Matěj Spurný

Czech and German Memories of Forced Migration


Individual memories are neither a simple mirror of the official narrative of memory nor are they simply its photo negative. In this essay the author examines the ways in which the Czech and (Sudeten) German master narratives of the post-war forced migration of the German speaking inhabitants penetrated into individual memories. Collective remembrance often replaced the memories of actual experiences. However, examples taken from particular interviews from recent years reveal that individual experiences and memories, which earlier were not considered acceptable in the public sphere and in some contexts had even been dangerous, can at least be integrated as exceptions into the structure of national master narratives, which in consequence lose their incontestability. The study of the memories of the post-war expulsion of Germans has been an important task for historians over the course of the past twenty years or more. But this has been a topic of interest not only for historians. These often contrasting memories have figured prominently in one of the most important post-1989 political and identity debates in Central and Eastern Europe. The article compares the development of memories and narratives of post-war flight and expulsion in Czechoslovakia and (West) Germany. The author considers how the individual memories of flight and expulsion compare with the collective memories, and he also attempts to identify the circumstances under which the individual memories offer an alternative vision of the past.


keywords: individual memories, collective remembrance, expulsion, Sudeten Germans, identity


The Post-War Politics of Memory


The politics of the memory of the flight and expulsion began to take shape before the expulsions had come to an end. The participants, whether victims or the people of the states responsible for the expulsions, sought to shape collective memory to fit their interpretations. The historical narratives of “victims of world history” on the one hand and “guilt and punishment” on the other played an important role. And just as the opposing camps began to stake their claims, the Iron Curtain fell, hindering all further exchange of memories and perspectives between East and West.1

West Germany: The Europeanization of the Discourse of Victimhood?


Even in West Germany the integration of millions of refugees and dispossessed individuals was an unavoidable task. In a democratic society this cannot be accomplished through a relativization of identity. Conservative politicians quickly realized that the large number of refugees constituted an important demographic problem. Their exceptional position thereby gained some political support, and their painful losses, the loss of the homelands from which they had been expelled and belongings and properties of which they had been stripped, were not only officially acknowledged, but also frequently brought to the fore. From the political perspective this took concrete form in the so-called “Lastenausgleichsgesetz,” a law adopted in 1952 that provided financial compensation to refugees for their losses. The law was testimony to the prominent position of the refugees and the dispossessed in West German society in the Adenauer era.2

The remarkable attention that the victims of the expulsions were given was not merely part of a political strategy to curry their favor as voters. The sufferings of the German casualties of war also played an important role as “a functional equipollent to the massive confrontation with the horrors of the Nazi persecutions.”3 As Constantin Goschler persuasively demonstrates in his article on reconciliation and the question of victimhood, in the first decade after the war little distinction was drawn in the public life of the West German state between the victims of National Socialism and the German victims of the war or the period immediately following the war. By portraying the larger part of German society as victims, an attempt was made to place all responsibility for the crimes of the Nazi regime on a small group of party elite surrounding Hitler and Himmler.4

This approach to the questions raised by the immediate past should by no means be misunderstood to imply that the individual memories of the refugees were acknowledged automatically, nor did it mean that the refugees themselves were actively integrated into German society. The experiences of pain and loss to which the refugees gave voice became a part of the German master narrative of the post-war era, and yet there was often a lack of empathy for the sufferings of those who had been forced to leave their homelands and resettle in Germany.

In the 1970s the discourse regarding the war began to change. The National Socialist regime and, first and foremost, the Holocaust itself began to be treated as unique and incomparable phenomena of history.5 The victims of the expulsions were thereby cast as “second class” victims or even “undesirables.” The feeling, common among many of the victims of the resettlements, that even in West Germany their fates were a taboo topic (even into the 1990s) stems from this period. The associations of refugees began to disappear from the political sphere. While the idea of the victimhood of the German casualties of war, which in earlier decades had been widespread, gradually was divested of its legitimacy, the discourses through which this notion found expression were preserved in refugee circles, very much as if in a hall of mirrors, where un-interrogated images of the past could proliferate unhindered by any exterior influences.

In the 1980s the question of the expulsions again began to emerge as a topic of discussion in public discourse, strengthened in part by the question of the reunification of Germany. The revival of the debates regarding the expulsions, however, by no means meant a return to the 1950s. They have taken place in a pluralist society in which the influence of the refugee associations has clearly been far less significant than it was in the first decade after the war.6 Although according to surveys almost half of the population of Germany still considers the subject of the forced resettlements of Germans important and in some manner or another occupies itself with or reflects on the questions the forced resettlements raise, only a small minority associates this topic with the refugee associations, which for the most part are assessed quite critically.7

Following the reunification of Germany and the fall of the Iron Curtain, the topic, which until then essentially had been a question of interest really only for Germans and Germany, gradually became a subject of European interest, and indeed on different levels.8 On the one hand the master narrative of the Sudeten Germans was transformed into the language of political demands, which had the emphatic support of the provincial governments of the Christian Social Union of Bavaria and the more half-hearted support of the Christian Democratic Union of the federal government. In this context, memory was linked to lost properties or at least the rhetoric of the lost “homeland.” At the same time, however, attempts were being made to put the historical scholarship on the expulsions into a new spatial and temporal context. This scholarship, which in the 1950s (primarily because of the influence of the refugee circles) had documented the extent of the tragedy and in the 1970s and 1980s had been pursued with less intensity, in the meantime had been liberated from the confines of a monologic perspective. This gives reason to hope that we may yet see a more nuanced discussion of this part of German history, incorporating differing perspectives, a discussion that avoids both forced forgetting and a-critical discourses of victimhood.

Czechoslovakia: Between National Master Narrative, Taboo, and Mediation


In Czechoslovakia the master narrative of the righteous first Czechoslovak Republic emerged very quickly, even simultaneously with the events of the expulsions. According to this narrative, the Germans had rejected the generous offer of the Czechs and in the end had betrayed the Republic.9 The expulsion of some 3,000,000 Sudeten Germans (referred to in Czechoslovakia as “odsun,” in German “Abschub” from the verb “abschieben,” meaning to deport) thus was cast as a logical consequence of earlier events. The flight of some 250,000 Czechs from the borderlands in 1938 was also referred to as “odsun,” in harmony with this interpretation, in order to blur the differences between the two. The second “odsun” was from this perspective merely a logical consequence of the first. While the first was interpreted as a sign of German cruelty, the “odsun” of the Germans was considered an act of historical justice. It is worth noting on the one hand that this Czech version was an appeal in support of the argument for the international recognition of the forced resettlements of the Germans, although the separation of the Sudetenland in 1938 had also been the result of concerted international negotiation and therefore, in principle, endorsement. On the other hand, the claims regarding historical justice and the contention according to which the expulsions in no way contradicted or belied the notion of the Humanist Czech tradition should be re-interrogated.10 Although in 1947 some people who had been brutal in their treatment of the Germans were publically accused, thereby making it clear that at least (and at most) members of the state army or police would be held responsible for the excesses against the Sudeten Germans, in the collective memory these acts were considered minor transgressions on the part of some “criminal elements.”11

Following the rise to power of the Czechoslovak Communist Party certain elements of the historical narrative were no longer tolerated. The first Czechoslovak Republic was critically reassessed because of its alleged “bourgeois nationalism,” and thus the notion of a just and generous attitude on the part of the state towards the German minorities lost its foundations. At the same time the party was anxious to integrate the some 200,000 Germans who remained in Czechoslovakia into the new socialist society, as well as to maintain good relations with the German Democratic Republic. Given these considerations, it is hardly surprising that the anti-German rhetoric began to abate after 1948.12 The interpretation of the expulsions, which from the start had had the unambiguous support of the Czechoslovak Communist Party, could not be substantially rewritten, however, without a considerable loss of credibility for the Party. The forced resettlement of the German speaking minorities was still cast as a historical necessity, and the expulsions were now seen from the perspective of the events that followed them.13 The national “Revolution,” in this interpretation, had been a necessary precursor to the genuinely meaningful social “Revolution.”

The Czechoslovak Communist Party found itself in a precarious position between conflicting ideologies, the nationalism of the immediate post-war period and the internationalism of Marxist dogma. This balancing act and the general awareness of the entanglement of the state in the events of the expulsions gave rise in the early 1950s to an anxious urge to eliminate any memory of the expulsions from the collective consciousness.14 This state-led push for forgetfulness reached its zenith in the 1970s and 1980s, as a generation came of age that had had no personal experience or knowledge of the events of the immediate post-war period, but also often no real knowledge of the role of the Germans in the history of Bohemia in general. The topic simply vanished, both from school textbooks and from public discussion.

The attempt to expunge all knowledge of the Germans and the expulsions from historical consciousness, however, was unsuccessful, for there were individuals who remembered the events and historians who were not content to remain silent on the matter. In the landscapes of the regions vivid traces of the forced resettlements of the German communities remained. After 1968 the question of the expulsions could only be raised in so-called Samizdat publications15 or in the journals and newspapers of the exile circles. These publications contributed to the formation of a critical discourse on the expulsions, however, that later played an important role in the debates that took place following the changes of 1989–1990.

After 1989 the question of the treatment of the Sudeten Germans in Czechoslovakia again began to garner public attention. This was in part due to the long suppression of the topic as taboo in public life, but also in part to its international political brisance. The debates were polarized from the outset. Former dissidents, with Václav Havel at the vanguard, shocked the public by presenting the question of the expulsion of the Sudeten Germans as an unsolved moral problem.16 The notion of the necessity of protecting the country from the “Sudeten German revanchists,” an idea that had been propagated for years, suddenly flared up in the minds of many politicians. In part for this reason, the majority of Czech politicians did not consider it their role to mediate and nurture a critical reassessment of this difficult subject, but rather saw themselves as advocates and champions of the post-war order. They met with widespread support in public opinion. Defense of the post-war laws, which were described as the “cornerstone of our rights,” became something of a mantra in the political posturing regarding the events of the early post-war years.

The public discourse regarding the expulsions of the post-war period took shape both through the earlier critical discussions of the dissidents and through the widespread ignorance of the general population, in which there subsisted an intuitive fear of the return of the “German peril” and an un-interrogated faith in the justice of the forced resettlements, a notion that had been a pillar of the official interpretation of history for decades.17 By the second half of the 1990s, representatives of the younger generation were able little by little to revive the discourse and bring it back into public discussion. It was significant that they managed to link a critical engagement with the events of the post-war period with the actual problems of the region and society in the border areas in which German speakers had lived, and thereby to de-politicize the topic, at least to some extent.18

Individual Remembering and Forgetting


Individual memories are neither a simple mirror of the official narrative of memory, nor for that matter are they simply its photo-negative, as it were. In interviews with contemporaries, individual experience and collective narratives of different times are intertwined, so that it is nearly impossible to distinguish one from the other. This combination of authentic and adopted memory makes individual memories an exciting topic for anyone who seeks to understand how both history and identity are constructed.

One of the most significant attributes of human memory is that people usually remember injustices (perceived or actual) and sufferings that they had to endure themselves more vividly than they do the sufferings of others. Having been one of the privileged is regarded as “normal” or insignificant, while the experience of having been discriminated against often becomes a milestone in the narrative of one’s (remembered) life. In this sense, individual and collective memory is similarly structured. In other words, the structure of memory tends to appropriate the national master narrative if the master narrative is constructed as a discourse of victimhood. However, contemporaries sometimes contradict or resist collective memory and the manipulation of memory because of individual experiences that complicate the simple plotline of a master narrative. As is the case in many other narratives of memory, in Czech and German memories of forced migrations individual experience and an appropriated master narrative (into which this individual experience is in principle supposed to be integrated) are entangled, even if they at times actually contradict each other.

As a result of narratives of victimhood and the suppression of the memories of the sufferings of the others, National Socialism doesn’t play any noticeable role as the actual prehistory of the expulsions in the memories of many Sudeten-Germans. Until recently, publications were printed by the so-called Heimatmuseen or Heimatarchiven in which there is little mention of the time between 1938 and 1945.19 These peculiar narratives portray the Czechs as wild barbarians who suddenly, after years of peaceful cohabitation, came to the homeland communities of the Germans to torture, rob and expel them. In interviews, Sudeten Germans in general speak in great detail about the war years. As people who had been children at the time, they speak about growing up without a father, about prisoners of the war, and about “Bombenflüchtlinge” [bomb refugees] or Wehrmacht soldiers who spent their vacations in the picturesque Sudetenland. However, they speak less or not at all about the repression of Czechs, Jews and others. The years between 1945 and 1947 are the symbolical center of the memories of the great majority of Sudeten Germans, and therefore also the symbolical center of their identities. Alongside the authentic memories of what were often very dramatic experiences, one can identify many appropriated collective images of camps or transport trains. To divide the events that were personally experienced from collectively shared images that were appropriated is not always possible for the people who lived through these events themselves, and even less so for the historian. However, especially after 1989, many Sudeten Germans endeavored to contribute to efforts towards reconciliation. This included giving voice to experiences that contradict the master narrative of their community, such as the following:


A troop of Czechs came, they smashed the door and got in the stationmaster’s apartment, who lived below us. They damaged the flat, we heard the children screaming and crying. Then they came up to our place. We were all trembling with fear. And then something happened—something that one cannot forget: other Czechs who knew us came, they stood in front of our door and said: Mr. Czerny lives here, and he was one of the people who behaved kindly and helped the Czechs. No one will hit him.20


Of course, people had cherished memories like this long before 1989. It seems, however, that experiences that relativize national or community narratives and stereotypes of victims and perpetrators have been given more attention since the fall of the Iron Curtain.

An interconnection or contradiction between the appropriated master narrative and the memories of individual experiences or people are very characteristic for Czechs who came to the borderlands immediately after the war. These people came to know the Germans either before the Germans found themselves compelled to leave their homes or at the time of their forced resettlement. The Czech narrators, if speaking about “the Germans” as a collective category, primarily seem to be attempting to justify moving to the borderlands and appropriating property that had belonged to Germans. While constructing the story in this way, they use the Czech master narrative, which is very useful in the legitimation of the post-war decision to settle the borderlands. They contend that the Germans “did not want to live with us,” “betrayed our state,” and had been punished justly. According to this story, “the Germans” had transmuted into fanatical Nazis, and it would not have been possible to live alongside them anymore.21

However, many of the same early Czech settlers had lived with a German family under one roof, usually for several months, before these Germans were displaced. Speaking about the everyday lives with “their Germans,” they essentially tell a story about “kind people, who helped us a great deal.” Sometimes they even admit that they “cried when our Germans had to go.”22

As is evident, individual experience that contradicts the master narrative of collective memory does not necessarily prompt an individual to reject this collective memory. It is likely that, on the contrary, the motifs and plots of collective memory in many cases replaced memories of events through which individuals had actually lived. In many cases, memories of kind Germans or the brutality of their forced resettlement were driven from the minds of the people who had personal experience of the events because they didn’t fit into the widespread, even officially sanctioned story.

In this context it is significant that problematic aspects of the forced resettlements of the post-war years have been discussed and have become a part of the discourse in the Czech Republic. This questioning of the collective memory of the expulsions has enabled the people who lived at the time to speak about some of their experiences, experiences that in some cases they had suppressed almost entirely. Because this didn’t prompt them to refuse the master narrative, however, which had been appropriated and had become a deep-seated part of their memories in the meantime, it is interesting to analyze how people deal with the contradictions. Often, the contradictions create a defensive reflex. Fragments of the master narrative appear again and again in the flow of individual memories, even when they seem to contradict aspects of the personal story, as ritual formulas.

As an example, I cite an excerpt from an interview with Mrs. Kučerová, an old Czech settler from Osek, a town in the predominantly German region of northern Bohemia. She had to leave her home in 1938, when the region became part of Germany, and returned in May 1945. She described the expulsion of her former neighbors:


The people here did not take part in the bad actions against Germans. Revolutionary Guards from Kladno came and they were really the mob. As they expelled the Germans, our people stayed at home, because they were ashamed, because we have a different character than the Germans who had oppressed us! The guards took the Germans somewhere, to the market or I do not know exactly. On one occasion they had to cross the mountains on foot. I remember a disabled boy in a wheelchair who lived next door, he was maybe forty or fifty at that time and the others had to wheel him all the way. And many other bad things, but that was the war! We were not the only ones who did things like that. And we did not want this war… In Teplice there are two streets near the railway station where all the Germans committed suicide. But that is how it was, for everything, you have to pay… I understand that the Germans felt miserable, and I know what homesickness is. But they had been so unkind to us! They held pogroms when they came in 1938.23


The so-called Revolutionary guards were not the only group to become a target of criticism among Czechs in recent years. Many old Czech settlers from the borderlands, who like Mrs. Kučerová had known the displaced Germans personally, also criticize the new settlers in the former Sudetenland. The main target of this critique is the desire for German property. Memories of how Czech newcomers had robbed and plundered flats, houses or hotels hardly would have been mentioned some thirty or fifty years ago, as the resettlement of the Czech borderlands had been decidedly celebrated as a part of the construction of the new, better society.



In general, of course, collective memory is really a collage of differing individual recollections. Although the collective master narratives that had been passed on by no means vanished after the fall of the Iron Curtain, they did however lose some of their earlier, unquestioned authority. This process can be seen quite clearly in the Czech Republic, but also in other post-communist states of Central and Eastern Europe. This pluralization of memory is less visible, however, among circles close to the associations of refugees or displaced persons from the Sudetenland. Their master narratives seem to have survived the end of the Cold War without having undergone any significant revision. Yet even in these circles, one discerns the traces of some doubts regarding the collective narrative of their past, which over the course of decades grew rigid. These doubts have arisen in part through an engagement with the realities of life in the Czech Republic today.

Memories that in previous decades were “undesirable” or possibly even dangerous for anyone who gave them voice today can be integrated into the national master narratives as exceptions to the general flow of the “plot.” It seems that historical consciousness, conditioned by a recognition and acknowledgement of personal recollection, is becoming plural, and even collective narratives are shifting. Indeed it seems that the collective memory is subject to change by individual memory. To give individual memory space for expression is to be prepared to accept the recollections of others with empathy. The tension between communities with contradictory collective experiences can be lessened not through forgetting or denial, but rather through the pluralization and complication of memory.




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1 The (West)German post-war conservative perspective represents the introductory texts of the documentation of flight and expulsion edited by Theodor Schieder in the early 1950s (For the case of the expulsion from Czechoslovakia see: Theodor Schieder, ed., Dokumentation der Vertreibung der Deutschen aus Ost-Mitteleuropa, Bd. 4: Die Vertreibung der deutschen Bevölkerung aus der Tschechoslowakei (Bonn: Bundesministerium für Vertriebene, Flüchtlinge und Kriegsgeschädigte, 1957). Concerning the perspective of Czech postwar discourse see Christiane Brenner, “Zwischen Ost und West”. Tschechische politische Diskurse 1945–1948 (Munich: Oldenbourg, 2009).

2 The Equalizations of War Burdens Act of 1952 provided compensation for those who had lost real estate as a consequence of the war, as well as for victims of the bombing of German cities and refugees from the Soviet occupation zone of Germany. The expellees from the former German territories were the greatest beneficiaries of the Law.

3 Constantin Goschler, “’Versöhnung’ und ‘Viktimisierung’ Die Vertriebenen und der deutsche Opferdiskurs,” Zeitschrift für Geschichtswissenschaft 10 (2005): 873–84, 875.

4 The historiographical discourse on the perpetrators began to become dominant in the 1980s, see for example: Harald Welzer, Täter. Wie aus ganz normalen Menschen Massenmörder werden (Frankfurt am Main: Fischer, 2005), Christopher Browning, Ordinary Men: Reserve Police Battalion 101 and the Final Solution in Poland (New York, HarperCollins, 1992); Christian Gerlach, ed., Durchschnittstäter: Handeln und Motivation (Berlin: Assoziation, Schwarze Risse, Rote Straße, 2000).

5 For more literature on these debates see Mathias Brodkorb, Singuläres Auschwitz? Erich Nolte, Jürgen Habermas und 25 Jahre “Historikerstreit” (Banzkow: Adebor, 2011); Jürgen Peter, ed., Der Historikerstreit und die Suche nach einer nationalen Identität der achtziger Jahre (Frankfurt am Main: Lang, 1995).

6 See various articles in Thomas Strobel and Robert Maier, ed., Das Thema Vertreibung und die deutsch-polnischen Beziehungen in Forschung, Unterricht und Politik (Hannover: Hahn, 2008).

7 For more on this question see Thomas Petersen, Útěk a nucené vysídlení z pohledu německého, polského a českého obyvatelstva [Flight and Forced Resettlement from the Perspective of the German, Polish, and Czech People], (Bonn: Stiftung Haus der Geschichte der Bundesrepublik Deutschland, 2005).

8 Concerning the historiographical debate, see the works of Norman M. Naimark, Alfred-Maurice de Zayas, and the more recent book by R. M. Douglas (Ray. M. Douglas, Orderly and Humane: The Expulsion of Germans after the Second World War (New Haven–London: Yale University Press, 2012). One of the important political aspects of the Europeanization of the topic is the ongoing debate about the so called Beneš decrees in the European Parliament. See Christian Domnitz, Die Beneš-Dekrete in parlamentarischer Debatte: Kontroversen im Europäischen Parlament und im tschechischen Abgeordnetenhaus vor dem EU-Beitritt der Tschechischen Republik (Berlin: Lit Verlag, 2007).

9 See Brenner, „Zwischen Ost und West.“

10 For more on the different standpoints in the debates on the expulsion and remaining Germans between 1945 and 1948 see Brenner, Zwischen Ost und West or Matěj Spurný, Nejsou jako my – česká společnost a menšiny v pohraničí 1945–1960 [They are Not as Us. Czech Society and the Minorities in the Borderlands] (Prague: Antikomplex, 2011).

11 If trying to reconstruct the Czech “collective memory“ of flight and expulsion, public debates immediately after 1989 might be of great importance. Many newspaper articles from the first half of the 1990s on this topic were published in: Petr Pithart and Petr Příhoda, ed., Čítanka odsunutých dějin [A Reader of the Displaced History] (Prague: Prago Media News, 1998).

12 For more on the (anti)German discourse in Czechoslovakia after 1948 see Matěj Spurný, “Political authority and popular opinion: Czechoslovakia’s German population 1948–60,” Social History 37, no. 4 (2012): 452–76.

13 See for example Miloš Hájek and Olga Staňková, Národnostní otázka v lidově demokratickém Československu [The National Question in Socialist Czechoslovakia] (Prague: Státní nakladatelství politické literatury, 1956).

14 The topic disappeared from history school books, newspapers and to a great extent also from internal Party ideological debates.

15 Samizdat, one of the most important forms of dissident resistance in the Soviet Union and the Eastern bloc, refers to the spread of censored publications through unofficial channels, for instance in handwritten or typed transcriptions or photocopies, first in the USSR and then later in other communist countries. Most of the samizdat and exile Czech debates on the post-war expulsion of Germans were published after 1989 in: Jan Křen, ed., Češi-Němci-odsun [The Czechs, the Germans, the Displacement] (Prague: Academia, 1990).

16 In December 1989, before his election as president, Václav Havel expressed in a TV program his regret concerning the expulsion of the Sudeten Germans and declared that the Czechs were “under an obligation to apologize to the expelled Germans.”

17 The standpoints in the public debates of 1989–1995 are analyzed and most of the newspaper articles on the topic published in: Pithart and Příhoda, Čítanka odsunutých dějin.

18 See the introductory texts in: Petr Mikšíček, Ondřej Matějka, and Matěj Spurný, ed., Zmizelé Sudety [The Lost Sudetenland] (Domažlice: Nakladatelství Český les, 2006).

19 The various regional and local Sudetengerman groupings published thousands of so-called “Heimatbriefe” with many individual texts on the recent history of “their” places in the former Sudetenland. Moreover, in recent years more complex books about municipalities in some regions, such as for example the “Braunauer Ländchen,” have been published.

20 Johannes Moser, Karsten Jahnke, Dieser Schmerz bleibt. Lebenserinnerungen vertriebener Polen und Schlesier (Dresden: Institut für Sächsische Geschichte und Volkskunde, 2004), CD-ROM, CD 1.

21 These statements were made in the course of interviews done by the author of this article in the years between 2004 and 2010. Some of these interviews were published in: Matěj Spurný, ed., Sudetské osudy [Sudeten Fates] (Domažlice: Antikomplex/Nakladatelství Český les, 2006) and in: Sarah-Schol Schneider, Miroslav Schneider, and Matěj Spurný, ed., Sudetengeschichten (Prague: Antikomplex/Universität Augsburg, 2010).

22 Statements that were made in the course of several interviews with people who settled in the northern borderlands (Litoměřice, Žatec) immediately after the end of the Second World War. The interviews have been recorded and translated by the author of this article. One can read of similar experiences among Poles from the former German regions in: Johannes Moser, Karsten Jahnke, Dieser Schmerz bleibt. Lebenserinnerungen vertriebener Polen und Schlesier (Dresden: Institut für Sächsische Geschichte und Volkskunde, 2004), CD 2. CD-ROM.

23 Marta Kučerová, born in Osek (Northern Bohemia), comes from a Czech family. She had to leave Osek with her parents in 1938 and came back after the war. The interview was held and translated by the author of this article. The complete interview was published in Czech in Spurný, ed., Sudetské osudy.

András Lénárt

Emigration from Hungary in 1956 and the Emigrants as Tourists to Hungary*


* With the support of the Hungarian Scientific Research Fund (project number: 81636, project leader: Ernő Kulcsár Szabó).

This essay examines the history of visits made to Hungary by a group of first generation 1956 refugees. The members of the group attended middle school together in Austria. Some of the refugees, who were teenagers at the time, were put into schools by the Austrian authorities in 1957. Temporary schools were established with Hungarian as the language of instruction, and the refugees were able to complete their secondary school studies without even as much as a year’s delay while also learning German. Some of these students went on to seek livelihoods elsewhere, but many of them settled permanently in Austria. In the first section of the essay the author offers a survey of the statistical features of emigration from Hungary following the suppression of the 1956 revolution. This is followed by an examination from the perspective of the social sciences of the reception of the wave of 1956 emigrants. Then, on the basis of interviews, the essay analyzes how the identities of the emigrants changed, the social situations in which these changes were palpable, and how their images of Hungary changed in the wake of their visits to their homeland.


keywords: emigrants, 1956, tourism, images, oral history


Following the defeat of the Hungarian Revolution of 1956 some 200,000 people left Hungary. The vast majority of them settled abroad permanently, and proportionally very few returned. Given its scope, this sudden wave of emigrants could be considered one of the great traumas of twentieth century Hungarian history, at least if one were to remember it as such from the perspective of the present. The territorial losses suffered after the First World War, the material and human losses of the Second World War, and the turbulent events of the 1956 Revolution, however, have somewhat obscured the fact, significant both in the short term and in the long term, that in the space of only a few months almost two percent of the population of the country essentially vanished. In comparison with the tragedies of the wars, of course, one cannot speak of terrible losses of human life. Nonetheless, from the perspective of the national life of Hungary it would perhaps not be an exaggeration to contend that the citizens who left were “lost souls.” Their departure created a void that had to be filled and completely altered and in some cases severed the individuals’ relationships with the country and its people. They became the newest wave of Hungarian refugees, referred to in the discourses in Hungary as “dissidents,” and later, as they were called in many places, English, German, Australian, American (etc.) Hungarians.

People found opportunities to leave the country in the wake of the events of the Revolution up until the spring of 1957, though admittedly with increasing difficulty and risk, and the countries in which they sought refuge were accommodating, which is to say that they met the basic preconditions according to migration theories that are based solely on economic considerations.1 These theories, however, are inadequate in this context, since in the twentieth century history of Central Europe the chance to cross an international border had proven something of an exception, and an exception that was likely only to be temporary.2 On both the eastern and the western side of the Iron Curtain this opportunity to cross the western border of Hungary was seen as fleeting.3 The willingness among those who welcomed the refugees to offer humanitarian and economic assistance grew. Had the borders actually opened for the long term or had there been any prospect of protracted emigration, the countries of the West would have had to consider limiting the number of immigrants they would accept, but in 1956 this was not a serious concern. Aristide Zolberg makes this argument in his influential essay, The Next Waves: Migration Theory for a Changing World. Zolberg examines the policies of the socialist states regarding travel in general and the liberalization of travel in the 1980s.4 As would be expected of autocratic states, the Soviet Union and the Eastern European countries within its sphere of control did not simply obstruct travel abroad, but also declared those who left or intended to leave enemies of the homeland.5 The prohibition of travel abroad had both political and economic reasons. From the political perspective, departure could be interpreted as a form of resistance, while from the economic perspective, because of the dearth of labor, in exchange for the education and social benefits it had provided the state expected young people to enter the work force as they reached the age of majority. At the same time, in some of the more strained moments of the Cold War—for instance at the time of the Cuban missile crisis or the demonstrations across much of Central Europe in 1956 or 1968—the decision to allow people to leave the country was a means of easing internal tensions. As a measure of lack of support for the regime, illegal flight from one of the communist countries, in other words dissidence, remained one of the delicate questions of the era.6 The willingness of the countries of the West to accept immigrants from communist countries palpably decreased with the easing of international tensions. Dissidence lost some of the value it had had as a propaganda tool. Thus the immigrants arriving from Central Europe were seen less and less as heroes, victims, or refugees and more as “normal” immigrants, subject to the same strict stipulations and expectations as all immigrants.

Statistical Sources

The number of people who left Hungary between 1945 and 1953 is estimated at somewhere between 100,000 and 110,000 people, in comparison with roughly 340,000 people in the period between 1953 and 1989. Of this 340,000 people, approximately 200,000 left in the space of only eight months after the 1956 Revolution. The actual task of reaching and crossing the western border of the country was trying, in particular by December 1956. It nonetheless seemed possible, at least in comparison with conditions in previous years, since in the summer of 1956, as one of the signs of international political rapprochement, the various technical apparatuses with which the borders had been sealed at the end of 1947 had been taken down.7

In 1957 the Central Statistical Office issued a report that remains one of the most important sources of statistical data on emigration from Hungary, and a source that was treated as secret for some 30 years.8 Excerpts from the report were included in a publication of the Central Statistical Office entitled Statisztikai Havi Közlemények [Monthly Statistical Publications] (1957.4), but the state did not allow it to be published in a forum for the larger public. The official migration statistics compiled by the countries that welcomed the refugees provide relevant data that was available before 1989, even if in some cases it was examined only much later. These are kept for the most part in the Austrian Central Statistical Office, the Austrian Ministry of Interior, the UN Intergovernmental Committee for European Migration (ICEM), and the office for Hungarian refugees in Austria, the so-called Ungarischer Flüchtlingshilfsdienst.

The sources agree on the numbers of emigrants from Hungary. Approximately 194,000 people left the country, and by the summer of 1957 some 11,500 had returned, in part because of the amnesty that had been offered by the Kádár government. Some 5,000–8,000 remained out of the country only temporarily (first and foremost in Austria) and returned without the knowledge of the authorities. In May 1957 the Ministry of Interior permitted 12,345 people to leave the country legally, primarily to enable them to be reunited with family members.

Statistics on the Emigrants

The Central Statistical Office gathered personal information on 151,731 people on whom forms for departure were prepared at the order of the Ministry of Interior. If one also considers the 827 forms that arrived later and were not taken into consideration in this assessment,9 the results essentially agree with the Austrian data. Referring to sources from the Austrian and Yugoslav Ministries of Interior, the report asserts that 193,885 people left the country illegally. Of these, 174,704 fled to Austria and 19,181 to Yugoslavia. The report, which is divided into ten chapters, breaks the data down according to place of dwelling, date of departure, gender, age, marital status, occupation, actual whereabouts following flight, and whether or not the person returned to Hungary. It also examines the demographic effects of this emigration (or flight) on the remaining population and gives data concerning those who left the country legally. As the report makes clear, the majority of the people who left the country had been inhabitants of urban communities (half of the émigrés came from Budapest), and most of them came from Transdanubia or counties in the western part of the country, near the border with Austria. Two-thirds of the refugees were men, and half of them were less than twenty-five years of age. The percentage of people who had been gainfully employed is also surprisingly high, again two-thirds of the total number of refugees. 63.5 percent of them had been manual laborers (34.6 percent of this group has worked as skilled laborers) and 25 percent had had academic or intellectual occupations. 3,200 of the dependents had been college or university students, a number that at the time represented more than 10 percent of the student body in higher education.

According to a study done in 1960 and commissioned by the United Nations, most of the refugees settled in the United States (44,110), Canada (39,190), Australia (15,390), West Germany (14,400), Great Britain (13,670), and Switzerland (10,480).10 It is worth noting that according to the summaries that were prepared in 1957 there were far more refugees in Europe many of whom in subsequent years left to settle in other continents. This explains how in comparison with its population at the time Canada welcomed the largest number of Hungarians (0.25 percent), but Switzerland (0.21 percent), Australia (0.16 percent) Austria (0.14 percent) and Sweden (0.1 percent) also took in far more than the average. It is also interesting to note that the historically close ties between Hungary and Italy do not seem to have played much role in the decisions of the 1956 refugees regarding the countries in which they settled. In 1960 there were only 120 Hungarian refugees registered officially as living in Italy. The countries that welcomed the refugees showed solidarity and humanitarian compassion, but they also kept their own economic interests in mind. It was a time of global economic growth, and the countries were eager to entice young people who could join the work force.

lenart figure1

Figure 1. Arrival and reception: Hungarian refugees, 1956–1957
Source: Peter Hidas, Arrival and Reception: Hungarian Refugees, 1956–1957, 233.

Demographers have also studied the mass emigration that took place following the suppression of the 1956 Revolution. In a study published in 1996 and in expanded form in 2006, László Hablicsek and Sándor Illés examined the long term effects of 1956 on demographics and population growth in Hungary. Simply put, they sought an answer to the question of what would have happened had the refugees not left the country.

The short-term consequences were already apparent at the time. The departure of 200,000 people who left the country in a period of only a few months clearly had an influence on the make-up of the population. On February 1, 1957 the population of Hungary numbered only 9,788,000, 1.7 percent less than the figure (9,954,000) one would have arrived at according to natural rates of population growth. Since two-thirds of the refugees were men, the surplus of women in the remaining population returned to the post-war, 1949 levels. Distribution of the population according to age also shifted, since most of the refugees had been young (86 percent of them had been of working age, and 45 percent of those of working age had been between fifteen and twenty-nine). Given this, not surprisingly the distribution of the population according to marital status also shifted. The number of unmarried men and women dropped as a percentage of the total population.

Concerning long term consequences, scholars using the method of projection based on past trends have arrived at five different possible (but unrealized) scenarios, produced by various combinations of changes in fertility and mortality and in the impact of emigration that followed the revolution. Taking the population of the country in 1955 as the starting point, they contend that as of the 1980s Hungary would have born witness to an inevitable decline in population even had the refugees (and their descendants) remained. In other words they conclude that the 1956 emigration had little effect on the fundamental tendencies of later decades (two of the most hotly debated questions of public discourse today, population decline and demographic aging of society).

The Columbia University Research Project on Hungary

Scholars using qualitative methods, or more precisely institutes that studied totalitarian regimes (and which themselves were not free of political predispositions), were also intensely interested in the fates of the 200,000 refugees, who in the immediate aftermath of the revolution were living for the most part in refugee camps.

The intense propaganda against the communist states was based on incomplete information, primarily because after 1948 the states of Eastern Europe had been almost hermetically sealed off from the rest of the world. Only politically reliable people were allowed to travel internationally. The Western press and even intelligence networks were often compelled to base their assessments on unreliable information, and they knew little about everyday life in the communist dictatorships. Within the framework of the Columbia University Research Project on Hungary, perhaps the best organized research program on the subject, 365 interviews were done in European and American refugee camps. Most of the interviews were recorded over the course of two or three days, and the typewritten texts were on average between fifty and seventy pages. Henry L. Roberts and Paul E. Zinner, two noted Kremlinologists, worked together with social scientists, including philosopher Siegfried Kracauer (associated with the Frankfurt School) and sociologist Paul Lazarsfeld. By offering refugees a chance to speak of the events of the revolution, the incidents of everyday life, living conditions in general, conditions in the workplace, social changes, and the persistence of religious and traditional beliefs and customs, they sought to give a more nuanced picture of the influence of a totalitarian regime on the individual. They hoped to uncover the secret mechanisms of the Stalinist system, and thereby gain some insight into the question of how to bring about its collapse.

In his summary prepared for the Ford Foundation in 1962 (which consisted of several hundred interviews, publications, etc.), Roberts mentioned the organizational difficulties the project encountered and also emphasized that there was no appropriate scholarly methodology on which to base a comprehensive assessment of the vast sea of texts. The information that had been obtained through the surveys done in the refugee camps and later did not constitute a point of departure for any long term study. Furthermore, the materials of the extensive study, which was under the direction of leading American empirical sociologists at the time, had not been brought together in such a manner so as to further a deeper understanding of the Eastern European regimes or the lives of the people living under them.11 The deep structured interviews, which in their entirety stretched to several thousand pages, could hardly have been considered representative, neither from the perspective of Hungarian society nor from the perspective of the refugees themselves as a group. Thus with the exception of a few case studies, the lengthy corpus was left essentially untouched, and until 1990 simply gathered dust in the manuscripts archive of Columbia University.

The Average Emigrant from the Official Perspective

The state sought to besmirch the emigrants, presenting them in the official propaganda as traitors or at the very least gravely misguided people. The political refugees were dissidents, who had betrayed socialism, thrown the authorities off guard, and fled to join the capitalists. In 1956–57 many decrees were passed regarding the prohibited border crossing, and those who had left before December 1 were promised amnesty. This date was later changed to January 31, but people were allowed to return up until March 31, 1957.12 In principle the “misguided” were given the chance to return without fear of reprisal, but as several cases make clear, the state unsparingly took vengeance on insurrectionists who had fled. For a time the dissidents were regarded as enemies of the state, indeed to such an extent that the Ministry of Interior created a separate subdivision devoted to tracking their activities. The “state propaganda machine” assiduously gathered information on Hungarians living abroad and Hungarian organizations outside of Hungary. Later the refugees, who had been stripped of their Hungarian citizenship, were considered potential agents of attempts on the part of the West to incite unrest, but by the latter half of the 1960s emigrants who returned to visit Hungary and in some cases spent longer periods of time in the country were no longer seen first and foremost as political threats, but rather as tourists who brought in revenue and even potential economic partners. In the 1960s the number of people to travel from and into Hungary rose significantly, and this growth continued almost without any break until the end of the socialist era.13 Most of those traveling into Hungary came from other socialist countries, but there was an increasing demand for tourists from the West as well, who were compelled to change money and thereby helped boost the country’s always dwindling reserves of hard currency. From this perspective, tourists from the other socialist countries were considerably less useful, and the tourist industry in Hungary was never nearly as enthusiastic about them.14

Many of the visitors to the country from the West were not simply pleasure-seeking tourists, but rather were linked to Hungary by family ties or sentimental connections. Leaders of the tourist industry and of course leaders of the party as well were very well aware that the tourists from the West with Hungarian origins constituted a separate group: “a significant share of the tourists have come with the intention of visiting family. […] It is typical of those who have come to visit family that they spend relatively long periods of time [in the country] and very few of them need lodging in hotels. This lessens the profit that is to be gained from them. […] They spend 74–85 percent of their days in private apartments or other quarters not monitored statistically. This share of the tourist traffic offers significantly less revenue for the national economy. This suggests that we should strive to promote more profitable proportions.”15 The regime and the administrative apparatus treated the emigrant Hungarians with some suspicions, since their knowledge of language and their personal relationships enabled them to find their bearings within the system easily. They almost never had need of the luxury services intended for tourists from the West. State officials felt that as tourists these people could cause harm to the national economy by changing money illegally and also by bringing in commodities and prohibited intellectual products from the West. In the end, however, they accepted this risk, and emigrants who were not seen as engaged in hostile or subversive political activity were allowed to travel into and from their one-time homeland freely, with the exception perhaps of some minimal harassment or inconvenience. Emigrants who had obtained citizenship abroad and who were in possession of an entry visa did not have any grave cause for fear or concern.

The Image of Hungary in the Accounts of the Emigrants Who Returned to Visit the Country

In my view, because it involves many and varied processes of acculturation, emigration itself cannot be interpreted as a whole within a single, unified analytical framework. One of the reasons for this is simply the diversity of social strata from which emigrants themselves come. Another is the cultural differences in the countries in which emigrants settle (such as Austria or the United States). And naturally in the course of their journeys emigrants themselves adopted various strategies, oriented sometimes around distinctive individual goals and (or) sometimes around the maintenance of group identities.

It therefore seemed simpler for scholars to focus on questions such as the numbers of people who left or the countries in which they settled, as well as the actions they took abroad and institutions they created (such as political parties, associations, cultural organizations, and publications), and the symbolic significance of these institutions. While numerous studies have been published on the waves of Hungarian emigrants and refugees, with some exceptions (for instance the work of Julianna Puskás, Zoltán Fejős, Tamás Kanyó and Nóra Kovács) they have been primarily statistical in nature.16

Scholarship on emigrants is fertile ground for historical, anthropological, and sociological analyses, since simply by leaving their countries of origin emigrants become “others.” They become “others” from the perspective of the communities they leave behind and remain others from the perspective of the communities in which they settle. At first they often feel like strangers in their new homelands, and later they may come to feel like strangers in their countries of origin. This duality may last a lifetime.

Emigrants become inhabitants and participants in two political systems, two countries, two cultures, and (at least) two languages. At some moments the emigrant’s liminal status is better characterized by Georg Simmel’s bridge metaphor, as someone who links two divergent worlds, while at others the metaphor of a door as something that isolates and does not diminish difference may be more fitting. Emigrants play a role in cultural transfer, since they have dual (or even more complex) identities. The refugees who settled in Austria in 1956 did not sever their ties to Hungary. As of the mid-1960s they began to return to Hungary, and in circles of family members and friends they became informal intermediaries, bringing with them consumer goods and items of cultural interest.

In my research I have studied the identities of several members of a specific group of 1956 refugees who were teenagers at the time they fled and settled in Austria. I used the interviews conducted with them in order to examine identity as a social construct that changes over the course of time and is bound to several different groups (such as refugee identity, local identity, and Hungarian and Austrian national identity).

In the secondary literature on migration one reads of first, second, and third generation immigrants on the basis of place of birth and national origins. In my view it is a bit problematic to classify first generation youths who came of age and entered the work force in a foreign country in this terminology on the basis of place of birth. They were, however, mature enough to leave the country by themselves or with groups of peers (and often without their parents’ knowledge) knowing that they would have little chance of returning. For this reason I regard the teenagers who fled Hungary in 1956–57 as members of a “first-and-a-half” generation. They left the country at so young an age that their integration into another culture was much less jarring for them than it was for older first generation immigrants.

In the course of the work I attempted to combine two different approaches, the methodology of the biographical narrative interview on the one hand and that of the problem-centered interview, used in social history on the other, since the central question of my research was how the refugees who had fled to Austria in 1956 as secondary school students related to Hungary, their homeland, and the socialist system. I endeavored to further an understanding of how, because of their decisions to emigrate, their lives developed differently from the lives of their peers who had remained in Hungary, and how their everyday lives differed from the everyday lives of people in Hungary. One of my presuppositions was that in their life-courses they would emphasize other elements of identity than those considered important by their former classmates who had not left the country. I was curious to see whether their accounts strengthened the Austrian national identity, which had successfully incorporated the memory of the assistance offered to 1956 refugees into the mythos of the modern Austrian state. I was also interested in the question of how people who shared a similar background and lived in close proximity, but on either side of the Iron Curtain, related to one another. Was this proximity enough to allow for significant relationships that crossed the political divide, or were there no such interconnections? Did the refugees who settled in Austria and their family members who had been left behind seek opportunities to bring the family together, or did they simply attempt to make their own way in their separate communities? Did the Hungarians who had laid new roots help (or perhaps hinder) friends or acquaintances back in Hungary who also hoped to emigrate, or did the question simply not come up? One of my principal goals was to raise new questions regarding an area (Vienna) that was relatively new in the secondary literature on the 1956 refugees, taking advantage of the life story interviews as fertile primary sources on a group of emigrants whose common experience, the foundation of their collective identity, was their years spent in secondary school.

