powerful counterweight to traditional forms of political authority, inserting itself between the private life of the family and the arcana imperii of the early modern state apparatus,”19 so the identities of the Bulgarian mobile elites can be analyzed through that connection. They were, on the one hand, private and confined to their own circle. On the other hand, they were or aspired to be part of a larger community of European intellectuals. Since “individuals become integrated in groups through processes of recurrent social interaction and communication,”20 emigrants’ publications facilitated cooperation. However, it was effective information exchange that made the works of the public actors and their organizational and unifying abilities operational. They exchanged information and created links between their community and that of their host states.

Before the Russian-Turkish War of 1877/78, cohorts of Bulgarian revolutionaries found shelters in neighboring Serbian and Romanian lands or opted for further destinations like Russia.21 The colonies they formed became outposts, where nation-building and state-building ideas were exchanged, conceived, and promoted. In a biographical note dedicated to Georgi Sava Rakovski, an ever-roaming emigrant, a revolutionary and a notable ideologist of Bulgarian liberation, Veselin Trajkov stresses Rakovski’s unique position as a truly international revolutionary ideologist.22 Like Rakovski, who became one of the minds behind a number of Bulgarian revolutionary societies, branching out in the Balkans, notable poet Hristo Botev was also one of the emigrant ideologists involved in promoting his national cause.23 What unites these individuals, except for their causes, debated, but often shared, is their experience of migration and their elite statuses.

Ivan Vazov, acclaimed writer and an emigrant in his youth, a representative of a younger generation of the Bulgarian intellectuals, published a novel and a theatre play featuring a romanticized version of the events of his turbulent youth. As outcasts living on the banks of the Danube after the failed attempts to liberate their nation from the Ottoman Empire, the protagonists led miserable lives. In the beginning of his novel, Vazov notes, “Romania offered them hospitality, but a type of hospitality that an empty shore gives to sailors, tossed out by the storms, shattered and broken. They were in a society, yet they were in a desert.”24 Vazov’s accounts should be understood as a romanticized version of the events, much like many of the subsequent memoirs and descriptions of the lives of the propagandists of the Bulgarian revival. In his Memoirs of the Bulgarian Uprisings: Eyewitness’ Reports. 1870–1876, Zahari Stoyanov tells similar polished stories of noble fighters for freedom and the hardships they had to endure.25

Even the revolutionaries who could hardly be considered ideologists left memoirs, in which they presented themselves as heroes fighting for the liberation of their respective nations. Panayot Hitov, for instance, started out as an outlaw in the Balkan Mountains only later to become one of the most prominent figures in the Bulgarian revolutionary movement.26 While Hitov was initially a hajduk and hardly an ideologist, the emigrant destinies of Hristo Botev, Lyuben Karavelov, or even the instigator of revolutions Georgi Rakovski did not differ significantly. During his exile in Romania, Botev shared space with the acclaimed national hero Vasil Levski, and lived in a windmill in the outskirts of Bucharest.27 Judging by the accounts of several of these public actors, one may wonder whether they can be considered “elites” and, if yes, how their identities can be fully defined.

The border between an ideologist and an outlaw is truly delicate, and arguably more delicate in the Bulgarian case than in any other. Romanticist elites as such represented a group of individuals who contributed to their national causes while forging or attempting to forge political cooperation, publishing their ideas, and spreading these ideas within and beyond their circles. In order to transmit a political statement, they needed to make it attractive and worthy of association both for their compatriots and for the agents in the host states. A “mobile elite” thus could not be a closed group. Mostly emigrant intellectuals tried to widen their club in a desperate search for support.28

While the earlier cases of the Polish emigrants are remarkably similar to their Bulgarian followers, they bear one significant difference.29 The Bulgarian intellectuals were almost all poor, of humble descent, and relatively unknown (initially) in the foreign circles, while the Polish elite included a number of rather famous, rich, or noble individuals. Hungarian post-1849 emigrants represented a similar pattern, although often featuring notable modest protagonists. Similarly, the Romanian exiles in Paris were overwhelming brilliantly educated and often rich noblemen.30 While in the long run, these social differences could easily be obscured by the strategy chosen by a given individual (the quantity and quality of publications and one’s active attempts to engage the public actors in the host state and the home state mattered), they initially posed obstacles for the career of a public actor. Lajos Kossuth was a “mere low-nobleman from Upper Hungary,” lacking the bright social standing of many of his peers,31 and he had to create a freedom-fighter reputation for himself rather than rely on the already existing financial and political power of his name or family. Many other Hungarian, Romanian, and Polish exiles, on the other hand, had the leverage that he lacked. Alexandru Golescu, for example, a rich Romanian noble and an emigrant in Paris, enjoyed a number of privileges derived from his status, which allowed him immediate entry into the higher circles of French social life.32 That was certainly not the case of Georgi Rakovski, who constantly had to struggle to win the recognition of the Russian, Serbian, or Romanian authorities.

Prominent nineteenth-century Bulgarian intellectuals had merchant or low-middle class backgrounds. Most of them had been educated in the Greek circles of the Ottoman Empire or in Russia.33Many opted for schools based in the Danubian Principalities or chose the institutions offered by the Ottoman Empire to their newly-groomed elites. Some of them would later continue their pursuit of knowledge in the West. Through the mixture of their Ottoman background, partially European education, local experiences, and connections to Western political ideals (including Kantian perceptions of a possible European world order) they reached fellow-intellectuals in Romania, Serbia, Russia, and Greece. Their destinies were not too different from the destinies of the intellectuals in the Habsburg or Russian Empires.34 Their orienteers lay in the West or in Russia. They wanted to belong to the circle of European intellectuals that encompassed foreign elites, yet they were not necessarily seen as such in their host societies. Nevertheless, the attempts of the Bulgarians to establish connections with the elites of their host states resembled the attempts of their Polish and Hungarian predecessors. They tried to engage the local agents who were either interested in their cause or shared some of their goals.35

The Bulgarian emigrants longed for international connections. In a typography in Bucharest, Botev enjoyed the company of a Polish emigrant named Henryk Dembicki (who was the illustrator of a journal published by Botev), a Russian emigrant named Nechaev, and a number of Romanian socialists.36 Nevertheless, his Bulgarian identity was never in question. He, like many of his compatriots, believed himself to be a representative of the Bulgarian nation, of which he had a rather romanticized and dramatized idea. Yet his connections to a diverse circle of intellectuals he had met in Romania shaped his vision of the Balkans. In 1875, Botev, addressing the publications of the Serbian newspapers regarding a possibility of a Serbian-Bulgarian union, wrote that any such idea had to be based on “the freedom of nations, personal freedoms, and free labor.”37 He therefore linked progressive European ideals of the time to the destiny of his nation. He published abroad and phrased his statements with the intention of giving them universal appeal, understandable not only to his revolutionary compatriots, but to the Serbian and Romanian elites. Botev, therefore, reconciled his identity as a Bulgarian and a revolutionary with that of an emigrant and a Romantic poet.

Romanian exile became a leitmotiv in the memoirs, letters and publications of the Bulgarian emigrants that was destined to create links between the intellectuals of the two countries in the middle of the nineteenth century. In July 1868, Kazakovich, a Bulgarian from Alexandria, wrote to one of the most prominent Bulgarians in Bucharest, Ivan Kasabov, that Romania offered the Bulgarian youth every opportunity for education and that teacher Hristo Zlatovich had been granted rights by the authorities to educate the local Bulgarian children to “feel Bulgarian even if they were born in Romania.”38 In 1869, in an article published in the newspaper Svoboda, Lyuben Karavelov called Romania “the Second Switzerland,”39 a sort of a bastion of liberty and culture. Overly idealistic federalist Karavelov certainly was not striving to give an adequate description of his host state. Rather, he sought to promote the links that could facilitate the accommodation of his fellow emigrants. His accounts were meant to explain to the local Bulgarian public that one could easily be Bulgarian in Romania. Moreover, he wished to convince them that both Romania and Bulgaria could benefit from the activities of the émigré communities in the long run.

The presence of the Bulgarian intellectuals in Romania brought not only the like-minded Romanian elites to them, as was true in the case of the connections between Rosetti and Botev. It also resulted in a number of coordinated publications that were intended to influence the mutual perceptions of the local public and the exiles. Such was the Buduchnost-Viitorul journal, published by Georgi Sava Rakovski. In an article published in 1864, he called Romania a “free and inviolable asylum,”40 where he could continue his political activities (although Rakovski’s whole destiny was marked by troubles caused by the authorities of the states in which he resided), remain Bulgarian, and become an internationally acknowledged intellectual, a multi-lingual regional agent, a prominent publicist, and a revolutionary.

It was a mixture of romanticism and mobility that made exiled elites exhibit a number of coexisting identities. “Exile” added flavor to a national cause, romanticizing it, while “emigration” was often associated with hardships and lack of acceptance. Mobile elites, paradoxically, embodied both. They were the people who often turned their “hardship” into romanticized banners to brandish in front of the public. They did not exhibit a singular identity, but encompassed several, often turning their rhetoric to the universal values of “progress and freedoms.” For example, Levski referred not simply to the “Bulgarian nation,” its interests, and displaced or mistreated Bulgarians, but rather to a “sacred and pure republic.”41 Universal romanticist values surpassed the standard agenda of being Bulgarian and appealed to wider audiences.42 The journals published by the emigrants often addressed the public in their host states (as was true in the case of Viitorul), tackling the issues that the Balkan nations might have in common. Highlighting shared burdens and goals rather than differences, the mobile elites created ideological links that could facilitate the acceptance of their compatriots by the foreign states. Furthermore, they mostly relied on their revolutionary networks to increase their influence on the foreign public.

Mobile Elites and Their Networking Systems: People with a Thousand Voices

As Deborah Rice points out, “[t]he original source of all social cohesion lies in interpersonal networks that emerge once two or more individuals perceive or experience a common ground between them.”43 The creation of that common ground and the avoidance of possible dangers was one of the key factors that determined the strategies adopted by the mobile elites. Too crude and active involvement, like in the case of Rakovski or Hitov, could create problems with the local authorities. Rakovski was convinced that foreign help was needed in order to create a viable Bulgarian nation-state in one form or another.44 His attempts to forge an alliance with the Greeks in 1840s and later in 1860s proved fruitless, as did his attempts to instigate a revolt in Brăila in 1841.45 The revolt was quickly put down by Prince Ghica, who valued peace with the Ottoman Empire more than he did friendly relations with the Bulgarian revolutionaries.

In the 1860s, Rakovski settled in Belgrade, where he once again attempted to find common goals with several prominent Serbian politicians. For a time, he managed to attract Michael Obrenovich to his cause.46 In Serbia, Rakovski started publishing his Danubian Swan, a journal aimed primarily at promoting the independence of the Bulgarian Exarchate from Constantinople and the emancipation of the Bulgarian nation.47 A vast array of interconnections is reflected in numerous organizations established by Rakovski and his compatriots outside of Bulgaria. Rakovski’s attempts to coordinate revolutionary activities in Serbia failed, and the legion that was supposed to liberate Bulgaria from the Ottomans was disbanded. Yet many of the volunteers assembled by Rakovski remained under the influence of his authority.

