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HUNGARIAN ANTI-SEMITISM - THE ACCUSATION OF RITUAL MURDER OF TISZA ESZLÁR

In 1867 the Hungarian nation, that had fought for its independence against the Habsburg dynasty, made an agreement with the latter. In the terms of this agreement, all nationalities were to be considered equal within the Austro-Hungarian Federation, and by the same token, the agreement confirmed the freedom of religion, proclaimed by the Hungarian revolution of 1848.

Under the long reign of Emperor Franz Joseph (King Ferenc József, as the Hungarians called him) which lasted until the end of World War I in 1918, the situation of the Hungarian Jews was, in general, favorable. Officially no obstacles were put in the way of their advancement in the careers or in the economic life of the country, though in fact, there remained a deep-rooted social prejudice against them which made their assimilation with the rest of the nation difficult if not impossible. A few Jews, especially if converted, succeeded in attaining high positions in the army. Jewish tycoons of industry obtained Hungarian nobility, acquired the title of "Baron" though never that of "Count," which was reserved to descendants of the ancient feudal families. There were even a few who were appointed "Royal Counsellors," a largely honorary title which however carried great prestige with it.

As a result of the liberal policies of the monarchy, Jews made great strides in the professions, stimulated the economy and the cultural life of the nation. They became the yeast that made the rich intellectual substance of the nation ferment with the addition of new ideas. They actually formed a link to the Western world.

In spite of all the above, anti-semitism began to raise its ugly head in Hungarian politics and in the life of the nation in the 1880s, hardly a decade after the national reconciliation with Austria. A new political movement, headed by Gyula Verhovay, a member of the Chamber of Deputies, inscribed it on its flag. It was the only program of Verhovay's party. His followers founded newspapers, clubs, fraternities, sent out speakers to the four corners of the country spreading the doctrine that the Jews were an alien body in the nation, with ideals pernicious to the moral health of Hungarians. Verhovay's influence was widespread among the people. Its penetration was demonstrated by what was called the Hungarian Dreyfus Affair that had its repercussion throughout the entire European continent.

On the first of April, 1882, a young servant girl by the name of Esther Solymossi was sent by her mistress to fetch some housepaint from a store in the old part of the village Tisza Eszlár, a small community on the Tisza river. The girl left early in the morning and did not return. As the time of the year was that of the Jewish Passover, the rumor spread that the Jews had killed her to mix her blood into their unleavened bread, an old abject accusation that had been used throughout the centuries to justify atrocities against the Jews. It was revived in Tisza Eszlár and officially adopted by the local authorities. The latter based their investigation of the disappearance of Esther on this myth. They interrogated all Jewish families in the locality. By threats and promises they induced Moritz Scharf, the 8-year-old son of the ritual Jewish butcher, to testify to the effect that he had. seen his father, aided by others, take little Esther to the synagogue, cut her throat and pour her blood into a basin.

The testimony of the little boy was of course insufficient in law, and more evidence was needed to prove the charge. It would have been necessary to find the body of the girl with her throat slit open. The body however, remained undiscoverable, till one day the river washed ashore a body that was recognized by most of those who had known her as that of the missing girl, even though her features had been made unrecognizable because of the body's long stay in the water. The body bore no trace of violence of any sort. The overzealous magistrates of the village and of the nearby town Nyiregyháza, refused to accept the testimony of the witnesses. They kept all the Jews of the village in jail and arrested others, surveyors of lumber rafts on the river, on a charge of complicity. They maintained that the lumbermen had smuggled the body ashore in order to create an alibi for their coreligionists of Tisza Eszlár. However, the time passed and no other body could be discovered which resembled even vaguely the body of Esther Solymossy.

The Tisza Eszlár ritual murder charge, or the Affair, as it was briefly called, alarmed the entire Jewish population of Hungary. They hired a liberal and respected lawyer, Károly Eötvös to come to the rescue of the defendants. Eotvos started an investigation of his own - impeded whenever possible by the local authorities - and established the fact that the little girl had been systematically mistreated and half-starved by her mistress. Suicide because of despondency was the only plausible explanation of her death.

The trial took place in 1883 in Budapest. It was attended by the representatives not only of the national press, but also by those of many Western countries and even of the United States. It ended by the acquittal of the defendants. The acquittal did not heal however the moral wounds caused by the Affair. Suspicion against the Jews persisted in the hearts of many Hungarians who believed and were told that the Jews had bribed the judges to save themselves. It took some time before the waves of distrust and hatred subsided somewhat.

The end of the 19th century brought a relative calm in the relationship between Jews and non-Jews in Hungary.