I met with emigrants who had left the country either alone or with their families as secondary school students and who had completed their secondary school studies in the Hungarian language schools that had been created for refugee children. It was difficult to compile precise statistics on the refugees because often they were constantly moving, so—depending first and foremost on the date of the interview—there is more data available regarding distribution based on age. According to a report by Willibald Liehr, the head of the division of the Ministry of Interior entrusted with addressing the issue of the Hungarian refugees, at the beginning of May 1957 there were 3,665 Hungarian refugees between the ages of fourteen and eighteen in Austria, many of whom clearly did not remain in Austria or did not continue (or even begin) secondary school studies. Between 1957 and 1963 almost 1,000 pupils studied at the Hungarian language secondary schools, and 815 of them completed the maturation exam at the time.17 I conducted interviews with twenty-five of these people in 2005. I sought not to assemble a history of the events of their flight or their assimilation into Austrian culture, but rather to glean some understanding of how they look back on their lives and how they recall their experiences. For the most part I raised general questions in order to exert as little influence as possible on their accounts. I included a short questionnaire on biographical data following the interviews.

Travels in the West

Most of the interviewees emphasized that when the isolation they had faced first as citizens of a communist country and then in the refugee domiciles and schools in Austria had come to an end they longed to travel as soon as possible. The Austrian state and international relief organizations provided them with lodging, board, clothing, spending money, and schooling, but hardly any opportunity to travel outside the camps. After having completed their maturation exams, the young men wanted not simply to take excursions and loaf and idle, but actually to journey “around the world.” In their accounts of their lives, the interviewees remember these trips as the beginnings of independent adulthood. They all were able to study at universities, either with state scholarships or other kinds of funding, but most of them soon lost their scholarships because of their inadequate knowledge of German, the difficulties they faced in their studies, or the lack of family support. They did not disperse immediately during their years at university. Many of them remained in the same lodgings in Vienna or Innsbruck. For most of the interviewees the memories of the trips they organized and took together abroad were as important elements of their shared identities as the months and years they had spent in the secondary schools for refugees.

At first they set off to discover Europe with only modest aims and very little money. For the most part they recounted positive experiences, and they were always able to count on the assistance of people and even the authorities in the West. This “romance of the adventurous Hungarian” lasted until the early 1960s. According to their recollections, Hungarian refugees were held in high regard all over Europe. A Dutch milkman first had mistaken them for Germans and refused to sell them milk, but later, having learned that they were Hungarians, immediately gave them milk for free. They had similar experiences in Italy. They were given free wine in a restaurant and in exchange were asked to sing Hungarian folk songs in order to entice more customers into the establishment. They emphasized these memories, which throw into question the claims regarding the pervasiveness of anti-immigrant sentiment.

With the passing of years and gradual social integration, the maintenance of the status of “refugee” had less and less allure, both for the Hungarians themselves and for the communities into which they had settled. People no longer felt obliged to offer any particular support, and the emigrants endeavored to shed the admittedly convenient, but nonetheless second-class standing by obtaining citizenship. When seasonal labor was needed in Sweden and Germany the Hungarian emigrants were seen less as refugees and more as hard-working students.

The people I interviewed first traveled to satisfy their longings for adventure, but later they had to begin to consider how to earn a living. The interviewees presented themselves as hardened freedom fighters who, following the completion of their secondary studies, sought neither to rage nor to caper, but rather strove to win the goodwill of the West Europeans who had welcomed them. The trips by motorcycle and restrained forms of merry-making, where Hungarian gallantry could be put on display without scandal, were ideal contexts in which to strengthen the Western image of the Hungarian revolutionaries. They were still poor, but with meager savings they managed nonetheless to travel extensively. In fact this mentality was common among most of the Eastern European tourists throughout the era, primarily because of their limited access to hard currency. The people I interviewed, however, were youths who had grown hardy in Austria, had at least a moderate knowledge of German, were enterprising in spirit, and were increasingly self-confident, and who moreover also had the courage of refugees who had fled from behind the Iron Curtain. The interviewees continued to expand their geographical horizons throughout their university years, and as they entered the workforce and rapidly began to start their own families they also began to have new goals. The birth of children prompted many to cultivate and nurture ties with relatives in Hungary. In the mid-1960s the political atmosphere made visits to Hungary much easier for the emigrants, but they were also prompted to cast their glances eastward by their familiarity with life in the West, the need to earn income, and family circumstances. Over the course of the years they satisfied their cravings for independence, which found manifestation primarily in travel, and they earned enough money doing seasonal (summer) labor that they were able to complete their university studies and begin to live on their own. Travel became natural to them. They either traveled on official business or simply vacationed over the summers. Their first-hand knowledge of Western lifestyle and culture, and the extent to which they had become part of this culture, became evident to them in the course of their travels eastward.

Travels in the East – Personal Accounts

For the refugees, Hungary lost its significance as a reference point as they integrated into Austrian society. They received news, primarily in their correspondence with family members but also with the increasing use of the telephone, of the gradual growth of the standard of living in Hungary and the more moderate exercise of power by the regime, but the individuals I interviewed were only able to begin to gather first-hand experience of conditions in Hungary as of the mid-1960s.

When they recounted their trips to Hungary, the interviewees spoke with me more readily of their political views than of the details of their travels. They may well have believed that I was more interested to know what they thought of the political situation in Hungary today and the contemporary political and social phenomena and trends that in their eyes have been regrettable. They had hoped that the change of regimes in 1989–1990 would usher in a moral revival, the spread of democratic thinking, and a national renewal. Many of them strove to expand prospering enterprises they had launched in Austria into Hungary, and others gave charitable donations to members of the Hungarian minorities living in the surrounding states (Slovakia, the Ukraine, Romania, and Yugoslavia/Serbia) or labored to redeem certificates they had been given by the Hungarian government as a form of compensation for the losses they had endured at the hands of the communist regime.

According to the interviewees, they met not with national solidarity, but rather wrangling, fuss, and cumbersome burocracy. In their view this was all the consequence of the demoralizing effects of decades of socialism. They offered little assessment of historical processes and phenomena that had begun before World War II, or rather mentioned only their positive aspects. They spoke of the interwar period or the turn of the century in Hungary as normal eras that stood in stark contrast to the first decade of the post-war period, during which most of the families found themselves suddenly members of lower social classes facing an uncertain future.

Two motifs dominated in their narratives of their travels in Hungary. The first, they spoke of how they maintained their relationships with family members back home. Most of them met with family members in Hungary personally after having started their own families, and they then began to return regularly to Hungary. Second, they spoke of their fear of the official authorities and the frequent humiliations they had endured, indignities that had made them anxious and intensified their sense that they had become strangers in their homeland.

Many of them maintained professional relationships with people in Hungary. The one-time emigrant students became Hungarian or in some cases Eastern European rapporteurs for their workplaces, entrusted with initiating or concluding transactions and organizing partner relationships and joint projects. Many of them rented apartments in Budapest or cities in the countryside, and as their circles of friends and acquaintances grew they also built official and informal business ties. The number of trips any one person took to Hungary varied, depending largely on his or her individual career and family life. Some only went once a year, or only for the more important holidays, while others spent their entire summer vacations in Hungary with their children. When possible, they took advantage of business trips to visit relatives as well. In some cases, for security reasons or simply given a lack of time, an Austrian spouse would spend more time behind the Iron Curtain than his or her Hungarian emigrant spouse.

Family life for the emigrants became more complex with the birth of grandchildren or as they began to face the breakup of their first marriages (which was common). Most of the children of mixed couples (in other words one parent was Hungarian) did not learn Hungarian fluently, and later spoke (and speak) German with their spouses and children. Everyday life in Vienna made it difficult and time-consuming to maintain family ties in Austria, not to mention with relatives in Hungary. In part because of this, over the course of the past ten or fifteen years, visits to Hungary became less frequent. Some of the emigrants return to Hungary for months at a time, but only to relax, not in order to visit relatives. Many of them have purchased or rented lodgings not in their places of birth, but rather prefer to spend their time in a rural, village setting.

Having traveled a great deal in the socialist countries for business, Károly, who was capable of speaking and writing in Hungarian, German, Italian, and English, maintained close ties to Hungary and the other states of Eastern Europe. When I asked him to speak about his travels in the East I was given a very thoughtful response:

The fact that I am a refugee played a strong role in my constant awareness of when I was behight, no matter where might have been, I knew very well whether I was behind the Iron Curtain or not. I was very aware of that. I was a disciplined worker, so I never let my political views enter into conversations or debates there…

In spite of having acquired Austrian (or western) citizenship and born witness to the consolidation of the Eastern European systems, once they had stepped across the border back into Hungary the refugees no longer felt themselves safe. They felt as if they were always traveling incognito in the forbidden zone. People who had been born in the West might well have found Eastern Europe strange or bizarre, but they were in all likelihood less disquieted by the almost constant presence of the police and the authorities. It is worth noting that Károly characterized himself as “a disciplined worker.” The word “worker” (dolgozó) indicates strong self-awareness in comparison with the word “employee” (alkalmazott), but it fell out of use in contemporary Hungarian not because of the feebleness of the work ethic or trade unions, but rather because it has become one of the hackneyed terms of the official rhetoric of the socialist era. The use of an expression that could be regarded as somewhat antiquated, however, should not come as a surprise, since, his many return trips to Hungary notwithstanding, Károly nonetheless remains someone who entered his teenage years in the 1950s. His use of the term disciplined, for instance, referred not so much to conscientious attention to deadlines or instructions (though he may have meant this as well), but rather to his deliberate avoidance of topics of conversation related to politics. As he noted, Károly could not risk endangering his travels (and more importantly, his job) by politicizing. He had had difficulty finding employment in the first place (he had both found a job and married later than his peers), and he did not want to risk the stable life he had made for himself.

Károly was always able to avoid situations that in his view were politically sensitive or unpleasant. His accounts of his travels in the socialist countries focused primarily on the various manifestations of economic and political backwardness in Eastern Europe, not to mention differences in mentality. In his mind the socialist countries meant drabness, neglect, constant police presence, limited consumer choice, and the eye-catching Hungarian tourist in Vienna, who “could be recognized from 100 meters away on Mariahilfer Straße, even downwind.”

At the end of the interview conducted with Lajos his wife Ágnes joined us, and the two of them continuously interrupted each other as they recounted their story. Lajos returned to Hungary for the first time relatively late. He began to travel back to his homeland regularly at the beginning of the 1970s. He enjoyed sports and the company of members of a younger generation at Lake Balaton, and also spent time at the home of the parents of one of his friends in the city of Sopron, near the border with Austria. Here he had met Ágnes and the two decided soon to marry. His trips to Hungary, which until then had been without unpleasant incident, suddenly changed because he and his bride were confronted with the arbitrariness of the Hungarian state and the local authorities. The chronology of events was at times a bit jumbled because of the fervor with which they recounted them. First they told of the ordeals they had faced when organizing the wedding and then they related some anecdotes of earlier times.

All the preparations for the wedding had been completed when the authorities made it known that because of errors having to do with some formality they were not going to allow the marriage, more specifically because the names on the various documents were not always identical. The civil wedding was held in Austria instead following a forced postponement of six months. Their church ceremony was held in Sopron, without any official announcement and with a bit of conspiratorial behavior on the part of the guests. After each mass a few more family members would join the congregation and remain in the church until finally at noon the priest joined the bride and groom in wedlock in a brief five-minute period between two services. A few months later the couple took some token revenge for the bother they had faced. After Ágnes had been given Austrian citizenship, they went into the Hungarian embassy and gleefully replied to the administrator’s question regarding the date of the wedding that they had been married on October 23: “I will never forget how the woman who was writing the information down suddenly raised her head. October 23? Yes, I said.” For them this was a symbolic blow and a form of resistance against the power of the communist state.

This attempt on Lajos’ part to present himself as someone who resisted the regime in situations such as those described above can arouse our suspicion: perhaps he did fear encounters with the authorities as much as his friends had, or at least his recollections painted a slightly rosier picture of the events. Independently of the real course of the dialogues it became apparent that very important elements of the identities of the refugee Hungarians in comparison with Hungarians who had not fled were irony, talking back and symbolic resistance against the regime. Their knowledge that they did not face any real threat in some cases prompted them to behave more boldly with official representatives of the communist state, proving their defiance both to themselves and to their acquaintances. Lajos had clearly compiled a sort of small repertoire of similar stories because it was important to him that others (including me) see him as daring and not easily ruffled.

When the interview with her husband had come to an end, Ágnes recounted her life story. She had left Hungary in 1972 with Lajos, having neither any knowledge of German nor any network of friends or family on whom to rely. It took her considerably longer to begin to fit into Austrian society than it had taken the youths who had left in 1956. She had some misgivings about leaving Hungary, because after having endured numerous tribulations she had completed a degree in Hungarian language and literature, and she knew that it would be of little use to her in Austria. At the same time she had to fit in, because she had burnt all her bridges behind her, as her first visit back to Hungary made evident. Ágnes was a so-called “marriage migrant,” someone who “at first is active, when she falls in love with a strange man, but who at the promptings of love becomes passive when she gives up the life she has known up to that point and almost without thinking follows the man she has chosen into the unknown.”18 Ágnes took a considerable risk when she left behind the career she had begun and abandoned a future that seemed certain, entrusting herself entirely to Lajos without even having had a civil marriage, in other words without any legal reassurance or recourse whatsoever.

I could no longer have gone home. Hungary looked on me as an enemy. I had to request a visa every time. I had to register myself there every time. At the beginning of the 1970s, if I went to the police station to register myself as an Austrian citizen, they looked on me as an enemy. And when I spoke Hungarian, then as a traitor. This was the mentality. For decades. So I knew that I had to lay new roots here [in Austria].

Every one-time emigrant had to confront this problem in the course of travels back to Hungary. They were “others” not simply because they had chosen to live elsewhere, in another land, but also because they were regarded and branded as others. None of the interviewees cherished any fond memories of the obligation to register or of any of the other administrative burdens with which they were encumbered, but most of them did not mention having been considered enemies or traitors. Ágnes may have felt this way because since her childhood she had always lived in a milieu that had been hostile to her and her family. They had always felt threatened by looming uncertainty. And precisely when she had finally had an opportunity to begin to lead a more tranquil life, she had left behind the achievements she had attained and emigrated. She had spent the first few years in a new uncertainty though this time of her own doing. When she had returned to visit Hungary, she had not had the self-assurance that the 1956 refugees had had. This may be why she was more sensitive to even the possibility of offence, and it may also explain why her husband felt he should always exemplify civil courage, both through his acts and when recollecting the events of his life. When I asked her to compare and contrast the two nationalities, Ágnes estimated the proportion of Hungarians and Austrians in her circle of friends at around 30 percent compared to 70 percent, and she characterized the relationships as qualitatively entirely different.

After so many years, for I have been in Austria for thirty-eight years now, I think that because of this our lives, our problems, our concerns are so different… we have grown apart. We meet, we go out, if we are together we laugh, they come to visit us or we go somewhere there from time to time, but their problems and our problems are not the same. Primarily at first our role when we returned home was to give financial support to those who were still there. From relatives to our own parents. Naturally parents. We still support my father today for instance. It’s awkward for him to accept our support, poor man, but it’s natural for us to support him, because he lives off his pension. But we always had the role of being those who were well off…

Those who made it to the West were considered the lucky ones who—assuming they had a drop of compassion in their hearts—would bring their loved ones something “western,” something that could not be purchased in Hungary at all, or only at a very high price. The emigrants had to deal with their problems on their own, for they were seen by their loved ones in Hungary as the “western relatives” who shared their plenty with the less fortunate. At the same time with every passing year they grew a bit more distant from their one-time friends, and their meetings consisted increasingly of enjoyable but superficial conversations.

Relationships with old friends were not the only things to change. Though they lived only forty-five minutes from Sopron, Lajos and his wife began to realize that they were slowly growing emotionally distant form Hungary. During the Kádár era the emigrants understandably thought that had there not been a Soviet regime in power in Hungary, then things would have been as good as and possibly better than they were in Austria. The change of regimes was a great disappointment for them, much as it was for many people in Hungary. They equated the new political system with amorality and the loss of values from an earlier time, and everything that had nurtured in them an attachment to their identities as Hungarians, even as they lived their lives in Austria, seemed to waver.

I had always had an idealistic conception of Hungary, how helpful and kind-hearted and welcoming, how… That they would never dupe me. And regrettably that affair with the hotel in Hévíz, the apartment in Hévíz made me realize that after 1989 nice and slowly Hungary was changing into a country in which we were no longer at home. That we no longer understand the rules, the mentality. Regrettably. [A long silence followed.]

In spite of the fact that they lived only thirty minutes from the border, however up-to-date they were on political affairs or cultural and sports events, however many friends they still had in Hungary, they themselves no longer felt at home in their homeland. Quite possibly the dictatorship concealed many human frailties, and when the political transformation had ended sentiments of attachment and unity faded and a society began to take form that to the emigrants seemed amoral (for Ágnes in a manner that seemed incomprehensible). It is worth asking whether these attitudes and the sense of foreignness and exclusion depended in part on the age of the interviewee. Ágnes and Lajos were always aware of Hungary. Their circle of friends included many Hungarian diplomats and politicians, and they emphasized this in the interviews. Their relationship with the country was the closest in the first half of the 1990s. Since then, the people have changed and their ties to the country have become looser. Today they prefer to gather with Austrian-Hungarian and Austrian friends and acquaintances.

Aladár saw the differences between Austria and Hungary—regardless of era—embodied most vividly in the spectacle of carefully manicured streets on the one hand and neglected cityscapes on the other. While in the West one sees flowers and attentively maintained houses, in the East one is confronted, even to the present day, with rows of unpainted tenements with crumbling exteriors. Aladár mentioned these differences, arguably superficial and noticeable to anyone at first glance, because he took little interest in the political and social issues.

For me that didn’t play much of a role at the time, because I didn’t visit Hungary to visit Hungary, but rather to visit family. And—how should I say it? —the whole atmosphere for me… it had a kind of, well, homey quality. People had not been accustomed to anything else since my childhood, and this didn’t bother me. This only, if I really deliberately compare now, Austria, so we crossed the border into Austria and went through—I don’t know—several villages, if one deliberately compares, then you see the differences. But for me this wasn’t why I went, and I didn’t compare, I just got together with siblings, and everything was fine…

For Aladár only his Hungarian family was important. Hungary was not. He was aware of the differences, but he didn’t pay them much mind. And if he did, then he was surprised, but he soon set them aside. The lack of consumer goods in the East may have caused some inconvenience, but it didn’t trouble him much, in part because as a child he had grown accustomed to privations and in comparison with the 1950s the selection of goods had improved noticeably and in part because he had come to Hungary as a tourist. Traveling as a tourist to some extent means forgetting about workaday life and venturing into another environment. Aladár could have seen his travels as excursions into an “underdeveloped region.” For a tourist, the inconveniences (such as the lack of consumer goods or arbitrary local authorities) are temporary, and the warm welcome of relatives and loved ones more than compensates for such tribulations. Or rather more than compensated, because as Aladár grew older and new generations were born he gradually grew distant. After the change of regimes, when he and his relatives could have traveled more frequently—even daily—to see one another they actually made such trips less and less often. While earlier the dreary world of Hungary had made the family members in Mosonmagyaróvár seem so much less fortunate than their relatives in Vienna, in spite of the gradual convergence of the political and social systems the more distant family ties began to lose their significance. In the case of Aladár and his family the explanation for this lies not in the tensions between political systems, international constellations, or the permeability of borders, but rather in the changes that take place as people age. Aladár is simply uninterested in the events in Hungary.

I can hardly read in Hungarian. That’s the truth. Of course I can read, so I don’t have any problem. But, well, what do I actually read? One begins with the ”Presse”, the newspapers, then… I only read German newspapers. It’s not often that I pick up a Hungarian newspaper. And about Hungary, not at all. My younger brother was here, he brought—how should I know—some interesting article that he thought might interest me… And often he’s right. But sometimes no. Something that is important to him in Hungary, for me, here, is maybe not, not so important.

One has the impression that for Aladár Hungary was important as long as it was important for him to spend time with his siblings and their families. Ever since his relationships with them began to become less close (which was hard for them to admit to themselves), Aladár has concerned himself less with events in Hungary, and accordingly he avoids emigrant circles that strive to maintain their Hungarian identities. He makes neither accusations nor requests. He simply doesn’t concern himself with Hungary, which he essentially seems to consider a closed chapter in his life.


Members of the Hungarian minorities in the surrounding states and Hungarian emigrants who had obtained citizenship abroad played a significant role in the tourist industry in Hungary throughout the Kádár era. The organs of power strove to keep visitors to the country under close control, but with the exception of increased surveillance or attempts to enlist them as agents, they were not able to do much to influence their patterns of consumption during their stays in Hungary. As of the mid-1960s politically inactive or indifferent Hungarian emigrants living in the West were able to return to Hungary regularly, and their family members still living in Hungary were able to travel abroad, first only individually, but later as families. The majority of the people I interviewed spoke of a smothered longing for freedom that they were best able to satisfy through their travels in the West. They characterized their first excursions in Europe as trips made with only modest meals, but nonetheless enjoyable adventures imbued with revolutionary (Hungarian) romance. The stories of these trips became, alongside the shared experiences of the refugee schools, the bases of long-lasting friendships (similar for instance to the soldiers’ stories that express unity and solidarity). Following the excursions of their youth, their travels to Germany or Sweden during university years formed equally important elements of their identities, and they began to acquire the abilities necessary to gain employment, earn their own livings, and forge their own lives.

In contrast, their travels back to Hungary seemed more like travels in time, including personal meetings with family members who had been left behind, their childhood surroundings, and, in a word, their past. The trips eastward represented entirely different experiences. For some time the emigrants remained wary, and they were only willing to travel to Hungary for a few days and only within an organized framework, in other words they were only willing to cross the border to the other side of the Iron Curtain as part of trips overseen in some measure by Austria. Later this fear gave way to vexation and anger. As regular visitors to Hungary (many of them entered into business relationships with Hungarian companies and institutions), they found nothing exciting or unusual in the country (in contrast, for instance, with the Soviet Union), but they found the increased surveillance and arbitrary bureaucracy difficult to bear. They noticed that as outsiders they saw (and see) the problems Hungary faced much more clearly than those who had remained in Hungary and had been compelled to adapt to and on some level accept the system. It also became apparent that their relationships to some extent had stagnated. Even after the change of regimes in 1990 no one sought to return to Hungary of his or her own accord, but there were also hardly any examples of anyone leaving Hungary to join a relative in Vienna. By the 1990s, what once had been “Family in Hungary” visits were becoming simply “Travel in Hungary” excursions, which often involved trips to the world famous thermal and medicinal baths or the purchase of holiday homes in the countryside or apartments in one of the cities, but which were always ventures to a country close by from which one could easily return home to Austria.

The change of regimes came too late for most of the emigrants to consider repatriation. In the three decades since their departure, the 1956 refugees had made their homes in their new homelands. Their networks of friends and relatives had completely changed, and it was not worth giving up their lives in the West. Those who had the means purchased land in Hungary and spent some time there or attempted to maintain their ties to the country of their birth through their descendants. We have no precise figures regarding those who chose to return, but qualitative studies suggest that the successful integration of the emigrants into the West led eventually to a slackening of their ties to Hungary.

In some cases the identities of the emigrants as Hungarian nationals was bound to an institution (such as a newspaper, a club, or a church), while in others it was more a matter of ties to the group of secondary school classmates. They considered themselves different from Hungarians living in Hungary. According to their accounts, when they visited Hungary they noticed differences more than similarities. They experience their identities as one-time refugees first and foremost from a historical perspective: in the actual context of the interviews their identities were much more bound to the Austrian national identity. They regarded their biographies almost as stories of development: one-time poor refugees, they had become Austrian citizens, not “different” in comparison with their milieu. The differences in culture and development between the West and East were recurring symbolic motifs in their narratives of their lives. Although in principle one might think them predestined to play a role as agents of transfer, they did not accept this role in the interviews and emphasized instead their ties to Austria. Not one of the interviewees characterized himself or herself as Austrian, but they frequently emphasized that in the moment of history in which they had lived much of their lives they had only been able to attain a relatively high standard of living in Austria (in other words somewhere elsewhere than Hungary). This was evident, for instance, in their perception of Budapest as a poor, run down city rife with corruption in comparison with Vienna. Their accounts were strongly influenced by the media. They were aware of the differences in language use in Hungary and Austria, and in their view public discourse in Hungary had become coarse. In the historical and anthropological secondary literature the second generation in general is seen as having a dual identity.19 My perception in the course of the interviews was that while the emigrants themselves would have liked their children to have maintained some sense of their identities as Hungarians, most of the members of the second generation consider themselves Austrian. Even in the case of the Austrian Hungarians who cultivated close ties to Hungary and Hungarian culture, their use of Hungarian was palpably different from the Hungarian spoken in Hungary. The Austrian Hungarians, most of whom lived in Vienna, produce few cultural products independently, and thus are left with the cultivation of the past and the importation of Hungarian culture, primarily from Hungary, but also from some of the Hungarian minority communities in the Carpathian Basin. The endeavors to this effect notwithstanding, they have no genuinely Hungarian vision of the future. The network of relationships between members of the first generation does not include the second or third generations, and the process of assimilation is accelerating with the passing of the first generation. The cultivation of Hungarian aspects of their identities becomes more prominent when they reach the age of retirement and begin a less active period of life. Two of the fundamental ways in which this takes form are attendance at Hungarian cultural events and attempts to nurture their grandchildren’s awareness of their Hungarian roots and compel them to use Hungarian in everyday life.

The wave of emigration from Hungary in 1956–1957 had distinctive characteristics. From the outset the United Nations and the states of the West regarded the emigrants as political refugees, not so much because of their motives for leaving the country as because of the larger historical context. They provided considerable financial assistance and did a great deal to help the emigrants settle and integrate quickly. If this was indeed their intention, my research suggests that with the passing of some fifty years it has been achieved.


Biographical Details Regarding the Interviewees Mentioned in the Essay


Lajos (1938) and Ágnes (1945)

Lajos is an architect. He crossed the Austrian border with his classmates on November 14, 1956. He completed his maturation exam in the summer of 1957 in Innsbruck and in 1964 completed a degree in architecture at the University of Vienna. In 1966 he found employment in a planning office and in 1975 he opened his own business. His wife, [Ágnes], was a teacher. She left Hungary illegally in the early 1970s after their wedding. In the 1980s and 1990s she was an active member of the Szent István Egylet (Saint Stephen Society) in Vienna. She was an editor for the Bécsi Napló [Viennese Journal] and did interviews with emigrant Hungarians entitled Közöttünk élnek [They live among us]. The interview was conducted in Baden in 2005.


Károly (1940)

Businessman. He crossed the border into Austria in December 1956. He completed his maturation exam at the Iselsberg secondary school in 1959 and then pursued training in radio engineering and electronics. In 1961 he took part in a peace march in commemoration of the 1956 Revolution. He was an active participant in the scout movement and the Central Alliance of Austrian Hungarian Societies and Associations. The interview was conducted in Vienna in 2005.


Aladár (1939)

Teacher. The child of a poor family of four children from Mosonmagyaróvár. Because of the family’s well-known religiosity, he thought he had little chance of ever pursuing university studies under a communist regime and in November 1956 left the country. He completed his maturation exam in Iselsberg. He completed a degree at the University of Vienna in German language and literature. He worked as a secondary school teacher and boarding school teacher, and also held preparatory courses for prospective university students who spoke German as a foreign language. As of 1966 he has traveled regularly to Hungary, first alone and then with his family. He has four children, and they have a moderate knowledge of Hungarian. He is bound to Hungary first and foremost by family ties. The interview was conducted in Vienna in 2005.




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Translated by Thomas Cooper.


1 For a critique of the theories of migration based on economic premises, see Gábor Gyáni’s essay in this issue.

2 One cannot really speak of leaving the country legally, since the vast majority of the emigrants (refugees) took advantage of the weakness of the authorities or their silent consent when they ventured to and crossed the border.

3 Csaba Békés, “Die ungarische Revolution 1956 in der Weltpolitik,” in Die ungarische Revolution und Österreich 1956, ed. Ibolya Murber and Zoltán Fónagy (Vienna: Czermin Verlag, 2006), 47–70; László Borhi: “Liberation or Inaction? The United States and Hungary in 1956,” in Die Ungarnkrise 1956 und Österreich, ed. Erwin A. Schmidl (Vienna: Böhlau, 2003), 129–46.

4 “Adoption of an immigration policy welcoming defectors carried little cost, since most people could not get out. Except for Hungarians in 1956, those who did emigrate were largely Germans who were absorbed by the Federal Republic.” Aristide R. Zolberg, “The Next Waves: Migration Theory for a Changing World,” International Migration Review 23, no. 3. (1989): 40330, 414.

5 Alan Dowty, Closed Borders: The Contemporary Assault on Freedom of Movement (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1987), 68.

6 As of the 1960s the number of illegal emigrants shifted between 1,000 and 4,000 people in Hungary. The largest number of people, more than 4,000, left the country in 1980 and 1981. Péter Pál Tóth, “Népességmozgások Magyarországon a XIX. és a XX. században” [Population Movements in Hungary in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries], in Migráció és Európai Unió [Migration and the European Union], ed. Éva Lukács and Miklós Király (Budapest: Szociális és Családügyi Minisztérium, 2001), 36. For one of the first public statistical reports of the number of emigrants see György Gyarmati, “Politika és társadalom, 1945–1989” [Politics and Society, 1945–1989], in Magyarország a XX. században [Hungary in the Twentieth Century], ed. István Kollega Tarsoly (Budapest: Babits Kiadó, 1996), 235.

7 Between May 11 and August 15, 1956 mines were cleared and barbed wire fencing removed. Magyar Nemzeti Levéltár Országos Levéltára [Hungarian National Archives] MOL M–KS 276. f. 53, cs. 275, ő. e. The March 9, 1956 sitting of the MDP PB [Politburo of the Hungarian Communist Party]. Also MOL XIX–B–10. 1956–VI–107 0783/Szolg.–1956. BM HP (May 16, 1956).

8 “KSH jelentés az 1956-os disszidálásról” [KSH Report on the 1956 Dissidence], Regio–Kisebbségtudományi Szemle no. 4 (1991): 174–211.

9 The roughly 10,000 children who left the country without their parents, (most of) the 11,447 people who returned to the country legally by May 15, and the group, estimated at roughly 3,000 to 4,000 people, that had escaped from penitentiaries and fled the country.

10 Report of the Statistical Office of the UN High Commission for Refugee Affairs. Published by Peter Hidas, “Arrival and reception: Hungarian refugees, 1956–1957,” in The 1956 Hungarian revolution: Hungarian and Canadian Perspectives, ed. Christopher Adam et al. (Ottawa: University of Ottawa Press, 2006), 223–55.

11 György Csepeli et al., “Menekültek és elméletek” [Refugees and Theories], in Évkönyv VI. 1998. (Budapest: 1956-os Intézet, 1998), 253–86.

12 “1956/27,” és “1957/24. törvényerejű rendelet” [Legally Binding Decree 1956/27. and 1957/24], in Hatályos Jogszabályok Gyűjteménye 1945–1958 [Collection of Provisions of Law in Effect], ed. Ferenc Nezvál et al. (Budapest: Közgazdasági és Jogi Könyvkiadó, 1960).

13 Very few crossed the border for traveling abroad or to enter in Hungary up until the middle of the 1950s, according to statistics roughly 1,000 people.

14 “Politika vagy kereskedelem…” [Politics or Trade], Idegenforgalom 7 (1967): 5.

15 Az Országos Idegenforgalmi Tanács iratai [Documents of the National Tourism Council]. MOL XIX–G 28. 10. In 1976 the Politburo of the Hungarian Socialist Workers’ Party (MSZMP PB) put the question of emigration policy on the agenda. During the sitting it was noted that the number of emigrants considered politically indifferent who were returning to visit Hungary had been continuously growing, while the number of emigrants moving back to Hungary was continuously declining. MOL M–KS 288. f. 5/704. ő. e. (November 2, 1976). Cited in Péter Bencsik and György Nagy, A magyar útiokmányok története 1945–1989 [The History of Hungarian Travel Documents] (Budapest: Tipico Design, 2005), 75.

16 Júlia Puskás, Kivándorló magyarok az Egyesült Államokban, 1880–1940 [Émigré Hungarians in the United States, 1880–1940] (Budapest: Akadémiai Kiadó, 1982); Zoltán Fejős, A chicagói magyarok két nemzedéke, 1890–1940 [Two Generations of Chicago Hungarians, 1890–1940] (Budapest: Közép-Európai Intézet, 1993); Nóra Kovács, Szállítható örökség. Magyar identitásteremtés Argentínában (1999–2001) [Transportable Heritage. The Creation of Hungarian Identity in Argentina, 1999–2001] (Budapest: Gondolat–MTA Kisebbségkutató Intézet, 2009).

17 Cited in Magyar középiskolák Ausztriában 1956 után [Hungarian Secondary Schools in Austria after 1956], ed. Ernő Deák (Budapest: Ausztriai Magyar Egyesületek és Szervezetek Központi Szövetsége, 1998), 8.

18 Eszter Zsófia Tóth, “Puszi Kádár Jánosnak.” Munkásnők élete a Kádár-korszakban mikrotörténeti megközelítésben [“A Kiss for János Kádár.” The Lives of Female Workers in the Kádár Era from a Micro-Historical Perspective] (Budapest: Napvilág, 2007), 22.

19 Györgyi Bindorffer, “Etnikai, nemzeti és kétnemzeti identitás” [Ethnic, National, and Dual-National Identity], in Változatok a kettős identitásra [Variants of Dual Identity], ed. Györgyi Bindorffer (Budapest: Gondolat–MTA Etnikai-nemzeti Kisebbségkutató Intézet, 2006), 7–9.

Stefan Troebst

The Discourse on Forced Migration and European Culture of Remembrance*


The project of a ‘Centre against Expulsions’ proposed in 2000 by the German Union of Expellees in order to commemorate the fate of some 12 million Germans who fled or were forced to leave Central and Eastern Europe in and after 1945 caused a fierce Polish-German media controversy. This had a fourfold result: (1) The governments in Warsaw and Berlin together with those in Bratislava and Budapest agreed in 2004 to found a ‘European Network Remembrance and Solidarity’ in order to deal with the tragic history of Europe in the twentieth century in a manner that fostered some consensus; (2) the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe proposed to set up a ‘European Remembrance Centre of Victims of Forced Population Movements and Ethnic Cleansing’ in 2005; (3) in 2007, the Polish government decided to found a ‘Museum of the Second World War’ in Gdansk with the aim of putting the Polish view of recent history into a European context; and in 2008 the German government erected a federal Foundation ‘Flight, Expulsion, Reconciliation’ in Berlin which was given the task of designing a permanent exhibition on the fate of the expelled Germans, again in the context of the history of twentieth-century Europe. Whereas more often than not the national memories of Germans, Poles and other Europeans clash over the Second World War and its consequences, the very fact that in Central Europe a bilateral or multilateral discourse on these sensitive topics is feasible is a remarkable post-1989 improvement.


keywords: forced migration, culture of remembrance, expulsion, ethnic cleansing, Europeanizing


(1) A Change of Paradigm: Outlawing Ethnic Cleansing


In their recent book No Return, No Refuge. Rites and Rights in Minority Repatriation, Howard Adelman and Elazar Barkan propose a new periodization of the twentieth century based on legal and public definitions and perceptions of forced migration: 1900–1945 when “the right to expel” was considered an international norm; 1945–1992 when under Cold War conditions ethnic cleansing was outlawed; and 1992 to the present, when reversing ethnic cleansing was declared a duty of the international community.1 In doing so, Adelman and Barkan underline a striking shift of paradigm in the moral evaluation of ethno-politically motivated and state-induced forced migration. What up to 1945 was euphemistically labeled ‘population transfer’ and was perceived as a legal means with which to homogenize a nation-state ethnically now was condemned as a crime against humanity, even as genocide.2 “The strange triumph of human rights” identified by Mark Mazower3 had, however, no immediate impact on the new political realities in postwar Europe. In 1945 and the years to follow Germans were expelled from Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary and Yugoslavia, Poles from the Soviet Union, and Macedonians from Greece. Ukrainians were resettled by force within Poland, Estonians, Latvians and Lithuanians were deported to Siberia, and so on. The foundation of India, Pakistan and Israel as independent states in 1948 had similar and numerically even larger consequences. In 1974, Cyprus was divided along ethnic lines under the eyes of the United Nations. In the following year, the postwar ethnic separation of the inhabitants of Trieste and its hinterland was legalized by the Italian-Yugoslav Treaty of Osimo. And as late as 1989, the communist regime of Bulgaria succeeded in driving more than 300,000 Turkish-speaking citizens out of the country without facing major international protest.4

According to Adelman and Barkan, however, the wars in ex-Yugoslavia in the 1990s, represented a turning point. Not only was ethnic cleansing condemned, but it was declared a duty of the international community to reverse it (see Dayton 1995 and Rambouillet 1999).5 The paradigm shift was complete. Its most visible result was the concept of a Responsibility to Protect, which legalizes under strict conditions humanitarian intervention, even in its military form,6 a new doctrine in international public law that experienced a breathtaking ascent within the span of a mere decade, as marked, for instance, by UN Security Council Resolution 1973 (2011) on a no-fly zone over Libya, which was based on this principle.

(2) A German “Centre against Expulsions”


The international prohibition of ethnic cleansing in Kosovo in 1999 had a profound impact on reunited Germany. In party politics, the new red-green government of Gerhard Schröder and Joschka Fischer now faced at least two dilemmas. They had to explain to their own supporters Germany’s active participation in NATO’s air raid campaign against Slobodan Milošević’s rump-Yugoslavia and they had to come up with an explanation as to why in their view the expulsion of more than 900,000 Kosovar Albanians in 1999 was not comparable to the expulsion of some 12 million Germans from the communities of their birth in the second half of the 1940s. This was the hour of the Christian-democratic backbencher and newly elected president of the Federation of Expellees (Bund der Vertriebenen, BdV), Erika Steinbach. Together with her social-democratic ally Peter Glotz she set up a foundation called “Centre against Expulsions” (Zentrum gegen Vertreibungen) and demanded the support – including the financial support – of the federal government and parliament. Steinbach proposed to found the center in the form of a museum in Berlin, “in the historical and geographical vicinity” of the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe then still under construction.7 What was intended as a provocation of the Schröder-Fischer government and as a purposeful violation of the rules of German political correctness had a two-fold effect. On the national level, it triggered a heated debate on Germans not solely as perpetrators but now also as victims. On the bilateral level it started a bitter controversy with Polish politicians and media representatives, and also was met with harsh criticism in the Czech Republic, where the new German victims’ perspective was interpreted as means of relativizing German war crimes. This is not the place to discuss these national and bilateral polemics and the fears and suspicions that lay behind them, a task that has been undertaken with diligent thoroughness in recent years.8 Instead I will examine the institutional consequences of inner-German and Polish-German discussions and their spillover effects on actors on the European level.

(3) From the “Visible Sign” in Berlin to the Federal German Foundation Flight, Expulsion, Reconciliation

In Germany, the institutionalization process initiated by the private foundation “Centre against Expulsions” in 2000 resulted in 2008 in the creation of a state-funded institution under the federal roof: Stiftung Flucht, Vertreibung, Versöhnung [Foundation Flight, Expulsion, Reconciliation]. The first step in this direction was a resolution by the federal parliament of July 2002 entitled “For a European-oriented Centre against Expulsions”.9 By trying to hijack the Steinbach-Glotz initiative, and at the same time by ‘Europeanizing’ it, the red-green government attempted to defuse what was perceived as a bombshell planted by the expellees’ organization beneath the foundations of reunited Germany’s relations with its Eastern neighbors. Steinbach’s and the BdV’s activities were considered particularly detrimental to Berlin’s relations with Warsaw, since again in 2000 leading expellee representatives had founded a Preussische Treuhand [Prussian Trust, or Prussian Claims Society, Inc.], modeled on the Jewish Claims Conference. It aimed at restitution of and compensation for property lost by expellees in what was now Poland.10

Notwithstanding German governmental and parliamentarian counter-measures, the appearance of the “Centre against Expulsions” and the “Prussian Claims Society, Inc.” on the political scene and their material demands caused a massive wave of public outrage in Poland in 2003. Polish-German media polemics now reached a level which led the two presidents of state, the post-communist Aleksander Kwaśniewski in Poland and the social democrat Johannes Rau in Germany, to take common action. In October 2003 they released in Gdańsk/Danzig a joint declaration calling for “a sincere European dialogue” on “all cases of resettlement, flight and expulsion”. The declaration emphasized the importance of the “spirit of reconciliation and friendship” and enjoined participants to avoid “claims on compensation, mutual accusations and presenting the other side with balance sheets of crimes and losses”.11

The result of their initiative was the German-Polish foundation of a Central European-wide cooperation network dealing with the delicate topic of expulsions and ethnic cleansing in twentieth-century Europe, as the Bundestag had demanded in 2002. This network was negotiated in 2004, and in the following year its form was fixed in a quadrilateral agreement by the ministers of culture of Poland, Germany, Hungary and Slovakia.12 The rationale of Berlin and Warsaw was that this network would provide a counterweight to the negative effects of the national—and nationalist—“Centre against Expulsion”. However, federal elections in Germany in 2005 led to a replacement of the red-green coalition government by a black-red one, while in Poland already in 2004 as a result of the elections to the Sejm the government of socialists and peasants had been replaced by a conservative one. Both developments changed things considerably. The network project now was politically downgraded in both Berlin and Warsaw. In the coalition treaty of German Christian-democrats and social democrats of November 2005 the foundation of another institution, alongside the network, was mentioned: “A visible sign in Berlin in order to remember the wrongs of expulsions and to outlaw expulsion forever.”13

In combination with the coming to power of the government of the Kaczyński brothers’ Law and Justice party, this new German initiative led to a standstill in Polish-German relations. The result was that both projects, the European network and the cryptic “Visible Sign”, stagnated. Yet even with the new liberal Tusk government in place in Poland two years later, little progress was made. While Warsaw reluctantly agreed to a revitalization of the European network, it refused to participate in any way in the “Visible Sign”. Thus, Christian as well as social democrats in Berlin decided to pursue it as a national project of Germany, without the participation of neighboring states. In March 2008, the coalition partners agreed to turn “the visible sign against flight and expulsion“ into a federal foundation attached to the German Historical Museum (Deutsches Historisches Museum) in the capital of united Germany.14 The new institution was tasked to set up a permanent exhibition in the Deutschlandhaus Building in downtown Berlin, as well as a documentation and information center. On December 30, 2008 by a special law the Foundation Flight, Expulsion, Reconciliation was erected.15 In late 2009, still during the foundation’s build-up phase, a fierce conflict broke out between the Federation of Expellees on one side and the new Christian-liberal Merkel-Westerwelle Government on the other. The apple of discord was the personal participation of Steinbach on the new foundation’s board of trustees. This resulted in June 2010 in an amendment of the law on the foundation, and only by 2011 was the process of founding the new institution at least in legal and organizational terms completed, without Steinbach on the board of trustees.16

According to this law, the purpose of the Federal Foundation Flight, Expulsion, and Reconciliation is “to preserve the memory of flight and expulsion in the twentieth century in the spirit of reconciliation.” Its focus is on “flight and expulsion in the historical context of World War II and the National Socialists’ policies of expansion and extermination and their consequences.” Thereby, “flight and expulsions of the Germans shall be presented within the general context of forced migration in twentieth-century Europe.”17 The following modes of operation are listed: a permanent exhibition; temporary exhibitions; documentation, in particular of ego documents and oral history sources; popularization of research; and cooperation with national and international institutions.18

Up to the present day, the foundation has been riddled by political and structural problems. The decision-making body is the 21-member Board of Trustees, which draws on the expertise of a 15-member Advisory Council, while alongside these 36 mandate holders and a director, a staff consisting of only seven people is in place. Also, the reconstruction of the Deutschlandhaus Building has not yet begun, and the same goes for the systematic acquisition of objects for the exhibition. And finally, the all-German Board of Trustees with its six seats for representatives of the Federation of Expellees on the one hand and the international Advisory Council with members from Poland, the US, Hungary and Switzerland on the other hold rather divergent views on how the wording of the law on the foundation should be interpreted and turned into practice. This goes in particular for the causal link between Nazi aggression and the expulsion of Germans, as well as for the percentages of the German versus the European dimension in the planned permanent exhibition. On the other hand, the new foundation has a comfortable budget, and within three to five years it will possess an attractive high-tech museum building in the very center of Berlin, and it is entitled to organize international conferences, grant fellowships, build up a specialized library, publish books, and so on. Thus it has the potential one day to become a renowned center of research and scholarly exchange on forced migration processes of European-wide and perhaps even global significance.