Most of these revolutionary networks relied on the tolerance of the local governments and the possibility of establishing a dialogue. In 1869, Dimitar Obshti invited Panayot Hitov to Brăila, assuring him that he did not have to worry about the local authorities, since they had connections with the local merchants. He wrote: “After having seen me, the merchants in Brăila asked about you, wondering why you would not come and what they can do to assist you.”48 In this case, personal connections turned into international connections that facilitated the intricacies of travel. The local merchants sustained personal or trade relations with the exiles. The emigrants promoted their political agendas and engaged their fellow revolutionaries with the help of the local intermediaries, whose ethnic backgrounds rarely mattered. Their ideological orientation played a more significant role.

Nevertheless, the attitudes of the emigrants could change quickly. Rakovski is only one of many examples of radically shifting opinions. He had initially regarded the Russian Empire as a savior of his nation, but within a decade he had changed his opinion dramatically.49 The emigrants living in Russia, on the other hand, had to adapt to the circumstances there, attempting to forge relations with prominent politicians and intellectuals whom they could attract to their side.

During his life in Russia, Lyuben Karavelov published a book consisting entirely of the dramatic tales about the lives of simple Bulgarians under the “Turkish yoke.”50 Written in Russian, the book first appeared in print in Moscow. While it is difficult to reflect on the volume’s overall popularity, the mere fact that it was published (with an optimistic dedication to the Russians who believed in common Slavic ideals and to whom Bulgarian lives mattered) offers testimony to the activities of a mobile intellectual, who attempted to forge connections with his peers in a host state.

The mobile elites persisted through communication, and this communication assured not only their success, but also opportunities for their peers to integrate. Karavelov hoped his book would be read by the Russian public, which would eventually feel compassion for his compatriots and the fate of his motherland. Similarly, the Bulgarian students in Petersburg wrote to Nikolay Ignatiev, a prominent Russian statesman and one of the architects of the favorable San-Stefano Treaty of 1878, asking for further assistance: “Your Excellency has justly drawn the borders of the San-Stefano Bulgaria, creating an ideal for the current and future generations of our nation.”51 The letter conveyed a message similar to that of Karavelov’s stories published in Russian. It was a hopeful acknowledgement of a connection, even if it might have been overstated, an attempt to gather support for a national cause. The Bulgarian students hoped to offer an example of Bulgarians in Russia, something that could attract public attention to their cause and influence the portrayal (preferably positively) of their compatriots in the Russian public sphere.

The important trait of emigrants in the eyes of their host societies is their deceiving “homogeneity.” The Polish romanticist emigrants (most prominently Chopin and Mickiewicz) made their nation a hit in France, much as Kossuth and Pulszky introduced the idea of a Hungarian nation to the West.52 Decades before, the protagonists of the Greek revival accomplished a similar goal for their nation, starting a wave of Philhellenism that enveloped all sides of European cultural life, including art and literature.53 What united these different people was their double status, i.e. that of an emigrant and that of a mobile intellectual. The Bulgarian elites had their share of successes as well, although on a smaller scale. The presence of the Bulgarian emigrants in Russia and the activities of the various Slavic societies inspired Ivan Turgenev to create a poem dedicated to the massacres in Bulgaria.54 Turgenev’s “Croquet at Windsor” was based on the aftermath of the April Uprising, while his famous novel On the Eve became a testimony to the stories of the Bulgarians living in Russia. On the Eve features a Bulgarian protagonist who was loosely modeled on a real emigrant, a student of Moscow State University.55 Migrants, intellectuals, and regular refugees provoked compassionate responses, which was precisely their intention.

Russian Slavophiles sought contact with the Balkan Slavs, and often their attempts were met eagerly by the Balkan public actors, including those residing in Russia.56 Furthermore, these mobile elites created symbolic capital for their compatriots, since a significant number of them were turned into national heroes, praised by both their peers and future generations. Vasil Levski became the epitome of a freedom fighter, used and abused in Bulgarian politics up to the present day,57 much like Lajos Kossuth and a long list of other European national heroes.58

Scrutinizing their lives, one may wonder what made precisely these individuals reference points for their fellow-intellectuals and followers. While there was certainly a vast array of different factors that contributed to an individual’s fame, including personal qualities and skills, mobility and a cohort of skillful chroniclers remained an important catalyst for the emergence subsequently of a reputation as a revolutionary. Zahari Stoyanov thoroughly documented the paths to Bulgarian liberation in his monumental work. Kossuth, for example, not only left volumes of writings in different languages himself, but also became a prominent figure in the memoirs of his peers.59 Vast informational networks united these intellectuals, turning some of them into chroniclers, others into heroes, and some into both. Thus, the methods they used to transmit information that could leave a lasting impact were rather straightforward. They presented themselves as truly transnational figures, although always highlighting their background, and they sought like-minded individuals in their host states with whom they attempted to engage (not always successfully). They tailored their ideas to the general Romanticist views and political trends of the epoch, and they actively published and spread the works of their compatriots and fellow revolutionaries. Thanks to their louder voices, they assumed the roles of “national representatives,” claiming to protect the interests of their fellow emigrants and their compatriots.

Mobile Elites and Their Political Impact: Failed Connections?

Empires often served as links that bound various public actors together: they offered career opportunities, regulated many aspects of their citizens’ lives, and, subsequently, assured a communication space that facilitated the exchange of ideas between various public figures.60 The emigrant revolutionaries in the Ottoman, Habsburg, and Russian Empires relied heavily on these imperial interconnections to curry support for their causes. Rakovski, Botev, and Karavelov all actively engaged in publishing journals and brochures. They hoped to address a wider audience, though their circle was relatively narrow.

Lyuben Karavelov published his apologetic remarks regarding federative ideas, mostly with the intention of attracting his co-nationals and involving foreign public actors. Criticizing the Greeks’ “favorable” relations with the Ottoman Empire, he wrote in the journal Svoboda, “[i]t becomes clear that the South Slavs and Romanians are more despised by the Greeks than the Mohammedans. Therefore, the Greeks resemble Hungarians, who like them, wish to create vast and powerful states without people.”61 Given the emigrants’ precarious relations even with their mobile fellows and local governments, their disappointed criticism of potential partners was justified. They sought connections, but their attempts to establish meaningful links failed more often than they succeeded.

The Bulgarian Secret Central Committee is one of the examples of a Bulgarian-Romanian collaborative effort that did not endure. The organization emerged in 1866 with several prominent Romanian liberals backing it.62 Subsequently, the prominent public actors of the organization forced Alexandru Ioan Cuza to abdicate, severely damaging Romanian relations with the Ottoman Empire. Following the events, Bulgarian elites living in Bucharest seemed resourceful allies to the Romanian liberals. Although Rakovski himself was not prone to cooperate with the liberals, another prominent emigrant, Ivan Kasabov, was eager to oblige. Kasabov hoped to further the outbreak of a Bulgarian revolt on Ottoman territory through the cooperative endeavor.63

The “Holly Coalition,” which was the result of this temporary alliance, had to ensure a full-fledged Balkan uprising with the subsequent establishment of a Balkan federative state. The Romanian side seemed eager to forge contacts with the emigrant revolutionaries, offering them funds in return for their military support. While the Bulgarian emigrant leaders had to ensure the participation of their compatriots in the affair, they established connections with the leaders of the host state. However, the alliance was short-lived. Following the restoration of Ottoman-Romanian relations and the election of Charles Hohenzollern as a new Romanian sovereign, cooperation with the Bulgarian emigrants in support of their cause ceased to be profitable for the Romanian side.64

Thus, most of the enterprises initiated by the Bulgarian mobile elites yielded little success.65 Nevertheless, after the emergence of the Bulgarian Principality, many of the emigrant’s ideas found new meaning in the policies of a newly-formed Bulgaria. In 1886, Prince Alexander Battenberg suggested a Romanian-Bulgarian alliance similar to the Austro-Hungarian Compromise, a union that represented a way of improving the political statuses of both nations, heavily based on the ideas expressed by the Bulgarian emigrants, who had once lived in Romania.66 Furthermore, in a letter to Alexandru Sturdza, Battenberg reflected on the “brotherly hospitality” granted the Bulgarian exiles in Romania, something the prince considered an important foundation for strengthening the connections between the two nations.67

The emigrant elites offered solutions to the irredentist problems arising in Bulgaria and in their former host states. Nevertheless, most of their projects were either overly idealistic or were simply never really accomplished. With the appearance of the Bulgarian Principality, the former emigrants changed their goals and returned to Bulgaria. Some had accomplished careers in the new state (like Bulgaria’s distinguished prime minister, Stefan Stambolov), yet others perished before the signing of the treaty of Berlin (for instance Georgi Rakovski, Levski, and others). However, the patterns established by the mid-nineteenth-century emigrants persisted.

In 1902, a Bulgarian emigrant association from Macedonia in Ruse sent a letter to count Ignatiev. This time, a different cohort of emigrant elites was attempting to forge alliances and act as their group’s voices. These public actors not only adopted the strategies of their predecessors, the emigrants of the Bulgarian revival, but also relied on their experiences in addressing Ignatiev.

In their letter, the emigrants implored the count to come to their aid and use his influence to improve the position of all the Bulgarians:

Raise once again your powerful voice and proclaim that the Bulgarians from Macedonia and Odrin deserve support and political freedom, that the time has come for the sufferings of these slaves to end. The voices of these doomed ones make us mourn them, and we must meet with you, Your Grace, our dear and precious guest, with grief and sorrow.”68

Among the multiple addresses sent to Ignatiev by the emigrants, there was a series of remarkable attempts to connect the causes and views of the emigrants with those of the statesman.69 The Bulgarian public actors would allude to a common Slavic sentiment and the shared legacy of Orthodoxy, and they also mentioned the Greek threat and the “chimerical idea of a Byzantine Empire” that allegedly haunted the Greek rivals of the Bulgarian nationalists.

One of the reasons emigrant elites tended to be vocal in promoting the national causes lies in their precarious position. They depended on the good will of the officials of the host states, and they were either welcomed or considered a dangerous element. Under these circumstances, the existence of the Bulgarian legions in Serbia, the flourishing cultural life of the Bulgarian emigrants in Odessa,70 their revolutionary networking in the Danubian Principalities, and even their pursuit of studies in Russia were always at risk. Careful navigation within the complicated web of social networking was necessary for the mobile elites. They searched for ways to promote their respective national causes, and they served as voices for their fellow emigrants, who, even unwillingly, were often associated with their loud and proud representatives. Often the consequences of their careless actions could be projected upon the whole group of migrants. The mobile ideologists were perceived not only as prominent public actors promoting the Romanticist cause of national emancipation, but also as “others.”

The balance between those two aspects depended on both the actions of the elites and the political circumstances in which they lived. Many of the former emigrants and their associates became genuinely important links between their respective group and the foreign powers. Stoyan Zaimov, a public figure and writer, is one such example. Decades after the Russian-Turkish War of 1877/78, Zaimov received a message from Petr Agatev, a Russian friend, who thanked him for his hospitality and guidance during his visit to Bulgaria, expressing his wish to popularize the cause of the “Tsar-liberator” committee in Russia. Agatev wrote, “I send you my sincere gratitude for the commemoration of the deeds and the preservation of the memory of our soldiers perished in Bulgaria.”71 The connections established years before the Balkan Wars had their impact on the lasting relations between various factions, including the links between the local intellectuals.

Conclusion: Emigrants, Intellectuals, Visionaries?