During the First World War Jewish families suffered their share of losses of their members on the battlefields, and their heartaches and worries concerning their beloved ones. There was hardly any Jewish family that did not have one or several of them killed, crippled or taken prisoner. In spite of that, malicious persons spread the slander that the Jews had been able to keep out of the war, and that they had enriched themselves as suppliers of the armies. Inevitably some Jewish financiers profited from the scarcity of materials and from large benefits from contracts they obtained from the armies, but the same was true of nonJewish industrialists. The greatest scandal concerning reckless profiteering from military orders was connected with the name of Archduke Frederick, who had supplied boots with paper soles that were given to soldiers in the cold winter on Russian and other battlefields. The feet of thousand of these unfortunates were frozen and had to be amputated.

The First World War ended as it is well known, by the defeat of Hungary and her allies. The front disintegrated, the soldiers flocked home in groups or individually. The end of the war saw the formation of a new anti-Semitic movement called the Awakening Hungarians. Its members were recruited from among the disgruntled elements of the lower middle classes, from non-commissioned officers, small clerks with a sprinkling of a few officers. Later the movement was taken over by politicians close to Nicholas Horthy, the future regent of Hungary. [*]

After the Hungarian revolution of 1938 the Republic was proclaimed. Count Michael Károlyi, a liberal politician and head of the Parliamentary opposition of the government during the war years, was elected its first president. He was an avowed friend of the Western allies. With the dissolution of the fronts, the disorderly retreat of the armies, and especially as a result of the occupation of Hungarian territories by Rumanian, Czech and Yugoslav troops, each of which wished to create accomplished facts in anticipation of the peace treaties, the economic and political situation inside of what remained of Hungary became more and more difficult, its administration more and more chaotic. The time was ripe for Hungarian Communist agitators, many of whom had been sitting out the war in Moscow, to return home and begin their propaganda. The new government of the mutilated country at first jailed a number of them, but was discouraged by fruitless negotiations with the victorious Allies in regard to the withdrawal of foreign troops, and the opening of supply routes for Hungary. Also, because of internal dissension among its members, it threw in the sponge, released the Communist leaders from jail and handed the power over to them. Thus, the first Hungarian Soviet Republic was born. It called itself the Revolutionary Committee of Workers and Soldiers. Its president was Sándor Garbai, a non-Jewish Social Democrat, but the strong man in the new government was Béla Kun, Moscowtrained, and a personal friend of Lenin. Béla Kun was Jewish and so were two or three other members of his regime. This fact was sufficient for many to equate Communism with the Jews and to declare that the Jews were out to rule the world, and that all Jews were enemies of the nation and the enemies of mankind. This was the same yarn spun later by the Nazis. The accusation of the desire for world domination by Jews originated in the Western world and in our time in Hungary.

The regime of Béla Kun lasted exactly 100 days, from March 20 to August 1, 1919. On that latter day the Communist leaders fled to Vienna. They were succeeded by a provisional government of Social-Democrats. The designation of the Hungarian form of government was changed from "Hungarian Soviet Republic" to "Democratic Republic of Hungary." The first act of the new cabinet was to give amnesty to all persons arrested by the Communists for counter-revolutionary activities.

The resignation and fall of the Communist government was due to the defeat of the Red Army on the former borders of the country, the encirclement of the capital by foreign troops, and to the widespread hunger and discontent prevailing among the population. On the other side of the Danube river at Szeged, a White Army composed of former army officers and soldiers recruited by them, was waiting. Upon the news of the collapse of the Beta Kun regime, this army supported by French, Czech and Rumanian troops, crossed the Danube and entered western Hungary. The counter-revolution was triumphant. Its advent was marked by the systematic persecution of and hideous excesses committed against the Jews.

The counter-revolution was headed by Nicholas Horthy, a former admiral in the navy of the Austro-Hungarian monarchy. Sitting on a white horse, Horthy entered the capital to be proclaimed Regent.

Officers among those closest to Horthy, notably his nephew Ivan Héjjas, Gyula Gömbös and many others operating through individual groups called "detachments" ferreted out Jews, especially well-to-do Jews, in the cities. They accused them of complicity with the Communists although most of their men were by the very nature of their economic situation, hostile to Communism. Those Jews were dragged from their homes and taken to the cellars of hotels where the officers had established their headquarters, and beaten mercilessly. They were usually released after payment of very large sums, often their entire fortune. The list of the victims grew very long. One of those who died of his wounds in the first days of the operations of the Horthy detachments was Ignace Harsai, owner of a picture gallery. Another was Isidor Neubauer, owner of a match factory. Poor people such as Ferenc Fodor, a mechanic, Jenö Wertheimer, a 17-year-old student, also succumbed needlessly to the furor of purification of these officers. [*]

The most notorious among the Jew beaters and torturers next to Héjjas were Pal Phoney and Michael Francis Kis, a sadist, who many years later was arrested as a mass murderer. They soon realized that there was money to be made from the terrorizing of the Jews. They levied a special tax on the wealthy ones. Héjjas later became a member of the Hungarian Parliament and was openly accused by a fellow deputy of repeatedly taking "loans" from a Jew named Lederer. [*]

In the provinces the anti-Jewish terror, cloaked under the label of anti-Communism, raged even more fiercely than in Budapest. Special camps were established at different places, camps of torture, and of inhuman mistreatment. Camps that became in Hungary as notorious as have become the names of Auschwitz, Dachau, Treblinka and other infamous camps of Hitler.