(4) Dividing Lines in the Council of Europe’s Parliamentary Assembly
on the Remembrance of Forced Migration

In September 2003, at the peak of open German-Polish polemics over the BdV’s “Centre against Expulsions” and shortly before the Gdańsk Declaration by Kwaśniewski and Rau, the oppositional liberal Sejm deputy Bogdan Klich succeeded in winning over Central European and British members of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe to file a motion for a recommendation on the establishment of a “Center for European Nations’ Remembrance” under the council’s auspices.19 This motion was explicitly directed against the Steinbach-Glotz project, with its focus on German expellees. It opted instead for “a wide-reaching, multinational character” aiming “at commemorating the tragic experience of Europeans in the twentieth century.”20 In November 2003, a majority of deputies of the Polish Sejm supported Klich’s initiative,21 and in July 2004 the Council of Europe’s Committee on Migration, Refugees and Population began to deal with the Polish proposal. However, in December 2004, when the committee’s rapporteur on the issue, the Swedish left socialist Mats Einarsson, presented his report, it came as an unpleasant surprise for the Polish side. Not only did Einarsson shift the focus to “deportation, expulsion, transfer and forced resettlement”, he even changed the name of the institution-to-be-founded to “European Remembrance Center of Victims of Forced Population Movements and Ethnic Cleansing”.22 However, when in January 2005 the Parliamentary Assembly debated the recommendation, supporters could not persuade the two-thirds majority necessary to task the Committee of Ministers with the founding of the proposed center. The reasons for this were not so much Polish-Swedish discrepancies concerning profile and name as they were another line dividing the parliamentarians in Strasbourg. The French and the Russian delegations in the Parliamentary Assembly teamed up against the word “deportation” in the proposal. While from the French perspective, this term should be used exclusively for victims of the Shoa, the Russian deputies were strictly against any critical reassessment of mass deportations of Soviet citizens ordered by Stalin.23 That was the end of the Polish initiative in its modified Swedish form. Attempts to revitalize it in 2005 and 2006 failed.

(5) The Quadrilateral European Network Remembrance and Solidarity


In late 2003, parallel to the Klich foray in the Council of Europe, the red-green government in Berlin and the socialist one in Warsaw agreed in principle on a bilateral initiative to counter the negative effects of the Steinbach-Glotz project on Polish-German relations. The new German Minister of Culture Christina Weiss and her Polish counterpart Waldemar Dąbrowski took the lead and came up with a design called “Visegrád + 2”. Visegrád stood, of course, for the four states of the Visegrád Group, i.e. Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Hungary, and “+ 2” meant Germany and Austria. The six agreed on a German proposal to discuss the establishment of what according to the German side was to be called the European Network on Forced Migration and Expulsions. Yet even in the first round of negotiations in April 2004 in Warsaw two major problems arose. First, the Czech side openly tried to sabotage the project, and Austria retreated to the position of a mere observer. And second, the Polish side refused categorically to accept any reference to forced migration, ethnic cleansing, expulsion etc. in the name of the institution about to be founded. It instead insisted that all tragic events of the twentieth century in Europe should be dealt with, including the Second Boer War of 1899–1902 in British South Africa, and that the two totalitarianisms of Nazi Germany and the Stalinist Soviet Union should be the focus.24 In February 2005, finally, the four ministers of culture still in the boat, that is the German, Polish, Slovak and Hungarian ones, signed a letter of intent to found what now was called the European Network Remembrance and Solidarity,25 and in the summer of the same year the legal foundations were laid. That was, however, it, since, as mentioned above, the election results and ensuing political changes in Berlin and Warsaw put the network project on ice for years. Only in 2011 did the quadrilateral project become visible, with working bodies, a head office in Warsaw, a staff, conferences, publications, and so on. Today forced migration is one among many topics with which the network is preoccupied. According to its mission statement, the network deals with the “history of the twentieth century and popularization of historical knowledge in trans-national, European context. [It] wants to contribute to [the] creation of [a] community of memory which will take into consideration [the] different experiences of nations and countries of Europe. This kind of community of memory can be established only when all its members will accept the principle of solidarity as [a] basic and common rule for thinking and acting. Application of this principle means [acquainting] oneself with experiences of the others and [respecting] those who see and feel the past differently.”26

(6) Two Side-Tracks: Prague and Brussels


As mentioned, the Czech Republic stayed out of all of the projects described above, and even tried to thwart their realization. The expulsion of the Germans from the Sudeten regions, in Czech odsun (meaning literally, and euphemistically, “removal”), so far has been considered by all post-’89 governments in Prague as too sensitive a subject to deal with on bilateral, sub-regional or European levels. Accordingly, the topic is only addressed in local contexts. For instance, in mid-2012, the Municipal Museum of Ústí nad Labem in Northern Bohemia will open a permanent exhibition on the history and culture of the Germans in the Czech lands that will also cover their expulsion,27 including the brutal killing of several dozens, if not hundreds of Germans in Ústí and then Aussig on July 31, 1945.

The new Platform of European Memory and Conscience set up recently in Prague by the European Parliament with the support of the Commission and the Council does not mention forced migration or ethnic cleansing in its program.28 It concentrates exclusively on what are called “totalitarian crimes” committed by “Nazism, Stalinism, fascist and communist regimes” and thus resembles the Klich initiative in the Council of Europe of 2003. However, the EU’s planned House of European History which is to be opened in Brussels in 2014 will address the topic. The programmatic outline for this museum, which was written in 2008 by a group of historians and museum experts from all over Europe, states: “The end [of World War II – S. T.] triggered mass migrations on the European continent. With 12 to 14 million refugees and displaced persons – primarily from areas in what had been eastern Germany – Germany provided the largest group”.29 However, the revised concept of the exhibition of 2012 has not yet been made public, and the founding director, the Slovene expert on museums Taja Vovk van Gal, has made only cryptic statements, such as the following: “[The House of European History] is not about exhibiting a European mosaic of countries, but about displaying a reflexive European history, also including dark chapters such as colonialism and armed conflicts.”30 It will be interesting to see at the museum’s opening, which is scheduled for July 2014, whether the “dark chapter” of forced migration will also be included.

(7) Three ‘Europeanizing’ Effects


Any attempt to institutionalize the memory of forced migration in Europe is obviously a difficult and at times frustrating task. There seem to be too many divergent, even conflicting narratives and perspectives on one and the same forced migration process, not to mention the urge to forget other, similar processes. Still, three ‘Europeanizing’ phenomena in the protracted and intertwined debates and attempts at institutionalization outlined above should not be underestimated.

First, the inner-German discourse on how a national institution devoted to the memory of the victims of expulsion led within a few years to the adoption of a European perspective, even on the side of organizations representing expellees. This may initially have been a tactical move, but by now it would be impossible to retreat behind this line. An important turning point in this development was the exhibition “Erzwungene Wege. Flucht und Vertreibung im Europa des 20. Jahrhunderts” (Forced Paths: Flight and Expulsion in Twentieth-Century Europe) by Steinbach’s “Centre against Expulsion” in Berlin in 2006.31 Here the expulsion of Germans from East-Central Europe was put into the context of nation-state driven ethnic purification in Europe from World War I to NATO’s intervention in Serbia on behalf of the Albanians of Kosovo. It is somehow disappointing (though not surprising) that the BdV representatives on the board of trustees of the new federal foundation are currently trying to ‘de-Europeanize’ and ‘re-Germanize’ this project.

Secondly, the debate on the expulsion of the Germans from Europe’s Eastern half has initiated something of a discursive chain reaction, at least in Germany and Poland. The Polish post hoc, ergo propter hoc-argument, according to which the expulsion was the consequence of the German attack of 1939 and five years of occupation, terror, mass killings, forced resettlement and enslavement, led in Germany to broader knowledge of German crimes in World War II and put Poland on the map of German culture of remembrance. Now next to Auschwitz, Treblinka and Majdanek (as focal points of the Holocaust) and the massacres of Lidice, Oradour, Distomo and Marzabotto, the murder of millions of Poles in annexed and occupied Poland has also become part of collective memory. Parallel, in Poland the perception that rabid and lethal anti-Semitism was not something exclusively German waned in light of publications on the pogroms led by Poles against Jews in Jedwabne in 1941 and Kielce in 1946. One example of this is the Polish historical atlas “Resettlements, Expulsions and Flight Movements 1939–1959. Poles, Jews, Germans, Ukrainians. Atlas of the Polish Lands”, published in Warsaw in 2008.32 The decision to set the fate of occupied Poles, murdered Jews, expelled Germans and forcibly resettled Ukrainians in one and the same historical context constituted a minor sensation in Poland, and accordingly the atlas sold extremely well. Yet even more surprising was the positive reaction by German readers, among them many expellees and even their functionaries, when a German translation of the Polish atlas was published by a Catholic German publishing house in 2009.33 Obviously, Germans and Poles by now have realized that their recent histories are not only closely interconnected, but that there are, in the words of a Polish journalist, “baffling parallels, despite all differences, between both countries”.34

Thirdly, despite all national emotions in Polish-German debates, and occasionally even jingoism, ethnic slander and hate-speech on either side, the mere fact that two national societies in Central Europe engaged in an intense public transnational discussion of one of the most sensitive and painful topics of their recent history is remarkable in itself. This hardly has British-Irish, Hungarian-Romanian or Russian-Latvian parallels, and probably not even a French-German one. At the same time, this exceptional Central European debate is followed with interest in a number of other European societies, which also have endured experiences of forced migration, including Finland, Italy or Bosnia and Hercegovina, for example.

The institutionalization of the memory of forced migrations is still in progress, and the German Federal Foundation Flight, Expulsion, Reconciliation in Berlin, as well as the quadrilateral European Network Remembrance and Solidarity in Warsaw, no doubt have their organizational flaws and structural weaknesses. At the same time, both new institutions have a decidedly ‘European’ design, deal boldly with the historic burden of long-standing conflict, and have solid budgets. This in and of itself represents a remarkable achievement in a Europe which, in the process of Eastern enlargement, has discovered the need for a common memory as an important element of its identity policy. Also, the current focus on forced migration has the potential to stimulate productive competition with other conflictual realms of memory, such as genocide or colonialism, but also positive ones, like human rights, multiculturalism or the process of European integration.




Abschnitt 2, Unselbständige Stiftung “Flucht, Vertreibung, Versöhnung“, Gesetz zur Errichtung einer Stiftung “Deutsches Historisches Museum“ (DHMG), Berlin, December 30, 2008, 4–7. Accessed December 17, 2012.

Beauftragter der Bundesregierung für Kultur und Medien: “Sichtbares Zeichen gegen Flucht und Vertreibung“: Ausstellungs-, Dokumentations- und Informationszentrum in Berlin, Berlin, March 19, 2008. Accessed December 17, 2012.

Committee of Experts. House of European History: Conceptual Basis for a House of European History. Brussels, October 19, 2008. Accessed December 17, 2012.

European Network Remembrance and Solidarity: Idea Accessed December 17, 2012.

European Parliament resolution of April 2, 2009 on European conscience and totalitarianism. Brussels, April 2, 2009 Accessed December 17, 2012.

Museum der Geschichte und Kultur der Deutschen in den böhmischen Ländern, no date [2011] Accessed December 17, 2012.

Parliamentary Assembly, Council of Europe: Establishment of the Center for European Nations’ Remembrance under the auspices of the Council of Europe. Doc. 9945, September 30, 2003, Motion for a recommendation presented by Mr. Klich and others. Accessed December 17, 2012.

Parliamentary Assembly, Council of Europe: Establishment of a European remembrance center for victims of forced population movements and ethnic cleansing. Doc. 10378, Strasbourg, December 20, 2004, Report by the Committee on Migration, Refugees and Population. Rapporteur Mr. Mats Einarsson, Sweden, Group of the Unified European Left. Accessed December 17, 2012.

“Stiftung Flucht, Vertreibung, Versöhnung/ Foundation Flight, Expulsion, Reconciliation“, Berlin 2010. Accessed December 17, 2012.

Uchwała Sejmu Rzeczypospolitej Polskiej z dnia 27 listopada 2003 r. w sprawie ustanowienia Centrum Pamięci Narodów Europy pod auspicjami Rady Europy (M. P. z dnia 15 grudnia 2003 r.) Decision of the Polish Parliament of November 27, 2003 on the Establishment of a Centre for European Nations’ Remembrance under the auspices of the Council of Europe.




Adelman, Howard and Elazar Barkan. No Return, No Refuge. Rites and Rights in Minority Repatriation. New York: Columbia University Press, 2011.

Axelsson, Bodil. Museums between National and European Identities. In eunamus. European National Museums, January 30, 2012. Accessed December 17, 2012.

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Brandes, Detlef, Holm Sundhaussen, and StefanTroebst, in cooperation with Kristina Kaiserová and Krzysztof Ruchniewicz, eds., Lexikon der Vertreibungen. Deportation, Zwangsaussiedlung und ethnische Säuberung im Europa des 20. Jahrhunderts. Cologne–Vienna–Weimar: Böhlau Verlag, 2010.

Buras, Piotr, and Piotr M. Majewski, eds. Pamięć wypędzonych. Grass, Beneš i środkowoeuropejskie rozrachunki. Antologia tekstów polskich, niemieckich i czeskich [The Memory of the Expelled. Grass, Beneš and Central European Retributions. An Anthology of Polish, German and Czech Texts]. Warsaw: Centrum stosunków międzynarodowycz, 2003.

Erzwungene Wege. Flucht und Vertreibung im Europa des 20. Jahrhunderts. Eine Ausstellung der Stiftung Zentrum gegen Vertreibungen. Potsdam: Zentrum gegen Vertreibungen, 2006

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Franzen, Erik K. “Diskurs als Ziel? Anmerkungen zur deutschen Erinnerungspolitik am Beispiel der Debatte um ein ‘Zentrum gegen Vertreibungen’ 1999–2005.” In Diskurse über Zwangsmigrationen in Zentraleuropa. Geschichtspolitik, Fachdebatten, literarisches und lokales Erinnern seit 1989, edited by Haslinger, Peter Franzen K. Erik, and Martin Schulze Wessel, 1–29. Munich: R. Oldenbourg, 2008.

Hoffmann, Stefan-Ludwig, ed. Moralpolitik. Geschichte der Menschenrechte im 20. Jahrhundert. Göttingen: Wallstein, 2010.

Hryciuk, Grzegorz et al. Wysiedlenia, wypędzenia i ucieczki 1939–1959. Polacy, Żydzi, Niemcy, Ukraińcy. Atlas ziem Polski [Resettlements, Expulsions and Flight Movements, 1939–1959. Poles, Jews, Germans, Ukrainians. Atlas of the Polish Lands]. Warsaw: DEMART, 2008.

Hryciuk, Grzegorz et al. Illustrierte Geschichte der Flucht und Vertreibung. Ost- und Mitteleuropa 1939 bis 1959. Augsburg: Weltbild, 2009.

Kaiser, Wolfram, Stefan Krankenhagen, and Kerstin Poehls. Europa ausstellen: Das Museum als Praxisfeld der Europäisierung. Cologne–Vienna–Weimar: Böhlau Verlag, 2012.

Kraft, Claudia. “Die aktuelle Diskussion über Flucht und Vertreibung in der polnischen Historiographie und Öffentlichkeit,” Zeitgeschichte-online. Accessed December 17, 2012.

Krzemiński, Adam. “Deutsch-polnische Tage” Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, no 54, March 3, 2012, 3.

Łada, Agnieszka. Debata publiczna na temat powstania Centrum przeciw Wypędzeniom w prasie polskiej i niemieckiej [The Public Debate on the Topic of the Founding of a Centre against Expulsions in the Polish and German Press]. Wrocław: ATUT, 2006.

Leggewie, Claus. Der Kampf um die europäische Erinnerung. Ein Schlachtfeld wird besichtigt. Munich: C. H. Beck, 2011.

Lisicki, Paweł and Jerzy Haszczyński, eds. Pamięć europejska czy narodowa. Spór o Centrum przeciwko Wypędzeniom [A European Memory or a National One? The Controversy on the Centre against Expulsions]. Warsaw: Rzeczpospolita, 2003.

Lutomski, Paweł. “The Debate about a Centre against Expulsions: An Unexpected Crisis in German-Polish Relations?” German Studies Review 27 (2004): 449–68.

Madajyczyk, Piotr. Czystki etniczne i klasowe w Europie XX wieku. Szkice do problemu [Ethnic and Class-based Cleansings in Twentieth-Century Europe. Problem Outlines]. Warsaw: Instytut studiów politycznych PAN, 2010.

Mazower, Mark. “The Strange Triumph of Human Rights, 1933–1950.” The Historical Journal 47 (2004): 379–98.

Mazur, Zbigniew. Centrum przeciwko wypędzeniom (1999–2005) [The Centre against Expulsions (1999–2005)]. Poznań: Instytut zachodni, 2006.

Münz, Rainer. “Das Jahrhundert der Vertreibungen.” Transit. Europäische Revue 23 (2002): 132–54.

Pattison, James. Humanitarian Intervention and the Responsibility to Protect: Who Should Intervene? Oxford–New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2010.

Piskorski, Jan M. Polacy i Niemcy. Czy przeszłość musi być przeszkodą [Poles and Germans. Is the Past Bound to Be an Obstacle?]. Poznań: Wydawnictwo Poznańskie, 2004. (German translation: Vertreibung und deutsch-polnische Geschichte. Eine Streitschrift.) Osnabrück: Fibre, 2005.

Piskorski, Jan M. Wygnańcy. Migracje przymusowe i uchodźcy w dwudziestowiecznej Europie [The Ones Driven Out. Forced Migrations and Flight Movements in Twentieth-Century Europe]. Warsaw: Państwowy Instytut Wydawniczy 2011.

Puttkamer, Joachim von. “Irrwege des Erinnerns. Die Ausstellung ‘Erzwungene Wege’ im Berliner Kronprinzenpalais.” In Couragierte Wissenschaft. Eine Festschrift für Jürgen John zum 65. Geburtstag, edited by Monika Gibas, Rüdiger Stutz, Justus H. Ulbricht, 174–90. Jena: Glaux Verlag Christine Jäger, 2007.

Röger, Maren. Flucht, Vertreibung und Umsiedlung. Mediale Erinnerung und Debatten in Deutschland und Polen seit 1989. Marburg/L.: Herder-Institut, 2011.

Sundhaussen, Holm. “Von ‘Lausanne’ nach ‘Dayton’. Ein Paradigmenwechsel bei der Lösung ethnonationaler Konflikte.” In Europa und die Europäer. Quellen und Essays zur modernen europäischen Geschichte. Festschrift für Hartmut Kaelble zum 65. Geburtstag, edited by Rüdiger Hohls, Iris Schröder, Hannes Siegrist, 409–14. Stuttgart: Steiner, 2005.

Ther, Philipp. “Erinnern oder aufklären. Zur Konzeption eines Zentrums gegen Vertreibungen.” Zeitschrift für Geschichtswissenschaft 51 (2003): 36–41.

Ther, Philipp. Die dunkle Seite der Nationalstaaten. “Ethnische Säuberungen” im modernen Europa. Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2011.

Ther, Philipp. “Zentrum gegen Vertreibungen.” In Brandes, Sundhaussen, Troebst, eds. Lexikon der Vertreibungen, 736–39.

Troebst, Stefan, ed. Vertreibungsdiskurs und europäische Erinnerungskultur. Deutsch-polnische Initiativen zur Institutionalisierung. Eine Dokumentation. Osnabrück: Fibre, 2006.

Troebst, Stefan. “Das Europäische Netzwerk Erinnerung und Solidarität. Eine zentraleuropäische Initiative zur Institutionalisierung des Vertreibungsgedenkens 2002–2006.” Zeitgeschichte 34, no. 1 (2007): 43–57.

Troebst, Stefan. “Vom Bevölkerungstransfer zum Vertreibungsverbot – eine europäische Erfolgsgeschichte?” Transit. Europäische Revue 36, no. 9 (2008): 158–82.

Troebst, Stefan. “Gedächtnis und Gewissen Europas? Die Geschichtspolitik der Europäischen Union seit der Osterweiterung.” In Strategien der Geschichtspolitik in Europa seit 1989. Deutschland, Frankreich und Polen im internationalen Vergleich, edited by Etienne François et al. Göttingen (forthcoming)

Verlage, Christopher. Responsibility to Protect. Ein neuer Ansatz im Völkerrecht zur Verhinderung von Völkermord, Kriegsverbrechen und Verbrechen gegen die Menschlichkeit. Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck Verlag, 2009.

Völkering, Tim. Flucht und Vertreibung im Museum. Zwei aktuelle Ausstellungen und ihre geschichtskulturellen Hintergründe im Vergleich. Münster: LIT, 2008.

Wildt, Michael. “Erzwungene Wege. Flucht und Vertreibung im Europa des 20. Jahrhunderts“. Kronprinzenpalais Berlin. Bilder einer Ausstellung. Historische Anthropologie 15. No. 2 (2007): 281–95. Accessed December 17, 2012.



1 Howard Adelman and Elazar Barkan, No Return, No Refuge. Rites and Rights in Minority Repatriation (New York, NY: Columbia University Press, 2011), vii.

2 Stefan Troebst, “Vom Bevölkerungstransfer zum Vertreibungsverbot – eine europäische Erfolgs­geschichte?” Transit. Europäische Revue 36 (winter 2008/09): 158–82.

3 Mark Mazower, “The Strange Triumph of Human Rights, 1933–1950,” The Historical Journal 47 (2004): 379–98. Cf. also Stefan-Ludwig Hoffmann, ed., Moralpolitik. Geschichte der Menschenrechte im 20. Jahrhundert (Göttingen: Wallstein, 2010).

4 For two balanced overviews cf. Philipp Ther, Die dunkle Seite der Nationalstaaten. “Ethnische Säuberungen” im modernen Europa (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2011) and Piotr Madajyczyk, Czystki etniczne i klasowe w Europie XX wieku. Szkice do problemu [Ethnic and Class-based Cleansings in Twentieth Century Europe. Problem Outlines] (Warsaw: Instytut studiów politycznych PAN, 2010). See also Detlef Brandes, Holm Sundhaussen and StefanTroebst, in cooperation with Kristina Kaiserová and Krzysztof Ruchniewicz, eds., Lexikon der Vertreibungen. Deportation, Zwangsaussiedlung und ethnische Säuberung im Europa des 20. Jahrhunderts (Cologne–Vienna–Weimar: Böhlau Verlag, 2010).

5 Adelman and Barkan, No Return, No Refuge, 74–96. Cf. also Troebst, “Vom Bevölkerungstransfer zum Vertreibungsverbot”; Holm Sundhaussen, “Von ‘Lausanne’nach ‘Dayton’. Ein Paradigmenwechsel bei der Lösung ethnonationaler Konflikte,” in Europa und die Europäer. Quellen und Essays zur modernen europäischen Geschichte. Festschrift für Hartmut Kaelble zum 65. Geburtstag, eds. Rüdiger Hohls, Iris Schröder, Hannes Siegrist (Stuttgart: Steiner, 2005), 409–14; and Rainer Münz, “Das Jahrhundert der Vertreibungen,” Transit. Europäische Revue 23 (2002): 132–54.

6 Gareth Evans, The Responsibility to Protect: Ending Mass Atrocity Crimes Once and For All (Washington, DC: Brookings Institution, 2008); Christopher Verlage, Responsibility to Protect. Ein neuer Ansatz im Völkerrecht zur Verhinderung von Völkermord, Kriegsverbrechen und Verbrechen gegen die Menschlichkeit (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck Verlag, 2009); James Pattison, Humanitarian Intervention and the Responsibility to Protect: Who Should Intervene? (Oxford–New York: Oxford University Press, 2010).

7 Philipp Ther, “Zentrum gegen Vertreibungen,” in Lexikon der Vertreibungen, 736–39, 736.

8 Paweł Lutomski, “The Debate about a Centre against Expulsions: An Unexpected Crisis in German-Polish Relations?” German Studies Review 27 (2004): 449–68; Agnieszka Łada, Debata publiczna na temat powstania Centrum przeciw Wypędzeniom w prasie polskiej i niemieckiej [The public debate on the topic of the founding of a Centre against Expulsions in the Polish and German press] (Wrocław: ATUT, 2006); Philipp Ther, “Erinnern oder aufklären. Zur Konzeption eines Zentrums gegen Vertreibungen,” Zeitschrift für Geschichtswissenschaft 51 (2003): 36–41; Claudia Kraft, “Die aktuelle Diskussion über Flucht und Vertreibung in der polnischen Historiographie und Öffentlichkeit,” Zeitgeschichte-online, accessed December 17, 2012,; Jan M. Piskorski, Polacy i Niemcy. Czy przeszłość musi być przeszkodą [Poles and Germans. Is the Past Bound to Be an Obstacle?] (Poznań: Wydawnictwo Poznańskie, 2004) (German translation: Vertreibung und deutsch-polnische Geschichte. Eine Streitschrift. Osnabrück: Fibre, 2005); idem, Wygnańcy. Migracje przymusowe i uchodźcy w dwudziestowiecznej Europie [The Ones Driven Out. Forced Migrations and Flight Movements in Twentieth Century Europe] (Warsaw: Państwowy Instytut Wydawniczy, 2011); K. Erik Franzen, “Diskurs als Ziel? Anmerkungen zur deutschen Erinnerungspolitik am Beispiel der Debatte um ein ‘Zentrum gegen Vertreibungen’ 1999–2005,” in Diskurse über Zwangsmigrationen in Zentraleuropa. Geschichtspolitik, Fachdebatten, literarisches und lokales Erinnern seit 1989, eds. Peter Haslinger, Franzen K. Erik and Martin Schulze Wessel (Munich: R. Oldenbourg, 2008), 1–29; Mathias Beer, Flucht und Vertreibung der Deutschen. Voraussetzungen, Verlauf, Folgen (Munich: C. H. Beck, 2011); Maren Röger, Flucht, Vertreibung und Umsiedlung. Mediale Erinnerung und Debatten in Deutschland und Polen seit 1989 (Marburg/L.: Herder-Institut, 2011). See also the Polish documentations by Paweł Licicki and Jerzy Haszczyński, eds., Pamięć europejska czy narodowa. Spór o Centrum przeciwko Wypędzeniom [A European Memory or a National One? The Controversy on the Centre against Expulsions] (Warsaw: Rzeczpospolita, 2003); Piotr Buras and Piotr M. Majewski (eds.), Pamięć wypędzonych. Grass, Beneš i środkowoeuropejskie rozrachunki. Antologia tekstów polskich, niemieckich i czeskich [The Memory of the Expelled. Grass, Beneš and Central European Retributions. An Anthology of Polish, German and Czech Texts] (Warsaw: Centrum stosunków międzynarodowycz, 2003); and Zbigniew Mazur, Centrum przeciwko wypędzeniom (1999–2005) [The Centre against Expulsions (1999–2005)] (Poznań: Instytut zachodni, 2006).

9 Beschluss des Deutschen Bundestages “Für ein europäisch ausgerichtetes Zentrum gegen Vertreibungen“, Berlin, July 4, 2002. In: Stefan Troebst, ed., Vertreibungsdiskurs und europäische Erinnerungs-kultur. Deutsch-polnische Initiativen zur Institutionalisierung. Eine Dokumentation (Osnabrück: Fibre, 2006), doc. No. 10, 67.

10 Cf. the English-language website, accessed December 17, 2012.

11 Pressemitteilung des Bundespräsidialamts, 29 October 2003: “Bundespräsident Johannes Rau und der Präsident der Republik Polen, Aleksander Kwaśniewski, haben heute in Danzig eine gemeinsame Erklärung abgegeben“. In: Troebst, ed., Vertreibungsdiskurs, doc. No. 22, 99–100.

12 Stefan Troebst, “Das Europäische Netzwerk Erinnerung und Solidarität. Eine zentraleuropäische Initiative zur Institutionalisierung des Vertreibungsgedenkens 2002–2006,” Zeitgeschichte 34 (2007/1): 43–57. Cf. also idem: Vertreibungsdiskurs, docs. No. 21–58, 95–242.

13 “Gemeinsam für Deutschland. Mit Mut und Menschlichkeit”. Koalitionsvertrag von CDU, CSU und SPD, Berlin, 11. November 2005. In Troebst, ed., Vertreibungsdiskurs, doc. No. 51, 228.

14 Beauftragter der Bundesregierung für Kultur und Medien: “Sichtbares Zeichen gegen Flucht und Vertreibung“: Ausstellungs-, Dokumentations- und Informationszentrum in Berlin, Berlin, March 19, 2008, accessed December 17, 2012,

15 Abschnitt 2, Unselbständige Stiftung “Flucht, Vertreibung, Versöhnung”, Gesetz zur Errichtung einer Stiftung “Deutsches Historisches Museum” (DHMG), Berlin, December 30, 2008, 4–7, accessed December 17, 2012.

16 See the foundation’s website:, accessed December 17, 2012.

17 Flyer “Stiftung Flucht, Vertreibung, Versöhnung/ Foundation Flight, Expulsion, Reconciliation,” Berlin 2010, accessed December 17, 2012,

18 Ibid.

19 Parliamentary Assembly, Council of Europe: Establishment of the Center for European Nations’ Remembrance under the auspices of the Council of Europe. Doc. 9945, September 30, 2003, Motion for a recommendation presented by Mr. Klich and others, accessed December 17, 2012,

20 Ibid.

21 Uchwała Sejmu Rzeczypospolitej Polskiej z dnia 27 listopada 2003 r. w sprawie ustanowienia Centrum Pamięci Narodów Europy pod auspicjami Rady Europy (M. P. z dnia 15 grudnia 2003 r.) Decision of the Polish Parliament of November 27, 2003 on the Establishment of a Centre for European Nations’ Remembrance under the auspices of the Council of Europe, accessed December 17, 2012,

22 Parliamentary Assembly, Council of Europe: Establishment of a European remembrance center for victims of forced population movements and ethnic cleansing. Doc. 10378, Strasbourg, December 20, 2004, Report by the Committee on Migration, Refugees and Population. Rapporteur Mr. Mats Einarsson, Sweden, Group of the Unified European Left, accessed December 17, 2012,

23 Délégation française à l’Assamblée parlementaire du Conseil de l’Europe: 60. Jahrestag der Befreiung des Konzentrationslagers Auschwitz-Birkenau – Zentrum des Gedenkens oder Entstellung des Gedenkens. Strassburg, 24. January 2005 (Übersetzung PB 1/0170-05). In Troebst, ed., Vertreibungsdiskurs, doc. No. 41, 209–11, here 211.

24 For the heated debates during the negotiations on the founding of the network in 2004 see my reports in Troebst, ed., Vertreibungsdiskurs, docs. No. 29, 122–39, 35, 147–61, and 39, 169–85.

25 Absichtserklärung der Kulturminister Deutschlands, Polens, der Slowakei und Ungarns über die Gründung des Europäischen Netzwerks Erinnerung und Solidarität, Warsaw, February 2, 2005. In Troebst, ed., Vertreibungsdiskurs, doc. No. 45, 216–18.

26 European Network Remembrance and Solidarity: Idea, accessed December 17, 2012,

27 In Ústí nad Labem entsteht das erste Museum der Geschichte und Kultur der Deutschen in den böhmischen Ländern, no date [2011], accessed December 17, 2012,

28 See the Platform’s website as well as European Parliament resolution of April 2, 2009 on European conscience and totalitarianism. Brussels, April 2, 2009, accessed December 17, 2012,, accessed December 17, 2012. Cf. also Stefan Troebst, “Gedächtnis und Gewissen Europas? Die Geschichtspolitik der Europäischen Union seit der Osterweiterung,“ in Strategien der Geschichtspolitik in Europa seit 1989. Deutschland, Frankreich und Polen im internationalen Vergleich, ed. Etienne François et al. (Göttingen, forthcoming).

29 Committee of Experts. House of European History: Conceptual Basis for a House of European History. Brussels, October 19, 2008, accessed December 17, 2012,

30 Bodil Axelsson: Museums between National and European Identities. In: eunamus. European National Museums, January 30, 2012, accessed December 17, 2012,; Cf. also Wolfram Kaiser, Stefan Krankenhagen and Kerstin Poehls, Europa ausstellen: Das Museum als Praxisfeld der Europäisierung (Cologne–Vienna–Weimar: Böhlau Verlag, 2012), 35–38, 58–59, 80–84, 147–51; Claus Leggewie, Der Kampf um die europäische Erinnerung. Ein Schlachtfeld wird besichtigt (Munich: C. H. Beck, 2011), 46–48, 72, 182–88, 216–19; and Włodzimierz Borodziej, “Das Haus der Europäischen Geschichte – ein Erinnerungskonzept mit dem Mut zur Lücke,” in Arbeit am europäischen Gedächtnis. Diktaturerfahrungen und Demokratieentwicklung, eds. Volkhard Knigge et al. (Cologne–Vienna–Weimar: Böhlau Verlag, 2011), 139–46.

31 Cf. the catalogue Erzwungene Wege. Flucht und Vertreibung im Europa des 20. Jahrhunderts. Eine Ausstellung der Stiftung Zentrum gegen Vertreibungen. Potsdam: Zentrum gegen Vertreibungen, 2006; as well as Michael Wildt, “Erzwungene Wege. Flucht und Vertreibung im Europa des 20. Jahrhunderts”. Kronprinzenpalais Berlin. Bilder einer Ausstellung, Historische Anthropologie 15 (2007/2): 281–95: Joachim von Puttkamer, “Irrwege des Erinnerns. Die Ausstellung ‘Erzwungene Wege’ im Berliner Kronprinzenpalais,” in Couragierte Wissenschaft. Eine Festschrift für Jürgen John zum 65. Geburtstag, eds. Monika Gibas, Rüdiger Stutz, Justus H. Ulbricht (Jena: Glaux Verlag Christine Jäger, 2007), 174–90; and Tim Völkering, Flucht und Vertreibung im Museum. Zwei aktuelle Ausstellungen und ihre geschichtskulturellen Hintergründe im Vergleich (Münster: LIT, 2008).

32 Hryciuk, Grzegorz et al., Wysiedlenia, wypędzenia i ucieczki 1939–1959. Polacy, Żydzi, Niemcy, Ukraińcy. Atlas ziem Polski [Resettlements, Expulsions and Flight Movements, 1939–1959. Poles, Jews, Germans, Ukrainians. Atlas of the Polish Lands]. (Warsaw: DEMART, 2008).

33 Grzegorz Hryciuk et al., Illustrierte Geschichte der Flucht und Vertreibung. Ost- und Mitteleuropa 1939 bis 1959 (Augsburg: Weltbild, 2009).

34 Adam Krzemiński, “Deutsch-polnische Tage,” Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, no 54, March 3, 2012, 3.

Attila Melegh

Net Migration and Historical Development in Southeastern Europe since 1950*

* The study is a background paper for the following project: SEEMIG Managing Migration and its Effects in South-East Europe – Transnational Actions Towards Evidence Based Strategies. The project is funded under the third call for proposals of the South-East Europe Programme. The information published here reflects the author’s views and the Managing Authority is not liable for any use that may be made of the information concerned. The writing of this study was supported by the Institute of Advanced Studies at CEU. Special thanks to Szabrina Csánó, who helped in the construction of the database. Also thanks to József Böröcz and Arland Thornton for valuable comments. And special thanks to Márta Kardulesz and Ágnes Anek for their help in editing the paper.

This essay formulates some basic developmental patterns in Southeastern Europe (focusing on the area between Italy and the Caspian See) on the basis of some longer term macro statistics on net migration and other macro statistical time series. It demonstrates that in furthering an understanding of longer term developmental patterns, the world system approach is helpful in a modified form. In the case of state socialist economies the direct intervention of world capitalism had a long lasting impact on the migratory links of the countries within the region. Countries that were unable to counterbalance the collapse of local industry became sending countries and were partially re-ruralized and partially pushed into large scale emigration. The analysis lends credence to the neoclassic macro-economic theory of migration, but its validity with regard to per capita GDP differentials is strengthened if it is linked to positions in global hierarchies. The key point is that it is not simply GDP differentials that matter, but rather positions within the global economy, which themselves are in part the results of historical processes and linkages. In addition, people seem to have clear ideas of developmental scales which correspond quite accurately to actual per capita GDP figures. Thus people may well be aware of global inequalities and may even have clear ideas of complex sequences that might orientate them in their decisions regarding migration.

keywords: net migration, macro statistics, state socialist economies, global economy, patterns of migration, global history



Migratory links and channels form a web around the world. As in the case of the exchange of ideas, images, capital, goods and services, countries and regions are integrated into a global flow of people.1 Concerning spatial units (countries and/or regions) it is important to consider various modes of integration, since as with the global flow of capital, there are various patterns according to which regions and countries are integrated into the global flows and systems of flows. None of the countries is completely isolated, and there is no country or region to or from which migrants simply embark or depart, as most regions and countries produce both emigration and immigration at the same time. It is also widely claimed that in areas and countries in which emigration has dominated there is a gradual move towards a pattern of receiving more immigrants than losing emigrants.2 Also more and more countries are moving into a middling or transitional position, including the North African and many Latin American countries. Little research or theoretical work has been done on the question of how these complex modes of integration develop historically. Migration flows are related to other social processes, which makes analysis difficult, but, more importantly, the analytical focus has been too narrow to further any subtle grasp of how the patterns of interrelated processes have changed in human history according to positions in a global system. There is a need to re-contextualize historically and regionally all of the major theories of migration that emerged over the course of the last three decades.3

Theoretical Problems

Classical and neoclassical macro and micro theory seeks to discern mechanisms based on wage differentials and labor market processes without a historical understanding of the developmental perspective. Structural-historical and world system theories have arrived at the clear premise according to which transition from rural to non-rural economies and the intrusion of world capitalism create a scenario for massive emigration. From the theoretical perspective of intervention and the break-up of “traditional” systems, scholars of this intellectual approach also argue that colonial or historically established links matter, but they have no systematic idea of how longer term changes happen beyond the specific periods leading to massive social transformation or establishing specific links.4 This is exemplified by the following summary by Douglas Massey:

International migration originates in the social economic, cultural and political transformations that accompany the penetration of capitalist markets into non-market and pre-market societies (as hypothesized under world system theory). In the context of a globalizing economy, the entry of markets and capital-intensive production technologies into peripheral regions disrupts existing social and economic arrangements and brings about a displacement of people from customary livelihoods, creating a mobile population of workers who actively search for new ways of achieving economic sustenance.5

Network theory and cumulative causation are also relevant to an understanding of historical change, as they help explain why and how established migration flows continue. Nonetheless, they are not adequate as explanations of why such flows might dry out or become less intensive, nor for that matter do they shed much light on how these flows can become cyclical. Furthermore, these theories offer little insight into the ways in which transitional or intermediary countries are integrated into the global flow and how this integration might change.

Concerning longer term and more empirical approaches to the question of how migratory integration of countries and regions varies over time, we have only a few hypotheses. One is the idea of migration transition, which was developed by the geographer Zelinsky, who modeled the idea of demographic transition as established in the 1930s in the United States and Europe.6 Zelinsky argues that gradually, following an increase in emigration, because of socio-historical processes countries of large-scale emigration become countries of net immigration within the framework of a fairly linear development.

This theory is related to migration hump or migration curve theory, according to which over time and with increasing income levels countries may move from increasing to decreasing flows of emigration and then to immigration.7 In other words, upon reaching a certain level of economic wealth, countries produce more migrants as the migrants or potential migrants are actually able to finance and organize a move to better-off countries, while an increase of wealth actually reduces the incentive for massive emigration. This is a non-linear idea of progress and may serve as an interesting starting point, but this theory also focuses on one transition and lacks a complex approach to migratory integration that would combine not only wealth differentials, but also related historical processes of economic integration into the world economy. Moreover, this premise regarding the gradual move toward immigrant status is actually not true with regard to many countries, as there can also be reverse processes, as we will see below.

Debates on migration and development focus on the analysis of a complex interrelationship between migration and developmental processes, but generally the temporal perspective is rather limited and/or the discussion remains on a rather superficial level, listing several factors and mechanisms without actually measuring and systematically demonstrating the mechanisms and the importance of various factors.8 This is undoubtedly a consequence of the lack of appropriate and comparable statistics and actual data, but a more systematic historical analysis is still missing.9

It is also worth mentioning that there are some descriptive analyses on the history of migration in the last century, but while they may be very informative and sometimes brilliant, they are either very specific in time and analysis or actually rather broad and fail to give a systematic analysis of how countries are integrated into a global flow of people and global processes of development.10 In addition, in the history of migration most analysts stress the importance of political events, but fail to consider the role of other relevant social processes. This is especially true when countries representing varying political systems are included in an analysis of long term change.

Methodological Remarks

In this essay I identify some basic developmental patterns in Southeastern Europe on the basis of some longer term macro statistics provided by the United Nations (UN) World Population Prospects (WPP) website.11 I focus on net migration as estimated by the UN as a residual of population growth minus natural growth. This is a problematic source, as it incorporates the problems of population enumeration as well, but there are no other comparable sources available for the period in question.

It is worth citing various authors who have published findings in the recent Prominstat project reviewing various data systems, including migration flows. They have arrived at conclusions such as the following:

In the study, we have presented a detailed analysis of the availability, reliability and comparability of data on international migration flows in 27 European countries (all EU Members States except Bulgaria and Romania, plus Norway and Switzerland). Our conclusion is that internationally comparative research on migration flows in Europe is currently generally not possible. The main problem is the comparability of data, in particular the differences in definitions and sources used in various countries and in the coverage of the statistics. These differences imply that comparing migration flows in various countries would be often like comparing pears and apples.12

Furthermore net migration rates hide whether countries in which similar levels and the same overall direction (positive or negative) of net migration prevail actually have the same levels of outflow and inflow. Thus a country with a net migration rate of negative five people per 1,000 inhabitants could be a country with zero immigration and rate of five in outmigration, but it could also be a country into which there is large-scale immigration, but this rate of immigration is surpassed by the emigration rate by five people per 1,000 inhabitants. This remains hidden, and this lack of information is a significant problem that needs to be addressed through the collection of more information on the actual rates of emigration and immigration.

Nonetheless, the rate of net migration can be a very useful measurement if one looks at the data systematically. With reference to possible methodological problems, it can be understood as an overall sum of “personal” levels of integration into global flows of people, and this actually avoids some of the pitfalls of migration statistics in terms of definitions and the actual underestimation of immigrants and more importantly of emigrants.13 Altogether, change will be assumed when the figure for a country in which there is a negative, positive or zero rate of net migration shifts in terms of scale or direction.

In the analysis additional longer term statistics on GDP and other economic and labor market indicators will also be used coming from various sources, such as the World Bank, International Labor Organization (ILO) or local statistics. Regarding per capita GDP figures, I follow Böröcz14 when looking at changes such as percentages of world average and evaluating historical development of various regions and countries accordingly. Here I do not use his ideas concerning global weight, regardless of the fact that in the case of migration population and economic size matters.

In this essay I focus on the area between Italy and the Caspian Sea. I identify subregions in an inductive manner on the basis of changes in net migration. Nonetheless, I capitalize on the insights of historians like Wallerstein and Berend, according to which Southern and Eastern Europe have something in common if longer term historical processes are analyzed. This approach is based on the premise that these countries were integrated into global-colonial capitalism in a rather similar manner, especially during the nineteenth and the early twentieth centuries.15

Generally this regional linkage is forgotten when state socialism as a rivaling form of modernity appeared in the late 1940s, and there is an overdue emphasis on political changes and factors. The period of state socialism is either ignored or it is seen as a “frozen” moment as far as longer term regional patterns of migration are concerned. In my view we need to go back to proper historical comparative social and economic analysis without inbuilt teleological assumptions, as such an analysis provides a better perspective from which to understand migratory changes in the region in question. This is true for the period between the 1950s and 1960s and the so-called transitional period between 1988 and 1995.