Mobile elites represent a specific stratum of migrants that has the important function of mediating relations between their peers and the host states, influencing both simultaneously. Mobile elites target prominent public figures in their host states, engaging them in the creation of projects and plans that have the potential to reshape the political balance in a region. Mobile intellectuals get involved in local politics, while attempting to promote the agendas of their group. Furthermore, they attempt to bind their group’s wellbeing with that of the host state, assuring their group’s integration. When their activities are aimed at national liberation and similar causes, they promote peaceful existence and political unions with their host states.72

While most of the mobile mid-nineteenth century agents can be regarded as typical political emigrants, they belonged to a much larger club of European intellectuals, sharing and discussing the ideas of Mazzini or Kossuth and receptive to the latest political trends not only in their respective region, but abroad. Their connections to the Western space of political ideas made them international figures, often with equal fame. However, they were not simply international intellectuals, but agents who were instrumental in accommodating their migrant peers, who were less vocal in foreign societies. While mobile intellectuals never ceased being emigrants, willingly or not, they represented the entire group of migrants. While this particularity often determined the actions of the elites, it also granted them a rare opportunity to speak as voices of their nation. Thus, they subsequently influenced their own societies by creating future reference points, such as memoirs and chronicles of their own actions and those of their fellow emigrants.

In 1868, Hristo Botev wrote,

...[i]f the whole of the Bulgarian nation rises, Serbia and Montenegro surpass their borders and the Bosnians and Herzegovinians put down their weapons before Andrassy’s second proclamation the (Eastern) question will be solved and the freedom of the Balkan peninsula will be assured. Isn’t this the era we are entering now?73

His multiple publications addressed a diverse public. Botev targeted his fellow emigrants and people who might have shared his goals and beliefs in the foreign countries. He reflected on the destinies of the peoples of the Balkan peninsula, looking at the streets of Bucharest and attempting to define his own place in the state that hosted him and could become a worthy ally in the future. He was Bulgarian, yet he was a Romantic poet like his Romantic European counterparts, having more in common with Petőfi or Mickiewicz than with an uneducated peasant in the Balkan Mountains. He managed to walk on the edges of identities and to fit into two groups and influence not only Bulgarian literature and political thought, but also the societies in which he dwelled. While many emigrants failed (sometimes miserably) to achieve their immediate goals (uprisings, revolutions, etc.), they offer a keen researcher a pattern of accommodation that is seldom acknowledged. Their activities had impacts that transcended their own time and sent messages to future generations.


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Turgenev, Ivan. Polnoe sobranie sochineniyi pisem: Sochinenia [The complete collection of compositions and letters: Compositions]. Moscow–Leningrad: Izdatelstvo nauka, 1967.

Undzhiev, Ivan, Undzhieva, Cveta. Hristo Botev – zhivot i delo [Hristo Botev – his life and legacy]. Sofia: Nauka i izkustvo, 1975.

Vazov, Ivan. Nemili, nedragi [Unloved, uncherished]. Sofia: Bulgarski pisatel, 1974.

Wellman, Barry. “The community question: The intimate networks of East Yorkers.” American Journal of Sociology 84, no. 5 (1979): 1201–33.

Zahra, Tara. “Imagined Noncommunities: National Indifference as a Category of Analysis.” Slavic Review 69, no. 1 (2010): 93–119.

1 ГАРФ [GARF], Fond 1750 op. 2 ed. hr. 36.

2 Leerssen, National Thought in Europe, 186–204.

3 Zahra, “Imagined Noncommunities,” 93–119.

4 Ryan, Sales et. al, “Social Networks, ” 672–90.

5 Giesen, Die Intellektuellen und die Nation, 23–24.

6 Mineva, Istoriko-filosofska mozaika ot 19 vek, 112.

7 Rakovski’s fame subsequently resulted in the appearance of numerous biographies and memoirs written by his revolutionary peers, who drew inspiration from his works.

8 Dojnov, Bulgarskoto natsionalno-osvoboditelno dvizhenie, 159–76.

9 Brettell, “Theorizing migration in anthropology,” 164.

10 Elsner, “Does Emigration Benefit the Stayers?” 531–53.

11 Anthias and Pajnik, “Contesting integration-migration management and gender hierarchies,” 2.

12 Tóth, “The Historian’s Scales,” 294–314. 

13 Lengyel, A Magyar emigráció, 138.

14 Bottomore, Elites and Society, 25.

15 Isabella, Risorgimento in exile, 92–99.

16 Putnam, “‘E Pluribus unum’: Diversity and Community in the Twenty-first Century,” 137.

17 Wellman, “The Community Question: The Intimate Networks of East Yorkers,” 1201–33.

18 “Social resources are resources accessible through one’s direct and indirect ties.” See Lin, “Social Networks and Status Attainment,” 468.

19 Emden and Midgley, Beyond Habermas, 5.

20 Morgan, “Social Geography, Spatial Structure and Social Structure,” 302.

21 Lyulyushev, Prosvetnoto delo na bulgarskata emigratsiya, 3–9.

22 Traykov, Georgi Stoykov Rakovski, 379–80.

23 Undzhiev and Undzhieva, Hristo Botev – zhivot i delo, 5–10.

24 Vazov, Nemili, nedragi, 23.

25 Stoyanov, Zapiski po bulgarskite vustaniya.

26 Hitov, Kak stanah haydutin, 327.

27 Constantinescu-Iaşi, Din activitatea lui Hristo Botev, 14.

28 Isabella, Risorgimento in exile, 203–04.

29 The so-called Polish “Wielka Emigracja,” the Great Emigration of 1831–70, can be viewed as another example of an elite in exile. See Bade, Migration in European History, 134.

30 Jianu, A circle of friends, 115–27.

31 Deák, The lawful revolution, 7–10.

32 Jianu, A circle of friends, 94, 207.

33 Adzhenov, Svedeniia i zapisi za zhivota na Georgi Sava Rakovski, 19.

34 Buchen and Rolf, “Eliten und ihre imperialen Biographien,” 17–19.

35 For example, several Russian Slavophiles, including Ivan Aksakov, showed lively interest in Balkan affairs, although their vision was almost exclusively Russia-centered.

36 Constantinescu-Iaşi, Din activitatea lui Hristo Botev, 16.

37 Botev, “Samorazumniyat i bratskiyat soyuz.”

38 BIA [БИА] Fond № 154, arh. ed. 6, list 8.

39 The first issue of Karavelov’s journal Svoboda appeared in print in November 1869.

40 Iordan, “Primul ziar bulgaro-român,” 4.

41 A famous quote, taken from Levski’s letters to Svoboda, where it was published in 1871.

42 Morse Peckham, Romanticism and ideology, 3–23.

43 Rice, “Governing through networks,” 108.

44 Traikov, Rakovski i Balkanskite Narodi, vol. 2, 315–83.

45 Constantinescu-Iasi, Hristo Botev, 10.

46 Batakovic, Protic et al., Histoire du Peuple Serbe, 167–69.

47 Trajkov, Biografija, 171–74.

48 BIA [БИА] Fond 87, Arh. ed. IIА 8431.

49 Rakovski, Pereselenie v Rusiya, 1–2.

50 Karavelov, Stranici iz knigi stradaniy bolgarskogo plemeni, 1–3.

51 GARF [ГАРФ] Fond 730, opis 1, ed. hr. 79.

52 Pulszky, Életem és korom, vol. 3, 188.

53 Roessel, Byron’s Shadow, 136–39.

54 Turgenev, Polnoe sobranie sochineniy i pisem, vol. 10, 292.

55 Ibid., vol. 12, 191.

56 Buchenau, “Religionen auf dem Balkan,” 191–214.

57 Todorova, Bones of contention, 3–20.

58 Dénes, “Reinterpreting a ‘Founding Father’,” 90–117.

59 Notably, Kossuth is prominently featured in Ferenc Pulszky’s hit-novel “My life and times.”

60 Brunnbauer, “Der Balkan als translokaler Raum,” 85.

61 Karavelov, “Koyto iska chuzhdoto, toy izgubva i svoeto.”

62 Burmov, Taen Tsentralen Balgarski Komitet, vol. 2, 58–81.

63 Kasabov, Moite Spomeni ot Vazrazhdaneto, 50–54.

64 Strashimirov, Istoriya na Aprilskoto Vastanie, 16–17.

65 Case, “The Strange Politics of Federative Ideas in East-Central Europe,” 833–66.

66 Stoenescu, Istoria Loviturilor de Stat în România, 83.

67 Arhiva M.A.E. Vol. 198, Dosar 21, Foaie 4.

68 GARF [ГАРФ]. Fond 730, opis 1. Ed. hr. 74.

69 Ibid.

70 Drumev, Suchinenia, vol. 2, 467.

71 CDIA [ЦДИА] Fond 1325 К, opis 1, arh. ed. 25.

72 Case, “The Strange Politics of Federative Ideas in East-Central Europe,” 838.

73 Botev, Statii po politicheski i obshtestveni vuprosi, 498.

Volume 6 Issue 3 CONTENTS



God Brought the Hungarians: Emigration and Refugee Relief in the Light of Cold War Religion

James P. Niessen

Rutgers University

The ample literature on the Hungarian refugee crisis of 1956/57 has focused on its diplomatic and political aspects, mentioning the role of religions and faith-based organizations only in passing. This study seeks to address this lacuna by focusing on religion as an element of the Cold War, a motive for emigration, and an organizing framework for refugee relief. The chronology begins with the end of World War II. Austria, the country of first asylum, and the United States, the dominant financier and resettlement country, are the primary geographic focus. Reflecting the preponderance of Catholics in the Hungarian migrants’ population, special attention is given to Catholic Relief Services, though Jewish aid organizations and the World Council of Churches are not neglected.

Keywords: religion, Hungarian refugees, Catholic Relief Services, World Council of Churches, Camp Kilmer

Current interest in the refugee phenomenon has inspired valuable new research on the Hungarian refugee crisis of 1956/57. The crisis was the focus of several panels at the 1956 and Socialism conference in Eger in September 2016, and it was the theme of an issue of the journal Világtörténet published several weeks later.1 Authors have rightly pointed out the role of the Cold War conflict in determining the defeat of the Hungarian Revolution, the flight of 200,000 citizens to Austria and Yugoslavia, and their warm reception and, for the most part, fairly rapid resettlement. There are many worthwhile publications in Hungarian, German, and English about the international and local aspects of this crisis.2

Historians have generally mentioned religious factors only in passing. In this essay, I call attention to several non-government archival collections which few historians have consulted, and I examine the phenomenon of Cold War religion, Hungarian religious identity as a motivating factor in the decision to emigrate, and above all the role of faith-based relief organizations. The chronological frame begins in the immediate postwar period, providing the prehistory of the Hungarian crisis before focusing on the aftermath of the Revolution. The politics and resolution of the crisis were international, but Austria and the United States played unique roles and receive most of my attention. Nearly all the refugees who left Hungary in 1956/57 and earlier came through Austria, where they were granted initial asylum and the opportunity to settle, repatriate, or travel onward. The United States proved the most popular destination of resettlement for both economic and political reasons, and ultimately the United States accepted more refugees than any other country. The United States was also decisive in the financial, political, and organizational resolution of the refugee crisis of 1956/57.

