A Curious Conversation: Jewish Hungarians' Engagement with Admiral Horthy's Regime

Friday, January 6, 2012: 10:30 AM
Chicago Ballroom F (Chicago Marriott Downtown)
Ferenc Laczó, Imre Kertész Kolleg, Friedrich-Schiller-Universität Jena
Various observers have perceived the place of Hungarian Jewry among modern European Jewries over the first half of the 20th century as rather curious. Neither German, nor fitting predominant Eastern European patterns and thus at odds with dominant regional typologies, Hungarian Jewry possessed a number of distinguishing features. These particular characteristics had much to do with the strong identification of its leading strata with Hungarian nationalism, alongside their commitment to Judaism. This phenomenon first blossomed in the context of a purported Hungarian nation state existing within the Habsburg Empire. Having no numerical majority, the dominant ethnic group of Magyars offered a social contract of assimilation. Jews proved particularly eager to respond to this pressure and committed themselves to the path of Hungarian acculturation and a dual Jewish-Hungarian identity.

Though Hungarian nationalism exhibitied increasing signs of anti-Semitism upon the traumatic end of the cataclysmic First World War, leading Neolog Jewish groups decided to contest the push for their exclusion by continuing to emphasize and display their national affiliations. The presentation shall analyze the various discourses Hungarian Jewish intellectuals used to express their personal and collective identity in the inter-war years on the basis of the rich publications of the most popular form of modern Neolog scholarship, the Israelite Hungarian Literary Society. In a unique constellation, Hungarian Jewish publications continued to appear and discuss the Jewish community’s position in the Hungarian nation even as Hungary was allied with Germany and the destruction of European Jewry had commenced. Jewish opportunities to publish drastically narrowed after 1938 but were not completely eliminated until 1944. The peculiar constellation in these years also meant crucial transformations in Hungarian Jewish intellectual self-positioning that are worthy of attention: Hungarian Jews remained in dialogue with an anti-Semitic and proto-Fascist regime for much longer than anywhere else in Europe.

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