As mentioned above, the idea of the region below is an inductive one. This is true in the sense that at the moment I disregard ideas of historical regions such as the “Balkans,” the “Eastern Block,” or “Mediterranean” territories. I do this not because I find these ideas useless or lacking validity from the perspective of many aspects of historical change, but rather because one needs to be more open in dividing and linking these regions when social processes such as migration are analyzed.

Net Migration and Historical Development in Southeastern Europe between 1950 and 2010

Global Changes in Net Migration and Europe

If one looks at larger regions, one notes that the larger areas of the world are sending regions, while North America and Europe are, overall, the ones that receive migrants on a cross-continental level.

In the beginning of the period in question, Europe was a sending region, and it became a net immigrant area in the early and mid-1960s. Other regions, such as Asia and Latin America, moved from a zero rate of net migration to negative levels, then to a level of less than one person per one thousand. Africa has been always on the negative side, while North America has always been positive.

Fig 1

Figure 1. Net migration rate by larger regions, 1950–2010

Source: World Population Prospects (WPP) 2010 revision

The shift that took place in Europe, from a continent in which emigration exceeded immigration to a continent in which immigration began to prevail, in all likelihood was due to several factors. One of these factors was reduced transatlantic migration, which never returned to its pre-1920 levels.16 The other was the dramatic transformation and the decline of large-scale rural systems in Europe, especially in areas like Southern and Eastern Europe, where various efforts were made to solve an agrarian crisis and the problems emerging due to large landed estates and to strengthen the competitiveness of agrarian economies. The key point from the perspective of migration history was that these rural societies lost people on a dramatic scale, and actually the 1950s and 1960s was the turning point when rural production and rural producers became a minority in Europe and in many other areas of the world.17 This meant large-scale migration to cities and, as a related process, intra-European and intercontinental geographic mobility. Another factor was the final collapse of the European colonial system, because of which until the 1950s colonized areas had been major recipients of emigrant populations coming from Europe. It is also important to note that while the colonial system existed, the arrival of various local groups from the colonies was seen as negative, preferably obviated by the arrival of immigrants from other “European” populations, even when there was a dire need for laborers.18 Thus until the collapse of the colonial systems there was no real counter flow of migrants, and in the 1950s and early 1960s only colonies that had liberated themselves from colonizers sent larger groups of migrants to Europe.19 The other major factor was related to the fact that many of the European countries had industries that were in need of migrant workers and, in addition to the desperate search for much promoted “European” sources of labor, programs were started in the 1960s to attract immigrants from Algeria, Morocco and Turkey. This has been widely demonstrated and widely theorized.20

After 1980, Europe surpassed the plus 0.1 percent level of net migration, and by the first decade following the turn of the millennium net immigration rates of more than plus 0.2 percent can be observed, in relation to the relevant population figures. Thus the shift that took place in the early 1980s was for Europe and North America an intensifying immigration pattern, while other regions primarily figured as sources of emigrants. There is a clear link here to the new cycle of globalization after 1980, a new cycle of openness that increased the relative loss or gain of the population on behalf of the major regions.21

Thus altogether a pattern came to prevail in Europe as the continent evolved from the status of a source of emigrants to a new home for immigrants. It never reached the levels of North America, but a relatively small proportion of emigrants from Asia, Africa, or Latin America came to work or settle in Europe. I now turn to Southeastern Europe, a region of the continent which before the Second World War was a major source of migrants in migratory links beyond and within Europe.

Types of Development in Southeastern Europe

Southeastern Europe has shown increasing diversification of net migration rates over the course of the past sixty years. In the 1950s it was more or less homogenously a net emigrant region (with the exception of countries in the south west of the Soviet Union). After changes that took place between the 1960s and 1990s, it lost this homogeneity and some parts became immigrant areas, while others became or remained emigrant areas.

 Fig 2

Figure 2. Countries analyzed according to developmental types

Type one on this map is the region that includes Southern European countries such as Italy and Greece, but also countries of Central Europe. Type two is comprised of the countries of the so-called Balkans, while type three contains areas that once were the south western edge of the former Soviet Union around the Black Sea. Type four covers major areas of the former Yugoslavia, but as will become apparent this type merits further analysis and can be included in the region of the Balkans.

One can identify four types of developmental patterns that are related to relative wealth and processes in the economic and employment structures. These patterns reveal distinct trajectories of development based on macro figures. The four types can be summarized as countries:

  • that were emigrant countries in the 1950s and the 1960s and then gradually became immigrant countries (type one),
  • that remained emigrant countries throughout the period (type two),
  • that were immigrant countries and then became emigrant countries (type three),
  • that oscillated between emigrant and immigrant status (type four).


Type One: from Emigrant to Immigrant Status

The first type is comprised of countries that had a negative migration rate in the 1950s, but where migration rates became positive parallel to the process observed when taking the entire continent into consideration. Type one contains Southern and Central European countries outside the Balkans and the post-

Fig 3 

Figure 3. Type one: net migration in selected countries that became immigrant countries, 1950–2010

Source: WPP 2010 revision

Soviet countries: Italy, Greece, Slovenia, Austria, the Czech Republic, Poland,

Slovakia, and Hungary. This pattern could be easily expanded to include other major Southern European countries, such as Spain and Portugal.

This type is a linear developmental pattern that shows a strong linear regression when time and net migration are related, very much in line with migration transition theory.

Fig 4 

Figure 4. Net migration over time in type one, 1950–2010

(All data points in type one, five-year intervals marked by midpoints)

Source: WPP 2010 revision


This type represents the overall European pattern of development. Whether state socialist or capitalist, the countries were basically sending countries in the 1950s and 1960s. Some of them were extremely open for relative large-scale outmigration, such as Greece, which experienced the outmigration of hundreds of thousands after the Greek civil war, mainly from rural areas. Some had a clear negative rate of net migration in the 1950s, such as Italy, Hungary, Slovenia and Austria (and other Southern European countries, such as Spain and Portugal). Countries like Bulgaria in type two also produced large-scale emigration in the 1950s. Beyond longer term rural crises and transformation and post-war resettlement processes,22 this dominance of the emigration pattern may show that, for instance, the well-known Hungarian exodus in 1956 was not due solely to political reasons, as has often been argued.23 Most of the people who left were young (less than twenty-five years of age), primarily skilled male workers (two thirds of them) living either in Budapest or regions of the country that traditionally had been sources of migrants leaving for Austria and/or the West.24 Many of these people would have looked for jobs in areas demanding industrial labor even without political motives, as was the case in Italy and Portugal, for example. This emphasis on social processes, however, should not be misunderstood as a dismissal of the clear relevance of political factors, such as the opening of the border.

The negative net migration rates began to approach zero in the 1970s and in some cases even became positive. Rates in Austria became positive between 1960 and 1965. Italy, Greece, and Slovenia followed in the 1970s. Other countries crossed the zero line during the 1980s, and in the case of Slovakia even as late as after the collapse of state socialism. It is also important to note that these countries actually never got out of the negative 0.5 and positive 0.5 percent range of net migration.

There is a peculiar feature of this linear migration transition in terms of net migration. Namely, concerning income gaps, many of these originally emigrant countries did not change their positions in comparison with the major target areas. For instance, the income gap between Hungary and Germany can hardly be said to have closed over the course of the last four decades of the twentieth century, nonetheless between 1954 and 1999 Hungary followed a cyclical pattern of migration flows toward Germany. These net flows (the sum of Hungarian citizens moving between Germany and Hungary) follow the change in the income gap, thus offering support for macro-economic arguments. Nevertheless, Hungary also became an immigrant country while at the same time maintained its emigrant character toward some of its main historical target areas.

Fig 5 

Figure 5. Net migration flow and per capita GDP ratios between Germany and Hungary, 1954–1999

Source: Maddison databank and Statistisches Bundesamt


Thus we have to look for the combination of internal change in the transformations of employment structures and additional macroeconomic changes in order to explain the change of net migration in these countries on a macro level.

As theorized by the world system approach, one very important factor in this transition could be that agriculture, which was once an important element in the economic performance of these countries, declined to a very low level, a decrease which of course was followed by changes in the employment structures.25 And as a parallel process, the service sector overtook the other sectors, and in all the countries of this type this sector grew to comprise more than sixty percent of the share of the labor force. State socialist countries experienced a greater decline not only in agriculture, but importantly in industry as well. But it is important to note that in comparison with countries belonging to the other types, each of these countries was able to stabilize a larger industrial share above 30 percent

Fig 6

Figure 6. Some countries if type one that became immigrant countries. Share of agriculture (percent of GDP), 1960–2010

Source: World Bank, Development Indicators

of the GDP and could maintain substantial employment levels in this sector, at least for men. According to World Bank Data this share is between 40 and 50 percent, with the exception of Greece. Overall, after the collapse of state socialism, state socialist countries basically smoothed into the developmental patterns of capitalist countries within this type and region, and they experienced a one-time great loss of productive sectors beyond the slow gradual decline during the state socialist period.

A related key element may be that during the period under discussion these countries were always able to maintain a global position above the world average, and most of them actually were able to improve this positive gap relative to the global average.

Fig 7

Figure 7. Type one: countries that became immigrant countries. Per capita GDP as related to world averages 1950–2008

Source: Maddison databank

All state socialist countries suffered a quick and dramatic decline toward the average in the early 1990s, but they soon got back to levels above the average. This decline in income in the early 1990s, together with the relevant political changes, produced additional emigration, as noted above in the case of Hungarian emigrants departing for Germany. But overall, former state socialist countries within this type maintained a global position that calmed this wave of immigration, and macro structures allowed the move to an overall positive net migration rate. Even more importantly, with the reentry into a relatively open capitalist system (and being in the upper layer of these countries), they began to receive greater number of immigrants even within the region. Slovenia became “attractive” as a goal for immigrants from the territories of the former Soviet Union, the Czech Republic for immigrants from Vietnam and the Ukraine, and Hungary for immigrants from Romania, China, and the Ukraine. The more prosperous successor states of the previously federative countries (the Czech Republic and Slovenia) also received larger numbers of migrants from states previously within the same federative formation.26

It is worth taking a closer look at how these changes in the place of a country in a global hierarchy on the basis of per capita GDP were related to changes in net migration. One could consider the example of Greece.

Fig 8 

Figure 8. Net migration rate and per capita GDP difference from world averages in Greece, 1950–2010

Source: WPP and Maddision databank

In the case of Greece the link between the two processes is very clear, and actually the change in net migration is well correlated with changes in the difference between Greek per capita GDP and the world average. Changes in income levels were soon followed by a shift in net migration. By the end of the 1970s larger groups of Greek emigrants returned home, as they found the country more stable and prosperous. It is also important that in the 1990s citizens of Albania, Bulgaria and Romania, countries that had experienced a large-scale collapse of local industries, found it more and more attractive to go to Greece. Also as of the 1980s the whole upper Mediterranean region became a target area for migrants coming from and through North Africa. In addition, in the case of Greece the border with Turkey became a central point of entry of undocumented immigrants coming from Asia.

The above processes lend considerable credence to the arguments above according to which positions in such global hierarchies do matter. But the relationship needs further investigation, as there are cases in which it is not that clear or other mechanisms can be identified. Hungary constitutes one such example.

Fig 9

Figure 9. Net migration rate and per capita GDP difference from the world average in Hungary, 1950–2010

Source: WPP and Maddison databank

Between the 1950s and the mid-1980s the processes that were underway in Hungary resembled those in Greece, although the country did not become an “immigrant” country as early as Greece. Even more importantly, the situation in Hungary began to differ substantially at the end of 1980s and early 1990s. At that time there was an increase in the outflow of migrants to Austria and Germany, as noted above. Thus a decline in the overall global position led to “expected” changes. But most probably due to some underestimation of outmigration and its relatively prosperity in comparison with neighboring countries with significant Hungarian speaking minorities (Romania and the Ukraine), Hungary was itself an attractive goal for immigrants, and the inflow from Romania, for instance, as a sending country of type two was larger than the increase in the outflow of citizens of Hungary. This linkage can be well demonstrated for the late 1990s and early 2000s, especially with regards to the category of labor permits, by the following graph:

Fig 10 

Figure 10. Immigration from Romania to Hungary, 1995–2005

Source: Hungarian Central Statistical Office (HCSO) migration, Maddison databank

As this graph illustrates, one cannot simply look at individual countries, but must consider larger systems containing various types and dynamics of development. Surely historical links and other mechanisms of cumulative causation on a behavioral level also matter and shape processes indicated by macro positions and structures.


Type Two: Countries that Remained Sending Countries throughout the Period in Question

Type two countries started out like type one countries, but they have not completed any kind of transition toward net immigration. Thus we can see that Southeastern Europe has been increasingly diverse with regard to an overall mode of migratory integration and its historical trajectories.

From the perspective of overall trends, migration rates in these countries were with very few exceptions consistently negative, but within this there was a cyclical move with some extreme values in the early 1990s.

 Fig 11

Figure 11. Type two: net migration in countries that remained emigrant countries, 1950–2010

Source: WPP 2010 revision

 Fig 12

Figure 12. Type two: countries that remained emigrant countries. Net migration over time, 1950–2010 (All data-points in the “sending” type, five-year intervals marked by midpoints.)

Source: WPP 2010 revision

In the 1950s and early 1960s these countries were rather similar to type one countries. In other words one notes the beginnings of a transition toward immigration. However, already in the early stages some of the countries had relatively large-scale negative net migration around and beyond negative 0.5 percent. Later, during the late 1960s and early 1970s, the state socialist countries like Romania and Bulgaria seemed to follow the transition seen in type one, but this shift remained short-lived. In the same period, Turkey, the only capitalist country in type two, was experiencing intensified outmigration due to the guest worker programs promoted by Germany and Austria, countries in which by this time migration rates were positive.

A dramatic outmigration scenario emerged in the form of massive outflow during the early 1990s in the former state socialist countries, which in the case of Albania was so intense that it reached 3 percent of the total population. This extreme figure is actually the one that reduces the consistency of this type. As the only non-socialist country, Turkey represented a different pattern, and actually it began to approach zero, as had Bulgaria and Romania in the 1970s. Turkey was also able to maintain its more balanced integration into the global flow of people. Surely, in combination with other factors size also plays a role in this process, as smaller countries, especially when they are undergoing unsettling transitions or changes, can produce massive outflows.

 Fig 13

Figure 13. Type two: countries that remained emigrant countries. Per capita GDP, 1950–2008

Source: Maddison databank

As the GDP figures (as related to global averages) reveal, as opposed to type one, most of the countries in this category remained consistently below the global average. The sole exception was Bulgaria, which actually did surpass the global average in the 1970s. Turkey began to approach the average in the 1960s, and ever since then it has been moving in parallel with the global average. Thus development patterns can be related to global positions and changes in these positions if one measures them according to per capita GDP.

The case of Bulgaria can be cited in clear support of our argument. Its cyclical change in net migration is paralleled with some delay by cyclical changes in per capita GDP. Overall in Bulgaria net outmigration declines when the per capita GDP approaches the global average, while outmigration rises steeply when the GDP collapses in relative terms.

Fig 14 

Figure 14. Net migration and per capita GDP difference in Bulgaria, 1950–2010

Source: WPP 2010 revision and Maddison databank


Actually this period is related to the huge exodus of the Turkish minority.27 But it seems that again this exodus was due not simply to immediate ethno-political considerations, as was suggested in the literature and in public discussions. The target country, Turkey, rose above the world average in this period. So, very much like the case of Romanian and Hungarian migratory links, in the case of the relationship between Bulgaria and Turkey the ethnic component could be simply the behavioral link between changing macro positions and group level actions. As I will demonstrate later, there is considerable empirical evidence indicating that Bulgarians (and Albanians) see themselves as inferior in development to Turkey. So ethnic considerations, the break-up of state socialism, economic hierarchies and the collapse of per capita GDP together create scenarios in which a larger exodus may happen. Probably the same historical development took place in Romania with regard to its Hungarian and German minorities. Furthermore, it seems that as opposed to the neoclassical economic approach in migration theory, in cases of large-scale outmigration it was not the actual differential that mattered with regard to the receiving areas, but a relative position in comparison with global averages, which is not an individual level phenomenon. One notes large differentials between type one countries such as Hungary and the Czech Republic versus many other European countries, but until now these countries have not produced large-scale outmigration in these directions, while countries around and below the global average did.28 We can relate these mechanisms to world system theory, looking for explanations according to global positions.

Changes in the composition of an economy according to sectors may also offer some insight into how this sending pattern remained dominant in this group of countries. Concerning the composition of the economies since the 1980s, one notes changes similar to those that took place in type one countries, but the collapse of these economies in the state socialist and capitalist periods is sharper and had longer-term consequences. For instance, in Albania (the country that produced the greatest exodus over the course of the entire period and over the whole region) the industrial collapse was not only vertical, but actually stabilized at a very low level of around 20 percent. As opposed to type one countries, these countries hardly surpassed 30 percent of GDP with regard to industry, which shows that they were not able to “attract” enough global industrial capital even to achieve the levels of former state socialist countries in type one.

Fig 15

Figure 15. Type two: countries that remained emigrant countries. Industry (percent of GDP), 1960–2010

Source: World Bank Data

Actually some of these countries experienced “re-ruralization,” which was a clear sign of the collapse of the employment structure and also an indication that people were desperately looking for lower value opportunities at a time when social security had also been shattered. Even in Romania, where the share of agriculture declined from the late 1980s, male employment in agriculture increased from 25 percent to 40 percent during the 1990s in terms of total male employment. The share of agriculture in female employment was consistently high in these countries, though this rate declined during the transition period.

This shows that in the case of some former state socialist countries the intrusion of global capital led to larger scale outmigration not because of the rediscovery of a “traditional” pattern, but because it could ruin an alternative type of modern industry, somewhat defended locally as long as the state socialist framework existed.

The industrial collapse and the inability to regain the losses in the service sector of the economy that came in the wake of this collapse led to a massive and continuous exodus in countries that were not able to surpass or to remain above global average income in the region. Countries that were above world averages were able to re-strengthen industry and expand the service sector substantially, and these two sectors thus could slow down the exodus of the early 1990s. In other words, they were able to attract larger numbers of immigrants to counterbalance outmigration.

Fig 16 

Figure 16. Type two: countries that remained emigrant countries. Agriculture (percent of GDP), 1960–2010

Source: World Bank Data

Type Three: Countries that Become Emigrant Countries


The post-Soviet countries in the south-western segments of the Soviet Union show a very different developmental pattern. Type two countries were close to type one countries, as they were all emigrant countries in the 1950s. In the 1950s and early 1960s, however, type three countries were either those countries in which there was zero net migration (Ukraine, Azerbaijan) or immigrant countries (Georgia, Moldova and Armenia) that received larger numbers of migrants from various parts of the Soviet Union, including Belarus, Russia, and the Ukraine. In the case of these countries, the scale of positive net migration was much higher than the rates ever reached on an overall European level or in “classic” immigrant countries like France. They were relatively highly developed countries in the Soviet Union which not only were the beneficiaries of investment in industry, but also had higher quality agriculture, which in the state socialist system was actually overvalued due to internal market problems.

Fig 17

Figure 17. Type three: net migration rates in countries that became emigrant countries, 1950–2010

Source: WPP 2010 revision

  Fig 18

Figure 18. Type three: decrease. Net migration over time in countries that became emigrant countries, 1950–2010

(All data points in type three, five-year intervals marked by midpoints.)

Source: WPP 2010 revision

There is a claim widespread in history writing and especially in the historiography of ethnic groups and smaller nations according to which internal migration within the Soviet Union and in other state socialist countries was a forced process orchestrated by the political authorities. Unquestionably political authorities did have a role in geographic mobility, but it can also be demonstrated that the areas that received migrants actually enjoyed a higher level of economic prosperity in comparison with many parts of the Soviet Union.29

Russia was main loser of population during the first decades following the Second World War. The Ukraine had a positive net migration rate comparable to the negative net migration rate that prevailed in Russia. The Soviet Republic of Moldova gained large number of migrants due to the rapid growth of industrial production. In the 1960s employment grew in the Caucasian Soviet Republics. Georgia actually lost a large number of Armenian migrants to Armenia. Azerbaijan lost some of its importance in the oil industry. This outmigration was not very significant, and it remained well below negative 5 percent.

Concerning GDP hierarchies, unfortunately there is no systematic data for these countries before 1988, only sporadic figures. According to the Maddison databank, these countries were well above world averages in terms of per capita GDP in the 1970s. They were almost 50 percent higher than the global mean per capita GDP. There is some evidence according to which this position was more or less maintained until 1990. So one can assume that this trend began earlier, and also that this had been the case in the 1960s and even probably the 1950s. As Böröcz has shown, the whole USSR was above the world averages between 1950 and 1989, and the republics under consideration were seen as well-to-do.30

The change in the migration pattern and the switch to large-scale exodus was surely due to the collapse of these economies during the break-up of the Soviet Union and the transition away from state socialism. The collapse was so dramatic that most of them fell from above the global average positions to 50 percent of the world average of per capita GDP, and only Azerbaijan and Armenia got back above the average again after a certain period. These intraregional differences and the individual linkages to the global position of the relevant countries may prove the point that the relative position with regards to global averages can be an important factor in the migratory profile of a country. The case of Moldova demonstrates this very clearly.

Fig 19

Figure 19. Type three: immigrant countries that became emigrant countries. Per capita GDP, 1950–2008

Source: Maddison databank

 Fig 20

Figure 20. Net migration rate and per capita GDP difference from world averages in Moldova, 1950–2010

Source: WPP 2010 revision and Maddison databank

When Moldova was an immigrant country in terms of per capita GDP it was well above the global average, and the decline of its position was directly correlated to the shift to an overall emigrant status. Moldova actually fell to a level of 40 percent of world mean per capita GDP, and this was why it had almost a world record level of remittance dependency, as shown by Böröcz in a recent study.31 This dependency type integration into both the world economy and the flow of people can lead to a situation in which tens of thousands of children are left behind by parents seeking jobs in Spain, Italy or Greece.

In the 1990s, from the perspective of the composition of the economy on the basis of sectors, these countries showed patterns similar to those that prevailed in the countries that were sources of immigrants. The industrial sector was strong in late state socialism and it collapsed during the transition. The cases of Moldova and Georgia are especially striking, as the share of industry in GDP declined from 40 percent to almost 10 percent, followed later only by partial gains. The other country producing very intensive outmigration was Armenia (with a drop in industry from 50 to 30 percent), while the others, the Ukraine and Azerbaijan, remained relatively stable.

Fig 21

Figure 21. Type three: countries that became emigrant countries. Industry as a percentage of GDP since 1970

Source: World Bank Data

Agriculture also played an important role even before the collapse of state socialism, but there was significant re-ruralization of these economies and labor markets, which then led to a global devaluation of these economies and to a pressure situation. Thus it seems that changes in global positions and related processes of the fall of the share of industry and re-ruralization together changed the overall integration of these countries into the global flow of people. Since the 1990s the whole region around the Black Sea has been an emigrant region serving as a repository of labor migrants from Russia and wealthier states of Southern Europe.32


Type Four: Cyclical Changes in the Former Republics of Yugoslavia


This type requires further attention, since due to the violent collapse of this federal state there were probably developments that were “incidental” in the sense that some of the flows of migration would not have taken place without the dramatic political changes and the wars themselves. There is a consensus in migration literature that the collapse of old states and the creation of new ones may produce waves of migration.33 Further analysis is necessary in order to determine whether the overall patterns found in the key states of Yugoslavia resembled one of the above types or in fact other processes were at work, processes that led to a distinct cyclical pattern.

In the case of Serbia and Croatia, during the late 1950s and early 1960s there was a move toward higher levels of outmigration due to a large extent to guest worker programs initiated by Germany and Austria. But during the early 1970s this process was not continued, and up until the early 1990s (the break-up of the federal state itself) there was a moderately positive net migration rate, which grew with the territorial fights that influenced various ethnic groups across the emerging new borders. Then a new cycle began. This contention regarding the cyclical nature of this pattern receives a boost from two additional observations.

Fig 22

Figure 22. Type four: oscillation. Net migration rates in the former Yugoslav Republics, 1950–2010

Source: WPP 2010 revision

If one recalculates Brunnbauer’s data,34 one sees an oscillation in emigration in Yugoslavia even between the two World Wars, first during the great economic crisis and then after 1938. The level was shifting between 10,000 and 40,000 people, with particular emphasis on European migratory links. With regard to the overseas links, a new cycle did not emerge at the end of the 1930s most probably due to political changes concerning immigration into the United States and the overall transatlantic relationships.

Secondly, if one considers changes in the overall global position of Yugoslavia and within Croatia and Serbia, the rise of Yugoslav per capita GDP above global averages correlates with the rise of net migration to positive levels up until the early 1990s, when in fact this link breaks down, most probably due to the war and the concomitant uprooting of people. Because of the lack of comparable and consistent data for the 1970s and 1980s, it is not possible to address the question of whether these changes could be related to changes in the economic structure and the labor market.

Fig 23

Figure 23. Type four: oscillation. GDP per capita in some former Yugoslav Republics, 1950–2008

Source: Maddison databank

Nonetheless, overall one can conclude that before 1985 Yugoslavia was following changes observed in countries in type one. Furthermore, had the break-up of the federal state been avoided, the country might have followed the pattern observed in Slovenia and other countries in type one. Or there may merely have been a historical oscillation in terms of net migration that was simply somewhat distorted by the collapse of the federal state. In order to answer this question, one would have to pursue further analysis on the basis of more reliable data.

A Possible Behavioral Link

It is widely acknowledged that in the case of arguments such as the macro type above there is no real behavioral analysis and the actual decisions of people to migrate are simply assumed through the construction of an argument according to which the overall scenario for such decisions was created due to macro-structural changes.35 In this paper I would like to raise the possibility that there may be a more direct link. There is increasing empirical evidence of the rather “accurate” knowledge of people concerning the overall standing of their country in global hierarchies of per capita GDP. Repeated surveys indicate that in many countries around the world people are clearly aware of hierarchical development and that they position their own countries rather “well” within these hierarchies.36

Data for Bulgaria and Hungary, two countries represented in the analysis of migratory developments, are important from this perspective.

Fig 24 

Figure 24. Bulgaria 2009, per capita GDP for 2006 according to country rating

Source: Melegh, Attila et al.,”Perceptions of societal developmental hierarchies in Europe and beyond: A Bulgarian Perspective,” European Sociological Review (2012), accessed March 5, 2012, doi: 0.1093/esr/jcs010.

Fig 25 

Figure 25. Hungary, 2010. Average country ratings (2010),
and per capita GDP (2007) for ten countries

Source: Special thanks to Ildikó Husz and Zoltán Szántó for having an extra module in the survey, “Pénzügyi kultúra Magyarországon” [Finance culture in Hungary] (INNOTARS_08-PENZKULT) Nemzeti Innovációs Hivatal, Corvinus University of Budapest.


In both cases, in representative surveys, when respondents were asked what score they would give their own countries and several other countries between zero and ten, they provided a rather consistent hierarchical map or developmental slope. More importantly, this slope correlated well with actual per capita GDP figures for a few years earlier. The overall Pearson correlation was as high as 0.91 in the case of Bulgaria, and it was also very high in the case of Hungary, 0.89. It is also important to note that there was an overall consensus among respondents and no major differences could be found among subgroups of respondents.

The mismatch in the case of some countries could be due to misunder­standings concerning the names of the countries (the country name of the Netherlands was not correctly understood in Bulgaria). Misestimates could also be due to misperceptions concerning relative prosperity in some larger countries, such as Russia and Turkey (in the case of Bulgaria) and China and Russia (in the case of Hungary).

From the perspective of migration, this might suggest that ordinary people are fairly aware of their country’s place in global economic hierarchies, and they might even follow changes in these hierarchies. This may well entail that when the relative position of their home country declines they consider it prudent to consider moving to another country.

Interestingly, one notes that Bulgarians substantially underestimate the relative prosperity of their homeland, which may be due to prevalent pessimism that developed because of a long term negative decline of their relative place in the global economic hierarchy, as described above. This overall frustration might influence the tendency to emigrate. Thus there may be a more direct link between migration rates and macro changes than generally assumed in the literature on the subject.


In the beginning of the period under discussion each of the regions examined here was either following European patterns of emigration or was actually serving as a migratory target (for instance in the case of Moldova). In the 1970s and 1980s (in other words well before the actual collapse of state socialism) diverging patterns began to emerge the differences between which became acute after the collapse. Some of the sub-regions (the Balkans and the region around the Black Sea within the Soviet Union) actually became destinations for migrants from countries in which in the meantime net migration rates had become negative. This is a distinctive story of the construction of inner dependency within a larger region the countries of which had a great deal in common, and this process needs to be analyzed with particular care.

Thus smaller meaningful historical, geographic regions can constructed on the basis of migratory patterns. These regions do not follow the “classic” divisions, and the state socialist and capitalist local histories are related to one another, regardless of divergences. State socialism was not isolated from global flows, and, more importantly, it partially reproduced global hierarchies and had its own effects on international migration.

In a modified form, the world system approach is helpful in furthering an understanding of longer term developmental patterns. In the case of state socialist economies, the direct intervention of world capitalism had a long-lasting impact on the migratory links between the countries within the region under discussion. Actually, most of the former state socialist countries in the region became dependent on remittances, as shown by Böröcz.37 When state socialism collapsed in the late 1980s, the economies of the countries of the region were based on a huge industrial sector. Countries that were unable to counterbalance the collapse of local industry became sending countries and were partially re-ruralized and partially pushed into large scale emigration. Thus the break-up of socialism also did not have a uniform impact on the countries in question, and the impact also depended on historical developmental hierarchies and the related ability of the various countries to regain some of the losses in the industrial sector with gains in the service sector.

The analysis offered here lends credence to the neoclassic macro-economic theory of migration, but I argue that its validity with regard to per capita GDP differentials is strengthened if it is linked to positions in global hierarchies. It thus needs to be re-contextualized into a world system approach. The key point is that it is not simply GDP differentials that matter, but rather positions within the global economy, which themselves are in part the results historical processes and linkages. In other words, one needs to go back to the theories of global relationships, which is the subject matter of global history.

In addition, I have also argued that global hierarchies and the positions of a given country in these hierarchies may well be fairly accurately perceived by the local and migrant populations. It seems that a more direct link can be found between global structures and behaviors in the perception of global hierarchies. People seem to have ideas of developmental scales that can very clearly linked to actual per capita GDP figures. Thus people might well be aware of global inequalities and may even have clear ideas of complex sequences that might orientate them in their decisions regarding migration. This hypothesis, however, merits further research, especially from the perspective of how positions in global hierarchies are perceived by people considering emigration.




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Berend, T. Iván and György Ránki. The European Periphery and Industrialization, 1780–1914. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1982.

Bonifazi, Corrado, Marek Okólski, Jeannette Schoorl, and Patrick Simon. International Migration in Europe. New Trends and New Methods of Analysis. Amsterdam: University Press, 2008.

Bonifazi, Corrado. “The Evolution of Regional Patterns of Migration in Europe.” In International Migration in Europe. New Trends and New Methods of Analysis, edited by Corrado Bonifazi, Marek Okólski, Jeannette Schoorl and Patrick Simon, 107–128. Amsterdam: University Press, 2008.

Böröcz, József. The European Union and Global Social Change: A Critical Geopolitical Economic Analysis. London: Routledge, 2009.

Böröcz, József. “Regimes of Remittance Dependency: Global Structures and Trajectories of the Former Soviet ‘Bloc’.” Manuscript, 2012.

Brunnbauer, Ulf, ed. Transnational Societies, Transterritorial Politics. Migrations in the (Post-) Yugoslav Region, 19th–21st Century. Munich: Oldenbourg, 2009.

Castles, Stephen and Wise Raúl Delgado, eds. Migration and Development Perspectives from the South. Geneva: IOM International Organization for Migration, 2007.

Chase-Dunn, Christopher. “Globalization: A World-Systems Perspective.” Journal of World-Systems Research 5, no. 2 (1999): 165–85. Accessed December 17, 2012,

Chase-Dunn, Christopher, Yukijo Kawano and Benjamin Brewer. Economic globalization since 1795: Structures and Cycles in the Modern World-System (1999). Accessed December 17, 2012,

Faini, Riccardo and Alessandra Venturini. “Development and Migration: Lessons from Southern Europe.” ChilD no. 10 (2008), working paper.

Fassmann, Heinz, Ursula Reeger, and Wiebke Sievers, eds. Statistics and Reality. Concepts and Measurement of Migration in Europe. IMISCOE reports. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2009.

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de Haas, Hein. “North African Migration Systems: Evolution, Transformations, and Development Linkages.” In Migration and Development Perspectives from the South, edited by Stephen Castles and Raúl Delgado Wise, 143–174. Geneva: IOM International Organization for Migration, 2007.

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Joppke, Christina. Selecting by Origin: Ethnic Migration in the Liberal State. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2005.

Massey, Douglas S., Joaquin Arango, Graeme Hugo, Ali Kouaouci, Adela Pellegrino and J. Edward Taylor. Worlds in Motion: Understanding International Migration at the End of the Millennium. New York: Oxford University Press, 1998.

Massey, Douglas S. “Why does Immigration Occur? A Theoretical Synthesis.” In The Handbook of International Migration: The American Experience, edited by Charles Hirschman, Philip Kasinitz, and Josh DeWind, 34–52. New York: Russel Sage Foundation, 1999.

Melegh, Attila. “Migráns vagy munkás. Globalizáció és migráció a nemzetközi irodalom tükrében” [Migrant or Worker. Globalization and Migration. Review Article]. Eszmélet 16, no. 62 (2004): 83–101. (Also on the internet:

Melegh, Attila. On the East/West Slope. Budapest: CEU Press, 2006.

Melegh, Attila and Éva Kovács. “In a Gendered Space. Forms and Reasons of Migration and the Integration of Female Migrants.” Demográfia (English edition) 50, no. 5 (2007): 26–59.

Melegh, Attila, Arland Thornton, Dimiter Philipov, and Linda Young-DeMarco. “Perceptions of Societal Developmental Hierarchies in Europe and Beyond: A Bulgarian Perspective.” European Sociological Review (2012). Accessed March 5, 2012. doi: 10.1093/esr/jcs010.

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Molodikova, Irina. “Patterns of East to West Migration in the Context of European Migration Systems. Possibilities and Limits of Migration Control.” Demográfia (English edition) 51, no. 5 (2008): 5–35.

Okólski, Marek. “Migration Pressures on Europe.” In European Populations. Unity in Diversity, edited by Dirk van de Kaa, Henry Leridon, Giuseppe Gesano, and Marek Okólski, 141–194. Boston–London: Kluwer Academic Publishers, 1999.

Portes, Alejandro, ed. The Economic Sociology of Immigration. Essays on Networks, Ethnicity, and Entrepreneurship. New York: Russel Sage Foundation, 1995.

Portes, Alejandro and József Böröcz. “Contemporary Immigration: Theoretical Perspectives on Its Determinants and Modes of Incorporation.” International Migration Review 23, no. 3 (1989): 606–30.

Rangelova, Rossitsa and Katya Vladimirova. “Migration from Central and Eastern Europe: the Case of Bulgaria” SEER, South-East Europe Review for Labour and Social Affairs no. 3 (2004): 8. Accessed November 7, 2012.

Sassen, Saskia. “Foreign Investment: a Neglected Variable.” In The Migration Reader. Exploring Politics and Policies, edited by Anthony M. Messina and Gallya Lahav, 596–608. London: Lynne Rienner Publishers, [1990] 2006.

Sassen, Saskia. Guests and Aliens. New York: The New Press, 1990.

Tauger, Mark B. Agriculture in World History. London–New York: Routledge, 2011.

Thornton, Arland, Georgina Binstock, Mohammad Jalal Abbasi-Shavazi, Dirgha Ghimire, Arjan Gjonca, Attila Melegh, Colter Mitchell, Mansoor Moaddel, Yu Xie, Li-shou Yang, Linda Young-DeMarco, and Kathryn Yount. “Knowledge and Beliefs about National Development and Developmental Hierarchies: The Viewpoints of Ordinary People in Thirteen Countries.” Social Science Research 41 (2012): 1053–68.

Tilly, Charles. “Migration in Modern European History.” In The Migration Reader; Exploring Politics and Policies, edited by Anthony M. Messina and Gallya Lahav, 126–146. London: Lynne Rienner Publishers, Inc., [1990] 2006.

Tóth, Pál Péter. Haza csak egy van? Menekülők, bevándorlók, új állampolgárok Magyarországon (1988–1994) [Is there only one Homeland? Refugees, Immigrants, and New Citizens in Hungary (1988–1994)]. Budapest: Püski Kiadó, 1997.

United Nations, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division (2011): World Population Prospects: The 2010 Revision, CD-ROM Edition. Accessed December 17, 2012.

World Bank, World Development Indicators & Global Development Finance. Accessed 17 December, 2012.

Ziesemer, Thomas. “Growth with Endogenous Migration Hump and the Multiple, Dynamically Interacting Effects of Aid in Poor Developing Countries.” Working paper series. United Nations University – Maastricht Economic and Social Research and Training Centre on Innovation and Technology, 2008.

1 Arjun Appadurai, Modernity at Large: Cultural Dimensions of Globalization (Minneapolis–London: University of Minnesota Press, 1996).

2 Hein de Haas, “North African Migration Systems: Evolution, Transformations, and Development Linkages,” in Migration and Development Perspectives from the South, eds. Stephen Castles, Raúl Delgado Wise (Geneva: IOM International Organization for Migration, 2007), 147, 148; Marek Okólski, “Migration pressures on Europe,” in European Populations. Unity in Diversity, ed. Dirk van de Kaa et al. (Boston–London: Kluwer Academic Publishers, Dordrecht, 1999); Corrado Bonifazi et al. International Migration in Europe. New Trends and New Methods of Analysis (Amsterdam: University Press, 2008), 13.

3 For various theories see: Alejandro Portes, ed., The Economic Sociology of Immigration. Essays on Networks, Ethnicity, and Entrepreneurship (New York: Russel Sage Foundation, 1995), 1–41; Douglas S. Massey et al. Worlds in Motion: Understanding International Migration at the End of the Millennium (New York: Oxford University Press, 1998), 17–59.

4 Douglas S. Massey, “Why does immigration occur? A theoretical synthesis,” in The Handbook of International Migration: The American Experience, eds. Charles Hirschman, Philip Kasinitz, and Josh DeWind (New York: Russel Sage Foundation, 1999), 34–53; Alejandro Portes and József Böröcz, “Contemporary Immigration: Theoretical Perspectives on Its Determinants and Modes of Incorporation,” International Migration Review 23, no. 3 (1989): 606–30; Saskia Sassen, “Foreign investment: a neglected variable,” in The Migration Reader. Exploring Politics and Policies, eds. Antony M. Messina and Gallya Lahav (London: Lynne Rienner Publishers [1990] 2006), 596–608.

5 Massey, “Why does immigration occur?”, 48.

6 de Haas, “North African Migration Systems”, 147, 148. On demographic transition see: Attila Melegh, On the East/West Slope (Budapest: CEU Press, 2006), 60–64.

7 Thomas Ziesemer, “Growth with Endogenous Migration Hump and the Multiple, Dynamically Interacting Effects of Aid in Poor Developing Countries,” Working paper series (United Nations University–Maastricht Economic and Social Research and Training Centre on Innovation and Technology, 2008); Riccardo Faini and Alessandra Venturini, “Development and migration: Lessons from Southern Europe,” ChilD no. 10 (2008).

8 Douglas S. Massey et al., Worlds in Motion: Understanding International Migration at the End of the Millennium; Stephen Castles and Raúl Delgado Wise, eds., Migration and Development Perspectives from the South (Geneva: IOM International Organization for Migration, 2007).

9 Heinz Fassmann, Ursula Reeger, and Wiebke Sievers, eds., Statistics and Reality. Concepts and Measurement of Migration in Europe. IMISCOE Reports (Amsterdam: University Press, 2009).

10 Sassia Sassen, Guests and Aliens (New York: The New Press, 1999).

11 Net migration: the number of immigrants minus the number of emigrants over a period, divided by the person-years lived by the population of the receiving country over that period. It is expressed as the net number of migrants per 1,000 people. For most countries the figure is based on estimates of net international migration derived as the difference between overall population change and natural increase through 2009. Data Source: United Nations, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division (2011). World Population Prospects: The 2010 Revision, CD-ROM Edition,, accessed 17 December, 2012.

12 Possibilities and limitations of comparative quantitative research on international migration flows by Dorota Kupiszewska, Marek Kupiszewski, Mónica Martí, and Carmen Ródenas, February 2010. Promoting Comparative Quantitative Project funded by the Research in the Field of Migration European Commission, DG Research and Integration in Europe Sixth Framework Programme, Priority 8, (PROMINSTAT), 3.

13 Fassmann, Reeger and Sievers, eds. Statistics and Reality.

14 József Böröcz, The European Union and Global Social Change: A Critical Geopolitical Economic Analysis (London: Routledge, 2009).

15 Iván Berend T. and György Ránki, The European Periphery and Industrialization, 1780–1914 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1982), 7–12.

16 Sassen, Guests and Aliens.

17 Mark B. Tauger, Agriculture in World History (London–New York: Routledge, 2011), 138–46; Hein de Haas, “The determinants of international migration. Conceptualizing policy, origin and destination effects,” DEMIG project paper no. 2 (International Migration Institute (IMI), Oxford Department of International Development, Queen Elizabeth House (QEH), University of Oxford, 2011), 13, accessed October 12, 2012.

18 This is nicely exemplified by the case of France, which rejected the offer of its Algerian governor for 100,000 local laborers after the Second World War, in spite of the dire need for workers, because of the perception that the immigrants would pose a “sanitary, social and moral risk.” Christina Joppke, Selecting by Origin: Ethnic Migration in the Liberal State (Cambridge (MA): Harvard University Press, 2005), 106–8.

19 See Joppke, Selecting by Origin: Ethnic Migration in the Liberal State, 93–156.

20 Among others Charles Tilly, “Migration in Modern European History,” in The Migration Reader; Exploring Politics and Policies, eds. Anthony M. Messina and Gallya Lahav (London: Lynne Rienner Publishers, Inc., 2006). Corrado Bonifazi, “The evolution of regional patterns of migration in Europe,” in International Migration in Europe. New Trends and New Methods of Analysis, eds. Corrado Bonifazi et al. (Amsterdam: University Press, 2008), 113.

21 Attila Melegh, “Migráns vagy munkás. Globalizáció és migráció a nemzetközi irodalom tükrében” [Migrant or Worker. Globalization and Migration. Review Article], Eszmélet 16, no. 62 (2004), 83–101. For the cycle see Christopher Chase-Dunn, “Globalization: A world-systems perspective,” Journal of World-Systems Research 5, no. 2 (1999), accessed December 17, 2012,; Christopher Chase-Dunn, Yukijo Kawano, and Benjamin Brewer, Economic Globalization since 1795: Structures and Cycles in the Modern World-System (1999), accessed December 17, 2012,

22 Bonifazi, “The evolution of regional patterns of migration in Europe,” 122–3; Sassen, Guests and Aliens, 51–90.

23 For instance see Péter Pál Tóth, Haza csak egy van? Menekülők, bevándorlók, új állampolgárok Magyarországon (1988–1994) [Is there only one homeland? Refugees, immigrants, and new citizens in Hungary, 1988–1994] (Budapest: Püski Kiadó, 1997), 36.

24 Ministry of Interior Document, “Az illegálisan külföldre távozott személyek főbb adatai” [Data on illegal emigrants], Statisztikai Szemle 68, no. 12 (1990): 986–1003.

25 World Bank, World Development Indicators & Global Development Finance.

26 Attila Melegh and Éva Kovács, “In a gendered space. Forms and reasons of migration and the integration of female migrants,” Demográfia (English edition) 50, no. 5 (2007): 26–59.