Religious persecution had led to many earlier waves of emigration in the history of Europe. This was especially the case in early modern Europe, and indeed it was fundamental to the establishment of Geneva in Switzerland as the center of international humanitarianism. Three centuries after Geneva provided a home and ecclesiastical center for Calvinist fugitives, it became the birthplace of the Geneva Conventions (1864–1949) for the treatment of non-combatants in wartime, the International Committee of the Red Cross, the League of Nations, and, after World War II, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and many related agencies.3

Cold War Religion

One of the important memory sites for Hungarian Americans and historians of the refugee crisis of 1956/57 no longer exists today: Camp Kilmer in Piscataway, New Jersey. The closed army camp was reactivated in November 1956 as the central reception center for Hungarian refugees to the U.S., and in five months received more than 32,000 of them. Americans greeted the new arrivals with banners and signs bearing the inscription: Welcome [to America], in English and in Hungarian. A Hungarian in Camp Kilmer explained to Eileen Egan of Catholic Relief Services: “The words mean, in our way of expressing it, ‘God brought you.’ That is ‘Isten Hozta.’ You say this to guests whom you welcome gladly.”4 The Hungarian phrase appears in at least one decidedly unreligious context in American political history: President Bill Clinton employed it as a toast welcoming President Árpád Göncz in 1999, and he claimed it had appeared on streamers welcoming exiled statesman Lajos Kossuth to New York in 1851.5 We do not know the intention behind the use of the Hungarian phrase during the Hungarian crisis, but it will serve here as a gateway into a discussion of the ways in which religion and politics overlapped at the time.

The Chairman of the President’s Committee for Hungarian Refugee Relief, Tracy S. Voorhees, is at the center in both government photos below. In the photo on the right, he is welcoming a refugee ship in Brooklyn, and in the photo on the left he is at Camp Kilmer. The others appear to be exclusively American officials. Voorhees was very attentive to the impact of public image: he wanted the world to see the contrast between humanitarian America, with its peaceful use of the military, and Soviet oppression. The reference to God would have been invisible to most Americans, but it was not lost on the Hungarians (the text in the photo, “Isten hozott,” is the same phrase as the phrase cited above, “Isten Hozta,” but using the informal form of address in Hungarian). God was missing in Communist Hungary’s public discourse, but was prominent in that of contemporary America.

East European Communists persecuted religion both on ideological grounds and in order to eliminate autonomous centers of resistance. This pattern was important for the emerging association in the West of anti-Communism with religious identity. The nexus of the Cold War and religion in the U.S. has attracted the attention of much recent scholarship. Dianne Kirby writes in her contribution to the Cambridge History of Christianity: “The concept of the Cold War as one of history’s great religious wars, a global conflict between the god-fearing and the godless, derives from the fact that ideology, based on and informed by religious beliefs and values, was central in shaping both perceptions of and responses to the USSR.”6 The Jewish conservative Will Herberg argued in his popular 1955 book Protestant, Catholic, Jew: An Essay in American Religious Sociology that American ethnic history had evolved toward a common “framework,” “the American way of life.”7 He went on to claim that this framework might even be seen as a jointly held religion. The American theologian Reinhold Niebuhr wrote in 1960 that Communism’s threat was stymied “by the historical dynamism of the Judaeo-Christian tradition.”8

This was America, where politicians’ declarations of faith still respected the strict separation of churches and state. But what about Europe? Pope Pius XII had been cautious in his stance toward the Third Reich in World War II, arguably because of the dangers posed to the Church in occupied Europe and to the Vatican itself. Communism posed no such existential threat to the Vatican, though in postwar Italy it was a serious political threat. The Pope’s encyclical denouncing contemporary atheism, Anni Sacri (1950), did not name Communism or the Soviet Union, but it left no doubt about the Pope’s view of Soviet religious policy. The emerging Christian Democratic parties, while they grew out of the Catholic political tradition of protecting the weak and favoring a mixed economy, shared the American condemnation of Communism and support for the Atlantic alliance. They generally had the support of religious leaders in these stances.9 The Holy See rejected Communism even more strongly than did West European political leaders. Its decree of July 1949 stated that “Catholics who ‘profess, defend or propagate’ communist doctrine should be excommunicated as apostates.”10

The dominant status of the Catholic Church in Austria was governed by the formally still valid Concordat of 1933, which had been suppressed by the Third Reich and subsequently restored, but not recognized by the Austrian socialists. European governments typically contributed to the financial support of the churches, but rarely interfered in their administrative decisions.11 In the U.S., the homeland of Cold War religion, religious organizations supported themselves solely through private donations.

Religion and the Refugee Relief Agencies

Both in North America and in Western Europe, the churches supported agencies for the care of the disadvantaged members of society that organized hospitals, food assistance, and missionary activity, both at home and abroad. Of greatest impact were the Catholic agencies, the National Catholic Welfare Conference-Catholic Relief Service in the U.S. and Caritas in most European countries. Protestants and Jews had analogous organizations.

These agencies were engaged in refugee relief, and not only in their home countries. Both Hebrew and Christian scripture stipulates that the faithful should practice hospitality and compassion to strangers in their midst. The Book of Exodus recounts an escape from slavery to freedom and asserts: “You shall not oppress an alien; you well know how it feels to be an alien, since you were once aliens yourselves in the land of Egypt” (Exodus 23:9). The Gospel of Matthew recounts the Holy Family’s flight into Egypt, and Luke recounts Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan and concludes with the admonition to “go and do likewise.” The Acts of the Apostles downplay the importance of borders and preach the common humanity of people, regardless of ancestry. Christians and Jews don’t always observe these principles, but the principles inspire their refugee relief activity.12

Jewish mutual aid and Christian missions signaled the entry of the U.S. onto the international humanitarian scene in the late nineteenth century. As the country entered World War I in 1917, its government encouraged the mobilization of religious organizations to meet anticipated humanitarian needs. The massive population movements of World War II created an even greater challenge for armies and a role for non-governmental agencies. The leaders of the advancing Allied forces, especially in the U.S. Army, realized that they needed help. It was natural that they turned to the International Committee of the Red Cross and its national affiliates. The religiously based agencies were more diverse, but the spiritual dimension enabled them not only to raise funds rapidly (at which the Red Cross was very adept), but also to mobilize a broadly based network of agencies and communities for volunteer work. The need and opportunity created a conundrum in American law, however: in view of the separation of church and state, what would be the nature of the collaboration between the government and the religious agencies? The solution was to create on the one hand a federal office to accredit the NGOs (the prevailing term was voluntary agencies) and, on the other, a private organization consisting of these accredited agencies, which would coordinate their work and interface with the government. The private organization, established in 1944, was the American Council of Voluntary Agencies for Foreign Service (ACVAFS). A central principle of the ACVAFS was the primacy of service over sectarianism. The Committee on Migration and Refugee Affairs rapidly became the ACVAFS’s most active component.13

European countries faced less of a challenge in coordinating the voluntary agencies because they had a history of financial and political involvement in the churches. Organizations analogous to the ACVAFS arose in all West European countries in the immediate postwar years, and they were themselves coordinated beginning in 1948 by the Standing Conference of Voluntary Agencies Working for Refugees.14

The chief religiously based agencies that were engaged on behalf of refugees were those of the Catholics, the Jews, the Lutherans, the Quakers, and the World Council of Churches.

The Catholic agencies in most countries bore the name Caritas and operated under the authority of diocesan bishops, but with a national federation for coordination. In the wake of World War II, the American counterpart would soon dwarf each local Caritas in its resources. During the war, it assumed the name War Relief Services-National Catholic Welfare Conference, renamed Catholic Relief Services (CRS-NCWC) in 1955. The CRS established offices in most European countries at the end of the war, both to distribute food and clothing but, increasingly after 1948, also to coordinate resettlement into third countries. A board of American archbishops and bishops met periodically in Washington, DC to oversee the WRS/CRS, and it was encouraged in its work by the Holy See. The coordinator of all of the activities of the CRS in Europe was a Catholic layman and former religious brother from New Jersey, James J. Norris.15

Pope Pius XII promulgated his apostolic constitution Exsul Familia Nazarethana [The Exiled Family from Nazareth] in 1952 to affirm the compassionate concern of the Church for migrants, including the practice of appointing missionary priests for migrants of their own nationality. The document placed the newly founded International Catholic Migration Commission (ICMC) in a historical and doctrinal context.16 The ICMC, led for the first ten years of its existence by Norris and based in Geneva, would coordinate aid to migrants by country-based agencies, organize international conferences on the subject, and publish a journal entitled Migration News beginning in 1951.17

Two major agencies and then the newly emerged State of Israel were the principal sources of Jewish relief. The American Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) worked largely to aid Jewish communities in place, while the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS) was older, not as well funded, and focused largely on migrants and resettlement. In light of anti-Semitism and the Holocaust, the relief work of these agencies relied less on scriptural injunctions than on fundamental solidarity.18 Zionism and resettlement in Israel were less of a concern for these organizations than they were for the Jewish Agency, which was formed in Palestine before the establishment of the State of Israel and then supported by the new state afterwards.

The World Lutheran Federation (WLF) served to bring together the variants of this denomination, which reflected various organizational and doctrinal solutions in their respective countries. The Evangelisches Hilfswerk was an important Lutheran relief organization for postwar Germany and Austria, where the initial focus of refugee relief was on the eleven million German expellees from the East. The American branch of the WLF serving refugees was the Lutheran Relief Service, LRS.

The humanitarian engagement of the Quakers was of long standing, and organized in the twentieth century as the Friends Relief Service and its American arm, the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC). Reflecting the relatively small membership of this denomination, the AFSC engaged with needy communities of all religious and ethnic backgrounds.

Ecumenical activists inspired the eventual foundation of the World Council of Churches (WCC) in Geneva in 1948, whose arm for refugee relief was Church World Service. The WCC’s membership included most Protestant and Orthodox churches and often worked closely with the Lutherans and Quakers. Roland Elliott of Church World Service wrote about his encounter with Hungarians at the border with Austria: I have seen the face of Jesus Christ, as His Church is struggling to meet this tragic and heroic situation...we have the privileged responsibility of opening our homes to those who come to the U.S.A.”19 The words of Gaither P. Warfield, the Director of the Methodist Committee for Overseas Relief, may adequately summarize the thinking of many Protestants. He wrote in 1958 that “Christian charity says that needy people, even panhandlers, are personalities, loved by God and precious in his sight.”20

The Catholic Church was not a member of the WCC, and the anxiety of some Catholic leaders about CWS contact with Catholic migrants helped inspire the establishment of the ICMC. Norris, whose Catholic piety and doctrinal orthodoxy were never in doubt, was quite happy to collaborate with his non-Catholic counterparts. I found no evidence that his clerical superiors in the CRS had a problem with this. Indeed, he had a good working relationship with the Holy See’s Deputy Secretary of State, Msgr. Montini, the later Pope Paul VI.