27 Rossita Rangelova and Katya Vladimirova, “Migration from central and eastern Europe: the case of Bulgaria,” SEER SouthEast Europe Review for Labour and Social Affairs no. 3 (2004): 8, accessed November 7, 2012,

28 This criticism is an older argument against neoclassical theories. See Portes and Böröcz, “Contemporary Immigration”.

29 Peter J. Garndstaff, Interregional Migration in the U.S.S.R. Economic Aspects (Durham, North Carolina: Duke University Press, 1980), 122–25, 157, Table 6.5.

30 Böröcz, The European Union and Global Social Change, 130–37.

31 József Böröcz, “Regimes of Remittance Dependency: Global Structures and Trajectories of the Former Soviet ‘Bloc’,” (Manuscript, 2012).

32 Irina Molodikova, “Patterns of east to west migration in the context of European migration systems. Possibilities and limits of migration control,” Demográfia (English edition) 51, no. 5 (2008): 5–35.

33 de Haas, The determinants of international migration, 24.

34 Ulf Brunnbauer ed., Transnational Societies, Transterritorial Politics. Migrations in the (Post-) Yugoslav Region, 19th–21st Century (Munich: Oldenbourg, 2009), 22.

35 de Haas, The determinants of international migration; Sassen, ”Foreign investment: a neglected variable”.

36 For the methodology and the results see: Arland Thornton et al., “Knowledge and beliefs about national development and developmental hierarchies: The viewpoints of ordinary people in thirteen countries,” Social Science Research 41 (2012): 1053–68; Attila Melegh et al., “Perceptions of societal developmental hierarchies in Europe and beyond: A Bulgarian Perspective,” European Sociological Review March 5 (2012).

37 Böröcz, ”Regimes of Remittance Dependency.”

Sándor Hites

Variations on Mother Tongue. Language and Identity in Twentieth-Century Hungarian Literary Exile


This essay attempts to reveal the variety of ways in which exilic or post-exilic consciousness brings about a diversity in lingual identity and the ways in which this identity is maintained, suspended, lost, expanded, regained, rediscovered, or caught in transition. The author considers how adherence to the mother tongue becomes an ideological shelter against the menace of a metaphysical homelessness for Sándor Márai; how multilingualism turns into a defense of locality for Áron Kibédi Varga; how translation comes to serve as a substitute for an unborn offspring both in the literary and the genetic sense for Endre Karátson; how, in the case of Agota Kristof a second language never fully acquired is felt to ruin one’s mother tongue precisely through a literary achievement of the highest standard; how, in the case of Tibor Fischer, the traces of a remote lingual and cultural heritage show up in a text written in a language other than one’s mother’s tongue.


keywords: literary exile, language, identity, multilingualism


In recent decades exile studies have become a remarkable new subfield in international literary criticism. From a historical perspective, emigration, the “separation of people from their native culture through physical dislocation (as refugees, immigrants, exiles, or expatriates)”,1 appears to be one of the most formative experiences in twentieth-century political, social, cultural and anthropological developments. In theoretical concerns, the notion of emigration gained currency because it seems to coincide with elements in the oppositions underlying Western thinking that came to be favored since poststructuralism: the textual metaphors of dislocation, margin, difference, absence, heterogeneity (as opposed to fixedness, center, sameness, presence, homogeneity) offer themselves for translation into the existential conditions that émigrés had to face.2 In addition, the much debated theoretical issues of memory, time, space, location, nation, and identity are also connected to the peculiar forms of exilic experience. As the embodiment of alienation, estrangement, restlessness, and longing, exile provides a pervasive metaphor for modern consciousness.

The figure of the exiled or emigrant writer, whom in his path-breaking 1969 essay George Steiner labeled the “extraterritorial”, “unhoused” and “wandering across language”,3 may represent the whole of post-romantic literary developments. In their uprootedness, emigrants have experienced both cathartic losses and liberating new vistas: while surveying at least two worlds, exile brings about a creative “plurality of vision” as well as the impression of the estrangement of the whole world.4 In conditions of heterotopia and polyglossia, the traumas of displacement and dislocation provided emigrant literati a “productive insecurity of having to face and make use of more than one language and culture.”5 While becoming more sensitive to the imposed homogeneity in national cultures and monolingual environments, émigré authors encountered new forms of identity that were less bound to particular geographical place, ethnicity or language.

The history of twentieth-century Hungarian literary exiles still awaits rewriting along these theoretical lines. What should concern Hungarian literary and historical scholarship is the fact that, due to well-known historical and political circumstances, East Central Europe has apparently become one of the key areas in the recent developments of exile studies. The Exile and Return of Writers from East-Central Europe, a collection of essays published in 2009, deals extensively with the consecutive waves of exiles that fled the region during the twentieth century, mapping out their associations and publishing ventures, the peculiar system of genres they developed (with a focus on the most characteristic émigré genre, autobiography), following certain individual trajectories, and assessing the aftermath of exile in the post-1989 era.6

Of the numerous formal and institutional concerns exile studies have raised, in this essay I will attempt to scrutinize a single aspect, the various relationships between writers in exile and their mother-tongues. Émigrés came to entertain different notions of linguistic identity, depending in part on the waves of exiles to which they belonged and the generational differences within each wave. What they seem to have in common, however, is the observation that while in a monolingual environment language appears to be an unproblematic vehicle, from the perspective of an exile the mother tongue tends to lose its naturalness, and from representing something obvious, a natural tool ready at hand, it seems to run the risk of becoming an ambivalent property at stake, open to unpredictable metamorphoses.

In this essay I examine, on the basis of a few case studies, the variety of notions of lingual identity thrown into relief by experiences of exile. I consider how these identities were maintained, lost, suspended, expanded, regained, rediscovered, or caught in transition.

The World as a Language Course: Sándor Márai


For Márai (and most of his contemporaries in exile), being-at-home increasingly resided in an intimate though problematically maintained relation with the Hungarian language. The anxiety created by the question of whether he was still in full command of Hungarian was especially frustrating from the 1950s onwards. However, the idea of Heimat as a linguistic phenomenon had appeared in Márai’s writings well before his second emigration in 1948. One can cite related confessions from his poetry, diaries, and memoirs:


Otthon vagy? Hol vagy ’otthon’? Csak a nyelvben.

Minden más fonák, zavaros, homályos.

Versciklus. Egy – Hetvenkettő (1944–45)7


[Are you at home? Where are you being at ‘home’? Only in language,/ Everything else is awry, turbid, vague.]


Az ’ország’, a ’nép’ még nem ’haza’. A tényekből – az országból, népből – akkor lesz csak ’haza’, ha az anyanyelv nevet ad a tényeknek! Nincs más haza, csak az anyanyelv.

Napló 1968–19758


[The ‘country’, the ‘people’ are not the ‘homeland’. The facts – the country, the people – only make a ‘homeland’ only if the mother tongue endows them with their respective names. There is no other homeland but the mother tongue.]


(… ) ez a nyelv és irodalom nekem a teljes értékű életet jelentette, mert csak ezen a nyelven tudom elmondani, amit mondani akarok. (És csak ezen a nyelven tudom elhallgatni, amiről hallgatni akarok.) Mert csak akkor és addig vagyok ’én’, amíg magyarul tudom megfogalmazni, amit gondolok. Például 1947. február 10-én éjjel a felismerést, hogy számomra nincs más ’haza’, csak a magyar nyelv.

Föld, föld!…9


[(…) this life and this literature had meant the wholeness of life for me, for it is only in this language that I can tell what I intend to tell. (And it is only in this language that I can remain silent on subjects on which I wish to remain silent.) Because I am ‘me’ only as long as I am able to phrase what I think in Hungarian. For example, the revelation on February 10, 1947 that for me there is no homeland apart from the Hungarian language.]


As for his novels, one can mention two corresponding though antithetical examples. Márai went into exile twice. He spent the 1920s in Germany and France, and after 1948 he lived primarily in Italy and the United States. Márai’s early, somewhat neglected novel, Idegen emberek [Strange People], published in 1931, summarizes the insights he drew from his first exile. A parable of chasing European identity and its reconciliation with national heritage in the multicultural scene of post-World War I Paris, Idegen emberek posits the questions of being away from the homeland in a way characteristically different from the citations above. The dilemmas brought up by Idegen emberek are only remotely connected to the adherence to the mother tongue, indeed they only partially concern language itself. The focus is on the issues of culture and anthropology: the dilemma whether Hungarians belong to Europe is not primarily a question of language, but of culture and race. The protagonist is shocked when an Albanian expatriate claims to recognize him as Turkish: in light of Hungarian history, he cannot exclude the possibility that he might have had Turkish ancestors. One of the highlights of the novel is when the protagonist, on the verge of deciding whether to go home or to stay, asks a gay Senegalese cabaret singer: “Do you consider me a white man?” (“fehér embernek tart ön engem?”).10 Attempting to set the highest magnitude of differences, he hopes that his “whiteness” would guarantee his belonging to Europeans. Their conversation suggests, however, that they have more in common than the protagonist at first would have been ready to admit: both are foreigners in Paris, and in their current location both Senegalese and Hungarian landscapes and works of art count as remote and exotic.

The most remarkable feature of the novel is that it presents a wide range of instances in which “strangeness” might occur, including everyday sensory perceptions, sexuality, communication, mentality, environment, and landscape. As the notion of “strangeness” is being constantly redefined according to the various contexts (nature vs. civilization, city vs. country, male vs. female), the corresponding emotional and physical experiences are only arbitrarily connected to the conditions of exile. Mapping out the semantic diversity of the term idegen, from being “unfamiliar,” to “foreign,” “impure,” “extraneous,” or “newcomer,” the borders between “us” and “them” are relentlessly redrawn according to the ever-changing experiences of familiarity and unfamiliarity. In this interpretation of being “alien,” language, however important it may be, is merely one aspect in which strangeness might occur. Lingual distance undeniably plays a key role in the events that lead up to the seduction of the protagonist’s French (Breton) lover by a French artist: even if the artist is a stutterer, his lingual competence outdoes that of the protagonist. Nonetheless, lingual unfamiliarity is only a single element in their estrangement: the girl sees in him a Parisian, alien to her native Bretagne.

Displacement in Idegen emberek implies questions more concerned with cultural self-assessment. At the end of the novel, the main character appears to have made the decision to travel back to Hungary, but in the last pages it remains unclear whether he will actually take the train. His last utterances refer to having arrived at a notion of being-at-home that would include images of landscapes and characters, memories and sensations that provide familiarity regardless of their respective geographical and cultural origin. This montage-like form of identity mirrors the expressionist devices employed in the novel, especially in the depictions of the chaotically modern urban scenes of Paris.11 In this light, the very dilemma of whether to go or stay appears to have dissolved. What the protagonist refers to as an inevitable Heimweh thus turns into a longing for a familiarity that can be found in various elements connected only by one’s individual consciousness. The montage nonetheless promises to have the capacity to re-fabricate a disintegrated identity in a non-linear but dynamically coherent form.

While Idegen emberek is more open to ironic interpretations of identity, in San Gennaro vére [San Gennaro’s Blood] Márai gives a static and symbolic elegy of his impression of the whole world being estranged. San Gennaro vére, written in the late 1950s and first published in Hungarian in 1965, is representative of Márai’s second exile, when, unlike in the period of his first exile when he pursued a kind of lingual integration by writing journalism in German, he came to the conviction that exile is foremost an alienation of language and it ineluctably threatens to deprive one of his mother tongue, that is, of his personal identity. The story, which deals with the suicide of an Eastern European scholar fleeing the communists, is set in Naples in the 1950s. The hero, whose intention is to “redeem the world,” is present only through reports and confessions by others. Referring to the claim made by the British historian Arnold Toynbee that in the alienated modern world only “displaced persons” convey the metaphysical possibility of salvation, in San Gennaro vére exile is portrayed as a negative sacral experience. The hopelessness of salvation coincides with the impossibility of being-at-home anywhere: waiting for a miracle on behalf of the natives coincides with waiting for a permit for immigration on behalf of the foreigners. What gives the salient feature of this global homelessness is that the world in its Babelish structure has become comparable to a “language lesson” that deprives émigrés of the linguistic signs that constitute their identity. As the Napleonian “agent,” contemplating the death of the scholar, states with regard to all the emigrants:


Mint egy nyelvleckére, úgy készülnek a világra. Mikor már nincsen ékezetük, nincs anyanyelvük sem, s ezért össze-vissza beszélnek és olvasnak, mindenféle nyelven.12


[As if it were a language lesson, they are preparing for the world. When they have lost the accents from above their names, they have lost their mother tongue as well, and they talk and read gibberish in all kinds of languages.]


As in a hopelessly alienated world language must always be relearned but only to become nonsensical, there is no space remaining for genuine identity. Inasmuch as the Babelish structure of the world in Idegen emberek provided a multilayered repertoire from which to collect elements of a dynamic, constantly re-fabricated, montage-like consciousness, and in San Gennaro vére the irredeemability of global homelessness leads to the futile sacrifice of a blank or static ego, I would argue that the former novel is able to address the dilemmas of cultural or existential familiarity and unfamiliarity in a more subtle way than the elegiac framework deployed in the latter.

Multilingual Conformity and the Defense of Locality: Kibédi Varga Áron


The anxiety of losing command of the mother tongue pervaded Márai’s second exile. As he exclaims in a 1952 entry in his diaries: “Néha, olvasás közben, a rettenet: tudok-e még magyarul?” [Sometimes, while reading, comes the horror: do I still know Hungarian?]13 The next generation of Hungarian émigré literati was considerably less bothered by such anxieties. For those who left the country at a younger age, mostly refugees of 1956, several languages, geographical places and cultures came to provide the impression of being-at-home, partly because they were educated away from their motherland in multilingual environments.

Áron Kibédi Varga (b. 1930) fled Hungary in 1944 at the age of fourteen, attended middle school in Germany and the Netherlands, studied Arabic and French at the universities of Leiden, Paris, and Amsterdam, and became a professor of French in Amsterdam. After his retirement he settled in Germany. His widely acclaimed works of literary theory were written foremost in French, his poetry exclusively in Hungarian. As a co-founder of the most significant cultural-scholarly organization in post-World War II Hungarian exile, the Hollandiai Mikes Kelemen Kör [The Kelemen Mikes Society of the Netherlands], he defined the task of emigration as the preservation of the Western-orientation in Hungarian culture and the maintenance of two-way mediation between Hungarian and Western cultural and scholarly developments.14

In the series of aphoristic diaries he published in Hungarian between 2000 and 2007 Kibédi Varga repeatedly touches upon the questions of multilingual and multicultural identities, for instance in an entry from November 22, 2006:

A kétnyelvűség ma már teljesen normális állapot: nemcsak a trianoni határokon kívül élő magyarokra gondolok, hanem a rengeteg törökre és marokkóira, akik az elmúlt évtizedekben árasztották el Nyugat-Európát. Én viszont nem két, hanem három nyelvben éltem húsz éves korom óta. Franciát tanultam, majd tanítottam az egyetemen, magyar barátaim voltak, az üzletekben hollandul beszéltem. Franciául, hollandul és magyarul beszélgettem, olvastam, telefonáltam, írtam, majdnem minden átmenet nélkül. Ehhez most hozzájön egy negyedik, a német. Ez már túl sok lenne? A négy nyelv állandó keveredése pillanatnyilag mindenesetre még némi nehézséget okoz: megesett már, hogy a vendéglőben a német pincértől franciául kértem a számlát.15


[Bilingualism is now a completely normal condition: I do not refer merely to the Hungarians living outside the borders drawn by the Versailles Treaty, but to the immense amount of Turks and Moroccans that flooded Western Europe in recent decades. I, however, have lived not in two but in three languages since I was 20. I studied, then taught French at the university, had Hungarian friends, spoke Dutch while shopping. I conversed, read, phoned, wrote in French, Dutch, and Hungarian almost simultaneously. Now, a fourth, German, is being added. Could it be too much? As for now, the mixing of the four languages raises some difficulties: it has happened that at restaurants I asked the German waiter for the bill in French.]


Apparently, unlike the vision of the world as a language course, which for Márai constituted a kind of deterioration, for Kibédi Varga the conditions of exilic multilingualism do not imply any anxiety over losing his mother tongue or his identity. Unlike the metaphysical concerns in San Gennaro vére, here the question is raised in a pragmatic way, and the difficulties, if they occur, are related to banal, everyday situations and considered merely temporary.

This does not mean, however, that the relationship between multilingualism and identity could be treated as unproblematic. For Kibédi Varga multilingualism raises precisely the question of whether it is possible to live simultaneously in more than one culture:


én mindig csak egy kultúrában élek, egyszerre kettőben vagy háromban nem tudnék. Fordítani nem tudok, se szóban, se írásban: vagy magyarul vagy franciául, vagy hollandul gondolkozom.16 (October 3, 1999)


[At one time I only live in one culture, I could not live in two or three at the same time. I cannot translate, neither orally, nor in writing: I think either in Hungarian, or French, or Dutch.]

According to this, it is not merely impossible to synchronize the different lingual worlds, but there is no need to do so either. The parallelism between the different lingual worlds, which Kibédi Varga claims to rotate consciously according to particular situations, delineates the multiplication of personal identity and consciousness. The parallelism nonetheless does not entail the dissolution of the borders between the respective languages and cultures. Instead of their temporal or spatial simultaneity, it maintains precisely their differences and acknowledges their particular and context-bound entitlements. That is why Kibédi Varga is keen to protect lingual authority, although not in the manner of preserving the purity or flawless command of the mother tongue, but from the perspective of locality:


Asztalt akarunk foglalni egy elegáns amszterdami vendéglőben. A telefonon egy női hang: ’Can I help you?’ Mire én megkérdezem, tud-e hollandul. Azt válaszolja, hogy nem. Én viszont ragaszkodom hozzá, hogy hollandul válaszoljon. Angliában vagy Amerikában szívesen beszélek angolul, de itt nem. A nő megsértődik.17 (April 8, 1999)


[We want to book a table at a fancy Amsterdam restaurant. A female voice on the phone: ‘Can I help you?’. I ask her if she speaks Dutch. She answers, no. I do insist that she reply in Dutch. I am pleased to speak in English in England or in America, but not here. She feels aggrieved.]


Feltűnő, hogy Hollandia mennyire elangolosodik. Folyik a téli kiárusítás, rengeteg ember minden üzletben, tizenöt évvel ezelőtt ilyenkor még holland feliratok voltak mindenütt (’Uitverkoop’), ma már csak az áll, hogy: ’Sale’. Rövidebb, egyszerűbb. Itt senkit sem zavar az anyanyelv romlása.18 (December 16, 2001)


[It is striking how Holland has become Anglicized. The winter sale is on, scores of people in every shop, fifteen years ago there were Dutch banners everywhere (‘Uiterkoop’), now it is only: ‘Sale’. Shorter, simpler. Here no one is bothered by the decay of their mother tongue.]

Here the point is stressed that lingual pride or self-defense can be adequately claimed with regard to one’s second or third language, as well as in the case of one’s mother tongue. While expressing concern for the local language, Kibédi Varga, showing the typical features of an integrated émigré mentality, stands up to protect something not inherently his own. In this, somewhat ideological, position of language politics, the alien and one’s “own” gets reversed in order to reprehend the multicultural Netherlands for neglecting lingual and cultural self-defense.

Seeing in the effects of globalization a phase of reprehensible cultural colonization, in Kibédi Varga’s diaries the predilection for the local against the global, regardless of nationality or ethnicity, is voiced in several instances. He also mentions that museums should be inhabited with works of art that represent the achievements of the specific geographical-cultural landscape:


minden város, ill. ország csak azt kellene kiállítsa, ami ott készült, ami ottani. Velence Tizianót és Carpacciót, Amszterdam Rembrandtot és Vermeert, Párizs Monet-t és Picassót.19 (May 30, 1999)


[Every city and country should exhibit solely what was made there, what is local. In Venice Tizian and Carpaccio, in Amsterdam Rembrandt and Vermeer, in Paris Monet and Picasso.]


In the light of this idea the defense of the local language is but a part of Kibédi Varga’s general cultural ideals.

Unwarranted Subversion of Language: Endre Karátson


Endre Karátson (b. 1933) graduated in 1954 from the Idegen Nyelvek Főiskolája [College of Foreign Languages] in Budapest, where he studied French. In 1956 Karátson emigrated to Paris and in 1959 he graduated from the Sorbonne as a student of the École normale supérieure. He earned his degree in 1969 in comparative literary history and became a professor at the University of Lille. The salient feature of Karátson’s oeuvre, both as a scholar and a writer, is its apparent bifocality: in his doctoral thesis he dealt with the influence of modern French poetry on early twentieth-century Hungarian literature,20 in a later work with the intercultural mediation performed by the Hungarian Poe-translations,21 and, in a wider European context, with the decisive impact of the “poetics of rootlessness” on modern fiction.22 In a similar fashion, Karátson’s short stories also show the features of transnational mediation: his Hungarian texts were influenced by non-Hungarian authors such as Beckett, Borges, Kafka, and Nabokov, who also lived and worked in multicultural and multilingual environments.

Karátson’s two-volume autobiographical essay Otthonok (2007) gives an idiosyncratic survey of the development of what he calls his “dioecious existence” as a French scholar and a Hungarian writer. As Karátson recalls, when arriving in France, in the refugee camp he found himself in the position of a middleman mediating between his countrymen and the French authorities. In his role he saw a reversal of the familiar and the unfamiliar: an alienation from his own companions and a simultaneous approximation to a new cultural environment.23

The integration into something other though familiar, however, had its own peculiar difficulties. What Karátson as a non-native speaker had to face was exclusion from any creative involvement with language, that is, from any subversion of French. Symptomatic of the state of being unwarranted to play language games or make puns in the presence of natives is the episode in which in the dormitory lunch-room sardines are being served, and one of the French students mentions, “putain de merde”: (the food is shit, kurvára szar a kaja). Karátson would go on adding “merde de putain”: (we are eating the shit of whores, kurvaszart kapunk vacsorára).24 He found the storm of indignation that followed all the more awkward because Karátson considered this type of rhetorical transfer, a semantically obscene chiasmus, as a kind of mental exercise, and as such it was to become the trademark gesture of his short stories. What adds the real irony to the story, however, is that in the ultimate instance Karátson approves of the anger of his French schoolmates (only a Danish linguist laughs at his joke), for, as he expounds, if a non-Hungarian were to play with his mother tongue in a similar way, he would also see it as a disturbing, unwarranted intrusion by an outsider. The episode nonetheless conveys a traumatic experience, and might explain why Karátson never attempted to write prose fiction in French: the insiders rejected his basic rhetorical maneuver from the outset.

Along with the notion of lingual authority, Karátson’s memoir discovers (or brings about) an idiosyncratic connection between his refusal to write prose fiction in French and to have a child. As he expounds, he rejected parenthood with his French wife, Nicole, for he thought it would lead to a “lingual mestizo,” and as such would entail lack and alienation.25 On the one hand, as an emigrant he would have been unable to transmit to the child his own mother tongue and the country to which it belonged, the country he had left behind. On the other, due to the inevitable flaws in his French, the child would have seen in him a hyphenated alien. Eventually, the tension created by this double lack (that of a literary work in French and that of a child) was resolved with a single gesture: Nicole set about translating Karátson’s Hungarian short stories into French.

The metaphorical interconnectedness of language and the unborn child is further elaborated when Karátson recounts the experience of first seeing the French version of one of his Hungarian texts that Nicole prepared from his rough translation. Karátson is unable to recognize the text as his own progeny: “torzszülöttének éreztem a hangot, amelyik nem az én torkomból jött.”26 [Having come from a throat other than mine, it sounded like the voice of a freak of nature.] Translation as abortion thus comes to occupy both the positions of their common unborn child and the French work Karátson was unable or unwilling to produce himself: “nem csupán helytálló, hanem írói szövegre vágytam. Mintha én írtam volna franciául.”27 [I longed not merely for a relevant text, but an authorly text. As if it had been written by me in French.]

Nicole fully understood the subconscious significance of the translation, that it would be a substitute both for the unborn child and the unwritten French literary text. That prompted her to learn Hungarian properly and to restart the translation on her own without Karátson’s rough intermediary version. When the new translation was complete and published, Karátson felt that it properly stood for the absence of the child: “a könyvet mint gyermeket hozta a világra, azt a gyermeket, amelyet nem szült meg soha.”28 [She brought the book into the world as a child, the child to whom she had never given birth.] The birth of Karátson’s French book of short stories29 thus serves as a multi-directional compensation, both for the writer and the translator, the husband and the wife, the Hungarian and the French, the (non-)father and the (non-)mother. As a substitute for something non-existent, translation here dissolves the lingual and cultural unfamiliarity that has remained between the spouses, and, on the other hand, it gives ultimate initiation for the husband into the receiver culture:


közös művünk, azon túl, hogy kárpótolja őt az elmaradt szülésért, nekem is megnyitja egy második haza meghittséget biztosító ajtaját. (…) Nem beolvasztani akart, hanem megadni annak a lehetőségét, hogy két nyelven teljes ember legyek. Talán az nem is jutott eszébe, hogy jobb, ha egy vagy két könyvben ölt testet a megosztott egység, mint egy másodgenerációs gyermekben, akinél a szintézis kidolgozása alighanem gonddal járna.30


[our common work, in addition to giving her compensation for the delivery that never took place, opens the doors of a cozy second mother country for me. (…) What she wanted was not to incorporate me, but to give me the chance of being whole in two languages. Probably it did not even occur to her that it is better to have our divided unity incarnated as a book than a second-generation child, with whom it would have been more difficult to arrive at a synthesis.]


The metaphor of translation as giving birth arrives at a unique interpretation of the notion of the mother tongue. The mother, Nicole, does not mediate her tongue to her child, but produces the child as language and language as a child. The child that is born as a translation speaks the mother’s tongue while conveying the father’s. The translation that is born as a child becomes a lingual entity, the mother tongue itself, or, to be more specific, the child is the father reborn in the mother’s tongue.

Among Hostile Languages: Agota Kristof


Agota Kristof (1935–2011) emigrated to Switzerland in 1956. She began to write drama and prose fiction in French in the late 1960s and became one of the very few Hungarian emigrant authors who entered the international literary scene in a second language. (The price she had to pay was, Márai would say, that she lost the accents from above her name.) In order to map out Kristof’s relationship to her mother tongue, I will not deal with the three novels that brought her world-fame (Le grand cahier, La Preuve, Le Troisième mensonge), but turn to a short book containing recollections that was released in 2004 under the telling title L’analphabète [The Illiterate].

The title of the book refers to the dispossession of language. As Kristof recalls, having settled in Switzerland for five years, she spoke French comfortably, but was still unable to read and write. She felt all the more awkward because in Hungarian she had acquired both abilities at a very early age. Through exile she fell back to a state prior to language, or, rather, prior to culture. With regards to raising her child, who had been born in Hungary but was growing up in a French-speaking environment, this illiteracy entailed not merely interruption but rupture in the continuity of bequeathing her tongue, the literal mother tongue. Consequently, the very notion of motherhood and its relation to language underwent a crisis:


Esténként a gyerekkel megyek haza. A kislányom tágra nyílt szemekkel néz rám, amikor magyarul szólok hozzá. Egy alkalommal sírni kezd, mert nem értem meg őt, máskor meg azért, mert ő nem ért meg engem.31


[In the evenings I go home with the child. My daughter stares at me with eyes wide open when I speak to her in Hungarian. Sometimes she cries because I do not understand her, other times because she does not understand me.]


Kristof’s own language, the mother tongue or the tongue of the mother, the transmission of which would be the task of the mother, comes to differ from the one in which her daughter is increasingly able to speak with growing competence. The mother therefore is dislocated from the position of a mediator (teacher) to that of a receiver (student), and in her efforts to acquire linguistic competence she becomes synchronous with her children: “Még két gyerekem születik. Velük gyakorlom majd az olvasást, a helyesírást, az igeragozást.”32 [I give birth to two more kids. I will practice reading, spelling, conjugation with them.] Given that her linguistic skills, like those of her Swiss-born children, are limited, the hierarchy of lingual competence between parent and child collapses: when her children ask about the meaning of a word, she cannot give the explanation, but must reply that she would “look it up.” Being unable to teach them, she learns with and from them. The motherly competence thus becoming dependent on language books refers back to an earlier episode in L’analphabète, resembling Márai’s allegory of exile as a language lesson, when Kristof recalls, while crossing the border, that she was carrying two bags: children’s clothes in one, dictionaries in the other.

The dependence on dictionaries (as the narrator puts it, the “relentless and passionate” use of dictionaries) becomes an emblematic sign of the lack of intimacy with and authority in the very language Kristof is supposed to teach or transmit as a mother. In her case exilic conditions came to subvert the gendered roles attributed to language use, undermining what counts as mother tongue and what counts as mother. In this both multilingual and language-less status, Kristof characterizes her second tongue as a “hostile language”:


Több mint harminc éve beszélek, húsz éve írok is franciául, de még mindig nem ismerem. Nem beszélem hiba nélkül, és csak a szótár gyakori használatával tudok rajta helyesen írni. Ezért hívom a francia nyelvet is ellenséges nyelvnek. És van még egy oka, amiért így hívom, és ez az utóbbi súlyosabb. Ez a nyelv az, amelyik folyamatosan gyilkolja az anyanyelvemet.33


[I have spoken French for thirty years, I have written in it for twenty, still I do not know it. I do not speak it flawlessly, and it is only with the frequent use of dictionaries that I am able to spell correctly. That is why I call French a hostile language. And there is one more reason why I call it this, and this one is the more serious. French is the language that constantly murders my mother tongue.]


The term “hostile language” also refers back to an earlier episode in L’analphabète, when the narrator enumerates the languages with which she became acquainted as a child and learned to regard as “hostile,” that is, a means of political oppression: German and Russian. In exile, however, French becomes a kind of interiorized enemy. The self-expression she longed for in this newly acquired language coincides with self-destruction, the self-annihilation of the mother tongue, or of inherent lingual identity.

All these ambiguities do not merely concern Kristof’s personal life, but also had a decisive impact on her way of writing fiction as well. The suggestiveness and intensity of her French prose stems precisely from the reduction of stylistic, rhetorical, and syntactical means. She dismisses the diversity of tenses: her first novel, Le grand cahier [The Great Notebook] is written in present tense. In a sense, Kristof’s prose mirrors the infantilization of language, the process of language becoming a lesson that she went through after her emigration. As she recalled in an interview:


A fiam akkoriban volt 12 éves; az ő házi feladataiból is merítettem, a szinte gyermekien egyszerű mondatszerkesztéseket. Az első könyvemben, a Nagy füzetben ugye gyerekek beszélnek. A fiam írt körülbelül így. A könyvet sok helyen nyelvtanításra is használják, iskolásokkal is olvastatják.34


[My son was twelve back then. I drew on the almost childishly simple syntax from his homework. In my first book, The Great Notebook, it is children who speak. My son wrote just about the same way. In many places this book is being used to teach language, children read it at school.]


Out of French lessons, Kristof emerged as a French writer, who, through an uncommon dislocation, created literature in language course French, which, in turn, became once again the material of language lessons.

Relearning the Exotic: Tibor Fischer


Tibor Fischer, a British novelist born in a Hungarian émigré family, possesses a multicultural identity quite common among contemporary British authors.35 His parents left Hungary in 1956, Fischer was born in 1959. As a child he spoke Hungarian in the family circle, but when he started attending school he dropped it and has spoken English, even with his parents. As Fischer mentions in an interview, he regrets that he forgot Hungarian, for “having any languages is very useful and worthwhile.”36 “Any” might suggest that Fischer does not consider Hungarian a preferred heritage, but when between 1988 and 1990 he worked as a correspondent for a British daily in Budapest, he had to relearn Hungarian – not as a forgotten mother tongue, but as the exotic though familiar tongue of a distant though exciting country.

In Fischer’s case the status of both mother tongue and cultural identity are somewhat ambiguous. His first name suggests foreignness in British, his family name in Hungarian environments. On the one hand, his Hungarian heritage puts Fischer close to the first and second generation immigrant authors dominant in the contemporary British literary scene. On the other, he is fully aware that defining himself as a British writer highlights precisely the changes that the nature of Britishness has been going through. Facing the disintegration of the traditional notions of Britishness, for him the significance of diverse cultural and lingual heritages resides not in the dilemma of losing or regaining something original or inherent, but in the insistence on the multicultural and multilingual nature of the society in which he lives and which has modified the nature of the English language itself. As Fischer claimed at the conference introducing the Babylon: Myth and Reality exhibition at the British Museum in 2008, the opposition between “us” and “them” can hardly be sustained, for ethnic and cultural identities had been unloosed from geographical places: “Everyone is everywhere.” London, his dwelling-place, he adds, cannot be considered an “English city” anymore.37

Fischer’s first novel, Under the Frog (1994) (A béka segge alatt), follows the fortunes of the protagonist Gyuri Fischer and a basketball team in Hungary between 1944 and 1956. The source of the wittily told anecdotes in the novel is supposedly to be found in the memories of the author’s father. The English text is interspersed with Hungarian words and expressions such as “kocsma” [a pub], “bunkó” [lout], and “csárda” [a country tavern, not dissimilar to a “kocsma”]. In the Hungarian translation these elements appear as if being reintegrated into their “original” vehicle:


Within half an hour of mastication commencing, Gyuri was already seriously worried about parting company with consciousness: surrounding his enormous plate, which had grown a stalagmite of sausage, cured pork, pig cheese and boxing-glove-sized chunks of bread, were two glasses of wine, one red, one white, two glasses of pálinka, apricot and pear, and two glasses of beer in case he got thirsty.38


Alig félórával a táplálkozási aktus kezdete után Gyurit már komolyan aggasztotta az eszméletvesztés lehetősége: széles tányérján tornyos cseppkőalakzatokban állt a kolbász, a füstölt sonka meg a disznósajt, bokszkesztyű méretű kenyérdaraboktól körítve, a tányér mellett pedig két pohár bor, egy vörös meg egy fehér, valamint két pohár pálinka, barack meg körte, továbbá két pohár sör is, arra az esetre odakészítve, ha netán megszomjaznék.39


In translation the Hungarian word pálinka, while returning to its natural lingual environment, is losing its stylistic and semantic surplus: with the dissolution of its foreignness it becomes rhetorically invisible. Contrasting the English and Hungarian versions of the novel, elements of this sort provide exotic “humps” for the reader of the English, unrecognizable familiarities for the reader of the Hungarian text.40 The same applies to the title of the novel, a Hungarian dictum, here employed to depict the public sentiments of the 1940–50s. The expression does not appear to be equally metaphorical in English and in Hungarian.

In a sense, Under the Frog is an attempt at mediation and a translation in itself. As a peculiar version of trauma narration, it tells the stories of others, and represents the heritage of the author’s parents in a language foreign to their own. Mediation also comes to work in part because the anecdotes, jokes, and characters in the text are not merely from and of Hungary, but, as they remind the Hungarian reader of stories by Jenő Rejtő, Antal Szerb, or Frigyes Karinthy, might be recognized as concealed quotations from Hungarian literature. Being the outcome of interplay between British and Hungarian literary traditions, Fischer’s first novel simultaneously displays the author’s cultural affiliations, and, by introducing him as a British author, breaks this continuity as well.



I have attempted to show how exilic or post-exilic consciousness has brought about diversity in lingual identity hardly present among authors living in monolingual environments. Seeking to find characteristic and distinct types, I have considered how, for Sándor Márai, the attempt to reconcile Hungarian and European affiliations first led to a montage-like re-fabrication of the psyche, and later how adherence to the mother tongue became an ideological shelter from the menace of a metaphysical homelessness; how multilingualism turned into a defense of locality amid threatening globalization for Áron Kibédi Varga; how translation came to substitute for an unborn child both in the literary and literal sense for Endre Karátson; how, in the case of Agota Kristof, a second language never fully acquired was felt to ruin one’s mother tongue precisely through a literary achievement of the highest standard; and how, in the case of Tibor Fischer, the traces of a remote lingual and cultural heritage show up in a text written in a language other than one’s mother’s tongue.

Although the line of the argument might suggest a linearity leading from obsolete to more characteristically contemporary experiences, I would argue that the respective attitudes listed here mark equally valid stances from which to address the ambivalence of lingual and cultural identity, an ambivalence that has come to effect our existence well beyond the confines of the historical phenomenon of twentieth-century exile.




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Márai, Sándor. Föld, föld!… [Memoir of Hungary]. Budapest: Helikon, 2006.

Márai, Sándor. Napló 1945–1957 [Diaries 1945–1957]. Budapest: Helikon, n.d.

Márai, Sándor. Napló 1968–1975 [Diaries 1968–1975]. Budapest: Helikon–Akadémiai Kiadó, n.d.

Márai, Sándor. San Gennaro vére [San Gennaro’s Blood]. Budapest: Helikon, n.d.

Nagy, Gergely. “‘Nem akartam megnevezni semmit’ Beszélgetés Agota Kristof írónővel”.[I Did Not Want to Name Anything. Interview with the Writer Agota Kristof. Heti Világgazdaság, September 19, 2006. Accessed December 17, 2012.

Said, Edward W. Reflections on Exile and Other Essays. Cambridge (Mass.): Harvard University Press, 2000.

Steiner, George. Extraterritorial. Papers on Literature and Language Revolution. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1975.

Szegedy-Maszák, Mihály. “A magyarság (nyelven túli) emléke” [A Monument to Hungarian (Beyond Language)]. In A magyar irodalom történetei III. 1920-tól napjainkig [The Histories of Hungarian Literature. Vol. 3. From 1920 to the Present ]. Edited by Mihály Szegedy-Maszák and András Veres, 831–37. Budapest: Gondolat, 2007.

Tihanov, Galin. “The birth of modern literary theory in East-Central Europe.” In History of Literary Cultures in East-Central Europe. Junctures and Disjunctures in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries. Vol. 1. Edited by John Neubauer and Marcel Cornis-Pope, 416–24. Amsterdam: John Benjamins Publishing, 2004.

Tóth, Csilla. “A szöveg mint tárgy (Vizualitás, narráció és társadalmi reprezentáció Márai Sándor Bolhapiac című kötetében 1934, 2009)” [The Text as Object (Visuality, Narration and Social Representation in Márai’s Book Entitled Flea Market)]. Forrás 43, no. 1 (2011): 94–106.

1 Angelika Bammer, “Introduction,” in Displacements: Cultural Identities in Question, ed. Angelika Bammer (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1994), xi.

2 Sophia McClennen, The Dialectics of Exile. Nation, Time, Language, and Space in Hispanic Literatures (West Lafayette: Purdue University Press, 2004), 20.

3 George Steiner, Extraterritorial. Papers on Literature and Language Revolution (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1975), 14–21.

4 Edward W. Said, Reflections on Exile and Other Essays (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2000), 173–86.

5 On the way this contributed to the development of literary theory per se, see: Galin Tihanov, “The birth of modern literary theory in East-Central Europe,” in History of Literary Cultures in East-Central Europe. Junctures and Disjunctures in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries. Volume I, ed. John Neubauer and Marcel Cornis-Pope (Amsterdam: John Benjamins Publishing, 2004), 416–24.

6 The Exile and Return of Writers from East-Central Europe. A Compendium, edited by John Neubauer and Borbála Zsuzsanna Török (Berlin–New York: Walter de Gruyter, 2009).

7 Sándor Márai, Összegyűjtött versek [Collected Poems] (Budapest: Helikon, 2000), 193.

8 Sándor Márai, Napló 1968–1975 [Diary 1968–1975] (Budapest: Helikon–Akadémiai Kiadó, n. a.), 287.

9 Sándor Márai, Föld, föld!…[Memoir of Hungary] (Budapest: Helikon, 2006), 309–10.

10 Sándor Márai, Idegen emberek [Strange People] (Budapest: Helikon, 2005), 410.

11 On the role of expressionist devices in Idegen emberek, see: Csilla Tóth, „A szöveg mint tárgy (Vizualitás, narráció és társadalmi reprezentáció Márai Sándor Bolhapiac című kötetében 1934, 2009)” [The Text as Object (Visuality, Narration and Social Representation in the Book Flea Market by Márai)], Forrás 43, no. 1 (2011): 1012.

12 Sándor Márai, San Gennaro vére [San Gennaro’s Blood] (Budapest: Helikon, n.d.), 127.

13 Sándor Márai, Napló 1945–1957 [Diary 1945­–1957] (Budapest: Helikon, n.d.), 194.

14 Áron Kibédi Varga, “Nyugati magyar irodalom” [Hungarian Literature in the West], in Párbeszéd Magyarországgal [Dialogue with Hungary], ed. Béla Pomogáts (Budapest: Szépirodalmi, 1991), 347–51.

15 Áron Kibédi Varga, Lépések. Napló 2005–2006 [Steps. Diary 2005–2006] (Pozsony: Kalligram, 2007), 91–92.

16 Áron Kibédi Varga, Amszterdami krónika 1999 [Amsterdam Chronicle 1999] (Pozsony: Kalligram, 2000), 84.

17 Ibid., 31–32.

18 Áron Kibédi Varga, És felébred, aminek neve van [And Wakes the Thing with a Name] (Pozsony: Kalligram, 2002), 113.

19 Kibédi Varga, Amszterdami krónika, 52.

20 André Karátson, Le symbolisme en Hongrie (L’influence des poétiques françaises sur la poésie hongroise dans le premier quart du XXe siècle) (Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 1969).

21 André Karátson, Edgar Allan Poe et le groupe des écivains du ‘Nyugat’ en Hongrie (Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 1971).

22 André Karátson and Jean Bessière, Déracinement et littérature (Lille: Presses Universitaires de Lille, 1982).

23 Karátson Endre, Otthonok [Homes] (Pécs: Jelenkor, 2007), vol. 2, 75–81.

24 Ibid., vol. 1, 208–9.

25 Ibid., vol. 2, 251.

26 Ibid., vol. 2, 297.

27 Ibid., vol. 2, 298.

28 Ibid., vol. 2, 308.

29 Endre Karátson, Étes-vous damné, Monsieur Goya?, trans. Nicole Bagarry (Pécs: Jelenkor–l’Harmattan, 1999).

30 Karátson, Otthonok, vol. 2, 308–9.

31 Agota Kristof, Az analfabéta [The Illiterate], trans. András Petőcz (Budapest: Új Palatinus, 2007), 58.

32 Ibid., 60.

33 Ibid., 30.

34 Gergely Nagy, “‘Nem akartam megnevezni semmit’ Beszélgetés Agota Kristof írónővel” [I Did Not Want to Name Anything. Interview with the Writer Agota Kristof], Heti Világgazdaság, September 19, 2006,, accessed December 17, 2012

35 For a comprehensive view on Fischer’s oeuvre, see: Mihály Szegedy-Maszák, “A magyarság (nyelven túli) emléke” [A Monument to Hungarian (Beyond Language)], in A magyar irodalom történetei, III. 1920-tól napjainkig [The Histories of Hungarian Literature, vol. 3: From 1920 to the Present], ed. Mihály Szegedy-Maszák and András Veres (Budapest: Gondolat, 2007), 831–37.

36 Gerd Bayer, ”I’m very keen on tea and Shakespeare.” An Interview with Tibor Fischer, accessed December 17, 2012, (Italics mine).

37 From Babylon to Bethnal Green: Does language unite or divide multicultural societies?, British Museum Guardian Public Forum. The sound-recording of the conference can be downloaded at:, accessed December 17, 2012.

38 Tibor Fischer, Under the Frog (London: Vintage, 1992), 63–4 (Italics mine).

39 Tibor Fischer, A béka segge alatt, trans. István Bart (Budapest: Európa, 1994), 95 (Italics mine).

40 See: Ágnes Györke, “Ex libris,” Élet és irodalom 16, April 21, 2006.

In the Web of Political Language. Verbal Warfare and the 1945 Change of Regime in a Residential Building in Budapest*


* I would like to thank Katalin Fenyves and Dániel Bolgár for their comments on my paper.


This essay examines a conflict that arose between “Christian” and “Jewish” inhabitants of a tenement near the large ring street (Nagykörút, Grand Boulevard) in Budapest during the Second World War and in its immediate aftermath, when a new political system was beginning to take form. The analysis is based on documents related to a case involving housing matters and a case that came before one of the People’s Courts. I consider the cultural context in which a middle class “Christian gentleman’s” family that was suffering impoverishment and a decline in social mobility interpreted the “Jewish” milieu in which it found itself, a milieu that presented continuous affronts to its norms but from which it was unable to extricate itself because of the housing system, which was under close scrutiny given the circumstances of the war. How did the Jewish inhabitants of the tenement, most of whom had suffered persecution, respond to this family in the wake of the political changes of 1945? My intention is to shed light on the long term social process by which the official and hierarchical social image of the Horthy system and the concomitant system of norms began to lose their substance and relevance in the first half of the 1940s as a consequence of the impoverishment of the middle class and increasingly limited housing mobility. This took place before this system began, in 1945, to be exposed to radical attacks cloaked in the garb of political legitimacy.


In one of the residential inner neighborhoods of Budapest, in a building inhabited by tenants of not particularly high status, a dispute occurred among certain residents that spanned the 1940s.1 The conflict was occasioned by a dispute surrounding the behavioral norms displayed in the public spaces of the apartment house. Specifically, one resident of the building, an unmarried and stay-at-home woman of nearly fifty living at home with her mother, was aggrieved that certain residents were violating the house regulations through their conduct, while the building caretaker, as the guardian of this order, was not enforcing the rules. One week after the German occupation of the country on March 19, 1944, the aggrieved resident, Aranka Richter, wrote a letter to the woman who owned the building. In it, citing the recent political changes she outlined (not for the first time) the disputes within the building. She expected help from her presumably because she trusted that the German occupation and the ensuing political restructuring would improve her chances vis-à-vis her antagonists in the building. Months later, availing herself of the opportunities provided by a further political turnabout, the takeover of power by the Arrow Cross Party, she attempted (unsuccessfully, as it turned out) to denounce the caretaker. Then in 1945 the tables were turned, and with the coming of the postwar new order her opponents began to make increasingly more active use of the means offered by the new political regime; these means differed from the previous ones only in their opposing content. In their lives the political turns of 1944–1945 bore precisely the opposite portent. For them the German occupation had brought mortal danger, whereas 1945 brought “liberation”: a return home from the ghetto, military labor service or the camp. On several occasions throughout 1945 and 1946 they denounced Aranka Richter to the political police, and the denunciations finally culminated in a trial before the People’s Court. As a result, after having spent half a year in custody, in the summer of 1947 Aranka Richter was sentenced to two years’ imprisonment; then in December 1947 her sentence was reduced in second instance to seven months.

The written traces of the conflict, which lasted for almost a decade, show the refined contours of the balance of power prevailing in the house. The community of residents in the building was mostly identical before and after 1945. Despite the fact that a substantial number of the building’s residents had been affected by the Jewish persecutions, in the spring of 1945 the building continued to be inhabited by the same families who had lived alongside one another since the second half of the 1930s. The Jewish resident community proved stable after 1945, too, and those residents unaffected by the Jewish persecutions did not change as a result of the war either: the tenants who had moved in before the war, in the second half of the 1930s at the latest, almost without exception remained inhabitants of the building in the postwar years as well. Because of the rapid changes in the political balance of power during and after the Second World War, the internal relations of this resident community were reinterpreted several times. Rooted in a hierarchical thinking that translated the cultural differences experienced side by side daily as well as divergent lifestyles and behavioral modes into the subordinate-superordinate relations of social statuses, the conflict was revealed time and again to the public sphere as embodied in the bureaucracy and the authorities (i.e., the state), and time and again it was translated into the currently legitimate political language. During the years covered by the dispute the sets of political and ideological categories underwent rapid and radical changes, and this demanded that members of society immediately recognize the situation and adapt to it. Rapid political orientation and at the same time the ability to assert interests through political means became a precondition for existence. In the conflict examined here, too, the positions of the opposing sides changed according to how much they could identify their own situation with the dominant ideology, thereby privatizing the state in their own individual interest (privatization of the public realm): the hierarchy of social statuses, never devoid of ideologies or political meanings, was arranged into newer and newer constellations as a function of changing power relations.2 Rather than passively submitting to power plays transpiring above the heads of average people, all this meant actively participating in the shaping, operating and maintaining of the political system. From the moment that antagonisms among the residents were also articulated in the language of politics, discord among neighbors could be diverted into institutional channels and become part of the interaction between the demands of citizens and the possessors of executive power that at all times operates the state itself and its apparatus.

The Almássy Square incident allows one to observe the process whereby a clash of divergences in cultural and behavioral patterns generated an evolving dispute that became imbued with political content and was brought before the political criminal authorities, overarching the change of regime in 1945. The study examines the ways in which the components of the general transformation, slow at first and then accelerating during the war years, appeared in local and individual constellations, and how the experience of social transformation was channeled into mechanisms that created and maintained the political system.

This analysis of the dispute relies first and foremost on the documents (complaints, statements and other petitions made by the two opposing sides) from the proceedings of the political police and the People’s Court against Aranka Richter that took place between 1945 and 1947. The trial before the People’s Court itself contains Aranka Richter’s letter from 1944 as well. This is supplemented by the written traces of the Richters’ apartment case extant in the archives of the municipal administration; however, the apartment case itself, which began in 1945 and was still in progress as late as 1947, will not form part of the analysis.3 Thanks to all these sources we have before us the utterances of the protagonists from the years between 1944 and 1947, and the stories they tell reach all the way back to the turn of the 1930s and 1940s.




For the widow Mrs. Richter and her two unmarried daughters, the move to the house on Almássy Square meant a change in status: their change of domicile was a sign of downward social mobility. The reason for their move was their shattered material and social condition following the death of the head of the family, a university professor. Because of this they moved from a four-room apartment with servant’s quarters on Népszínház Street in the Józsefváros District, with an annual rent of 1500 pengős, to a three-room apartment with servant’s quarters on Almássy Square, with an annual rent of 1200 pengős. Because Mrs. Richter had an aversion to taking in lodgers, the family therefore made up for the loss of income entailed by living on a widow’s pension not in this manner but rather by saving on the rent. The three co-habitating adult women—the then sixty-three year-old mother and her thirty-eight and thirty-three year-old unmarried daughters—rented a cheaper apartment (even then, presumably of suitable size), where they did not even keep a maid.4

Their move placed them in a social milieu somewhat different from that to which they had been accustomed. There was a fundamental difference between the two buildings with respect to their apartment stocks as well. In their previous domicile, the apartment house on Népszínház Street, larger and more expensive apartments than the one on Almássy Square could be rented. Whereas the latter house was dominated by three-room apartments with servant’s quarters rented for 1200 pengős annually, in the building on Népszínház Street four-room apartments with front hall and servant’s quarters rented for 1500 pengős annually predominated. In addition, the way the apartment types were situated within the building here (on Népszínház Street) created a hierarchy by floors as well. On the ground floor were one-room apartments with kitchens, whereas every apartment on the first, second and third floors had four rooms with servant’s quarters. On the fourth floor could be found only two- and three-room units, and finally a one-room unit was located on the fifth floor. By contrast, in the building on Almássy Square the apartments of varying size were situated together on each floor as well. As for the inhabitants, there was no difference between the two houses in as much as both had heterogeneous tenants, ranging from high-ranking public and private employees through doctors, merchants and entrepreneurs to craftmen, tradesmen and journeymen. Nor did they differ from each other in another respect: in both the percentage of tenants of the Israelite faith was so high that each would be added to the list of yellow-star buildings in 1944.5 The crucial difference between the two buildings showed up in the divergences in lifestyles, which in turn were related to differences in their housing stocks. In fact, in the area of keeping servants and taking in lodgers the two buildings were the exact opposites of one another.6

Almassy MTA 007 opt

Figure 1. The building on Almássy Square. Photo by the author

Whereas in the building on Almássy Square keeping a maid was rare and taking in lodgers the norm, in the building on Népszínház Street it was precisely the reverse: many kept maids, but hardly any took in lodgers. Despite the fact that twelve of the seventeen apartments in the building on Almássy Square had servant’s quarters, according to the 1941 population census maids were kept in a mere three households. At the same time, in the building on Népszínház Street domestic employees were not indicated in only one of the three- and four-room apartments, while in these apartments there was only one case of a lodger. On Almássy Square at the same time lodgers were kept in eight of the seventeen apartments. The households taking in lodgers formed the more populous tenancies in the building: whereas households that did not take in a lodger had primarily two to three persons, those taking in lodgers numbered five to six persons. The practice of taking in lodgers was linked primarily to the three-room apartments with servant’s quarters, and half of the tenancies belonging to this type had lodgers. In other words, it was precisely in the tenancies belonging to the building’s largest and most expensive type of apartment (and at the same time the one giving it its dominant middle-class character—the type in which the Richters themselves lived) that this lifestyle was characteristic. The households that took in lodgers, moreover, were concentrated precisely on the third floor: three of the floor’s four apartments took in lodgers, and the unmarried tenant of Apartment III/3 next door to the Richters, where eight lodgers resided, earned her living expressly from this practice.

In this new milieu, with the passage of a few years conflicts would arise between the Richters and their neighbors. They linked the deterioration of the situation to a specific point in time: 1940, when, they asserted, new residents moved into the building on Almássy Square, thereby altering the building community in such a way that living there became unbearable for them. In her letter to the building owner a week after the German occupation of the country, the Richter daughter stated that “until four years ago I did not know that there existed such base people who through the practice of the late caretaker filled the third floor of Your Ladyship’s building in particular. The situation today is simply dreadful because oversight within the house is tantamount to nothing. This is one of the reasons why up to and including last week the bulk of the residents through their most awful behavior have lowered the building’s niveau to that of a market stall.”7 She likewise dated the start of their problems in the residence in a letter one year later, when she informed the owner of the following: “In the past five years the bulk of the building’s residents has changed, and the peaceful building together with the neighborhood has become so noisy that we have done everything possible so that we may move out during this time. However, because of the war and the subsequent suddenly pressing conditions (high costs, family reasons, etc.) this has been completely thwarted.”8 In the course of the affair it also turned out that she had involved the police with the house already prior to 1944,9 and a friend of Aranka Richter was also aware of a conflict lasting years.10

However, the Richters precisely delineated the changes that they viewed as the start of their difficulties within the building not only in time but in space as well. They linked the transformation they detected in the building’s society in 1940 to the third floor, specifically perceiving the neighboring Apartment No. III/3 (where so many lodgers lived) as a focal point: “On behalf of my mother I ask Your Ladyship to be so kind as to inform the Housing Office of Apartment III on the third floor, in which the Tenant does not live inside at all, but from where the nuisances for years have determined the behavior of certain residents of the entire building. I believe the Housing Office can find a way for respectable people to live in the apartment directly next to us. And this lesson would certainly influence the climate of the entire building.”11 However, the building’s Apartment III/3 would gain publicity in a different context as well. Following the designation of the yellow-star houses in June 1944, the widowed owner of the apartment building on Almássy Square, Mrs. Antal Berkó (née Astrid Gregersen), was also one of those building owners who lodged complaints against the mayor’s decision and tried to have their buildings exempted from the designation. Mrs. Berkó’s arguments included that “the five tenants in the building rent the larger three- and four-room apartments exclusively. Only the tenants of the small apartments are Jews, who take in Jews as lodgers as well. Hitherto I have attempted, as much as the lease restrictions have permitted [,] to terminate the leases of the Jewish tenants. […] At present, too, I have initiated proceedings to have Christian renters placed in the apartment of the Jewish tenant renting Apartment No. III/3, because the present tenant has taken in exclusively Jewish lodgers and has herself continually lived in the provinces.”12 To this she added, like so many of her fellow building owners, that it was common knowledge that the “Jews” were dirty, and therefore imperiled the condition of her building, which would only increase in the event of designation. It may well be that her opinion, or at least the strategy she applied to the given situation, was strongly influenced by the complaints coming from the Richters. Under the circumstances of the designation of the yellow-star houses, in any case she need not have felt any inhibitions about publicly articulating an attribute of the apartment which the Richters, though they did not state it explicitly, nonetheless hinted at: they had a problem with the residents of the apartment also because they were Jewish.

The assumption that the Richters also hinted at this is confirmed elsewhere as well. In a letter written on March 28, 1944 Aranka Richter complained to the owner about the deteriorated level of the building, to her negative comment on the residents’ behavior she also added the following: “Of course, the present political turnabout has rendered some of the residents simply invisible, but the result and all that happens behind the walls is left behind.”13 It was either leftists or those qualifying as Jews who would have become invisible as a consequence of the German presence.14 Although Almássy Square and its environs had been known as an area densely populated by left-wing movements since the late nineteenth century, and Communists were hiding within the building itself, the proportion of the Jews15 within the building was large enough for the Richters to be able to detect their withdrawal.16 To contemporaries, linking the decline they experienced in the quality of their residence to those inhabitants who had “became invisible” because of the German occupation must have been a clearly understandable hint that for them it was the Jews living in the building who represented the social status and style of behavior which they regarded as beneath their own self-attributed status and perceived as disorder.

The Richters’ self-definition is clearly outlined from their petitions written during the affair. In her letters and petitions sent to various addressees between 1944 and 1946, the Richter daughter frequently resorted to categories designating social status, regarding both themselves and others. In both the spring of 1944 and summer of 1945 she addressed the building owner in her letters as “Your Ladyship” (Méltóságos Asszony), calling her a “Hungarian gentlewoman” (magyar úrinő) and a “proper gentlewoman” (korrekt úrinő), and defining herself, too, as a “gentlewoman.” Her friend, an employee at a private firm who made a declaration in support of Aranka Richter in September 1945, used the same categorization when she called her a “gentlewoman of irreproachable morals.”

For her opponents in the building, meanwhile, although the Richter daughter did not use categories designating social status, she did use plenty of labels. In 1944 in the presence of the building owner she labeled them “despicable people,” an “uneducated, obtrusive bunch,” “violent, uncultured person[s],” while she compared the conditions in the building (which in her opinion they had created) to a “market stall.” In 1945 she wrote likewise to the owner that “decent people could live next door”; in 1946, however, as the dispute became more and more savage she once again spoke of a “dispicable, parasitical rotten company” and “fraudulent criminal gang.” In her petition in the fall of 1946, while addressing the district chief as a “person of culture,” she described the situation as a “cultural scandal.” In addition to the status-marking categories conforming to the official conception of society in the Horthy era, the expressions she used all referred to hierarchically viewed cultural and behavioral manifestations. She used opposites such as “intelligent person” versus “violent and quite uncultured individual,” or “a proper gentlewoman” versus “people of Pestszentlőrinc,” who “generally were not a safe entourage for a proper gentlewoman left on her own.”17 In addition, she mentioned the “bad manners” of certain residents, comparing their behavior to a “market stall,” and complained of the noise and commotion dominating the building because of them. Just as in the summer of 1945 she had informed the owner that “in the past five years the bulk of the building’s residents [had] changed, and the peaceful building together with the neighborhood [had] become so noisy,”18 in her evidence given to the political police in the fall of the same year she traced every charge leveled against her back to this single factor. She said things such as “they made a racket or were a nuisance,” “made noise in front of my apartment,” the caretaker “was not willing to ensure quiet in the building,” and that she had a problem with “those who make a racket in the shelter.”19 Although her arguments could also be interpreted as a defensive strategy in order for her to neutralize her alleged anti-Semitic and political utterances, her other statements tie all this unequivocally to her expectations concerning behavioral norms. That she experienced their problems in the building as a violation of norms was unequivocally indicated by her opinion of the caretaker as well. Her recurring complaint about the “upsetting of the house regulations”20 and about how “I expected the caretaker to observe the house regulations,”21 but who “was unwilling to ensure quiet,”22 indicated that she expected the caretaker, as the guardian of the building regulations, to take punitive sanctions against the objectionable behaviors. Yet the signs indicate that the caretaker was unwilling to do this, perhaps he did not regard this same form of behavior as a violation of norms.




It was not only the witnesses accusing Aranka Richter who claimed that she was nervous, ill-tempered in nature and, indeed, an outright neurotic; but she herself several times referred to her neurological treatment. Her neurological problems may very well have played a role in her perceiving any sort of newly appearing behavior in the building primarily as noise, to which she was incapable of adapting. However, her heightened sensitivity was also combined with cultural content.

For the Richters, being “genteel” as a form of conduct ruled out relations with neighbors, while during the affair they took every opportunity to emphasize the building residents’ practice of being constantly with their neighbors, which they perceived as hostile. Of their former domicile in Pozsony Aranka Richter said that “moving from Kolozsvár to Pozsony we did not know any neighbors. Yet they were gentlefolk.”23 In other words, maintaining neighborly relations presumably had never been part of their lifestyle. Therefore they easily could have felt the sociability evolving in the building to be a violation of norms, and “being noisy” as one symptom of this. They likewise may have experienced the concentration of lodgers on their floor (indeed, right next door) as a difference in social status. This practice was not only alien to them (“we never had lodgers”24), one to which they could not have become accustomed in their previous, inherently higher-status residence either, but they very well may have associated it with a lack of being genteel and at the same time noise. In addition to this, however, the noise also had another connotation: the Richters perceived their neighbors according to a set of cultural concepts that had evolved for decades.

When in June 1944 the owner lodged a protest with the mayor because of the designation of her building as a yellow-star house, that is, a “Jewish house,” in her arguments she linked the practice of keeping lodgers in the building to the “Jews.” Her petition stated that in her building the larger, three- and four-room apartments were rented by “Christians,” and “Jewish” tenants lived only “in the small apartments,” and only they took in lodgers. Her claims did not correspond to reality,25 but they were in step with the publicly announced program of ghettoization, that is, the improvement of the “Christians” housing situation to the detriment of the “Jews.” In her depiction, if the building were designated a yellow-star house, then her “Christian” renters living in the larger apartments would unequivocally suffer damages because of their “Jewish” neighbors renting the smaller apartments. Yet on the other hand, her emphasis on the fact that many “Jewish” lodgers lived in her building contradicted her previous argument, since in principle it was the buildings inhabited in the majority by those deemed to be Jews according to the statutes that were designated as yellow-star houses. The contradiction may be resolved by her outlook, which perhaps inadvertently revealed itself. Because like many she, too, argued using the anti-Semitic cliché according to which the “Jews” were dirty and therefore depreciated the condition of her property, it is thus conceivable that she identified the residents of the small apartments who took in lodgers or lived as lodgers, as the representatives of a lower social status, with the category of “Jew.” The Richters also gave meaning to the concept of “Jew” in linking to it the notion of social inferiority manifesting itself in the divergent behaviors and lifestyles. They assimilated the conception of society which held that the Jews “represent something apart, inferior, socially ignored, if not to be concealed.”26

During the political police procedures against her and her trial before the People’s Court Aranka Richter did not deny only one of the charges categorically: “I acknowledge that in such instances when I was irritated I really did use the word Jew.”27 Her testimony in this vein makes it unequivocal that, although based on the evidence of their surviving letters and petitions they never declared this in writing, the Richters identified the residents who in their view did not behave appropriately, violated the house regulations and made a racket as “Jews” and regarded this type of behavior as “Jewish.” Behind her perjorative labels the Richter daughter essentially thought of the category of “Jew” as the opposite of “lady,” regarding the former as a group incapable of behaving in a “genteel manner,” thus giving voice to the cultural anti-Semitism that had formed part of the “genteel” mentality since the end of the nineteenth century.28 This outlook perceived the “Jew” as the opposite of the “refined,” “cultured,” “distinguished” person of “pleasant manners,” defining him as “excitable, mobile, loud and irritable.”29 Comparing the quality of the building, which had deteriorated on account of certain residents, to a “market booth” also used this set of cultural signs. Also part of this system of signs was the association of the words “Jewish,” “market” and “noise.” This was captured in 1874 in the Czuczor–Fogarasi explanatory dictionary under the following entry: “Zsidóiskola (Jewish school), coll. n.: A school for Jewish pupils. Fig. humorous sense: the noisy speech of some multitude or assembly neither understanding nor listening to one another. Used in the same sense: Jewish market, Jewish vespers and synagogue.”30 This semantic content later became integrated into the anti-Semitic mode of speech appearing on the political level as well. For the writer József Erdélyi the voice of the “Jews” is again placed only in the context of marketplace loudness: “‘We must beat back the Jews to door-to-door sales in the area of commerce, and to marketplace auctioneering in the area of literature,’ I stated, ‘otherwise they will destroy us, they will occupy the country, they will turn us into mere servants…’”31 It was precisely at the time of the Almássy Square conflict, in the course of 1944, that the expression “Jewish market” itself became imbued with the expressly pejorative meaning linked to the Jewish persecution, thus becoming embedded into the legitimized anti-Semitic violence.32

Behind the expression and its variants stood a more extensive set of ideas which posited the attitude of the “Jews” to the public and at the same time their behavior in public space as differing from that of “non-Jews.” In 1917 Emma Ritoók formulated how “non-Jews” perceived this public behavior, seen as specific, as follows: “[The Jew] is accustomed to evaluating according to loudness, he does not know that quality of the Hungarian whereby he does not like to draw attention to himself, that for him there is but a single forum, politics, and that to him the most disagreeable attribute of the Jews is precisely that they have a forum everywhere; at the professor’s lectern, in the clinic, on the tram, in the shop doorway, in the newspaper.”33 This negative cultural content, which the dominant “non-Jewish” culture associated with the public behavior of the “Jews,” may have determined how the Richters perceived the behavior of their Jewish neighbors in the public space of the building, offering at the same time the linguistic means of articulating it as well.


Figure 2. Floor plan of the third floor

In this conception of the world, the circumstance that the Richters were living next to the servants’ stairs while the three-room apartment next to the main staircase was rented by a Jewish family, counted as the overturning of the hierarchical order (Figure 2). The spatial organization of the residential buildings of Budapest, which also manifested itself in the duality of the main staircase–servants’ staircase and mapped the social hierarchy, bore social meanings as well in this period: the maids could not even use the main staircase. In the rear apartment the Richters had two choices: either they traveled via the servants’ staircase, which would have been out of the question, or by the main staircase and along the corridor. Yet the latter option meant that despite their standoffishness befitting their “genteel” identity they would regularly enter into the public space of the house, which could be observed by anyone: “If somebody passed by the window along the corridor, they immediately discussed this person, and she learned more in one hour about what was going on in the building than in all the ten years they had lived there. They lived in a large apartment, of which only the kitchen and servant’s windows opened onto the corridor, thus they never saw anyone who came or went. They didn’t even know who lived in the house, but from this spot, as if from some guard post, the Véghelys kept track of all the residents and their every affair.”34 Passing along the corridor the Richters must have regularly experienced the type of social life which they themselves, following the norms of their social status, completely shunned. In her statement the Richter daughter declared “I have not been and am not on speaking terms with the residents of the building. Whenever it has been avoidable, I have not communicated with anyone.”35 Not only did the Richters constantly detect the presence of the “Jews,” but they must have confronted the very collapse of the hierarchy on a daily basis as they passed the door of the apartment next to the main staircase, rented by the well-situated Jewish family that earned its living from a prominent tailor’s workshop. The shattering of their social standing, which was embodied also in their change of apartment, must have only sharpened their sensitivity to the signs of social positions.




In one of her petitions in the fall of 1946 Aranka Richter drew a quite three-dimensional picture of relations in the building as she perceived them. She wrote that “in the building the caretaker is unwilling to take notice of anything and for years has represented an easily corruptible position. He quotes the house commissioner, who, however, last year moved into my mother’s apartment by force for a day and who since then has lived in the building for a couple of months in another apartment, where together with the women who lived with me last year and the present house commissioner also currently living with us, one or two detectives and one or two contacts from the Housing Office they form a ring around me and keep me under a veritable seige.”36 Thus, she detected a hostile network at work in the building, one whose members were the caretaker, the house commissioner and certain residents.

Since October 1942 oversight in the house had been tended to by an ironworker and his wife. The iron-founder’s apprentice, in his thirties and with four years of civil (a lower stage of middle) school education, was an organized skilled worker: since 1941 he had been a member of the Social Democratic Party and a trade union delegate.37 As a soldier, László Lambert failed to return from leave to fight alongside the Germans in the fall or winter of 1944 but instead remained in the building.38 His vetting in the summer of 1945 did not cause any problems, and nor is there any sign that he could not cooperate with the house commissioner, as occurred in other buildings, because of jurisdictional rivalry. Taking advantage of the opportunities for mobility offered by the party state, he became an engineering official in 1950 and at the same time probably ceased to work as the caretaker as well.39

Oszkár Schlésinger, elected house commissioner by the residents after the siege, had certainly not been a resident of the building before the German occupation, but he was the brother-in-law of the Jewish printing press owner who had been living in the building since 1915.40 It is possible that the Jewish crop agent, in his fifties and with six years of elementary school education, came to live in the house with his relatives in the summer of 1944, during the ghettoization process (the concentration of Jews into yellow-star houses). A crucial factor in his selection as house commissioner may have been that he embodied the majority of the building’s residents. Besides the fact that he also may have earned trust through his brother-in-law, one of the three occupants residing in the house the longest, with his low level of schooling and as a Jew as well must have easily fit in amongst the building’s residents, the majority of whom survived the persecution. Although his six years’ of elementary schooling hardly made him one of the building’s better schooled residents (who were incidentally in the minority), nevertheless it was he, and not the university-trained non-Jewish doctor or financial councilor, whom they elected.41

These same criteria must have prevailed in the election of his deputy and (after the Schlésingers moved away in early 1946) successor. The widow Mrs. Miksa Erős (née Anna Weisz) was likewise Jewish, and although as far as Mrs. Richter knew she had studied at a secondary school (gimnázium), her position as a factory worker as well as the compositional style and spelling of her petitions were not exactly indicative of higher schooling.42 Mrs. Erős had lived in the building as a lodger in Apartment III/3, next door to the Richters, since 1941. The nearly fifty-year-old Jewish lady returned to the building in early February 1945, while her husband had died in January from the illness he acquired during the persecution. However, after being struck by a bomb on January 2, 1945, two of the three rooms in apartment III/3 were destroyed, and so at the time of her return home the block commissioner (háztömbmegbízott) moved her into the Richters’ likewise damaged apartment.

The Richters were never on good terms with anyone who ever held a position of authority in the building. During the war years they were on expressly bad terms with the building caretaker, the wife of the assistant caretaker and the air-raid warden. Their conflict with the caretaker concerned the observance of the building regulations; the Richter daughter considered the wife of the assistant caretaker “ungrateful” and “vile”; and she nurtured antipathies for the air-raid warden, who had completed six years of elementary school, because of his “poor manners” and “lack of culture,” qualities which in her eyes ruled out the possibility of anyone occupying an official post above others. After the siege Aranka Richter also linked the house commissioner, with whom her relationship must have been quite venomous, to this hostile circle.

The state of affairs in the building after the siege was filled with an entirely new meaning for Aranka Richter. According to the statements attributed to her by the residents testifying against her, she experienced the postwar social and political changes as the breakdown of order. In August 1946 she had allegedly shouted that “as long as the likes of Gerő, Ferenc Nagy and Rákosi govern, there will be no order here.”43 She mapped the change of regime according to the logic of “us” versus “them,” contrasting “them” (defined as “Jewish Communists”) with the undefined “us,” and she saw the new balance of power as the overturned power relations of these two groups: “She asserted furthermore that we would be on top for a little while longer, then it would be their turn. She also declared that woe to you, you stinking Jewish Communist band.”44 In a society experienced in her ideas as cleft in two, she identified each of the two opposing sides with a political system, the pre-1945 regime with the “us” group, that of post-1945 with the “them” group, that is, the “Jewish Communists;” she expected that the old system, “our system,” would return, and that through a showdown with the “Jews and the Communists” order would be restored.

She perceived relations within the building according to these same notions after the war. In the triumvirate of the “Communist” building caretaker, the Jewish house commissioner and deputy house commissioner she discerned that the “Communist Jews” had assumed control, which only must have been reinforced by the fact that some of the residents hostile to her were members of the Communist Party. According to the assertions of the neighbors giving evidence against her to the political police and at the People’s Court in 1946, she now regularly abused them with the phrase “stinking Jewish Communist gang,” and warned that they would not be in control for long. She witnessed the changes within her apartment, the house and the country alike while fitting them into this interpretative framework, and for her the change of political regime was mapped in the building’s inner relations: she saw her domicile as part of the “Communist Jewish rule.”45




Among the building occupants giving testimony against Aranka Richter to the political police in 1945 and 1946, and before the People’s Court in 1947, only the caretaker and his wife did not count as Jews.46 At the same time, no one testified on behalf of Aranka Richter. In this connection, not only did the inspector of the political police write in his report that “not one of the building’s residents was willing to make an exculpatory statement on behalf of the suspect,”47 but one resident even declared that “the inhabitants of the building without exception condemn her present conduct.”48 The abstention of the non-Jewish residents displayed a rather unified picture: without exception they must have thought that the animosity of the Jews in the building towards Aranka Richter was their own affair, in which they did not have to take part. They drew a dividing line between themselves and the Jews, and their position on the matter, which affected the latter but was alien to them, was to remain aloof and silent.

The campaign to mobilize the political criminal authorities against Aranka Richter was linked to three focal points in the building. One was Rózsi Strausz, who lived on the first floor, and the others were two neighboring apartments on the third floor: that of Mrs. Imre Rauch, who lived at Number III/2, and the Schultz-Schneller apartment at Number III/1, on the corridor across from the Richters, where following their return home from the ghetto and the camps the female members of the family who survived the persecution stayed together. It was in this latter apartment that the house commissioner, Oszkár Schlésinger, also lived for a time. These three centers were expanded to include other residents of the house in various lineups, but always according to the same clearly observable organization: the witnesses were almost exclusively women. Ten of the twelve residents testifying at the three different dates were women (only the caretaker and the house commissioner were men), and the attacked side also consisted of women: a widowed lady and her unmarried daughter. The preponderance of women is explained in part by the fact that of the ten women who agreed to testify one was divorced, one unmarried, and four or five had become widows as a result of the Jewish persecutions. However, the husbands of the others did not become involved in the affair either, just as Mrs. Richter’s son, who lived elsewhere, did not intercede on his mother’s and sister’s behalf either. And even in the case of the two men who did speak out in the matter, it may be presumed that they as official persons were obliged to appear before the authorities. Thus, the dispute within the building’s residential community was the affair of the Jews and the women.

The five witnesses’ testimonies recorded during the proceedings of the political police in 1945 revealed the following accusations: Aranka Richter was pro-German and had been visited by German soldiers during the German occupation; she held anti-Semitic sentiments and constantly used Jewish epithets; she had threatened to denounce the residents of the building; and furthermore she reviled the new regime, declaring that the new order could not last long and the old one would return shortly. The nine witness statements made in the same place one year later contained various elements that were also related to the increase in the number of witnesses. First, new elements appeared among the accusations stemming from events occurring during the war (Aranka Richter’s behavior in the shelter, or the richly detailed narrative of the Richter daughter’s denunciation of the caretaker). Second, they cited the insult “stinking/dirty Jewish, Communist gang,” presumably a new kind of current daily experience for all of them, as well as allusions to the pogroms that had recently taken place in Miskolc and Kunmadaras.49 The emphasis on her acquaintance with German soldiers was retained, while her anti-Semitic sentiments this time were described not with the expression “Jewish epithet” but rather with the adjective “anti-Semitic.” All the while mention of Aranka Richter’s quarrelsome, ill-tempered nature became dominant. The basis of the accusations remained unchanged and continued to be built on the elements of pro-German feeling, anti-Semitic sentiments and animosity toward the regime.

Then in 1947 the communicative situation surrounding the witnesses fundamentally changed, and this elicited a new kind of behavior from them. In the witness statements recorded at the proceedings before the People’s Court the palette of accusations did not change, and although here and there elements of minor weight disappeared (for example, the element of Aranka Richter’s behavior in the shelter, or threatening to make a denunciation), new ones did not appear. The lone shift was that the insult “stinking/dirty Jewish, Communist gang,” which had first cropped up in 1946, now became the most clear-cut accusation. However, an uncertainty of sorts, a perceptible retreat compared to the previous testimony, appeared in the recriminations. For instance, whereas this time, too, five witnesses claimed that the accused constantly had used and was using Jewish epithets, four either said only that she had used them in the air-raid shelter or cited only hearsay or declared that they had not heard such things from her since the liberation, or had not heard her clearly. The witnesses became similarly uncertain regarding the charge of hostility toward the regime as well. There were five witnesses who, having resolutely declared in their 1945 and 1946 testimony that Aranka Richter reviled the regime or was dissatisfied with it, omitted this same element before the People’s Court. And this same retreat appeared in one witness who, having accused Aranka Richter in 1946 also of making allusions to the pogroms in Miskolc and Kunmadaras, in 1947 now claimed not to remember such utterances.

It was only the testimony of the caretaker and his wife that deviated from these concordant witness statements, which displayed similar linkages of the elements. László Lambert and his wife assumed a role only in the case that commenced in 1946 and culminated in the trial before the People’s Court in 1947; in 1945 they did not give evidence. Their testimonies contained very few accusations: they were aware of only a fraction of what the other residents recounted. Pro-German feeling and acquaintance with German soldiers appeared only quite faintly in their statements or not at all. Neither of them mentioned the “pro-German sentiments”; and while László Lambert claimed only on hearsay that Aranka Richter had received German soldiers in her apartment, when asked by the people’s prosecutor his wife stated frankly that she knew nothing of German soldiers. In a similar way they did not mention the use of “Jewish epithets” either. Although one of their testimonies included the charge that Aranka Richter harbored anti-Semitic sentiments, Mrs. Lambert later said that she had not heard the accused’s declarations concerning the Jews distinctly. About her conduct regarding Jews László Lambert cited no details whatsoever, and Mrs. Lambert spoke of her behavior in the shelter only in 1946. In 1946 they made no mention of remarks about the pogroms. In 1947, too, evidently answering the question posed to her, Mrs. Lambert stated only that she had not heard such a thing. And the epithet “dirty Jewish, Communist gang” did not appear in their testimonies either.

In place of all these elements, their testimonies told the history of the denunciation of the caretaker by Aranka Richter in 1944, emphasizing Aranka Richter’s quarrelsome, ill-termpered nature, and anti-regime utterances. But this, too, they did differently than the others. In connection with Aranka Richter’s ill-tempered nature they alone remarked that “because of her conceited manner that looks down on the poor person there has not even been anyone on speaking terms with her over an extended period of time,”50 or as Mrs. Lambert put it: “Even now she insults everyone and no one is good enough for her.”51 And their comments on Aranka Richter’s hostility to the regime also differed from those of the other witnesses in being less straightforward and definitive. At the proceedings of the People’s Court László Lambert expressly stated that he had not heard her make pronouncements against the regime.52 Contradicting this he nevertheless did note that “one night two weeks ago with my own ears I heard her shout ‘this is democracy, this is shitocracy.’” In her statements Mrs. Lambert went further than this, claiming that Aranka Richter “is not reconciled to the present situation”; that “she makes statements like ‘this won’t last long’”;53 that “I once heard her say ‘this can’t last long, things will be different for sure.’”54 However, this was still substantially more cautious than the other residents’ assertions.

Based on all this it appears that the Lamberts saw (and tried to make the authorities see) the dispute within the building differently than the other testifying residents did: they, too, regarded the conflict surrounding Aranka Richter as the Jews’ affair, in which they did not intend to intervene. Their testimonies betray a certain hesitation to prove Aranka Richter’s pro-German feeling and anti-Semitism. Instead of discussing anti-Jewishness they gave the happenings in the building an entirely different emphasis: in addition to a detailed account of the one event that affected them personally (the denunciation), they stressed Aranka Richter’s political and social views. They were the only ones who highlighted the elements from Aranka Richter’s utterances in such a way that they referred to differences in social standing as interpreted according to class ideology, in which “lady” was the opposite not of “Jew” but rather of “poor person.” For them Aranka Richter’s behavior was interpreted not as a binary division between “Jew” and “Christian,” but rather they attributed “class content” to it. However, even this they did with a fair mount of caution. The quite faint mention of the anti-regime pronouncements, as well as the “class content” (occurring in their statements alone, but only just hinted at) were articulated not in words that fitting into the political lexicon of the period and the others’ usage, but rather in a politically neutral fashion that was devoid of ideological rhetoric, and this kind of neutrality also matched their caution.

At first glance, the Lamberts’ complete ignorance of everything was peculiarly at odds with their position as caretakers. Although the husband had been at the front until November or December 1944, and thus it is possible that he really did not encounter the German officers visiting Aranka Richter, it is unlikely that his wife, who as building caretaker obviously must have been aware of all movement occurring through the building entrance, had not seen the German soldiers at all, as she claimed. As a consequence of its very location the caretaker’s one-room kitchen apartment, which situated just opposite the doorway and the main staircase and next to the backstairs, looked out on the building’s courtyard (Figure 3), served to supervise movement within the house. In such a relatively small, four-storey apartment house, with only four apartments per floor and its corridor encircling a 9x15 meter courtyard, it is difficult to conceive that the thirty-six year-old caretaker would not have heard anything of the quarrels and cursing audible on the third floor corridor or by the open windows from her apartment opening onto the courtyard. She alleged that “since the accused was shouting up on the third floor, I could not hear her statments against the Jews and the regime distinctly,”55 while on the contrary a resident on the ground floor heard everything.56 In addition to the above reasons, however, the Lamberts may have had a separate reason for keeping silent as well. It may be presumed that, as employees of the owner, Mrs. Antal Berkó, they were in no position to be directing accusations of a political nature against a tenant who in her social position and mentality greatly resembled the owner of the building, not only from the point of view that the latter, too, was a member of the middle class (in fact, a “lady” of the upper middle class), but also because the accusations against Aranka Richter perhaps would have applied equally to her as well. While in June 1944 Mrs. Berkó tried to avoid the designation of her apartment building as a yellow-star, that is a “Jewish house,” by utilizing anti-Semitic clichés as an argument, it was in those same days that the registry court recorded the procurement rights of her son, as manager, for the wine wholesale business, which her sister had obtained in November 1942 by exploiting the absence of the interned Jewish owner.57 If nothing else, the Lamberts must have known of the effort to prevent the building’s designation as a yellow-star house, and perhaps at other times, too, they had had occasion to gain experience of the owner’s views relating the Jews. If under such circumstances through their testimony they maintained Aranka Richter’s anti-Semitism and pro-German feeling, their employer quite justifiably could have felt them to be a potential source of danger to her as well.


Figure 3. Floor plan of the ground floor

The testimony of another witness, Rózsi Strausz, who played a key role in the attack against Aranka Richter, evolved with the passage of time in a way somewhat reminiscent of that of the Lamberts. In 1945 and 1946 she cited several elements to illustrate Aranka Richter’s anti-Jewishness to the political police. She called her an anti-Semite, accused her of constantly using Jewish epithets, and she, too, brought up her remarks about the pogroms in Miskolc and Kunmadaras. Yet in her statement before the People’s Court in 1947 there is no longer a trace of any of this. Indeed, with regard to the pogroms she claimed not to remember such pronouncements. Aranka Richter’s anti-Jewishness disappeared from her testimony to such a degree that even the charge, repeated in the others’ testimony, of the accused’s use of the compound epithet “dirty (stinking) Jewish–Communist gang” appeared in her statement only as “stinking Communist gang.” At the same time, her evidence, given at three different dates, contained an element that occurred in no one else’s. At the trial before the People’s Court in 1947, to the judge’s question she replied that “[Aranka Richter] once made the declaration that ‘we working people will never have any peace from her.’”58 This same “working” category cropped up in her testimony as early as 1946, at that time as part of her self-identification. In a statement given to the political police she complained that Aranka Richter “because of her ill-tempered conduct keeps the residents of the building in constant agitation. We spend all our free time in court and at the police station, which for us working people is an intolerable state of affairs.”59

Examining the witnesses, there is no doubt that the stay-at-home widow Mrs. Richter and her likewise stay-at-home daughter were confronted by mostly working women. Only four of the women testifying did not work outside of the home, while the narrower circle of those who participated intensively in the hostilities was made up of working Jewish women who lived off their own earnings. It is no coincidence that one of the central categories of the new, post-1945 political language, the term “working” (dolgozó), appeared precisely in the testimony of one member of this group, a divorced woman working as a clerk. Between the persons of Rózsi Strausz and Aranka Richter the conflict in the building carried separate semantic layers as well. The dispute between the two women, who were almost of the same age (45–50 years old), who moved into the house in the same year and who both rented three-room apartments with servant’s quarters, was not only about the contrast of a “gentlewomen” to a “Jew,” but also the antipathies of the “gentlewoman” toward a “Jewish woman.” For the mother and daughter, as members of the genteel middle class, the divorced and working Rózsi Strausz must have embodied the independent, modern woman, whom as a type the conservative ideology explicitly associated with the figure of the “Jewish woman.”60 In addition, her status as a divorcée made her, of all the Jewish working females, especially suited to be just the target of the Richter daughter’s negative ideas: with respect to women’s roles her modernity doubly manifested itself. Moreover, in Rózsi Strausz’s case it is also possible that her identity as a working woman from 1945 on was imbued also with Communist ideological content. The fact that before the People’s Court in 1947 she denied having heard Aranka Richter make allusions to the pogroms, and furthermore, the fact that she now no longer called her an anti-Semite, nor accused her of using Jewish epithets, and did not quote her specific insults aimed at the Jews either, may be interpreted as her having in the meantime adopted the Communist Party’s stance concerning the persecution of the Jews, i.e., from a certain point in time on it kept profoundly silent about it.61

In the meantime, two reports were drafted on the matter by the political police, which the Communist Party held in its hands.62 A report written by an inspector in September 1945 remained outside the Communist mode of speech. In the report Aranka Richter is nothing more than “a vindictive individual,” who had denounced the building caretaker and another resident because “she was not satisfied with them.” There was no mention of Arrow Cross men, and the accusations voiced by the residents, which served as the basis of the report, in the inspector’s head became apolitical. From the testimonies he retained only that the suspect was pro-German and cursed the Jews (not even the label anti-Semitic appears); to all this he added only that “during her interrogation she professed her innocence insolently and boisterously.” In the report, which was not very abundant in details, there is no sign that its author, an inspector of the political police, placed the suspect’s behavior into any sort of political interpretative framework, or that he had at least made an attempt to do so.

By comparison, precisely one year later, in September 1946, an investigating police lieutenant described the behavior of the Richter daughter using unequivocally political categories. Thus, “according to the complaint the above-named both in the past and in the present has displayed fascist, anti-Semitic and anti-democratic conduct in her place of residence,” and “holds anti-Semitic and pro-German sentiments.” Unlike the earlier report, after enumerating the elements retained from the witness statements he then noted as well that “she is conceited, imagines herself as belonging to a higher social class and cannot find her place in the current system.” While the first half of this characterization must have relied soley on the accusation formulated by the caretaker (“her conceited manner that looked down on the poor person”63), but even that translated into the Communist rhetorical scheme, the second half was explicitly the interpretation of the investigating lieutenant, for it did not occur to any of the building residents to make such an assertion. In the sentence the charge of class alienation, which by no means formed part of the common sentiment within the building, now began to assume form, and the label “fascist,” too, was the lieutenant’s innovation, since none of the witnesses used this term. They saw Aranka Richter not, in the new regime’s still malleable enemy categories, as a “class enemy” or a “fascist,” nor did they try to have her seen as such, but much rather as an anti-Semitic woman who irreconcilably hated them as “Jewish” and, in the wake of the political turnabout, more and more fiercely, who moreover also hated and reviled the new political system for being a “Jewish regime.” What was omitted from the report was precisely that which had formed the common logic in the Jewish residents’ testimonies. The investigating lieutenant kept silent about those elements according to which Aranka Richter attacked the new regime as a “Communist” and “Jewish” order. He cited not one statement which was based on the opposition of the “us” and “them” groups, which would have revealed that the suspect identified the new regime with the “them” group, defined as “Communist Jews.” As a member of both the political police and the Communist Party, he extracted the anti-Semitic content from the building’s “Jewish–Christian” conflict and translated it into the class-based ideological logic of defending the political and social order.




Hungarian historiography treats the year 1945 as a caesura, which it examines either on one side of the boundary or the other. The approach and at the same time even the research program, which Tony Judt and Jan T. Gross began to outline,64 until now have yet to show little influence in Hungary: the examination of socio-political processes during and after the Second World War as a whole and in their continuity is lacking.65 Yet it is precisely within this continuum that the case of Almássy Square is situated, namely, at the meeting point of social transformations which began to appear after the First World War, slowly took shape during the years, but with the Second World War radically accelerated and extending across the year 1945 exerted their effect in their own continuity.66 In the intersection of convergent social processes the Richters’ social identity and the connected behavorial norms began to lose their validity.