Two accounts of the refugee work of the CRS and WCC during the 1950s by Edgar H.S. Chandler and Eileen Eagan reveal significant similarities in these organizations’ service to migrants around the world. Chandler, the Director of the WCC’s Refugee Service and President of the Standing Conference of Voluntary Agencies Working for Refugees in 1959, was an American Congregationalist. In his view, the refugee worker was a sort of missionary, but one with a “soul on fire” to help one’s fellow human in need, anywhere and regardless of nationality and denomination. His 1959 account of the WCC’s refugee work only occasionally mentions the religion of WCC staffers and their clients around the world.21 Egan was a long-time staffer of the CRS. She wrote, “Thomas Merton recalls to us that we will find Christ in the rejected, the refugee ‘for whom there is no room.’ We will only find Christ if we find room for the forsaken ones in our heart.”22 Egan’s book only rarely mentions the WCC, and Chandler’s the CRS. It may be that these groups represented different fundamental attitudes toward social service. In the view of Edward Duff, the Catholic approach was more communitarian, while that of the Protestants was predicated on the faith of the individual.23 By analogy, the Protestant and Orthodox churches organized themselves on an explicitly national basis. The WCC, however, was no less international than the Catholic Church.

According to Allied and Soviet estimates, each bloc was caring for roughly seven million displaced persons (DPs) in September 1945. Repatriation and resettlement of many of these people took place over the course of two years under the auspices of the United Nations, but the task of providing care for migrants in place fell principally on the voluntary organizations. The expulsion of Germans from Poland, Czechoslovakia, and Hungary by 1947 increased the unsettled population in occupied Germany again, and again the volunteer organizations were needed. Two new categories of migrants moved westward into Central Europe in 1946–48: Jewish survivors and opponents of the emerging Communist regimes. We will now turn to these groups as they relate to Hungary.

The Hungarian Refugee

The number of non-Jewish DPs from Hungary in the western occupation zones at the end of the war has been estimated at 112,000, of which 16,000 had been repatriated by September 1945.24 118,000 DPs from Hungary were registered in Germany in 1949.25 Many DPs were politically conservative, including adherents of the last wartime Hungarian government. Hungarian Primate Cardinal Mindszenty encouraged émigré priests to provide spiritual care for Hungarians who remained abroad. The Holy See appointed a former military chaplain who had come to Germany with the retreating Hungarians, Zoltán Kótai, as supervisor of pastoral care for Hungarian Catholics in Germany and Austria, and he served in this position in 1946–50. In January 1946, he reported that 109 Hungarian priests were active in Germany and Austria. The Protestant Hungarians also had their émigré clergy, and in greater numbers than the Catholics, whose bishops urged priests to stay with their parishes in Hungary if possible.26

Jewish survivors of the Hungarian Holocaust were also present among the DPs in Germany and Austria. Scandalously, they were often housed alongside their former German and Hungarian persecutors in the camps, but with a lower caloric ration. An American rabbi in the U.S. Army’s chaplain corps, Abraham J. Klausner, was an early witness to these conditions, and an American Protestant scholar named Earl G. Harrison, the U.S. representative on the Intergovernmental Committee on Refugees, toured the camps with the assistance of the European director of the JDC and wrote a report that was instrumental in rectifying these injustices. 27

A study commissioned by the World Jewish Congress indicated that 165,330 Jews had survived the Holocaust in Hungary and remained there at the end of the war. This figure may not adequately account for changes in borders, migration, and self-identity.28 A wave of anti-Semitic incidents in Hungary during the spring of 1946, more or less tolerated by the police, prompted many survivors to leave Hungary. Financial support from the JDC and World Jewish Congress and the collaboration of the Hungarian National Bank facilitated the resettlement of 15,000 Hungarian Jewish survivors.29 This emigration was part of an international movement and a complex organization known as Brichah, flight, which brought perhaps 250,000 Jews out of Central Europe between 1945 and 1948.30 The total post-Holocaust Jewish emigration from Hungary up to 1956 may have been as high as 50,000. 17,000 Jewish refugees may have gone to Israel and less than half that number to the U.S.31

Aid to Hungary’s religious groups in money and in kind was substantial after the end of the war. The JDC recommenced operation in Hungary at the end of 1944, and it had an office in Budapest from February 1945 until it was forced to close in 1953. The value of support for Hungary during this period is recorded as nearly 50 million USD, prompting a historian to refer to this aid as a “small Marshall Plan for Hungary.”32 The JDC managed to maneuver for years in the complex politics of the anti-Fascist but also increasingly anti-Zionist regime. The CRS was able to open an office in Budapest at the end of 1945, but it had to close it earlier than the JDC, in 1950. Aid to Hungary raised by the American Catholic bishops was small compared to that from the JDC, recorded as 631,600 USD in Hungary in 1947–50.33

The early closure of the CRS office in Budapest reflected the difficult position of the Catholic Church in Hungary, whose combative leader, Cardinal Mindszenty, was arrested in 1949. As was its custom in other countries, the ACVAFS established a committee to coordinate the activity of its member agencies in Hungary, but it only functioned from 1946 to 1948. Its chairman was Henry E. Muller of the Unitarian Service Committee, whose coreligionists constituted one-tenth of one percent of the population according to the 1949 census (Catholics were 70.5 percent, Calvinists 21.9 percent, and Jews 2.7 percent). New agencies joined the committee in 1947, and the agencies’ food and clothing aid reportedly had the support of Prime Minister Lajos Dinnyés, but at its last meeting in June 1948 the members reported that operations in Hungary were becoming increasingly difficult because of the government’s distrust of foreign influence and organizational autonomy.34

The leaders of Hungary’s Christian churches and Jewish community were obliged in 1949–50 to conclude restrictive agreements. Marxist ideology saw no constructive role for religious faith, and the Hungarian regime saw none for clergy or organizations not under its complete control. The nationalization of schools run by the Catholic church removed 4,500 members of religious orders from the classroom. In 1950, 11,000 members of orders were expelled from their residences and 59 orders were abolished.35 Protestant and Jewish schools were also nationalized. Show trials led to the imprisonment of Cardinal Mindszenty, his successor as leader of Hungarian Catholics, Archbishop Grősz, and large numbers of other clergy. Lutheran bishop Lajos Ordass was tried and imprisoned, and Reformed bishops László Ravasz and László Pap were forced out of public life.

Religious order priests whose schools were closed were for the most part deprived of opportunities to serve as priests. Some found placement in the parishes thanks to the support of bishops who were willing to take this risky step, but many left the country illegally. Law XXVI, promulgated in 1950, defined illegal travel abroad as a crime against the state order because it deprived the country of labor and capital and placed the fugitive in the service of imperialist interests and spies.36 More than 70 Jesuits, Cistercians, and Paulines left the country illegally in this period.37 Those accused of assisting illegal emigration were tried and convicted under Law XXVI.

The CRS sponsored the resettlement of hundreds of Catholic clergy from East Central Europe to the U.S. Fr. László Szépe, the coordinator of the priests serving Hungarian refugees in Austria, wrote to the office in New York in 1949: “as our people are gradually emigrating, and a part of them of them is leaving for the United States, some of the clergymen would like to follow them. Would you kindly send me the necessary forms.” The annual report of WRS to its supervisory board for 1951–52 stated that “415 displaced priests from Iron Curtain countries have been brought to US since 1948.”38

Religious congregations in the diaspora were well supplied with new immigrant clergy. For many emigrants, the loss of the homeland, hunger, the uncertainty of life in the DP camps, and then adjustment to a new homeland after resettlement were dispiriting. The Catholic priests’ sense of mission lent purpose and optimism to their segment of the Hungarian emigration.39 In the reports to Hungary’s spy agency, the harmful influence of the “reactionary” clergy on Hungarian emigrants and their hostile attitude toward the socialist order were repeatedly emphasized.40 Religious communities provided an important support network for the recent Hungarian émigrés. To the extent that they had a political orientation, it was indeed decidedly conservative.

International Organizations and Austria in 1956

Three successive agencies of the United Nations coordinated refugee relief on behalf of the international organization beginning in 1943: the United Nations Refugee and Rehabilitation Administration (UNRRA), the International Refugee Organization (IRO), and, beginning in 1951, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). Continuing challenges for these organizations included the international dispute about their purpose and the limited funding placed at their disposal. The status of refugee, defined by the Geneva Convention of 1951, prescribed political or religious persecution in one’s home country as a precondition, and thus excluded many emigrants from international protection. The Soviet Union favored repatriation of emigrants, and resettlement was supported increasingly by the West as an alternative, but subject to the willingness of the receiving country. Another international agency in Geneva, which focused on resettlement and excluded members of the Soviet bloc, was the Intergovernmental Committee on European Migration (ICEM).

The UNHCR relied upon the Red Cross, ICEM, and the voluntary agencies to compensate for its own limitations. The first High Commissioner, the Dutchman Dr. G. J. van Heuven Goedhart, far from taking a rigidly secular stance, recognized the religious motivation of many voluntary agencies as appropriate and valuable. His address at the international Catholic migration congress organized by the ICMC in the Netherlands in September 1954 followed one by Msgr. Edward E. Swanstrom, the Executive Director of WRS. Applauding the American monsignor’s remarks, Goedhart asserted that “the Christian spirit behind the work is the main impetus, the most important impetus, which will lead us to achieve our goal.41

The goal of refugee relief—resettlement, permanent settlement, or repatriation—was an ongoing challenge for Austria, which received two million refugees after 1945 of whom about 700,000 would eventually remain in Austria.42 Some 114,000 so-called old refugees, 20,000 of them living in camps, remained in Austria on the eve of the Hungarian crisis.43 Some were German expellees for whom the Austrian government took responsibility, while others were non-Germans. Thus the Austrian government, UNHCR, and associated agencies were collaborators of long standing; the UNHCR, ICEM, and the voluntary agencies maintained offices in Vienna, and both the ACVAFS and its Austrian counterpart periodically convened meetings of their affiliated agencies.44 The achievement of Austrian sovereignty by the State Treaty of 1955 increased the government’s ability to address emigrants’ needs by eliminating the division of the country into zones of military occupation and reducing the pressure by the Soviet Union for the repatriation of émigrés. The ruling coalition of the two major parties, ÖVP (the People’s Party, or Christian Democrats) and SPÖ (the Socialists), was united in its support for sovereignty and refugee relief. The ÖVP supplied Austria’s Chancellor, Julius Raab, and Foreign Minister, Leopold Figl, while the SPÖ supplied the Minister of Interior, Oskar Helmer. As we will see, Helmer played a crucial role in the refugee program.

In the spirit of the government coalition, Austria’s Catholic bishops issued a pastoral letter on social concerns criticizing both liberal capitalism and Communism and calling for social solidarity and partnership, with the traditional Catholic preference for local over government initiative.45 The bishops’ letter, dated October 16, 1956, was surely in the minds of many Austrian Catholics on the eve of the Hungarian revolution. The Catholic Archbishop of Vienna, Franz König, called upon his SOS Department and Caritas to collect and distribute donations for Hungarians after October 23. Both the Austrian government and the UN General Assembly called for an end to the fighting and the sending of humanitarian aid to the Hungarian people. The leaders of Austrian Caritas and the WCC delivered a major shipment to Győr on October 31, and convoys of Caritas and the Red Cross made it as far as Budapest. Donations of medicine, food, and clothing from governments and private agencies began arriving in Austria and Hungary by land and air. Archbishop König became co-chair of an Österreichisches Nationalkommittee für Ungarn, which coordinated aid “with the participation of all welfare groups, Catholic, Protestant, and Jewish, public and private.” Fr. Fabian Flynn, the head of the CRS office in Vienna, reportedly led two convoys with ten trucks of supplies to Budapest and personally met Cardinal Mindszenty, but was turned back on a third trip.46 Other religious agencies were similarly engaged.

After the second Soviet intervention on November 4, the aid convoys were no longer able to enter Hungary. There was a new emphasis on refugee relief, which the UN’s General Secretary assigned to the UNHCR. On October 28, when 10,000 refugees had already entered Austria, Oskar Helmer declared that his country would grant asylum to any Hungarian who requested it, without examining individuals’ motives. Fearing much larger numbers would overwhelm Austria, Helmer wired the countries represented in the leadership of the UNHCR and ICEM on November 4 to ask them to pledge donations and accept Hungarians for resettlement.

Religious Agencies Meet the Refugee Crisis in Austria

The UNHCR and ICEM had access to national governments (among which the American government donated more money and material for refugee relief than any other source), but the voluntary societies had the ability to mobilize rapidly and motivate volunteers. As the flow of Hungarians across the largely open Austrian border swelled on 4 November, Helmer called an emergency meeting of König’s committee, and Caritas volunteers began a desperate effort to prepare the former Soviet camp at Traiskirchen. The camp was in terrible shape when the first Hungarians arrived that evening. But many organizations pitched in to get the situation under control. A British Quaker reported:

One sees...all manner of uniforms. A boy scout for instance, suddenly charges up a long flight of stairs; a Catholic priest goes from room to room; a journalist squats on the edge of
somebody’s bed struggling to get a coherent story on to [sic] paper. All have come to help; everybody wants to do something useful, and it is indeed surprising that out of the chaos little miracles of organization do emerge and impossible things do get done.47

Having relatively small communities in the countries of resettlement, the Quakers were given the task of overall coordination of clothing distribution in the camp.

At a higher level, the agency leaders found coordination challenging because of their organizations’ independence, missionary impulse, and the extraordinary emergency they faced and wanted to address without delay. Charles H. Jordan was the JDC’s Director General for Overseas Operations representing the Standing Conference of Voluntary Agencies. He convened agencies in Vienna on the evening of November 5 in hopes of leaving immediately afterwards for consultations in New York, but decided to delay his departure. The ICEM office reported after talking to him that, “[e]ach voluntary agency evidently wanted its own particular empire protected and there was great difficulty to combine ideas and co-ordinate activities,” and “Jordan was thoroughly disappointed with the outcome of the meeting.” ICEM for its part disapproved of the desire of Caritas and CRS to move Catholic refugees out of the camps and into smaller, private facilities. ICEM objected to this and resolved to consult Norris about it.48

The push by the Austrian government for resettlement, to which ICEM, the UNHCR, and member governments were responding, prompted resistance by the voluntary agencies. Helmer and ICEM preferred to keep the refugees in camps as long as they were in Austria so that they could be registered there and communicate promptly with governments about resettlement opportunities. Caritas for its part claimed that many refugees were deciding in favor of resettlement too hastily, under the pressure of the inhumane and demoralizing conditions in the camps and the recruitment efforts of receiving countries. Traiskirchen, it was reported, could provide places to sleep for only three-fourths of its 4,000 residents, and it lacked electricity and running water. Caritas arranged and helped pay (with support from the government) for thousands of refugees to stay in hotels where they could recover from the shock of their life-changing experience, receive counselling about options for employment, resettlement, or even repatriation (“for no one has the right to deny fugitives their homeland forever”), and decide whether they wanted to travel farther or wait for their relatives.49 The program was called Gastaktion, “because Christ comes as guest in the person of the refugee.” Its originator was the director of Vienna Caritas since 1950, Msgr. Leopold Ungar, and it was reportedly imitated by the Evangelisches Hilfswerk, JDC, and the Knights of Malta, another Catholic aid organization, which all created similar programs.50

In the case of the JDC, more was involved than parallel thinking, let alone imitation. According to the JDC Annual Report,

Because Austria had the greatest difficulty in accommodating refugees—in the beginning the camps even lacked basic necessities—the Austrian Government appealed to the population and to voluntary agencies for help. Jewish refugees also found it difficult to be quartered with some antagonistic elements among the Hungarians and [the] JDC thereupon set up a housing scheme for the placement of 9000 refugees in inns, hotels, furnished rooms and small installations.

This was very expensive, and it was gradually superseded by the establishment of two Austrian camps exclusively for Jewish refugees supported jointly by the Red Cross, the Austrian government, and the JDC.51 The provision of kosher kitchens was one consideration, but not the only one, since Orthodox Jews constituted only a minority of the Hungarian Jews.

The religious agencies gave special, but not exclusive, attention to their coreligionists. There were variations in the religious distribution of the refugees in 1956–57 compared to the data in Hungary’s 1949 census. Two surveys by the Austrian government52 of the Hungarians still present in the country in February and October 1957 found the percentage of Catholics consistent with their percentage in 1949, that of the Protestants lower, and that of the Jews much higher:

1949 census53 February 1, 1957 October 28, 1957

Greek, Roman Catholics

70.5 percent

68.3 percent

70.1 percent

Reformed + Lutherans

27.1 percent

16.1 percent

18.7 percent


2.7 percent

10.2 percent

10.5 percent


Table 1. Religious distribution of Hungarians in Austria

The low percentage of Protestants may be in large part a consequence of the emigrants’ geographic origin. A later analysis of the emigrants by Hungary’s Central Statistical Office provided no religious data, but noted that more than 80 percent of the refugees had a last Hungarian place of residence in Budapest or towns further west, whereas the largest concentration of Protestants was in the east.54 In the case of 365 refugees interviewed by the Columbia University Research Project Hungary (CURPH), whose metadata are searchable online, a preponderance of Catholics and residents of Budapest is observable.55 One may argue, as does András Mink is examining the CURPH findings, that “Western observers...had an obsolete image of an essentially rural and religious Hungarian society and disregarded the urbanization, industrialization and secularization that had been under way [sic] long before the communist takeover.”56 The fact remains that governments and relief agencies, and not only CURPH, attached importance to religious categories.

A modest but significant number of clergy left the country. Of the 365 CURPH interview subjects, seven were identified as Catholic priests.57 Applying the same ratio for the 200,000 56ers would produce a total of 3,836 priests. The leadership of the Jesuits in Hungary voted after the Revolution to send the thirty novices of its province abroad.58 The superior of the Paulines, István Jenő Csellár, had been imprisoned in 1951 for various alleged crimes, including providing assistance for illegal émigrés. Csellár himself joined the exodus after the Revolution, as evidenced by his petition for admission to the U.S. from Austria, along with two other members of his order. He entered the U.S. in July 1957. 59

The percentage of Jewish emigrants was remarkably high relative to their remaining population, which had continued to shrink after 1949 due to legal and illegal emigration. Given the varying criteria for Jewish identity, historians are cautious in their estimates of the number of Jewish 56ers, ranging from 15,000 to 30,000, from one-fifth to one-third of the members of the Jewish population of Hungary who had remained on the eve of the revolution. Jewish survivors in Hungary were understandably anxious about the possibility of an anti-Semitic upsurge, and this, more than the actual incidents during the revolution, may explain the Jewish exodus.60 Fully two-thirds (8117) of the Hungarian citizens granted permission to emigrate legally in the first five months of 1957 emigrated to Israel.61

A high percentage of all the emigrants chose the United States as their desired destination, between 45 percent and 53 percent in the two Austrian surveys.62 More émigrés ended up settling in the U.S. than in any other country, but there were many who, hoping in vain for an American visa, refused to go elsewhere and became demoralized and in some cases suicidal.

The U.S. was as eager as other countries to expedite resettlement, as was urgently demanded by the Austrians, but it faced certain legal limitations unknown to other receiving countries. A provision in the Refugee Relief Act stated that an entry visa required an assurance that the traveler would not become a public charge, and during the period of greatest urgency the voluntary agencies were granted responsibility for assurances based on a quota for their coreligionists. Pierce Gerety, special assistant to the U.S. Secretary of State for refugee affairs, told an emergency meeting of the ACVAFS in November: “The Austrian government wants these people out as quickly as possible.” The committee’s chair, Msgr. Swanstrom, and other agency representatives expressed concern about pressure for rapid action, especially because they did not want to be the ones to decide who would get visas to enter the U.S.63 It was apparently this peculiarity in American procedures that prompted an agreement between the CRS and ICMC according to which the CRS would focus its immigration counseling on movements to the U.S., whereas the ICMC and Caritas would “counsel schemes both inside and outside Europe.”64 Fr. Flynn wrote New York from the Vienna office of the CRS describing the pressure he was under, but he also reported improvement:

Of the thousands of Hungarian Refugees who have already gone to the United States under the emergency and sponsored by CRS I doubt that more than 200 were really thoroughly interviewed. We simply were not given the time [by the Embassy] to do this… Now, as I said before, and thank God, we can act in a more orderly and sensible manner.65

The CRS staff in Austria, bolstered by colleagues from neighboring countries and volunteers, numbered 225 in locations around the country. The head of the Salzburg office of the CRS reported that the work was “a nightmare of improvisation” and “not entirely free from confusion,” but succeeded thanks to dedication and collaboration with the many other agencies and organizations.66

James Norris wrote that the sudden Hungarian exodus has constituted the biggest movement of Catholic refugees. Yet Catholic organizations have not been alone in coping with the problem.”67 The ICMC’s Migration News understandably focused on the Catholic organizations, and indeed they had far more staff working directly with the Hungarian refugees than the other religious agencies. A coordinating committee for government, intergovernmental, and voluntary agencies working on the Hungarian refugee crisis met in Geneva seventeen times between 13 November 1956 and 21 October 1957. The minutes reveal strong engagement not only by the CRS and ICMC, but also by Charles Jordan, representing the Standing Conference of Voluntary Agencies Working for Refugees and the JDC, Edgar Chandler, and various representatives of the UNHCR, ICEM, Red Cross, U.S. Escapee Program, CARE, AFSC, and various smaller agencies.68

Recurrent topics in the coordinating committee included the current status of refugee flow into and out of Hungary, the management of the camps by the Red Cross or the Austrian government, and the supply of food and clothing. Both the Catholic agencies and those with fewer staff on the ground in Austria distributed materials collected through their own fundraising efforts as well as those supplied by U.S. government surplus and USEP funds. Within the ACVAFS New York office, the Committee on Migration and Refugee Affairs focused on the movement of people, whereas a separate Ad Hoc Committee on Hungary was dedicated to the supply of material within both Austria and Hungary.69 The Vienna council of the ACVAFS may have met less frequently (there are relatively few minutes in the ACVAFS archives) because it was so busy actually working with the refugees. One topic documented in the records is the division of proceeds from a fundraising effort on behalf of Hungarian youth. One such breakdown was 56 percent for CRS, 21 percent for the Lutheran World Federation/World Council of Churches, 11 percent for AJDC, and 2 percent each for the Brethren Service Commission, the Hungarian Refugee Service, the International Social Service, the World Ort Union, and the YMCA/YWCA.70

Care for the several thousand unaccompanied youth was an increasingly common topic in the committee meetings, especially as the number of Hungarian refugees waned in 1957. The worldwide interest in adopting refugee orphans far outstripped their actual number. The UNHCR, Austrian and Hungarian governments, and the voluntary agencies were all engaged in a discussion about the options for repatriation, resettlement, or settlement in Austria. Many voluntary agencies helped establish group homes and schools for Hungarian young people who resettled in Germany or stayed in Austria.71