The Richters’ downward slide within the middle class was not a unique phenomenon, and in this sense they were representatives of a broader middle-class stratum. As a consequence of their downward mobility their access to residential space also changed: in comparison to their own expectations they had to make due with a lower quality. At the same time, the change in their share in residential space also fit into another scale of the social restructuring that accompanied the impoverishment of the middle class after World War I: the transformation of middle-class norms related to residential space and the narrowing of residential space through the dividing up of larger apartments into smaller ones. Later, during the years of the new war this no longer meant simply the transformation of market supply adapting to demand and the obligatory change in needs. It also meant the placing of the housing market, including the distribution of the residential space, as well as the channels of residential mobility under official control, and a worsening and resolved housing shortage. In turn, with the control of the market in apartment leases by the authorities the flexibility characteristic of the free-market apartment lease system, which made movement between apartments according to changes in life cycle, household structure or social status possible, ceased. With the extension of the official system of housing allocating in 1945, this situation became permanent. For the Richters, all this meant first the impossibility of moving out and, with the end of the war, the imposition of co-tenancy (társbérlet). The opportunity for them to choose their residential environment according to their social self-definition and cultural norms ceased. Their being forced to remain in turn began to undermine their social status, since in their residential environment their own social and cultural norms were considered invalid. On a general level, the narrowing of opportunities to obtain housing overturned the hierarchical system of social rules, which translated the hierarchy of social statuses to a hierarchy by size of apartment as well, and the official conception of society, with which the Richters also identified, became unrealizable. The long-term transformation of the system of apartment leases was at once the consequence of and the stimulus for the incipient dismantling of the hierarchy.

In the meantime, another social process was also taking place: a radical transformation in the relationship between the private and public spheres began within the multi-unit apartment building. The space of the public sphere expanded and became extremely intensive, while with respect to its content it became saturated with politics. As a component of this change, on the one hand a new type of common space came into existence within the building in the form of the air-raid shelter, bringing with it the hitherto unknown experience of the forcible confinement with the neighbors. Moreover, the functioning of the apartment building’s hitherto existing public spaces (courtyard, corridor, stairway, doorway) was also transformed. The Jewish persecution and the reign of the Arrow Cross fundamentally altered the use of the common spaces within the residential building and imbued them with new meanings: they became the everyday scenes of the presence of the authorities, of state violence and violence exercised through the privatization of the state, and of political action. After the siege this politicization would prove continuous in the formation of the new political system. Party agitation, political reckoning and political control kept the transformed structure running by creating new institutional forms. It was the change in the functioning of the public sphere in the apartment house, the politicization of the public realm, that brought into being all together the phenomenon which took shape in the Almássy Square affair: the political reinterpretation of neighborly relations, the political attack of neighbors against one another. Interwoven by cultural meanings and norms (which are never separable from political legitimacy), the space of the apartment house turned into a political arena.

In this transformation, the behavioral norms linked by the Richters to the public spaces of the apartment house—aloof conduct that refrained from sociability—became untenable during the war years. Nor was the (for them) overturned order restored even with the conclusion of the war. It is no coincidence that one of the recurring elements in the witness statements was the behavior of the Richter daughter in the shelter: just as in her conflict with the caretaker, it was the violation of the behavorial norms she considered valid that she experienced in this new kind of public space as well. The shift in the boundary between the private and public sphere of the residence, moreover, appeared also in the transformation of conditions for access to residential space. With the practice of co-tenancy, which had already begun in 1944 and became general in 1945, strange families and households were forced to share the space of the apartments; this, however, eroded the private-sphere character of the apartment. When the Richters’ apartment came under the co-tenancy system, it upset the customary relationship between the private and public spheres, once again directly impacting their social identity and behavioral norms, which had maintained the strict separation of these spheres.


Archival Sources


Budapest Főváros Levéltára (BFL) [Budapest City Archives]

IV.1404 Budapest Székesfőváros Törvényhatósági Bizottsága Igazoló Választmányának iratai

IV.1409.c Budapest Székesfőváros Polgármesterének iratai, Polgármesteri Ügyosztályok Központi Irattára

IV.1419.j Budapest Székesfőváros Statisztikai Hivatalának iratai, Az 1941. évi budapesti népszámlálás felvételi és feldolgozási iratainak gyűjteménye

IV.1419.n Budapest Székesfőváros Statisztikai Hivatalának iratai, Az 1945. évi budapesti népösszeírás felvételi és feldolgozási iratainak gyűjteménye

IV.1432.a Budapest Székesfőváros Központi Lakáshivatala iratai, Általános iratok

IV.1432.b Budapest Székesfőváros Központi Lakáshivatala iratai, Vezetői iratok

VII.5.e (Nb.) Budapesti (Királyi) Büntetőtörvényszék iratai. Népbíróságtól átvett peres ügyek iratai

XVII.2 Budapesti Nemzeti Bizottság iratai

XVII.1598 Magyar Házfelügyelők és Segédházfelügyelők 291/a. számú Igazoló Bizottságának iratai

XXV.1.a Budapesti Népbíróság iratai, Büntetőperes iratok




Apor, Péter. “The Lost Deportations: Kunmadaras 1946.” MA Thesis, Budapest, Central European University, 1996.

Apor, Péter. “A népi demokrácia építése: Kunmadaras, 1946” [Building the People’s Democracy: Kunmadaras, 1946]. Századok 132 (1998): 601–32.

Cole, Tim. Holocaust City: The Making of a Jewish Ghetto. New York: Routledge, 2003.

Emanuel, Kamil. Erdei sárga karszalagosok [Transylvanians with Yellow Armbands]. Accessed December 17, 2012.

Erdélyi, József. A harmadik fiú: Önéletrajz [The Third Son. An Autobiography]. n. p.: Turul Kiadás, n. d.

Fenyves, Katalin. Képzelt asszimiláció? Négy zsidó értelmiségi nemzedék önképe [Imagined Assimilation? The Self-Image of Four Generations of Jewish Intellectuals]. Budapest: Corvina Kiadó, 2010.

Fenyves, Katalin. “When Sexism meets Racism: The 1920 Numerus Clausus Law in Hungary.” AHEA – E-Journal of the American Hungarian Educators Association 12 (2011). Accessed December 15, 2012.

Gross, Jan T. “Social Control under Totalitarianism.” In Toward a General Theory of Social Control, Selected Problems, vol. 2, edited by Donald Black, 59–77. Orlando: Academic Press, 1984.

Gross, Jan T. “Themes for a Social History of War Experience and Collaboration.” In The Politics of Retribution in Europe: World War II and its Aftermath, edited by István Deák, Jan T. Gross, and Tony Judt, 15–35. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2000.

György, Péter. Apám helyett [Instead of My Father]. Budapest: Magvető, 2011.

Győri Szabó, Róbert. A kommunizmus és a zsidóság az 1945 utáni Magyarországon [Communism and the Jews in Post-1945 Hungary]. Budapest: Gondolat, 2009.

Judt, Tony. Postwar: A History of Europe since 1945. New York: Penguin Books, 2005.

Kunt, Gergely. “A kultuszteremtés társadalomtörténete. Szocializációk, előítéletek, politikai propagandák kamasznaplók tükrében (1938–1956)” [The Social History of the Cult Creation. Socializations, Prejudices and Political Propaganda as Reflected in Teenage Diaries (1938–1956)]. PhD diss., Eötvös Loránd Tudományegyetem, 2012.

Lugosi, András. “Zsidók és keresztények városa: Az üldöztetés térbeli rendje Budapesten 1943–1944-ben” [City of Jews and Christians: the Spatial Order of Persecution in Budapest in 1943–1944]. Manuscript, 2008.

Móricz, Zsigmond. Az asszony beleszól [The Lady Chimes In]. Budapest: Athenaeum, 1934.

Pelle, János. Az utolsó vérvádak. Az etnikai gyűlölet és a politikai manipuláció kelet-európai történetéből [The Last Blood Libels. Ethnic Hatred and Political Manipulation from East European History]. Budapest: Pelikán, 1996.

Ritoók, Emma. “Van-e zsidókérdés Magyarországon?” [Is There a Jewish Question in Hungary?]. Huszadik Század 18, no. 36 (1917): 132–39.

Tímár, Andor. Erzsébetváros. Budapest: Budapest Főváros VII. Kerületi Tanács, [1970].

Valló, Judit. “Móricz Zsigmond Budapestje: Egy bérház társadalma Az asszony beleszól című Móricz-regényben” [Zsigmond Móricz’s Budapest: The Society of an Apartment House in Móricz’s Novel The Lady Chimes In]. In A város és társadalma: Tanulmányok Bácskai Vera tiszteletére [The City and Its Society: Studies in Honor of Vera Bácskai], edited by István H. Németh, Erika Szívós, and Árpád Tóth, 450–59. Budapest: Hajnal István Kör–Társadalomtörténeti Egyesület, 2011.


Translated by Matthew W. Caples


1 The sources for the case are: Budapest Főváros Levéltára [Budapest City Archives, hereafter: BFL] VII.5.e Budapesti (Királyi) Büntetőtörvényszék iratai. Népbíróságtól átvett peres ügyek iratai (hereafter Nb.) 18275/1949; XXV.1.a Budapesti Népbíróság iratai, Büntetőperes iratok 4924/1946; IV.1432.a Budapest Székesfőváros Központi Lakáshivatala iratai, Általános iratok 476/1947.

2 For the expression “privatization of the state” and a discussion of the problem, see Jan T. Gross, “Social Control under Totalitarianism,” in Toward a General Theory of Social Control, vol. 2, Selected Problems, ed. Donald Black (Orlando: Academic Press, 1984), 59–77.

3 The system of apartment leases in Budapest had been placed under official control during the war years, and later this system was maintained after 1945 as well. Under this, based on the principle of “justified housing need,” a part of the Richters’ apartment also became subject to requisition by the authorities and assignment of tenants.

4 Mrs. Richter had two sons as well; they, however, did not live in the same household with them.

5 In the house of Népszínház Street, we know the percentage of Israelite tenants only from 1941, but not from the period when the Richters lived there. See: BFL IV.1419.j Budapest Székesfőváros Statisztikai Hivatalának iratai. Az 1941. évi budapesti népszámlálás felvételi és feldolgozási iratainak gyűjteménye. On June 16, 1944, then on a modified list on June 22, 1944, the mayor designated those buildings in Budapest in which those obliged to wear the yellow star could live. A yellow star had to be placed on the door of the building. See Tim Cole, Holocaust City. The Making of a Jewish Ghetto (New York: Routledge, 2003).

6 Although we do not know who lived in the house on Népszínház Street at the same time as the Richters, the difference in lifestyles between the residents of the two buildings in relation to the variations in housing stocks may be called a factor independent of the turnover of the residents.

7 BFL Nb. 100. Letter of Aranka Richter to the building owner, March 28, 1944.

8 BFL XVII.2 Budapesti Nemzeti Bizottság iratai 17. kisdoboz, 22. csomó. Petition of Aranka Richter, May 2, 1945.

9 Before the People’s Court the caretaker mentioned having seen a dossier in November 1944: “in the packet were the accused’s old house affairs[,] written complaints, or copies of them.” (BFL Nb. 56. Testimony of László Lambert in the People’s Court, June 10, 1947.)

10 BFL Nb. 94. Declaration of Clerical Worker Ilona Borbély, September 28, 1945 (my emphasis – Á. N.).

11 BFL Nb. 96. Letter of Aranka Richter to the building owner [1945].

12 BFL IV.1409.c Budapest Székesfőváros Polgármesterének iratai. Polgármesteri Ügyosztályok Központi Irattára 2784/1944–IX. 148159.

13 BFL Nb. 100. Letter of Aranka Richter to the building owner, March 28, 1944.

14 Indicative of the evolving sense of fear of those deemed Jewish was that the number of suicides committed by such persons in Budapest immediately increased after the German occupation; see András Lugosi, “Zsidók és keresztények városa: Az üldöztetés térbeli rendje Budapesten 1943–1944-ben” [City of Jews and Christians: the Spatial Order of the Persecution in Budapest in 1943–1944], manuscript, 2008. This change, as an immediate reaction to the German occupation, also possibly explains why the building’s Jewish residents did not appear in this period.

15 When I use the term Jewish without quotation marks, it means the “religious affiliation.” “Jewish” in quotation marks indicates the contemporary category.

16 For the labor movement topography of Erzsébetváros, see Andor Tímár, Erzsébetváros (Budapest: Budapest Főváros VII. Kerületi Tanács, [1970]).

17 BFL Nb. 98. Letter of Aranka Richter to the building owner, August 31, 1945. The “people of Pestszentlőrinc” may have appeared in the house in the course of December 1944 when the authorities moved them into the vacated apartments of Jews forced into the ghetto.

18 BFL XVII.2 17. kisdoboz, 22. csomó, May 2, 1945.

19 BFL Nb. 43. September 25, 1945.

20 BFL Nb. 100–101. Letter of Aranka Richter to the building owner, March 28, 1944.

21 BFL IV.1409.c 174/1945–I. Petition of Aranka Richter, February 14, 1945.

22 BFL Nb. 43. Testimony of Suspect Aranka Richter, September 25, 1945.

23 BFL Nb. 101. Letter of Aranka Richter to the building owner, March 28, 1944.

24 BFL XVII.2 17. kisdoboz, 22. csomó. Petition of Aranka Richter, May 2, 1945.

25 Among other reasons because more than half of the three-room apartments were rented by Jews.

26 Anna Lesznai’s 1917 essay is quoted in Katalin Fenyves, Képzelt asszimiláció? Négy zsidó értelmiségi nemzedék önképe [Imagined Assimilation? The Self-Image of Four Generations of Jewish Intellectuals] (Budapest: Corvina, 2010), 223.

27 BFL Nb. 43. Testimony of Aranka Richter at the political police station, September 25, 1945.

28 For a presentation of this kind of anti-Semitism, see Fenyves, Képzelt asszimiláció, 232–41.

29 Oszkár Jászi’s 1917 and 1919 statements are quoted in Fenyves, Képzelt asszimiláció, 234–36.

30 Quoted in Fenyves, Képzelt asszimiláció, 137.

31 József Erdélyi, A harmadik fiú. Önéletrajz [The Third Son. An Autobiography] (n. p.: Turul Kiadás, n. d.), 232, quoted in János Pelle, Az utolsó vérvádak. Az etnikai gyűlölet és a politikai manipuláció kelet-európai történetéből [The Last Blood Libels. Ethnic Hatred and Political Manipulation from East European History] (Budapest: Pelikán, 1996), 54.

32 “In the meantime Platoon Sergeant Kilinyi arrived on the scene, who with a brutal movement shoved one of the ladies on the shoulder: ‘What’s going on here? A Jewish market … that’s enough of the circus! There’s a war on! Approaching the railway cars is forbidden! This is the decree!’” Emanuel Kamil, Erdei sárga karszalagosok [Transylvanians with Yellow Armbands], 38, accessed December 17, 2012,

33 Emma Ritoók, “Van-e zsidókérdés Magyarországon?” [Is There a Jewish Question in Hungary?], Huszadik Század 18, no. 36 (1917): 135 (my emphasis – Á. N.).

34 Zsigmond Móricz, Az asszony beleszól [The Lady Chimes In] (Budapest: Athenaeum, 1934), 67; Judit Valló treats this structure of space in apartment houses in connection with Móricz; see Judit Valló, “Móricz Zsigmond Budapestje: Egy bérház társadalma Az asszony beleszól című Móricz-regényben” [Zsigmond Móricz’s Budapest: The Society of an Apartment House in Móricz’s Novel The Lady Chimes In], in A város és társadalma: Tanulmányok Bácskai Vera tiszteletére [The City and Its Society: Studies in Honor of Vera Bácskai], ed. István H. Németh et al. (Budapest: Hajnal István Kör–Társadalomtörténeti Egyesület, 2011), 456–57.

35 BFL Nb. 47.

36 BFL IV.1432.b Budapest Székesfőváros Központi Lakáshivatala iratai, Vezetői iratok 17. kisdoboz, Hivatalvezetői vegyes iratok, 1946. Petition of Aranka Richter, October 4, 1946.

37 BFL XVII.1598 Magyar Házfelügyelők és Segédházfelügyelők 291/a. számú Igazoló Bizottságának iratai, VII. ker. Lambert László. Declaration of László Lambert, June 15, 1945.

38 In his statement filled out in his screening he gives the date of the conclusion of his military service as September 1944. This is more or less confirmed by his 1946 testimony (BFL Nb. 30. Witness statement of László Lambert, September 19, 1946), while based on his wife’s testimony we may put his return home in December 1944. (BFL Nb. 38. Witness statement of Mrs. László Lambert, September 18, 1946).

39 BFL IV.1404 Budapest Székesfőváros Törvényhatósági Bizottsága Igazoló Választmányának iratai. 1950. évi törvényhatósági választói névjegyzékek.

40 After the siege house and block commissioners were mandatorily elected in the buildings of Budapest to assist the public administration, which at first was not functioning but later resumed. However, from the very beginning the post was targeted for appropriation by the Communist Party.

41 In the spring of 1945 only two of the building’s twenty-six tenants and co-tenants possessed a university education, while the number of those with only elementary school education was nine.

42 The housing form of March 1945 was filled out by the widow Mrs. Richter, and it was she who indicated secondary school (gimnázium) in Mrs. Erős’s personal data under the heading schooling. See BFL IV.1419.n Budapest Székesfőváros Statisztikai Hivatalának iratai, Az 1945. évi budapesti népösszeírás felvételi és feldolgozási iratainak gyűjteménye.

43 BFL Nb. 34. Witness statement of Mrs. Miksa Erős, September 18, 1946.

44 BFL Nb. 3. Report of Mrs. Miksa Erős, August 10, 1946.

45 For the contemporary everyday interpretations of the 1945 change of regime and the topos of “Communist Jewish rule,” see Gergely Kunt, “A kultuszteremtés társadalomtörténete. Szocializációk, előítéletek, politikai propagandák kamasznaplók tükrében (1938–1956)” [The Social History of the Cult Creation. Socializations, Prejudices and Political Propaganda as Reflected in Teenage Diaries (1938–1956)] (PhD dissertation, Eötvös Loránd Tudományegyetem, 2012).

46 Apart from the Lamberts, only Mrs. Lipót Fleischmann was not a Jew, but her husband was. About half of the building’s Jewish residents stayed out of the affair, and in fact no one living in the apartment next door to the Richters testified. With regard to the cited events and linguistic forms, the divergences observable in the testimonies from witness to witness indicate that taking the minutes of the testimonies did not simply bring about stereotyped texts using the elements of a new political language, but rather recorded the personal experiences of the fights and shouting matches experienced by the residents. And although obviously the questions posed to the witnesses indicated the content expected in the testimonies, the omissions—silence—observable in the statements when compared to one another indicate the existence of the witnesses’ scope for action and the possibilities of individual reactions.

47 BFL Nb. 4. Report, September 20, 1946.

48 BFL Nb. 36. Witness statement of Mrs. József Liebermann, September 18, 1946.

49 On May 21, 1946 a pogrom took place in Kunmadaras, while on August 1, 1946 three Jewish inhabitants were lynched in Miskolc. Péter Apor, “A népi demokrácia építése: Kunmadaras, 1946” [Building the People’s Democracy: Kunmadaras, 1946], Századok 132 (1998): 601–32; Péter Apor, “The Lost Deportations: Kunmadaras 1946” (MA Thesis, Budapest, CEU, 1996).

50 BFL Nb. 30. Witness statement of László Lambert, September 19, 1946.

51 BFL Nb. 38. Witness statement of Mrs. László Lambert, September 18, 1946.

52 BFL Nb. 56. Witness statement of László Lambert, June 10, 1947.

53 BFL Nb. 38. Witness statement of Mrs. László Lambert, September 18, 1946.

54 BFL Nb. 58. Witness statement of Mrs. László Lambert, June 10, 1947.

55 BFL Nb. 58. Witness statement of Mrs. László Lambert, June 10, 1947.

56 “I live on the ground floor and always hear the accused constantly shouting ‘dirty Jewish bunch.’” BFL Nb. 59. Witness statement of Mrs. József Liebermann, June 10, 1947.

57 BFL VII.5.e 23678/1949. Mrs. József Mikolay and Co.

58 BFL Nb. 46. Witness Statement of Rózsi Strausz, June 10, 1947 (my emphasis – Á. N.).

59 BFL Nb. 26. Witness Statement of Rózsi Strausz, September 19, 1946 (my emphasis – Á. N.).

60 Cf. Katalin Fenyves, “When Sexism meets Racism: The 1920 Numerus Clausus Law in Hungary,” AHEA – E-Journal of the American Hungarian Educators Association 12 (2011), accessed December 15, 2012,

61 The Hungarian Communist Party handled the problem of the Jewish persecutions so that they would not arouse anti-Semitism. For the sake of its political aims it absolved the members of the Arrow Cross Party and extreme right-wing organizations who did not fill a leading post, did not press the question of the Jewish persecutions, and avoided the very word “Jew” itself, making it taboo as it were. On the strategy of the MCP regarding the Jewish question see Róbert Győri Szabó, A kommunizmus és a zsidóság az 1945 utáni Magyarországon [Communism and the Jews in Post-1945 Hungary] (Budapest: Gondolat, 2009); Péter György, Apám helyett [Instead of My Father] (Budapest: Magvető, 2011).

62 Or at least this many have survived. The source of the two reports: BFL Nb. 6. Report, September, 25 1945, and BFL Nb. 4. Report, September 20, 1946.

63 BFL Nb. 30. Witness statement of László Lambert, September 19, 1946.

64 Jan. T. Gross, “Themes for a Social History of War Experience and Collaboration,” in The Politics of Retribution in Europe: World War II and its Aftermath, ed. István Deák et al. (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2000), 15–35; Tony Judt, Postwar: A History of Europe since 1945 (New York: Penguin Books, 2005).

65 The only topic that is an exception to this: the issue of anti-Semitism.

66 With regard to the social effects of the Second World War Jan T. Gross goes as far as to speak of revolution.

pdfVolume 1 Issue 1-2 CONTENTS

Erika Szívós

Bonds Tried by Hard Times: Jews and Christians on Klauzál tér, Budapest, 1938–1945*


This essay examines local society in Belső-Erzsébetváros, the inner 7th district of Budapest, before the Second World War, and in particular the changes in residential composition brought about by wartime events. Today, Belső-Erzsébetváros is increasingly frequently branded “the old Jewish district” of Budapest. One main goal of the article is to offer a critical reassessment of this historical image, in part by considering the complexity of the inter-ethnic, inter-confessional and interpersonal relations among local residents in the interwar period. The author analyzes the residential mix of denominationally Jewish and Christian individuals in one particular area of the inner 7th district, namely Klauzál Square, on the eve of the Second World War, and the essay offers possible explanations for the high degree of inter-confessional cohabitation. The analysis is based on the census records of 1941, as well as oral history interviews. The second half of the article concentrates on the way in which the social fabric of the neighborhood was frayed by political and historical circumstances between 1941 and 1945. By late 1945, pre-war patterns had been upset in many ways, and, as post-war sources suggest, the residential composition of local society began to undergo profound and irreversible changes.




The new millennium has witnessed the revival of historical “Jewish districts” in several cities of Central Europe. Urban quarters such as Berlin’s Scheunenviertel, Prague’s Josefov, or Krakow’s Kazimierz have been increasingly rediscovered as embodiments of a Jewish past.1 As for their residential composition, these areas have in fact long ceased to be Jewish quarters, and in some cases even the historical accuracy of the name is questionable. In any case, World War II and the Holocaust led to the almost complete disappearance of the Jewish population, and the long decades of state socialism brought about the social restratification or depopulation of these areas, usually accompanied by physical decay.

Belső-Erzsébetváros, the inner section of Budapest’s 7th district, has been similarly redefined during the past fifteen years as the historic Jewish quarter of Budapest. One of my aims in this article is to challenge the increasingly pervasive historical stereotypes being attached to Belső-Erzsébetváros as the “old Jewish district” of Pest, and to contribute to a more accurate understanding of the area’s composition in the past. As part of this endeavor, it is my explicit goal to show inter-ethnic, inter-confessional and interpersonal relations in all of their complexity. I will concentrate on one striking aspect of that complexity: the mixing of Jews and Christians in one area of the inner 7th district of Budapest on the eve of World War II.

The chosen location is Klauzál tér [Klauzál Square], until recently the only square in the densely-built inner 7th district. This space is, in my opinion, representative of the surrounding urban quarter of Budapest in several ways. Set against the background of contemporaneous events, I will analyze the composition of Klauzál tér households in 1941 based on the data provided by the national census of that year, with a special emphasis on the forms of denominational mixing.2

I will attempt to offer possible explanations for the surprisingly large proportion of apartments shared by Jews and Christians in the sixteen residential buildings surrounding Klauzál tér. I will constantly refer to the broader context, calling attention to long-term processes such as assimilation and the traditions of a characteristic urban neighborhood as well as developments which had immediate and often permanent effects on the composition of the inner 7th district, such as the discriminative laws passed by the Hungarian parliament from 1938 onwards, Hungary’s entry into the war, the German occupation of Hungary in March 1944, and the ghettoization measures introduced later that year.

The rediscovery of former “Jewish districts” in Central European cities began in the last decade of the twentieth century, and was in most cases related to the profound changes brought about by the political transition of 1989–1990. Following the collapse of state socialist systems, new conditions emerged in almost every field related to urban development, and permitted the physical and symbolic reinvention of hitherto neglected urban spaces in the early 1990s.3

The physical revival of former “Jewish districts” has been accompanied by the construction of historical narratives and the refashioning of the historical images of those neighborhoods. The process has sometimes revolved around reinvention rather than reconstruction, evoking the past character of a particular district according to the needs of the present.4 Clearly, the former ethnic character is irrevocably gone; even if those areas undergo a profound social transformation, their pre-war Jewish residents will never return, and it is typically not the descendants of former Jewish residents who come to repopulate districts such as Krakow’s Kazimierz or Berlin’ Scheunenviertel. The “Jewish” character of these old-new districts thus has to be vested in something other than residential composition.

As part of a branding strategy to make these quarters unique and touristically attractive, Jewish monuments are preserved, Jewish histories are presented in a professional way (as in Josefov), and Jewish cultural traditions are revived for the sake of today’s consumers. When, as part of a more general gentrification process, the neighborhood acquires new cultural and entertainment functions, the Jewish aspect may become more and more pronounced, marked by Jewish festivals, music performances, specialized bookstores and publishing, and the revival of various forms of Jewish theatre (as in Kazimierz and Belső-Erzsébetváros).5 The area becomes a lieu de mémoire for those who want to remember, and a place of identification for those who feel they can personally relate to Jewish traditions. The fact that identification is often based on a false or at least strongly “edited” image of the past does not hinder the blossoming of the remembrance industry.

Similarly to its counterparts in other Central European cities, Belső-Erzsébetváros has been the object of historical reinvention in many ways. In the past fifteen or twenty years, it has become increasingly common to refer to the area as the “old Jewish district of Budapest”. Labeling the neighborhood as such offers the possibility of identification and involvement (not only for local residents but also for non-residents who cultivate explicitly Jewish identities) and offers rich opportunities for touristic use and city marketing.6 The inner 7th district, branded as the Old Jewish Quarter, is routinely included in the guidebooks as one of the important sights of Budapest, besides being the destination of a more specific Jewish tourism. Such a reinvention of a historical district, however, harbors inherent dangers. It can easily lead to the creation of an ethnocentric and purifying historical narrative which leaves non-Jews out of the story, and purges the neighborhood’s historical image of its non-Jewish components. That is nothing short of a profound falsification of the historical realities that once characterized Belső-Erzsébetváros, the inner 7th district of Budapest.

Historians do not all agree that Belső-Erzsébetváros (and the adjoining stretch of Belső-Terézváros)7 can justifiably be called a historical Jewish district at all. Those who do emphasize the crucial importance of the area in the history of “Jewish Budapest,” with its high concentration of Jews from the late eighteenth century to World War II; even more importantly, they emphasize the fact that the area is home to several institutions which have been central to Jewish life in Budapest: the main synagogues of the three major branches of Judaism, various religious schools, prayer houses, a ritual bath, kosher butchers, and kosher restaurants.8 In addition to the still-functioning institutions, the argument goes, there used to be countless other Jewish venues located in the area.9 Critical interpretations do not deny the central significance of Belső-Erzsébetváros (until 1882 part of Terézváros) in the history of Budapest Jewry,10 but they do stress the fact that the neighborhood has never been a homogeneously Jewish area and that Christian churches as well as various ethnic groups have always been strongly represented.11 They also point out that except for two and a half months during Word War II, the area has never been a ghetto in the formal sense.

Even the historical approaches which emphasize the mixed character of Belső-Erzsébetváros and point to the simultaneous presence of Hungarians, Romanians, Jews and other ethnicities and confessional groups tend to treat them as separate entities. While this approach may be accurate for earlier historical periods, it is problematic for the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Most historical narratives completely miss out on the extremely close symbiosis of people and routinely classify them as members of different groups. Equally ignored are the multiple identities created by the simultaneous use of different languages, the varying shades of religiousness, and the extent to which individuals of different inherent ethnicities developed an additional Hungarian identity.

Fig1 szivos opt

Figure 1. Map of the inner city of Budapest, with “the old Jewish district of Pest” highlighted.12 Edited by the author

My use of the notion “Jewish” needs to be clarified here, as its unconsidered use is thoroughly problematic for this particular period. Labeling people as Jewish retrospectively, on the basis of their formal religious affiliation and especially on the basis of their origins, may be misguided on several grounds and amount to the denial of those people’s own chosen identities.13 The anti-Jewish laws of 1939 and 1941 in Hungary were based precisely on that kind of denial: they lumped together diverse groups of people often by nothing else than legally imposed racial criteria. Some of these individuals indeed had strong Jewish identities. Some of them, although still formally Jewish (i.e. belonging to the izraelita denomination), were thoroughly secularized and would have long left their Jewish identities behind if the intensifying anti-Semitism of the era had not constantly reminded them of their roots. Many other people classified as Jewish by the racial laws of 1939 and 1941 were not even Jewish by formal criteria; they had been baptized as Christians earlier or were born into families who were already members of Christian denominations.

Calling everybody who suffered from anti-Jewish persecution Jewish calls into question several victims’ own identities, and denies—in retrospect—their freedom to reconsider their identity during their lifetime. In his monograph on the Budapest ghettos of 1944/1945, Tim Cole uses the word “Jewish” in quotation marks all the way through the book—for the reasons I outlined above. With his words: “I can’t make those dead live again, but I can give those killed as ‘Jews’ their freedom to choose their own identity.”14

In this study, as a working solution, I will take the denominational categories of the 1941 census at face value and interpret them as rough indicators of Klauzál tér residents’ affiliations. I will use the terms Jewish, Roman Catholic, Lutheran etc. without quotation marks, and I will comment on these categories wherever necessary. I am aware that classifying someone as “Catholic” in this period may be just as problematic as classifying someone as “Jewish”; many Christians’ religious affiliations were also fading into mere formality by 1941, no matter how heavily Christian values were stressed in the official discourse of the era. In most cases, I will not be able to say anything certain about individual identities because my sources do not permit such conclusions. But I will attempt to draw attention to attributes that, in my interpretation, are indicative of assimilation, secularization, and the weakening of religious identities, or conversely, mark strong religious ties, group cohesion, and/or exclusionism.

The picture that unfolded in front of my eyes while I was analyzing the Klauzál tér questionnaires of the 1941 census surprised me in many respects. The fact that at the outbreak of World War II this area had a high concentration of Jewish residents was obviously no breathtaking news. The neighborhood had had that kind of reputation ever since Belső-Erzsébetváros had begun to take shape and acquire its urban character nearly a century before. That reputation can be confirmed statistically by early twentieth-century population census figures, especially if the 7th district is broken down into smaller units. In the immediate Klauzál tér (then called István tér) area, 51 to 80% of the population was Jewish in 1900.15 The overall proportion of “Israelites” within the 7th district was 35.8% that year (compared to the Budapest figure of 23.6%). Although no such detailed maps are available from the censuses of 1910, 1920 and 1930, the overall figures for the 7th district can be determined in those years: 38.5% of the district’s residents belonged to the Jewish faith in 1910, 39.1% in 1920, and 36.3% in 1925. (The Budapest percentages for Israelites in the same years were 23.1, 23.2 and 21.6 %, respectively.)16

The fact that the area was not purely Jewish but denominationally and ethnically mixed was not such big news either; as pointed out earlier, sober commentators have always emphasized it, and historians of the area today rarely miss to point out the neighborhood’s compound character. (The figures quoted above in themselves indicate that in the same periods, 61 to 64% of the 7th district’s population belonged to Christian denominations, and even in the most densely “Jewish” areas, non-Jewish residents made up 20 to 30% of the population.)

What I found striking during my research was the degree and intensity of coexistence among Jews and Christians in semi-public and private spaces. The mixing of various groups in public spaces did not seem so surprising; interactions on the square, in the street or in the market hall are, after all, understandable in a traditionally complex neighborhood. However, the close mixing within buildings and, even more importantly, within individual apartments was something I would not have expected, and something I felt called for explanations.

The 1941 census was taken at a sinister moment for the population of Belső-Erzsébetváros. The first and second anti-Jewish laws had strongly determined the atmosphere since the late 1930s. They heavily affected the local population economically, depriving many people of their property, means of living, career options, and educational opportunities. The second of these, Act XV of 1939, defined the category of “Jewish” on racial grounds; its stipulations therefore affected several local citizens who were Jewish by origin but not by religious affiliation. The third anti-Jewish law was passed seven months after the 1941 census had been taken.17 The latter piece of legislation interfered with the most private human relations and potentially affected the most private spheres; for example, it forbade new marriages between racially defined Jews and non-Jews, and also forbade sexual relationships between Jewish men and Christian women. Even if we consider that the state of affairs recorded by the 1941 census preceded the passing of the third anti-Jewish law of 1941, in the reigning atmosphere, with the second anti-Jewish law already in effect, it is not at all self-evident why Christians would continue living with Jews in the same apartments as sub-tenants or vice versa, why they would at all choose a neighborhood with a strongly Jewish reputation, why Christians would serve as housemaids in Jewish households, and why Christians would continue to work for small Jewish-owned businesses in such large numbers.

Apartments Shared by Jews and Christians: Mixed Household Structures
on Klauzál tér in 1941

When examining Klauzál tér apartments and their residents in 1941, one finds that, with three exceptions, 23 to 63% of the buildings’ apartments were shared by Jewish and Christian tenants. The types of denominationally mixed households varied; the nature of mixing and the reasons for Jewish and non-Jewish cohabitation may have been different in each and every case. Nonetheless, it is possible to identify certain main types of mixed households in the buildings around the square. In the following, I will attempt to create a rough typology; the brief descriptions of some individual households are meant to serve as illustrative examples.


Table 1. Ratios of denominationally Jewish, Christian and mixed apartments
in Klauzál tér buildings, house numbers 1–1618


Klauzál tér

House number

















Number of purely Jewish apartments

















Number of purely Christian apartments

















Number of mixed Jewish–Christian apartments

















Ratio of mixed apartments


















A) One of the most common combinations was represented by Jewish families sharing their apartments with their Christian housemaids. The practical purpose of this widespread arrangement was common knowledge at the time: as opposed to members of the family, the Catholic or Protestant maid did not have to observe holidays or live according to religious rules, and thus could do housework and other chores during the Sabbath. In some Klauzál tér buildings, this pattern seems to have been almost the rule: for example, in 11 Klauzál tér (the building that included one of the major municipal market halls of Budapest), seven of the eight Jewish households employed live-in Christian maids. The fact that even a rabbi, living in another building (6 Klauzál tér) with his wife and five daughters, shared his family apartment with a Roman Catholic housemaid suggests that the practice was considered to be perfectly acceptable and was tacitly sanctioned by religious authority. (The same rabbi, Árpád Schwarcz,19 also complemented his income just like any common folk did on Klauzál tér at the time: an additional subtenant and his wife, both Jewish by religion, rented space in his apartment.)


B) The degree of mixing was more pronounced when Jewish families rented out some of their apartment space to Christian subtenants, or the other way round: Christian residents sublet parts of their apartments to Jewish subtenants. For example, in a relatively simple household structure in 12 Klauzál tér, a Jewish family, consisting of a baker, Ármin Moskovits, his wife, his mother-in-law and his four daughters (one a seamstress by trade, another a corset maker, and the two youngest, schoolgirls), one of the rooms was rented out to a Calvinist subtenant—a factory worker—and his Catholic wife. In 5 Klauzál tér, a Jewish family consisting of a sales assistant, Ernő Nagy, his wife (furrier by trade), his child, and his tailor father rented out one of their rooms to a Roman Catholic couple: a carpenter and his wife. In addition, the family employed a live-in Greek Catholic housemaid.

An example of the reverse case—where Christian tenants sublet their rooms to one or more Jewish subtenants—was an apartment in 5 Klauzál tér. The head of household was a Roman Catholic shoemaker, Márton Perennei, who used one of the three street-facing rooms of his large apartment as a workshop. He and his wife shared their place with a Roman Catholic relative and his Catholic spouse, but also rented out one of the rooms to a divorced Jewish woman. The latter woman’s occupation was listed as housewife (háztartásbeli), but not housemaid or domestic servant (háztartási alkalmazott), and her status in the household was listed as subtenant. Nonetheless, we can assume that she helped out in the household just like female relatives—mothers-in-law, widowed sisters etc.—often did in apartments where no live-in maids were employed.

Even though these apartments were relatively spacious by local standards and the general Budapest standards of those times, the physical closeness of people in these households is striking. Subtenants in such apartments usually used the same kitchen and bathroom as the main tenant and his or her relatives, and, due to the usual layout of the larger apartments on Klauzál tér, rented one of the rooms adjoining the rooms used by the family, the two sections being separated by a door. The main family and the sub-tenants were thus literally in hearing distance of each other, not to mention the constant and unwitting involvement in each other’s lives. We can assume that in such households and subleases, denominational differences and origin did not matter very much for people who shared the same apartment, otherwise they would not have chosen to live in the same space in such close proximity.

Middle and lower-middle-class households on Klauzál tér were often quite populous in 1941, as we have seen in the cases quoted above. Living conditions among the working class on Klauzál tér were even more crowded; the apartments of workers, and sometimes those of poorer craftsmen and -women, often resembled mass dwellings. Modest one-room-and-kitchen apartments frequently housed eight, ten, or even more people: the main tenant and his or her relatives plus several subtenants, some of whom were renting only bed space. One of the inner-courtyard ground floor apartments in 10 Klauzál tér, for example, housed a remarkably complex group of people: the main tenant and his wife were Catholic; one of their subtenants was Calvinist whose ethnicity (nemzetiség) was listed as Gipsy (cigány); another subtenant was listed as Israelite by religion and Jewish by ethnicity;20 and there were further four bed renters who were all Catholic by denomination and Gipsy by ethnicity. These eight people shared a place consisting of one room and a kitchen.

Such overcrowded apartments were typically located on the ground floor in the back sections of courtyards, but not exclusively. Necessity sometimes also turned higher-prestige apartments into mass dwellings; their residents had probably seen better days earlier in life and, judged by their occupations, can in no way be considered lower class by interwar standards. Jewish and non-Jewish mixing occurred on this level, too. In one of the pretty three-bedroom apartments on the second floor of 6 Klauzál tér, the main tenant, unmarried seamstress Margit Weinfelder, shared one room with her mother and her typist sister; all three were Jewish by religion. The rest of the apartment, who knows in what order, was used by two Jewish subtenants, both shop assistants; the wife of one of them; two female relatives of the main tenant, both Jewish; a Catholic subtenant who was employed in the Hotel Royal; a Lutheran shoemaker, his Calvinist wife and their child; and a further Roman Catholic female subtenant whose occupation was listed as “housekeeper presently without a job.” The household was thus home to altogether thirteen people, which was rather far from the middle-class decency a three-bedroom home would originally represent.


C) Special attention should be paid to those apartments where domestic life and business were combined in a traditional and patriarchal – or sometimes matriarchal – way. This setup seems to be a very characteristic household formation on Klauzál tér. When it comes to the occupational profiles of Klauzál tér residents, it is clear that the fashion trades were dominating the scene. As the detailed answers on the 1941 census sheets show, master tailors tended to rent spacious apartments which also functioned as their businesses, and often combined family residence and workshop in traditional ways. In such apartments, one or two of the large and well-lit rooms, overlooking the street and accessible from a hallway, was used as dressing room and workshop. According to the 1941 census questionnaires, some of the master’s apprentices and employees also lived permanently the apartment, while some of the rooms were used by the tailor and his family themselves. This pattern was in no way a unique feature of Belső-Erzsébetváros, neither was it specific to tailors’ households; indeed it was fairly common practice among craftsmen in Budapest between the two world wars.21 In 13 Klauzál tér István Homonnay, a Calvinist gentlemen’s tailor, thus declared his three-bedroom apartment—complete with kitchen, hallway, bathroom and maid’s room—on the census form to be “part dwellings, part workshop,” home to his family members, his apprentice and an additional subtenant, seamstress by trade. Children of the family were often trained in the fashion trades too, and so the grown-up sons and daughters were active as employees in the family workshop.

One of my interviewees from Klauzál tér (born 1926), daughter of a tailor and a tailor herself, used to live in just such an apartment. She narrated that tailors in the inner 7th district before Word War II were in fact expected by their clients to rent large apartments in order to create an aura of prestige and elegance; but keeping up their costly three- or four-bedroom flats—which counted almost as upper-middle class standard in the 1930s—was often quite a burden for them and for their families.22

The census records confirm her narrative. The great majority of prestigious apartments on Klauzál tér in 1941 were rented by master tradesmen who used part of them as their workshops cum fashion salons. We may even find some irony of history here: those grandiose, over-100-m2 apartments with adjoining parlor-size rooms, bathrooms, toilets, and seven-meter-long and two-meter-wide hallways must have been originally intended for a completely different kind of clientele when they were built back in the late 1800s. Only a few cases can be found among the census records in which higher status professionals or wealthy rentiers occupied the large apartments on the square; one such was a woman doctor, dr. Ibolya Németh, Mrs. György Morgenstern by married name, who ran her private practice in her apartment in 7 Klauzál tér. The only exception was 16 Klauzál tér. This building, constructed in 1907, contained several spacious and modern apartments, and therefore housed a relatively large number of solid middle-class families.

In some cases, some of the subtenants came from the same trade as the head of the household even though the household was not functioning as a business. In such cases, the common profession might have been more important than religious differences; in 5 Klauzál tér we find, for example, a Calvinist shoemaker and his wife among the subtenants of the Jewish shoemaker Salamon Weisz in one of the first-floor apartments.


D) Finally, mixed households included all those in which spouses lived in mixed marriages and other familial bonds existed among denominationally Jewish and Christian individuals. Even though such relationships were few in number on Klauzál tér, they are still notable, given that the neighborhood had the reputation of housing the more or less traditional segment of Budapest Jewry. As we will see from some specific cases, there were several possible variations, all with one thing in common: people living in these relationships were about to face hitherto unimaginable legal intrusions into their private lives after the third anti-Jewish law was passed in 1941.

The Klauzál tér cases in 1941 represent a whole spectrum of mixed relationships and familial bonds. In one of the apartments in No. 13 a Jewish waiter was married to a Roman Catholic wife; their grown-up son, optician by occupation, was Jewish by religion like his father was. (According to time-sanctioned custom in Hungary, daughters born in mixed marriages usually followed their mother’s religion while sons followed the father’s faith. Even though several diversions from this pattern were known, it was followed as the rule of thumb in the majority of cases.) This married couple in 13 Klauzál tér had three Roman Catholic and one Greek Catholic subtenants.

In the same building, a Roman Catholic mother (divorced or widowed, as she used her married name Mrs. Ernő Dornbacher née Teréz Szabó), office clerk by occupation, was sharing her apartment with her student son Gábor, who was listed on the census form as Jewish by religion.