Hungarian intelligence analysis of intercepted mail72 reported frequent contacts between the refugees and the clergy in the camps and resettlement communities. Allegations of anti-Communist agitation in these encounters, recruitment into intelligence services, or dissemination of propaganda seem to have been exaggerations. The religious component of these encounters presumed concern for the individual traveler and how he or she might deal with the available choices with the help of a kind word and ready ear, perhaps also with sacraments or prayer. In their committee reports, the WCC and the Catholic agencies emphasized that they had staff who spoke Hungarian and sought out the refugees. On November 23, 1956, Pope Pius named Bishop Stephan László, administrator of the Burgenland province (where most of the refugees entered Austria) and a speaker of Hungarian, as Apostolic Visitor for the Catholic Hungarian refugees in Austria. In this position, László had authority over all Hungarian priests arriving in Austria as refugees and the responsibility of ensuring that priests with knowledge of Hungarian attend to the refugees wherever they were. László published a bulletin in German and another in Hungarian for clergy working with the refugees.73

In the United States, the religious agencies and clergy detailed to Camp Kilmer participated in the processing of refugees, performed religious services, and held weddings. The fifteen members of the President’s Committee for Hungarian Refugee Relief in Washington, DC included CRS Director Msgr. Edward Swanson, Charles P. Taft (one of the founders of the WCC), and ACVAFS Chairman Moses A. Leavitt of the JDC. Four of the seven voluntary agencies represented at Camp Kilmer were religious in character: the CRS, CWS, HIAS, and LRS. Camp Kilmer’s operating manual states:

the NCWC often assigns groups of refugees to a given Diocese, which is in turn expected to work out the actual sponsorships locally within the parishes. In all instances, the Sponsoring
Agency is the organization to which the United States Government and the Hungarians look for the finalizing of the resettlement plan, as well as the maintenance of contact.74

Many refugees left the camp in response to invitations from relatives or employers without waiting for religious sponsorship. In all, 32,000 refugees passed through Camp Kilmer before it closed in April, 1957. The religious agencies and at least one Hungarian American organization criticized the decision to channel refugees through Camp Kilmer.75 On 13 November 1956, the CRS invited diocesan resettlement directors to notify the central office if they were ready to receive Hungarians in large quantities, encouraging them to write: “send us a planeload.” A follow-up circular issued on 3 December stated: “We have had dozens of requests for planeloads of refugees for specific cities... We have agreed that all refugees would come to Camp Kilmer where we would group them for transportation to specific destinations.”

According to the Resettlement Newsletter of the CRS, twelve dioceses did receive planeloads, carrying 75-100 people at a time.76 Two Hungarian priests organized the reception of the planeload that landed in Chicago on 13 December and apparently supplied the front page headline in the Chicago Daily Sun-Times: “Isten Hozta a Szabadság Országabá [sic] (Translation from Hungarian: God Brought You to Freedom’s Country.”77 Another paper reported: “A Hungarian refugee broke into a warm smile” at the sight of the headline.78


The history of the reception of Hungarian refugees after the 1956 Revolution has generally been recounted as an impressive success story. The refugees in general were highly educated, and they brought with them youthful ambition. They benefitted from growing economies in the host countries, thus it might seem that they were predestined for success in their new lives. We can ascribe the warm welcome they received in part to the Cold War heroization of freedom fighters and victims of Communist repression. This study suggests that the religious or spiritual message in this welcome must also be considered. Voluntary agencies, their donors, and volunteers were not immune to the political milieu, but they were also motivated by their particular, and indeed widely shared, humanitarian mission.

The collaboration between the bureaucrats and the voluntary agencies was largely successful, despite their at times diverging missions. The resolutely upbeat tone of American government relief managers was at odds with the occasionally tense exchanges between the American officials and voluntary agency representatives. In contrast to the positive note in the promotional materials of the President’s Committee for Hungarian Refugee Relief, its chair, Tracy Voorhees, regretted the American decision to phase out large-scale refugee relief in the spring of 1957 in response to declining support for the program in Congress. Fr. Flynn, the director of the CRS office in Vienna, spoke to a meeting of Catholic resettlement directors in New York on February 19, 1957. He painted an alarming picture of overcrowding in Austrian camps, and he lamented the flagging support for the refugees among politicians.79 The demoralizing waits endured by refugees still stranded in the Austrian camps and cases of unemployment in countries of resettlement prompted some refugees to return to Hungary. Voluntary repatriation reached over 20,000 by 1960.80

The ACVAFS published a report in April 1958 that noted various purported shortcomings in the reception of Hungarian refugees, from the federal government’s preference for routing refugees through Camp Kilmer to inadequate attention to humanitarian considerations and inequitable, inconsistent criteria applied in the selection of candidates for resettlement.81 Fr. Flynn had called in his 19 February address for the U.S. government and the UNHCR to act more responsibly. This would indeed occur in the coming years, as both took on a larger share of the initiative and expense of refugee relief. The relative impact of the voluntary agencies would consequently decline, although they continue to exert some influence to the present day.82


Archival Sources

AANY Archives of the Ardiocese of New York, Yonkers. Cardinal Spellman Papers

ABTL Állambiztonsági Szolgálatok Történeti Levéltára, Budapest, Hungary

AJDC American Jewish Distribution Committee, New York, online archives at


CMS Center for Migration Studies, New York

CZW Caritas Zentrale Wien, Austria. Binder of reports on the Hungarian Crisis

DAE Diözesanarchiv Eisenstadt, Austria. Nachlass Bischof László

DAW Diözesanarchiv Wien, Austria

IOM International Organization for Migration, Geneva, Switzerland. Library Archives.

Intergovernmental Committee for European Migration, Records

SCUA Special Collections and University Archives, Rutgers University,

New Brunswick, New Jersey

American Council of Voluntary Societies for Foreign Service, Papers

UNOG Archives of the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland. United Nations High

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Niessen, James P. “Hungarian Refugees of 1956: From the Border to Austria, Camp Kilmer, and Elsewhere.” Hungarian Cultural Studies: e-Journal of the American Hungarian Educators Association (AHEA), 9 (2016): 122–36. Accessed May 15, 2017. http://dx.doi.org/10.5195/ahea.2016.261.

Pastor, Peter. “The American Reception and Settlement of Hungarian Refugees in 1956–1957.” Hungarian Cultural Studies: e-Journal of the American Hungarian Educators Association (AHEA), 9 (2016): 197–205. Accessed May 15, 2017. https://doi.org/10.5195/ahea.2016.255.

Porter, Stephen R. Benevolent Empire: U.S. Power, Humanitarianism, and the World’s Dispossessed. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2017.

President’s Committee for Hungarian Refugee Relief. Joyce Kilmer Reception Center: Manual of Policies and Procedures followed in Conjunction with Hungarian Refugee Resettlement. 201-page typescript. Accessed May 15, 2017. http://dx.doi.org/doi:10.7282/T3ZC827K.

Public Papers of the United States Presidents, William J. Clinton. Washington, DC: Office of the Federal Register, National Archives and Records Administration, 2000. Vol. 1. Accessed May 15, 2017. https://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/PPP-1999-book1/pdf/PPP-1999-book1-doc-pg903-2.pdf.

Rásky, Béla. “‘Flüchtlinge haben auch auch Pflichten’: Österreich und die Ungarnflüchtlinge 1956.” Presentation in Budapest, October 12, 1998. http://www.kakanien-revisited.at/beitr/fallstudie/BRasky1.pdf. Accessed February 5, 2017.

Reiss, Elizabeth Clark. ACVAFS: Four Monographs. New York: The American Council of Voluntary Agencies for Foreign Service, 1985.

Rusch, ed. Bischof Paul. Der Sozialhirtenbrief der österreichischen Bischöfe. Innsbruck: Tyrolia-Verlag, 1957.

Stark, Tamás. Hungarian Jews during the Holocaust and after the Second World War, 1939–1949: A Statistical Review. Boulder: East European Monographs, 2000.

Tessarolo, Rev. Giulivo, ed. Exsul Familia: The Church’s Magna Carta for Migrants. Staten Island, NY: St. Charles Seminary, 1962.

Világtörténet 6 (38), no. 3 (2016). Thematic issue on 1956.

Wycislo, Msgr. Aloysius J. “Escape to America.” Catholic World 93, no. 2 (1957): 326–27.

1 1956 és a szocializmus; Világtörténet 6 (38), no. 3 (2016). A study by me was published in both forums.

2 Ibolya Murber’s fine recent study begins with a good survey of Hungarian and Austrian scholarship: Murber, “Az 1956-os magyar menekültek,” 123–28. For American scholarship, see my “A befogadás kulturája” and “Hungarian Refugees of 1956” and Pastor’s “The American Reception.”

3 Geneva was the most important of several cities where I conducted research for this study. I would like to express thanks to the following staff who provided valuable assistance: Heather Faulkner at the UNHCR, Kerstin Lau at the International Organization for Migration, and Barbara Sartore at the International Catholic Migration Commission in Geneva; Johann Weißensteiner at the Diözesanarchiv Wien and Walther Pröglhöf at Caritas der Erzdiözese Wien [Caritas Zentrale Wien] in Vienna; Agnes Maleschits at the Diözesanarchiv Eisenstadt in Eisenstadt; Éva Sz. Kovács at the Állambiztonsági Történeti Levéltára in Budapest; Mary Brown of the Center for Migration Studies in New York, Kate Feighery of the Archives of the Archdiocese of New York in Yonkers, and Albert C. King of Special Collections and University Archives at Rutgers University. Fellow historians Gusztáv Kecskés, András Nagy, Tamás Stark, and Éva Petrás as well as my anonymous referees were generous with advice but should be absolved of any responsibility for my errors. I’m also grateful to the Rutgers University Libraries for granting a brief research leave that enabled me to prepare this study in the middle of a busy academic year.

4 Egan, For Whom there is No Room, 236.

5 “Remarks at the State Dinner Honoring President Árpád Göncz of Hungary, June 8, 1999,” in Public Papers of the United States Presidents, William J. Clinton; the streamers welcoming Kossuth in New York are recounted in László, Napló-töredék, 141—with some ambiguity as to whether the inscription was in Hungarian.

6 Kirby, “The Cold War,” 285.

7 Herberg, Protestant, Catholic, Jew, 88.

8 Kirby, “The Churches and Christianity in Cold War Europe,” 196.

9 Kirby, “The Cold War,” 301–03.

10 Luxmoore and Babiuch, The Vatican and the Red Flag, 65.

11 On Austria: Köchler, “Das Verhältnis von Religion und Politik.”

12 Hollenbach, “Religion and Forced Migration,” 447–51. All scriptural passages in this paragraph appear as cited by Hollenbach.

13 Reiss, ACVAFS: Four Monographs; Nichols, The Uneasy Alliance. Reiss was a long-time staffer of the ACVAFS who was very involved in its refugee and migration committee. The records of the ACVAFS are preserved and available for research in Special Collections and University Archives at Rutgers University in New Brunswick. Nichols is one of the few historians who has consulted them.

14 Holborn, Refugees: A Problem of Our Time, 542; Kupke, “James J. Norris,” 241.

15 Kupke, “James J. Norris.

16 Tessarolo, ed., Exsul Familia.

17 This journal is not identical with the later Migration News, published at the University of California at Davis since 1994.

18 In his account of the JDC’s work during the Hungarian crisis, Theodore Feder, its director for Austria, wrote: “The story of the American Joint Distribution Committee is not necessarily a story of religion…its primary purpose is to serve the needs, physical as well as spiritual, of distressed and persecuted Jews in all parts of the world.” Feder, “Ecclesiastical Care of Hungarian Refugees: Jewish Refugees,” 131.

19 Nichols, The Uneasy Alliance, 90. The letter to CWS officials is dated December 12, 1957 by Nichols, but based on context appears to have been written a year earlier.

20 Warfield, “Is the Good Samaritan Outmoded?,” cited in Chiba, “The Role of the Protestant Church,” 22.

21 Egan, For Whom there is No Room; Chandler, The High Tower of Refuge.

22 Egan, For Whom there is No Room, 370.

23 Duff, appendix “The ‘Catholic’ and ‘Protestant’ Emphases,” in The Social Thought of the World Council of Churches, 309–20.

24 Dunai, “Élet a galutban,” 60.

25 Borbándi, A magyar emigráció életrajza, 53.

26 Ibid., 24.

27 Bauer, Flight and Rescue: Brichah, 57–62; 76–81.

28 The figure is examined by Tamás Stark in Hungarian Jews During the Holocaust, 88–95.

29 Komoróczy, A zsidók története Magyarországon, v2: 1849-től a jelenkorig, 880.

30 Bauer, Flight and Rescue: Brichah, 320.

31 Stark, Hungarian Jews During the Holocaust, 149, 160, 166–67.

32 Komoróczy, A zsidók története Magyarországon, 917.

33 AANY. Table: “Funds Distributed to War Relief Services—N.C.W.C. from Bishops’ Relief Campaign February 1, 1947 to October 31, 1950,” in War Relief Services Interim Report, Summary of General Report, War Relief Services-NCWC. November 14, 1950. Folder 18: War Relief Services Interim Report, 1950–1957.

34 SCUA. Box 62: Councils Abroad; Box 127: Country Committees, folder: Hungary.

35 The data are taken from A magyar katolikusok szenvedései 1944–1989.

36 Horváth et al., eds., Iratok az igazságszolgáltatás történetéhez, v1, 300–01; v4, 317–19.

37 Bánkuti, Jezsuiták a diktatúrában, 54–64.

38 AANY. Report to the Board of Trustees, War Relief Services, 1 October 1951 to 30 September 1952. p12. Collection Number 023.002. Catholic Relief Services Collection. Box 1, Folders 5, 9: Catholic Committee for Refugees, Annual Reports; Folder 24: Report to the Board of Trustees, War Relief Services

39 Dreisziger, Church and Society in Hungary and in the Hungarian; Borbándi, 28

40 ABTL. 3.2.5. 0-8-2001/42, “Szabadságharcosok”: reports on Hungarian émigré communities in 1950; 4.1. A-3177, “Összefoglaló jelentés az egyházi emigrációról”: insights from intercepted émigré and clerical mail, 1959.

41 van Heuven Goedhart, “Address,” 19.

42 “Flüchtlingsland Österreich.”

43 Report of the UNHCR, 17 January 1957, cited by Kecskés, “Bevezetés,” 26.

44 The Arbeitsgemeinschaft der freiwilligen Hilfsorganisationen is alluded to in the records of the ACVAFS, but I could not locate its records in any Austrian repository.

45 Rusch, ed. Der Sozialhirtenbrief der österreichischen Bischöfe.

46 Wycislo, “Escape to America,” 326–27. Msgr. Wycislo was the deputy director of CRS. The reader may justly be skeptical about the details of his narrative, since he writes with some exaggeration: “It is conservatively estimated that 85% of the approximately 140,000 Hungarian escapees are Roman Catholics.” 332. A report on Flynn’s later promotion includes his biography: “Priest Who Aided Freedom Fighters Named CRS-NCWC Director of Information,” NCWC News Service, November 16, 1961. CMS, NCWC Department of Immigration—General Correspondence. Catholic Conference on Industrial Problems—Catholic Relief Services. Box 10. Folder: Catholic Relief Services-NCWC, Diocesan Resettlement Committees

47 Eileen Taylor, “Life in Traiskirchen,” in an AFSC newsletter dated December 1956. In SCUA. Box 82, folder: Hungarian Revolution 1956: Agencies, relief programs.

48 IOM. A.R. Driver, Chief, Department of Operations, “Notes on Austrian Position,” November 5–6, in International Organization for Migration, Library Archives. Binder: C.I.M. Hungarian Refugees SIT-00-049. Béla Rásky has argued that the voluntary agencies’ collaboration was undermined by their “subtle competitive relationship.” “‘Flüchtlinge haben auch auch Pflichten.’”

49 CZW. “Sinn der Flüchtlingsaktion der Karitas” speaks of 3,000 Hungarians hosted, while “Die Ungarnhilfe der Caritas,” apparently written later, speaks of 7,000. The compilation by Caritas in 2006, “50 Jahr Ungarnkrise,” states that 6098 had been housed by the Caritas Gastaktion by January 1957.

50 CZW. “Caritas der Erzdiözese Wien. Caritas-Verband,” Vienna, December 12, 1956.

51 AJDC. Joint Distribution Committee, 1957 Annual Report, 4.

52 Kern, Österreich: Offene Grenze der Menschlichkeit, 78. The original compilation for 1 February is in “Sozialstatistische Mitteilung,” UNOG. Fonds 11 Series 1 Box 304: Statistics—Hungarian refugees.

53 Central Statistical Office, 1949. évi népszámlalás, Pt 2, 12.

54 “KSH felmérése az 1956-os disszidálásról, 177; maps for the distribution of the Lutherans and Reformed in 1920, in Balogh and Gergely, Egyházak az újkori Magyarországon 1790–1992, 262–63.

55 Hungarian Refugee Interviews from 1957–1958.

56 Mink, “Columbia University Research Project Hungary,” 13.

57 Hungarian Refugee Interviews from 1957–1958. One of the seven answered affirmatively as to whether he was an “active fighter in 1956.” “No. 478” was a 28 year-old Franciscan monk.

58 Bánkuti, Jezsuiták a diktatúrában, 173.

59 CMS. CMS 023b. United States Catholic Conference. Bureau of Immigration. Records. Series VII: Clergy. Box 145, folder 4423.

60 Komoróczy, A zsidók története Magyarországon, 1032–40; Stark, Hungarian Jews During the Holocaust, 168; AJDC. Joint Distribution Committee, 1957 Annual Report, 3.

61 “KSH,” 177.

62 Kern, Österreich: Offene Grenze der Menschlichkeit, 80.

63 SCUA. Box 69: Displaced Persons and Refugees. Folder: Migration and Refugee Problems, Committee on. Minutes. Meeting of the Committee on Migration and Refugee Problems, November 9, 1956.

64 UNOG. Victor Beermann [head of the UNHCR office in Vienna) to the UNHCR office in Geneva, December 3, 1956. Fonds 11 Series 1. Box 105. 4/45 HUN International Catholic Migration Commission-Assistance to Hungarian Refugees.

65 CMS. Flynn to Msgr. Emil N. Kamora, Executive Director, The Catholic Committee for Refugees, NY. 1/7/57. In Center for Migration Studies. O24. NCWC—Department of Immigration—New York Office and NCWC Catholic Committee for Refugee. Records. General Correspondence. Box 9/31, Folder: Hungarian Children. Children’s Division.

66 Boyle, “N.C.W.C.-Austria and the Hungarian Refugees,” 17–19.

67 Norris, “Hungarian Refugee Emergency,” 2–3.

68 The minutes of the seventeen meetings are reproduced in Hungarian translation (from the English original) in Kecskés, Egy globális humanitárius akció hétköznapjai.

69 The minutes for five meetings of the Ad Hoc Committee on Hungary are online at AJDC.

70 SCUA. Minutes for the meeting of 16 May 1957, in Box 61. Councils Abroad—AUSTRIA—Hungarian Refugee Relief 1956–57.

71 Nagy, Magyar középiskolák Ausztriában 1956 után; Cserháti, “A katolikus egyház szerepe az 1956-os magyar fiatalok beilleszkedésében Németországban.”

72 ABTL. 4.1. A-3177, “Összefoglaló jelentés az egyházi emigracióról.”

73 DAE. The archives contain one issue (issue 2) of the German bulletin Mitteilungen des apostolischen Administrators für die seelsorgerliche der ungarischen Flüchtlinge and none of the Hungarian bulletin Egyházi értesítő. The German bulletin indicates he requested reports from the Hungarian refugee priests, but I’m unable to locate these reports, nor do there seem to be copies of either bulletin in the Austrian or Hungarian National Libraries. Selected documents and accounts of pastoral work among the refugees are published in Gáal, ed., 1956 und das Burgenland.

74 Manual of Policies and Procedures. The passage cited is from E-8, “Functions and Responsibilities of the Sponsoring Agencies.”

75 On the government’s view of Camp Kilmer and its critics, see Niessen, “Hungarian Refugees of 1956,” 129.

76 CMS 023b. Bureau of Immigration, Box 153. Folder 4857. Hungarians, pt. 2 and folder 4858. Hungarians, pt. 3.

77 Chicago Daily Sun-Times, December 13, 1956, p 1. The Hungarian version (and the English translation) that the paper included in the headline were correct, with only one error in the Hungarian diacritics.

78 Gilstrap, “Chicago Welcomes Hungarian Refugees,” Christian Science Monitor, December 15, 1956, 6.

79 “Refugee Centers Scored by Priest: Return to Hungary Seen if ‘Indecent’ Overcrowding in Austria Continues,” New York Times February 20, 1957, 12.

80 Niessen, “Hungarian Refugees of 1956,” 131–33; Porter, Benevolent Empire, 135–52.

81 Report of Fact Finding Committee of the Committee on Migration and Refugee Problems, April 21, 1958; SCUA Box 69, folder Migration and Refugee Problems, Committee on, and Box 82, folder Fact Finding Committee: Minutes-Memos-Reports-Correspondence 1956–58.

82 Porter, “Epilogue,” in Benevolent Empire, 205–19; Loescher, The UNHCR and World Politics, especially “The Emerging Independence of the UNHCR under Auguste Lindt,” 81–104.


Figure 1. U.S. Army Official Photographs from 1956 preserved in the National Archives and Records Administration. In the public domain; from the 1956 refugee collection of the Blinken OSA Archivum. Accessed October 5, 2017. http://www.refugees1956.org/2017/01/21/1956-hungarian-refugees-in-the-us-photo-gallery/.


Figure 2. Fr. László Szépe to the Catholic Committee for Refugees in New York, 1949, with an appeal for assistance for Hungarian refugees in Austria from Caritas Hungarica in Austria. Source: Center for Migration Studies. 024. NCWC—Department of Immigration—New York Office and NCWC Catholic Committee for Refugees. Records. General Correspondence. Box 21/31. Reprinted with the permission of the Center for Migration Studies of New York.


Figure 3. “Send us a planeload”: The 21 December 1956 issue of the CRS’s Resettlement Newsletter depicts planeloads of people arriving in Detroit and Chicago. CMS 023b. Bureau of Immigration, Box 153. Folder 4857. Hungarians, pt. 2. Reprinted with the permission of the Center for Migration Studies of New York.