In one of the three-bedroom apartments in 5 Klauzál tér there lived a Roman Catholic tailor, Imre Stein, who apparently fell under the effect of the racial laws: even though he was indicated as Roman Catholic under the heading “Religion,” a red letter “i” (= izraelita), repeated in black, marked his origins in the same row on the census questionnaire. (Red “i”-s were later additions on the census forms, not entered at the time when the census was taken.) Imre Stein had a Roman Catholic wife, two little daughters (both Catholic), and a Catholic maid whose mother tongue was German but whose ethnicity (nemzetiség) was Hungarian. Except for the father, no other members of the household had red “i”-s at their names, i.e. none of them were classified as racially Jewish in or after 1941.

In some cases, one has reason to suspect that grown-up members of the same household were living together as unmarried partners, but contemporary statistics did not leave much room for people to declare that. The closest people came to an open declaration of their partnership took place in the household of a divorced cook, Géza Berger, Jewish by religion. He shared his home with a divorced Roman Catholic waitress called Mrs. Huber. The latter’s status on the census form was not “subtenant” but “[person] in shared household” (közös háztartásban).

A Jewish-non-Jewish couple living together like that—if we assume they lived together as partners—risked exposure to legal persecution after August 1941, when the third anti-Jewish law (Act XV of 1941) was passed. As some recent studies show, the mere suspicion of sexual relationship between Jews and non-Jews could be enough for people to be reported to the police and for the police to start an investigation of alleged “miscegenation,” trying to discover what individuals were doing together in entirely private spaces.23 In the extreme case, the accused had to prove in court that they had no sexual relationship with each other. Laura Palosuo quotes a case from an oral history interview, recorded for the Raoul Wallenberg Archive in Uppsala after World War II, in which an unmarried Hungarian couple, one Jewish and the other Catholic, were taken to court in late 1941 for “miscegenation.” The couple had three children together, so it was easy to accuse them of having an intimate relationship. Their lawyer, however, advised them both to confess that they, as law-abiding citizens, ceased to have sex after Act XV of 1941 was passed, and refrained from connubial contact in spite of the fact that they were living together. In the end they were acquitted, as the prosecutor did not manage find evidence for the alleged intimate relationship.24


Attempted Explanations: One Hundred Shades of Integration


What kind of explanations can be offered for the large proportion of mixed households on Klauzál tér? The first important point is that religious affiliation, as it was declared on a census sheet, only gives us a rough estimate of an individual’s identity, and tells us very little about the actual role religion played in his or her life. Even if we accept that religious affiliation in the Horthy era was an important element of one’s identity and self-definition (which was obviously strengthened by the official promotion of Christian values and by the institutionalized discrimination against Jews), there were many people, especially in a modern urban environment, in whose lives religion mattered little.25 Those who appear on the census forms as Israelites by denomination may have been in fact thoroughly secularized and assimilated, and equally secularized may have been those Roman Catholics, Calvinists and Lutherans who lived in the same buildings or households with them. Advanced levels of secularization and assimilation could make the denominational differences unimportant or completely irrelevant for those people who agreed to share apartments on Klauzál tér.

Even if we put aside the thoroughly secularized types, there was a broad spectrum of possible identities barely reflected by the religious categories of census statistics. Within the single category “Israelite,” there were three major confessional groups in Hungary (Orthodox, Neolog and Status Quo Ante),26 all with their separate traditions and organizations, and within these communities, several individual varieties, shades and choices existed in terms of dress, customs, and the strictness of religious observance. Individual choices often depended on age and generation (second- and third-generation Budapest residents as a rule abandoned the traditional costume, beard, and other distinctive signs of Jewishness even if they grew up in Orthodox families). But they also depended on the strength or weakness of family pressure, and the extent to which a person wished to step out of a predominantly Jewish social environment and integrate into majority society professionally and socially. Even though this kind of integration became increasingly difficult and was in the end institutionally blocked in the Horthy era, the multitude of individual strategies prevailed.27

In the light of these considerations, it is in many cases impossible to tell what shade of Jewishness an individual represented if he or she was registered as “Israelite” on a census form in 1941 unless we know more about that person from another source (e.g. from an oral history interview or a written mémoire).28 Nonetheless, the composition of Klauzál tér households may, at least indirectly, give us certain clues about the members of these households.

We can assume that the importance of religion in a family’s life would be reflected in the denominational homogeneity of the household as recorded in the census forms of 1941. Jewish households in which religious law was strictly observed remained homogeneously Jewish, the only concession being the employment of a Christian housemaid. Such Jewish families, if they sublet parts of their apartments, accepted only Israelite subtenants. Prejudices and self-defense mentalities, however, are other possible explanations. Several purely Christian apartment-workshops—a common enough phenomenon on Klauzál tér in 1941—remained purely Christian because the master craftsman, head of the family business, refrained from employing Jewish apprentices and journeymen and refused to take on Jewish subtenants even if he may not have been particularly religious. Many Jewish workshops apparently followed the same exclusionist policy with regard to Christians, but that does not necessarily tell us either how pious the master and his family actually were.

All that said, my actual concern here is not homogeneity but mixing. In any case, the presence of Jewish employees and subtenants in predominantly Christian households and of Christian employees and subtenants in Jewish households implies a degree of openness on all sides. It also indirectly indicates attitudes which were at least lenient towards certain religious rules; it must have been practically impossible, for example, to keep strictly kosher in a mixed Jewish-Christian household if all parties had access to the same kitchen.

Some remarks still have to be added here regarding residential standards and norms. Obviously, the standards of residential space were different in interwar Budapest from the standards of today. This is particularly true in a predominantly lower-middle-class area like the inner 7th district. Expectations of privacy in that historical era seem to have been much lower, and necessity could radically overwrite whatever expectations there were. As historical studies suggest, and as a multitude of Klauzál tér examples demonstrate, “decent” families living with their children—often grown-up children—in one or two rooms and subletting the remainder of their rooms to either relatives or strangers was a fairly common thing to do in Budapest between the two world wars. Around 1941, an estimated 25 per cent of families shared their residence with strangers29 (subtenants or bed renters). This practice was considered socially acceptable in broad segments of the middle and lower middle class, and was usually the first solution that came to mind in certain situations like widowhood or unemployment.

All that said, the picture captured by the 1941 census might be in some ways special. Existential pressure may have played a part, too, in people’s willingness to take on subtenants from different religious backgrounds. Jewish craftsmen and professionals who lost their jobs or businesses as a result of anti-Jewish legislation could not afford to be too selective; they badly needed subtenants to supplement their income, and were often willing to accept Christians as a result. This may be inferred from the presence of Christian subtenants in several Jewish households on Klauzál tér, because the pattern was particularly common where the head of the family was unemployed. Denominationally Jewish widows and single women acting as heads of households – women who frequently pursued trades themselves – appear to have been the least choosy when it came to rooming subtenants. Some of them kept a whole stable of subtenants that included Christians and Israelites, single persons and married couples, and men and women, as is demonstrated by the case of Margit Weinfelder quoted earlier.

The introduction of labor service for Jewish men in Hungary30 was to become another pressure that pushed Jewish families to take on subtenants, especially after the breadwinner(s) were called up for extended periods of service and were away from home for months or years. The Defense Act (II of 1939) caused Jewish men to be conscripted in larger numbers from June 1940;31 but this fact is not reflected explicitly in the 1941 Klauzál tér census forms (census questionnaires were filled in on January 31, 1941).

When we interpret denominational mixing within individual households, we definitely have to take personal and professional attachments into account. These attachments could overwrite the differences in background; professional bonds in various trades may have bridged denominational differences or made them irrelevant.

Certain trades can be interpreted as subcultures in which Jewish/non-Jewish encounters were particularly common. The fashion industries so characteristic of the inner 7th district were among these. If a Christian person became a tailor in Pest in the 1930s, he tacitly accepted that his employer, or many of his colleagues or employees, might be Jewish and that his workshop could be located in a “Jewish district”; if he did not like the idea it was wiser to choose another trade. A non-Jewish interviewee, born in 1928 and living on Klauzál tér since 1951, related that her two uncles, both Catholic tailors, used to rent apartments in the inner 7th district—one in Holló utca and one in Király utca—before World War II, because “the neighborhood was the place to be for tailors.” One of Mrs. M. H.’s uncles ran his workshop at home, and the other in a separate shop in Ó utca. Mrs. M. H. later married a tailor herself; her husband had also been raised in the inner 7th district, and at the time of their marriage he was living with his aunt in 16 Klauzál tér. It was obvious from Mrs. M. H.’s narrative, as well as from her unwittingly expressed attitudes, that for her and her tailor uncles, everyday relations with Jewish people were completely normal, and their attitudes toward Jewish colleagues and neighbors were entirely positive.32

It is also likely that in a mixed neighborhood where members of the Jewish faith and people of Jewish origin represented a critical mass, Jewish/non-Jewish differences simply did not matter, or they did not matter more than the differences among Catholics, Lutherans and Calvinists; and certainly much less than one would expect in a historical period when public life was thoroughly politicized and permeated by racial ideology. In this sense, the neighborhood around Klauzál tér can be interpreted as a subculture, a local subculture in which the strong presence of Jewish people was considered normal, and in which forms of mixing had long traditions. In such a subculture, anti-Semitism was much less of an issue than in other walks of life. People who did not like such a neighborhood moved out or never even moved in, and those who stayed considered the composition of the area something of a given.


A Shattering Microcosm: Forced Changes in the Social Character of a Neighborhood during World War II


In many ways, however, the picture presented by the 1941 census is the last detailed imprint of a peacetime world that was never to return; local traditions of coexistence were soon to be disrupted by politics and legislation.

In 1941, that micro-world was already shadowed by the war and threatened by the escalation of anti-Jewish discrimination; the anti-Jewish laws were taking increasing economic and occupational effects on the local residents of Belső-Erzsébetváros. Residents of the inner 7th district, around 50 to 60% of whom may be estimated to have been defined as Jewish by Act IV of 1939 and Act XV of 1941, and among whom the overwhelming majority were artisans, shopkeepers, employees of private shops and businesses, office workers, or professionals, must have been particularly hard hit. Indeed, the effect of the anti-Jewish laws is clearly detectable when one reads the 1941 census records for Klauzál tér. When asked about their occupations, respondents who were Jewish by religion very often gave answers such as “office clerk without a job,” “accountant presently unemployed,” “shoemaker currently without occupation” and so on. The census forms were filled in by the respondents themselves (more precisely, filled in and signed by the heads of households), many of whom were Jewish craftsmen and professionals affected by the discriminative laws, and it is not difficult to see in answers like those quoted above an intentional statement of what they saw as the temporariness and injustice of their conditions.

Apart from the anti-Jewish measures, the impact of the war became increasingly tangible for the population of the inner 7th district after 1941. After Hungary’s entry into the war, non-Jewish men were called up for military service and Jewish men for labor service. These naturally also affected their families.

Measures were already being taken against Jews of non-Hungarian citizenship in 1941.33 Belső-Erzsébetváros was one of the areas in Budapest which concentrated Orthodox Jews, and which housed large numbers of Jewish refugees who arrived from Galicia (part of occupied Poland), Slovakia, the Ukraine, and other Eastern European territories by then under German dominance. Many of these Jewish residents of Belső-Erzsébetváros, holding Polish, Czechoslovak, or Romanian citizenship, had in fact originally been citizens of the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy—some of them subjects of the Hungarian Crown—or were descendants of former Austro-Hungarian citizens. These people became citizens of the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy’s successor states after World War I, and even though many of them were Hungarian speakers who continued to cultivate a Hungarian identity, they found themselves regarded as unwelcome “aliens” by the Hungarian state after 1920. In 1936, a decree was passed in Poland, as a consequence of which Jews (Polish citizens) living in Hungary lost their Polish citizenship. They were joined by Polish-Jewish refugees coming from Austria after the Anschluss, and further refugees coming from Poland after the German invasion of Poland in September 1939.34

From 1936 on, measures were repeatedly proposed to prevent the “influx” of Jews from the surrounding countries. These policies climaxed in the summer of 1941, when Jews with non-Hungarian citizenships (termed rendezetlen állampolgárságú zsidók, roughly translatable as “displaced Jewish persons”) were expelled from Hungary in a single organized operation. An estimated 14,000 to 18,000 “displaced Jewish persons”—some of whom were actually Hungarian citizens—were expelled from Hungary in July and August. They were gathered together, transported by train to the Galician border, and handed over to German authorities. Most of these people were soon to become the first mass casualties of the Hungarian Holocaust in a mass murder near Kamenec-Podolski in August 1941, where German SS units were assisted by Ukrainian militia men.

“Displaced Jewish persons” living in Budapest, intended for deportation, were gathered in the synagogue in Rumbach Sebestyén Street in the inner 7th district and at other Budapest locations before being transported to the Ukrainian border. The Jewish families whose citizenship was indicated as non-Hungarian on the Klauzál tér census forms are likely to have been among them. The historian has a strong sense of foreboding when she encounters on a 1941 census sheet for Klauzál tér a Jewish family all five members of which were Polish citizens. Were they all going to die at Kamenec-Podolski five months later? Was it at all possible for them to avoid that fate? According to the census data, 5 and 6 Klauzál tér concentrated a particularly high number of Jewish families with non-Hungarian citizenships. One married couple, according to their answers on the census form, had been living in Budapest since 1908; they were Hungarian by mother tongue but they declared Polish to be their citizenship. Man and wife in another apartment in Klauzál tér 5, both Jewish, were Hungarians by native tongue but they were both Turkish citizens.

The German occupation of Hungary in March 1944 brought about an immediate deterioration in the position of everyone legally classified as Jewish in Hungary. After a series of humiliating discriminative measures, such as being obliged to wear the yellow star of David (April 1944), ghettoization soon began in towns and cities outside Budapest, followed by the organized deportation of Hungary’s Jewish population. As a result of the publication of the so-called Auschwitz records, international protest, and other factors, Admiral Miklós Horthy stopped the deportations in July 1944, and the legally-defined Jewish population of Budapest was eventually saved from mass deportation. Many of them, however, fell victim to other atrocities later.

In Budapest, the ghettoization of the Jewish population in June 1944 took an untypical form. Instead of declaring one particular area of the city to be the Jewish ghetto, a mayoral decree ordered that all Jews in Budapest must move into so-called yellow-star houses (buildings designated specifically as Jewish places of residence). A list of buildings, by district, street and house number, was published on June 16, designating buildings in all districts of the capital city. The spatial distribution of yellow-star buildings turned out to be rather uneven: the majority of them were located on the Pest side of the city, and their concentration was particularly high in the areas where the proportion of the Jewish population of Budapest tended to be the highest, namely in the 5th, 6th, and 7th districts.35

According to that logic, one would expect Klauzál tér to have been heavily affected. And indeed, in the June 16 order, five buildings (out of sixteen located on the square) were designated as yellow-star buildings: Klauzál tér nos. 1, 3, 4, 6 and 9 (see Figure 2).36

The first ghettoization decree, however, was thoroughly revised within a few days. As Tim Cole showed in detail, several buildings designated as yellow-star houses were deleted from the list between June 16 and June 22 and several new ones were added, as a result of petitions filed by residents and owners of the buildings in question. Budapest authorities were in fact flooded with petitions after the ghettoization order of June 16, 1944 had been issued: the petitioners were both Jews and Christians, some of them mixed-marriage spouses.37 The motivations of the petitioners varied: non-Jewish owners often wanted their buildings removed from the list; so did non-Jewish residents who did not want to leave their homes (according to the first version of the concept, non-Jews were all supposed to move out of the designated yellow-star buildings); in other cases, the petitioners were Jewish residents who did not want to move, and therefore wanted their buildings to be declared yellow-star houses.

On June 22, a new order of the Mayor was published in Fővárosi Közlöny naming the buildings added to and deleted from the June 16 list. As a result of protests and requests, the list of yellow-star buildings published on June 22 ended up being significantly different from that published six days earlier. Another result of the petitions (some of which were filed after the final list of designations had been published on June 22) was a more practical solution for “mixed” buildings: Christians were permitted to stay in their homes, even in designated yellow-star houses, if they wished to do so, while Jews were not allowed to remain in non-yellow-star houses after June 22.38

As far as Klauzál tér was concerned, three further buildings were added to the existing list of yellow-star houses on June 22, namely Klauzál tér nos. 5, 15 and 16 (see Figure 2). That meant that eventually 50% of residential buildings on Klauzál tér became yellow-star houses – a very high proportion compared to the figures for designated houses in the 7th district as a whole and even compared to any other street or square within the inner 7th district.


Figure 2. Yellow-star houses on Klauzál tér (designated on June 16 and June 22, 1944).  
Map by the author and Trephneor 


The story of the first phase of ghettoization seems to reveal, implicitly at least, important facts about local ties, and the attitudes of local residents living on Klauzál tér. As pointed out before, the addition of further houses to the list of yellow-star buildings was most frequently the result of owners’ and residents’ petitioning. So was the deletion of particular buildings from the list. So the addition of Klauzál tér 5, 15 and 16 to the previous list of numbers 1, 3, 4, 6 and 9, and the fact that none of the earlier designated yellow-star houses were cancelled from the list until June 22, show that there was a fairly high “demand” for yellow-star designation, while occupants seem to have shown a relatively low resistance to their building becoming a yellow-star house on the square.

Some of the reasons seem to be obvious. As I have shown earlier, Klauzál tér, and of course the whole neighborhood around it, had a long-standing reputation of being fairly “Jewish,” that is, of having a high concentration of Jewish residents. The surviving forms of the 1941 census offer us a rare chance to determine the numbers of those who were denominationally Israelites on the micro level, that is, on the level of individual buildings and apartments. If we consider religion alone, as declared by respondents on the 1941 census forms (disregarding the “Jewish” status imposed upon people by racial law), it is clear that a fairly high proportion of residents in the Klauzál tér houses were denominationally Jewish at the time Hungary entered World War II.

These proportions more or less match the range characteristic of this part of the 7th district. If we count the main tenants, who were most often also the heads of households, we find that the actual percentages differed from building to building; Klauzál tér 6 led the list, with 79% of the main tenants being Jewish.39 In most cases, the denomination of the head of household (“izraelita”) would be indicative of the religion of the whole family, although as late as 1941 the equation between two should no longer be automatically assumed. The denominational composition of the individual households was of course usually more complicated than the denominational status of the main tenant’s immediate family; as I have also shown above, several other residents—e. g. housemaids, sub-tenants, bed renters, apprentices, distant relatives etc.—lived in the Klauzál tér apartments with the main tenants and their immediate families.

The percentage of denominationally Jewish residents in the Klauzál tér houses, according to the census forms, varied between 24% and 70%. We can assume that Jewish presence continued to be similarly high on Klauzál tér, or even surpassed the 1941 percentages in June 1944 when yellow-star buildings were about to be designated all around Budapest. In fact it was probably higher, because in 1944 all those residents who were legally defined as Jewish on racial grounds were added to the denominationally Jewish when authorities determined the proportion of “Jews” within residential buildings in Budapest.

All in all, many of the buildings on Klauzál tér in June 1944 had a good chance of being designated as yellow-star houses on the basis of their resident populations. Yellow-star houses, at least in principle, were supposed to be designated on the basis of two main principles: the ownership of the building and the composition of the tenants. If the owner was Jewish, and/or if the majority of the tenants living in the building fell into that legally defined category, the building had a good chance to be declared a yellow-star house. (The actual practice, however, was much more confused and inconsistent.)40

Sources clearly suggest that, in comparison to other Budapest districts, the legally non-Jewish residents of the 7th district were particularly willing to stay in their old homes even if their buildings were designated as yellow-star houses. According to Tim Cole and his sources, at the end of November in 1944, 144 of the 7th district’s 162 yellow-star houses were partially occupied by non-Jewish tenants.41

As far as Klauzál tér is concerned, I can only attempt to offer explanations for that high level of persistence. In the case of Klauzál tér itself the quality of housing, the relative prestige of the location and the pleasant environment could all play their part. Klauzál tér was a far more pleasant place to live than its immediate neighborhood: it offered a green park and nice views, and five of its sixteen buildings had well-lit apartments overlooking the streets on two sides. It can be assumed that several Christian tenants preferred to stay in their well-situated apartments rather than move to uncertain locations somewhere else in the city.

Furthermore, the economic profiles of Klauzál tér residents were often closely tied to the locality. As I have shown earlier, the inner 7th district had a high concentration of tradesmen in general, most notably those in the fashion industry. Tailors, shoemakers, lingerie makers, hatters and furriers represented a high proportion of local artisans and businesses. In such an environment, people pursuing the same trade nearby were not necessarily rivals. They rather constituted a network, allowing tradesmen to refer clients to each other and providing a constantly available pool of labor. Certain Klauzál tér buildings concentrated tailors and seamstresses in striking ways; in 5 and 6 Klauzál tér, for example, there were 18 of them in 1941, master tailors sometimes literally next to each other on the same floors of the building. It is quite notable how Jewish and Christian tailors and their families also lived as next-door neighbors in other buildings. For example, in 13 Klauzál tér in 1941, the Calvinist tailor István Homonnay—mentioned earlier in this article—was the next-door neighbor of a Jewish master tailor named Emmánuel Bergmann. Their living conditions were fairly similar—both rented large, three-bedroom apartments—although while Homonnay’s household seems to have been fully trade-oriented, Bergmann’s grown-up daughters were office employees, representing a more upwardly mobile variety.

Trade networks presumably offered mutual assistance in the situation created by the anti-Jewish laws, in which several independent master artisans lost their businesses in the course of 1939–1941. Their fellow-tradesmen could offer them employment or provide work for members of their families. Assistance by fellow tradesmen must have been particularly vital at a time when Christian heads of families and grown-up sons were being conscripted for military service, and Jewish men were being called up for labor service. The women and adolescents left behind had to take the place of the conscripted men, and if they had experience in the same trade, they could potentially find work, if they needed it, through intra-trade connections.

The above considerations may be hypothetical, but they can help explain why Christians in the inner 7th district seem to have been so reluctant to move out of the neighborhood in 1944. Having to leave one’s apartment in 1944 could mean losing one’s clientele, and also losing immediate contacts with fellow tradesmen, suppliers, and actual or potential employees such as journeymen and apprentices.


Figure 3. The walled-in ghetto in the inner 7th district42

One has to be careful, however, not to draw an entirely idealized picture. The discussion of professional relations raises an issue that may represent a more problematic side of Jewish-non-Jewish relations in and around Klauzál tér. Under the second and third anti-Jewish laws, several shopkeepers and artisans lost their licenses or could not renew them after they expired in 1939. Christian practitioners of the same trades obviously benefited from the decrease in competition. In the case of retailers, non-Jewish applicants could apply for the rental contracts of shops lost by Jews. These are, however, hypothetical considerations; as the census records show, the great majority of shops around Klauzál tér were still owned or rented by denominationally Jewish persons in early 1941.43 Further research is needed to find cases in which Jewish shopkeepers on Klauzál tér lost their businesses as a result of the anti-Jewish laws; neither have I encountered any documented cases of Jewish shops on Klauzál tér taken over by Christians.

The reluctance of non-Jewish residents’ to leave their locality in the inner 7th district can be indirectly evidenced by the circumstances of final ghettoization, that is, the setting up of the walled-in Pest ghetto in late November 1944. It is particularly telling that that the ministerial decree ordering ghettoization threatened local Christian residents with labor camp service and internment if they did not move out of the ghetto area.

[…] whilst the cooperation of non-Jews forced to relocate was being sought through the provision of alternative properties and limited compensation, their cooperation was also being guaranteed through a mixture of propaganda and threat. The ghettoization decree concluded with an appeal from the interior minister for “non-Jews” affected by the decree to play their part in the war effort. “I expect the Christian inhabitants to obey my decree with understanding and self-sacrificing spirit, thereby helping to solve finally the hitherto neglected Jewish question.” And this appeal was backed up by the threat of state-sanctioned punishment. For the non-Jewish inhabitant who failed to comply with state demands for relocation, the punishment was to be the transportation of the head of the family to a labor camp and the internment of all family members. [My italics, E. Sz.] Thus the forced relocation of “non-Jewish” inhabitants from the ghetto area was about both carrot and stick. This differed radically from the treatment of non-Jewish requests to remain in yellow-star houses [earlier] in 1944.44

In my opinion, the threat of such harsh measures strongly suggests that the lawmaker or the issuer of the decree expected people to disregard, bypass, or sabotage the order. In this case, the minister’s appeal was targeting the non-Jewish population of the inner 7th district, people who clung to their history of staying in place even if that meant living in yellow-star houses, and did so in the highest numbers in the whole of Budapest between late June and late November 1944.

But non-Jewish residents of the ghetto area did have to move out in the end, and some of them never returned to that part of the 7th district. Neither did those Christians who were killed in action, fell victim to the war, died in air raids, or were captured by the liberating Soviet troops after the siege of Budapest to be transported to the Soviet Union. And neither did several residents determined Jewish by the racial laws of 1939–1941: those who perished in labor service, those who were deported and did not survive, those who were gathered from the streets by Arrow Cross groups and killed, those who were driven in death marches to the Western borders of Hungary, and those who went missing during the winter of 1944/1945. Together with all those who committed suicide, or died of disease and starvation in the ghetto during the siege of Budapest, a substantial part of the inner 7th district’s 1941 population would disappear from that area forever.




The wartime story of Belső-Erzsébetváros reveals something very important about the shared fate of its residents, whether they were Jewish or non-Jewish in terms of legal definition. If we stop interpreting pre-war Belső-Erzsébetváros as a “Jewish district,” and, as I have attempted to do in this study, understand the density of Jewish-non-Jewish relations in that urban area, we come to understand that the politics of persecution was far from being an exclusively Jewish concern. It is rarely discussed in narratives of the Hungarian Holocaust that anti-Jewish legislation often also negatively affected non-Jews. Even though the people in question were not the intended targets of persecution, a large number of them experienced injustice and disruption in their lives, and suffered personally from the effects of discriminative legislation and then the anti-Jewish policies of 1944/45.

Belső-Erzsébetváros exemplifies such experiences in a concentrated way. The enforced designation of yellow-star houses, a large number of which were located in the inner 7th district, disrupted the lives of many Christian residents, namely those who moved out of their homes during June and July of 1944. Even if “pragmatic” solutions eventually allowed several Christians to stay, and were content with the separation of Jewish and non-Jewish people within the same building, many families nonetheless changed residence. After the “big” ghetto was set up in November 1944, there was no longer any choice: tens of thousands of Belső-Erzsébetváros’s non-Jewish residents were forcibly relocated to make way for those who were to be crammed into the ghetto.

Long-time domestic relations were often upset during 1944: for example, Christian maids and housekeepers, many of whom had been living with Jewish families for several years almost as family members, taking care of both the household and the children, were not allowed to stay with their employers after yellow-star houses were set up. These women, especially the elderly ones, often had nowhere to go – as is mentioned explicitly in one of my oral history interviews.45 Apprentices and employees living in craftsmen’s households were forced to leave in a similar way if denominational differences made separation unavoidable.

The anti-Jewish measures and later the principles of ghettoization affected everyone who lived in mixed marriages and mixed families. When the head of a family lost his living or was conscripted for labor service, his non-Jewish relatives also suffered. The ghettoization concepts were designed to artificially separate family members on racial grounds. The anti-Jewish law of 1941 had forbidden new marriages between Jews and non-Jews, but at least did not annul already existing mixed marriages. Ghettozation orders, however, beginning with the creation of yellow-star buildings in June 1944, in theory required spouses to move apart if one of them was a Christian and the other one was considered to be legally Jewish; the same orders required a “half-Jewish” child, born from a mixed marriage and considered legally Jewish, to separate from his or her Christian parent, step-parent or grandparent, and conversely for a legally Christian child. In practice, couples often refused to separate and parents stayed together with their children; some people petitioned the authorities to be able to do so, and many simply ignored the law.

The historian is intrigued by the subsequent fate of her heroes and heroines from 1941. What happened to them all? Did Zsigmond Hauser and his family all die in Kamenec-Podolski? Did István Homonnay move out of his grand apartment when all non-Jews were forced to move out of the ghetto? Did he say goodbye to his next-door neighbor and colleague Emmánuel Bergmann? Did he ever manage to move back? Did Imre Stein die as a Jew, in spite of being a baptized Roman Catholic, leaving his Christian wife and two daughters behind? Did Mrs. Huber lose his Jewish partner during the war, and did she return to live on Klauzál tér afterwards? Later sources often provide the answers, reflecting the losses and implying much about individual fates. The records of the 1945 census,46 for example, betray the changes in the resident communities of Klauzál tér buildings. While a surprising number of the 1941 families, including several Jewish families, can be identified in the 1945 census documents, it is obvious at closer inspection how many of those families had lost some of their members during the war. In the case of certain buildings, newcomers clearly dominate the 1945 lists of tenants.

A systematic comparison of resident communities in 1941, 1945 and 1970 will be the subject of another study; as I am going to show, there were even further-reaching changes to come in the postwar period. But it was clearly the Second World War and the Hungarian Holocaust that triggered off the neighborhood’s profound transformation in terms of population and social character.


Archival Sources


Budapest Főváros Levéltára [Budapest City Archives]

IV. 1419. j. “Az 1941. évi népszámlálás lakásívei” [Forms of the 1941 National Census by Apartment], Budapest, Klauzál tér, buildings No. 1–16.

IV. 1419. n. “Az 1945. évi népösszeírás lakásívei és házigyűjtőívei” [1945 National Census Apartment Forms and Lists of Main Tenants of Buildings], Budapest, Klauzál tér, buildings No. 1–16.


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Waligórska, Magdalena. “Spotlight on the Unseen: the Rediscovery of Little Jerusalems.” In Reclaiming Memory: Urban Regeneration in the Historic Jewish Quarters in Central Europe, edited by Monika Murzyn-Kupisz and Jacek Purchla, 99–116. Krakow: International Cultural Centre, 2009.

Weisz Mandel, Marianna. Mi lett volna, ha…? [What Would Have Happened If…?] Budapest: Aposztróf, 2010.

1 For the Jewish past of the Scheunenviertel, see Verena Dohrn et al., ed., Transit und Transformation. Osteuropäisch-jüdische Migranten in Berlin 1918–1939. Charlottengrad und Scheunenviertel, vol. 1 (Göttingen: Wallstein Verlag, 2010). For the the process of the Scheunenviertel’s recent reinvention, see Kirsten Küppers, Marketing mit Davidstern., accessed December 17, 2012. For the early transformation of fin-de-siècle Josefov, see Cathleen M. Giustino, Tearing Down Prague’s Jewish Town: Ghetto Clearance and the Legacy of Middle-Class Ethnic Politics around 1900 (Boulder: East European Monographs; New York: distributed by Columbia University Press, 2003). For the past transformations as well as the current revitaliztation of Kazimierz, see Monika A. Murzyn, Kazimierz: Środkowoeuropejskie doświadczenie rewitalizacji/The Central European Experience in Urban Regeneration (Krakow: International Cultural Centre, 2006); also Marta Smagacz, The Revitalization of Urban Space. Social Changes in Krakow’s Kazimierz and the Ticinese District in Milan (Pisa: Edizioni Plus–Pisa University Press, 2008).

2 Questionnaires/forms of the 1941 census were filled out apartment by apartment, and contained detailed information on the apartment (e.g. number and type of rooms, infrastructure etc.) and the main parameters of its residents (i.e. their status in the household, occupation, marital status, religion, citizenship, ethnicity, mother tongue, and the date the resident moved into the apartment in question). The Klauzál tér questionnaires, sorted by buildings, are preserved in the Budapest Főváros Levéltára [Budapest City Archives], hence BFL. See census forms of the 1941 national census by apartments [Az 1941. évi népszámlálás lakásívei], Budapest, Klauzál tér, buildings No. 1–16. BFL IV. 1419. j. (1–4 Klauzál tér: census area division (számlálójárás) 512/II; 5 Klauzál tér: census area division 519/a; 6–7 Klauzál tér: census area division 519/b; 8–9 Klauzál tér: census area division 518/II; 10–13 Klauzál tér: census area division 518/I; 14–16 Klauzál tér: census area division 514/II.) Data from the Klauzál tér questionnaires of the 1941 census have been entered into a database of my own. Any further mention of Klauzál tér apartments and their residents will be based on this database and the source material referenced above. I would like to thank András Lugosi, historian and archivist in the Budapest City Archives and an expert of interwar sources, who guided me through the census material, and with whom I could always discuss the problems that arose during my research. I would also like to thank Emese Gyimesi and Dávid Csillik for their assistance in building my database.

3 For a comparative study of the renewal and reinvention of historic Jewish districts in Central Europe see Monika Murzyn-Kupisz, “Reclaiming Memory or Mass Consumption?” in Reclaiming Memory: Urban Regeneration in the Historic Jewish Quarters in Central Europe, ed. Monika Murzyn-Kupisz et al. (Krakow: International Cultural Centre, 2009), 363–96.

4 This aspect is strongly stressed by Monika Murzyn-Kupisz, “Reclaiming Memory or Mass Consumption?” and also Magdalena Waligórska, “Spotlight on the Unseen: the Rediscovery of Little Jerusalems,” in Reclaiming Memory, 99–116.

5 For the revival of specifically Jewish cultural venues in Belső-Erzsébetváros, see Eszter Brigitta Gantner and Mátyás Kovács, “Altering Alternatives: Mapping Jewish Subcultures in Budapest” in Jewish Topographies: Visions of Space, Traditions of Place, ed. Julia Brauch et al. (Aldershot: Ashgate, c2008), 139–58.

6 Erzsébet Fanni Tóth, “Walking the Jewish Past? The Effects of Tourism on the Interpretations of the Budapest Jewish District” (MA thesis, Central European University, Sociology Department, 2008 Budapest: CEU–Budapest College, 2008).

7 Until the late eighteenth century, the area used to lie outside the walls of the city of Pest, and was part of a suburb called Terézváros. After the demolition of the city walls, Terézváros was incorporated in the city; later, after the unification of Pest, Buda and Óbuda in 1873, it became one of the administrative districts within Budapest. Eventually, the southern part of Terézváros split off and became a separate district called Erzsébetváros—the 7th District—in 1882. The area referred to today as “the old Jewish quarter of Pest” includes today’s Inner Erzsébetváros as well as a stretch of today’s Inner Terézváros (see Figure 1).

8 Anna Perczel, “Hogy a negyedben jól lehessen élni” [So that One Can Live a Good Life in this Quarter] and Géza Komoróczy, “Városkép-műemlék: Pest régi-új zsidó negyede” [Monument of a Townscape: the Old-New Jewish Quarter of Pest], both in: “Belső-Erzsébetváros: harctér” [Inner Erzsébetváros: a Battlefield], ed. and interviews conducted by György Petőcz et al. Mozgó Világ 30, no. 11 (2004): 16–8 and 42–6.

9 Komoróczy, “Városkép-műemlék: Pest régi-új zsidó negyede”; Kinga Frojimovics et al., Jewish Budapest: Monuments, Rites, History. Translated from Hungarian by Vera Szabó, translation edited by Mario Fenyő and the authors (Budapest: CEU Press, 1999), 67–200.

10 The inner part of one-time Terézváros evolved as the first significant “harbor” for Jewish immigrants attracted by the city of Pest, and continued to absorb a large part of Jewish migrants throughout the nineteenth and early twenteeth centuries.

11 Vera Bácskai, “A pesti zsidóság a 19. század első felében” [The Jews of Pest in the First Half of the Nineteenth Century], Budapesti Negyed 3, no. 2. (1995): 11–12; Gábor Koltai and Attila Rácz, Ezerarcú Erzsébetváros [The Thousand Faces of Erzsébetváros] (Budapest: Erzsébetvárosi Önkormányzat, 2011), 31–60; Tamás Szakály, “Tér, történelem, társadalom: Belső-Erzsébetváros története a városegyesítéstől” [Space, History, Society: the History of Inner Erzsébetváros since the Unification of Buda, Pest and Óbuda] (MA thesis, Eötvös Loránd University, Faculty of Humanities, 2010), 6–21.

13 For the treatment of the problem, see e. g. Gábor Gyáni, “Image versus Identity: Assimilation and Discrimination of Hungary’s Jewry,” Hungarian Studies 18, no. 2 (2004): 153–162; Tim Cole, Holocaust City: The Making of a Jewish Ghetto (New York and London: Routledge, 2003), 44–8.; András Gerő, “Új zsidó múlt“ [New Jewish Past], in András Gerő, A zsidó szempont [The Jewish Point of View] (Budapest: PolgART, 2005), 105–8.

14 Cole, Holocaust City, 48.

15 See the map titled “Az izraeliták eloszlása” [Distribution of Israelites], in József Kőrösi and Gusztáv Thirring, Budapest fővárosa az 1901-ik évben: A népszámlálás és népleírás eredményei [Budapest in 1901: Results of the Census], vol. 2 (Budapest: Grill, 1905), 56–7.

16 Gusztáv Thirring, Budapest főváros demográfiai és társadalmi tagolódásának fejlődése az utolsó 50 évben [The Demographic and Social Stratification of the Capital City Budapest in the Past 50 Years], Statisztikai Közlemények 70, vol. 2 (Budapest: Budapest Főváros Statisztikai Hivatala, 1935), 43.

17 The Hungarian pieces of legislation referred to as anti-Jewish laws in historiography were clearly discriminative in intent but did not always betray that intent in their names. For the full texts of the so-called anti-Jewish laws (Act XV of 1938, Act IV of 1939, Act XV of 1941, and Act XV of 1942) see Ezer év törvényei [Laws of One Thousand Years], (1918–1945), accessed December 4, 2012.

18 Not counting the units which functioned purely as businesses, i.e. shops, workshops or storage spaces..

19 All the names used in this text are fictitious, in accordance with Act LXIII of 1992 on the protection of personal data, currently in effect in Hungary.

20 This was an exceptional case and probably a mistake on the census form. As opposed to, for example, interwar Czechoslovakia, choosing “Jewish” as one’s ethnicity was theoretically not possible in Hungary in the Horthy era, paradoxically not even at the time of the racial laws.

21 For the the common combination of home and workshop, and for the training of the majority of apprentices in such domestic conditions see Zsuzsa L. Nagy, A haszonból élő kispolgár: kisiparosok és kiskereskedők a két világháború közötti Magyarországon [The Profit-Oriented Petit Bourgeoisie: Small Craftsmen and Retailers in Interwar Hungary] (Debrecen: Multiplex Média–Debrecen University Press, 1998), 203–5. According to L. Nagy, 47 percent of Budapest craftspeople worked in their homes in the late 1920s, and only 53 percent of them had workshops elsewhere.

22 Interview with Mrs. Z. M., July 5, 2011. Interview conducted by the author.

23 An excellent case study which deals with such a police investigation and the subsequent court case is András Lugosi, “Sztalin főhercege: Kohn báró vacsorái a Falk Miksa utcában a fajgyalázási törvény idején” [Stalin’s Archduke: the Soirées of Baron Kohn in Falk Miksa Street at the Time of the Miscegenation Law], Fons 17, no. 4 (2010): 527–76.

24 Laura Palosuo, Yellow Stars and Trouser Inspections, Jewish Testimonies from Hungary, 1920–1945 (Uppsala: University of Uppsala, Department of History–Uppsala Programme for Holocaust and Genocide Studies, 2008), 85. Reference for the source of the Palosuo quotes is Raoul Wallenberg Archives, F2C:22, file 553, 7.

25 Authors on the churches and religion in interwar Hungary acknowledge the overall tendency of secularization even when they write about the revivalist movements in Christian churches and the active role their social organizations played. See e.g. László Kósa, „Churches and Religion” in László Kósa ed., A Cultural History of Hungary in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries, transl. by Tim Wilkinson (Budapest: Corvina–Osiris, 2000), 204.

26 For the history of the separation of these congregations and their later relations see Géza Komoróczy, A zsidók története Magyarországon [The History of Jews in Hungary], vol. 2 (Budapest: Kalligram, 2012).

27 For anecdotal stories of diverse Orthodox mentalities, see Richárd Ungár, Új mesék a Dob utcából [New Tales from Dob Street] (Budapest: Makkabi, 2006). From Új mesék a Dob utcából, see for example the stories titled “A menyasszony: Mirjam bász Zelde” [The Bride: Miriam bat Zelde], 48–53, and “Focimeccs a Szent István Parkban” [Football Match in Szent István Park], 91–5.

28 See e.g. Marianna Weisz Mandel, Mi lett volna, ha…? [What Would Have Happened If…?] (Budapest: Aposztróf, 2010.) The author of this mémoire used to be a Klauzál tér resident herself between 1935 and 1941. In her book she tells the story of her family, all of whose members are identifiable on the 12 Klauzál tér census questionnaires from 1941.

29 Vera Bácskai, Gábor Gyáni and András Kubinyi, Budapest története a kezdetektől 1945-ig [The History of Budapest from the Beginnings to 1945] (Budapest: Budapest Főváros Levéltára, 2000), 224. For a more detailed treatment of the problem of subletting in the Horthy era, see Gábor Gyáni, Bérkaszárnya és nyomortelep: A budapesti munkáslakás múltja [Tenement Block and Shanty Town: a History of Working-Class Housing in Budapest] (Budapest: Magvető Kiadó, 1992), 178–85.

30 On the introduction of labour service, see Randolph L. Braham, The Wartime System of Labor Service in Hungary: Varieties and Experiences (Boulder and New York: The Rosenthal Institute for Holocaust Studies Graduate Center/The City University of New York and Social Science Monographs, distributed by Columbia University Press, 1995), v–x.; see also Géza Komoróczy, A zsidók története Magyarországon [The History of Jews in Hungary], vol. 2 (Budapest: Kalligram, 2012), 574–77.

31 Géza Komoróczy, A zsidók története Magyarországon, vol. 2, 575.

32 Interview with Mrs. M. H., May 10, 2011. Interview conducted by the author.

33 See the chapter “Kamenyec-Podolszki” in Géza Komoróczy, A zsidók története Magyarországon, vol. 2, 623–26.

34 Tamás Stark, Zsidóság a vészkorszakban és a felszabadulás után, 1939–1955 [Hungarian Jews during the Holocaust and after World War II, 1939–1955] (Budapest: MTA Történettudományi Intézete, 1995), 14–5.

35 Cole, Holocaust City, 105–15.

36 Polgármesteri rendelet [Mayoral Decree] No. 147.501-147.514/1944-IX. Fővárosi Közlöny, 1944. No. 30 (June 16). Appendix, 1–8. For yellow star buildings designated on Klauzál tér, see page 4. Many adjacent buildings in neighbouring streets, some practically overlooking Klauzál tér, were featured on the list as well, but for the purposes of the present study, and for reasons of consistence, I will not include them because they were not Klauzál tér addresses per se.

37 Cole, Holocaust City, 131–56.

38 Cole, Holocaust City, 154–55.

39 This figure matches Beáta Fabó’s count for that building; she mentions the percentages of Jewish tenants within some of the Klauzál tér buildings in her article. See Beáta Fabó, “A Klauzál tér,” in Kismező, Nagymező, Broadway: Várostörténeti tanulmányok, ed. Mária Kemény (Budapest: Műcsarnok, 2009), 78.

40 The Jewish to non-Jewish ratio within residential buildings was not assessed on the basis of the 1941 census, obviously because by 1944 such a survey had to be based on racial rather than denominational criteria. So at the beginning of June 1944, Budapest authorities carried out a rapid survey which involved every residential building in the city; caretakers were required to supply data to the authorities about their buildings’ residents, and so had a central role in the survey.)

41 Cole, Holocaust City, 154.

42 Source: 8935.1944. BM. The Hungarian Ministry of Interior´s Official Map of the Budapest Ghetto., accessed December 17, 2012.

43 Street-level shops and other kinds of businesses were registered on the same kind of form as apartments in the 1941 census, and in many cases the shopkeepers were recorded on the forms as tenants, with all their personal parameters, including religion, as if they had been residents.

44 Cole, Holocaust City, 215, quoting J. Lévai, Black Book on the Martyrdom of Hungarian Jewry (Zurich: The Central European Times Publishing Company, 1948), 375.

45 Interview with Mrs. Z. M., July 5, 2011. Interview conducted by the author.

46 For the lists of main tenants and for individual census questionnaires in the Klauzál tér buildings, recorded in the census of 1945, see BFL IV. 1419. n.