Regent Horthy, to whom protests were made by politicians about the excesses committed by his officers, officially condemned these excesses but did nothing to suppress them. To quiet public opinion at home and abroad, he ordered an investigation. The fact was established that many of the officers' victims were murdered and robbed. In spite of this, the. investigating authorities did not recommend the prosecution of the criminals. On November 3, 1921, Horthy issued an order of amnesty on behalf of those who "committed certain excesses not for the sake of self enrichment but under the influence of public exasperation against the perpetrators of acts undermining the interests of the Hungarian fatherland and the Hungarian race" during the revolutions between the 31st of October, 1918 and the 20th of March, 1920, that is, between the periods of the Károlyi and the Communist revolutions. Héjjas thus could continue to murder and rob his victims and was rewarded for these patriotic acts by his election to the House of Representatives in 1926.

The Minister of the Interior serving under Horthy, Ödön Beniczky, worried about the anti-Jewish excesses, bluntly asked the Regent, "Will there be any pogroms in Hungary?"

Horthy answered, "There will be no pogroms but a few will take a bath" (meaning, will be drowned in the Danube). [*]

One of the first men "to take a bath" was Béla Somogyi, the Jewish editor-in-chief of the workers' newspaper Népszava. His body was floating in the river on February 10, 1920.

The terror against the Jews was concomitant with measures of terror taken against the entire population. The terror was to cover up the fact that the new rulers did nothing to alleviate the deep misery of the people. The Jews were once again made the scapegoats for all the woes that beset the masses.

The stamp was put on the official character of the anti-semitism of the new regime by the restrictions on the admission of Jewish students to national universities. In the summer of 1920 the Hungarian Minister of Education issued an ordinance "to limit the number of students admissible to national universities on the basis of their nationality or race." This ordinance was uniquely and specifically aimed at the Jews. No restrictions were imposed upon the admission of students of other minorities. Only 6% of Jewish applicants were to be admitted. The edict gave no specifics as to the criteria for admission, nor was any exception made in favor of those Jewish students who had fought and distinguished themselves during the war. They as well as their other coreligionists were barred from pursuing their studies in the country for which they had shed their blood. As one Hungarian poet put it, "I looked around and found not my home in my homeland."

The very few Jewish students who succeeded in being admitted had to endure all kinds of humiliations. They were frequently beaten up by their fellow students without any protection on the part of the university authorities, let alone of the police. At the University of Budapest they had to sit in the last benches of the classrooms called "benches of shame." They were made to feel that it was shameful and degrading to belong to the Jewish race.

The "numerus clauses" as the ordinance in question was named, constituted the first act of official anti-semitism in Europe in modern times. Under Horthy, Hungary became the forerunner of Jewish persecution as a means of political propaganda, a movement that was instrumental in the unleashing of World War II. One can state without exaggeration that the racist policy adopted by Harthy and his government created a new era of backwardness and prejudice against minorities that had been banned from the European continent since the end of the 19th century. In only one respect did the Hungarian "numerus clauses" benefit other nations - Jewish students who could not resign themselves to being indefinitely cut off from knowledge and learning emigrated en masse. Many were poor as church mice and had to struggle against the greatest odds, but a great number of them became prominent scholars, scientists, and professionals in the countries of their adoption, enriching the intellectual life of the latter. In every major country of the world, including the United States, Jewish scholars of Hungarian birth contributed to the development of knowledge as teachers, writers or researchers.

The activities of the officers' detachments did not abate in spite of official and rather lukewarm disavowal. The people came to hate them and call them "bandits with crane feathers," from the feathers they wore stuck in their caps. On July 20, 1920, one of these illegal groups, its members armed with revolvers and bayonets, attacked the guests at the Cafe Club, a fashionable private club in the section of the capital called Lipótváros, a residential neighborhood chiefly inhabited by Jewish businessmen and industrialists. Two of the guests were killed, ten were gravely wounded, and others escaped with light injuries. The attack was planned, as was proved later on, by the Awakening Hungarians, the association presided over by the Regents' nephew. The police, of course, failed to intervene. The affair stirred up enough emotion to cause Joseph Bottlik, vice- president of the National Assembly to bring up the subject in Parliament. He deplored it and declared that "this could happen only because similar attacks had remained unpunished in the past."

The "numerus clausus" was not the only manifestation of anti-semitism that made Hungary the forerunner of Hitlerism. Concurrently with its publication, enthusiastic propagandists advocated theories later adopted by Hitler. Horthy himself urged in the cabinet meeting of March 18, 1933, presided over by him, that Hungary should enact "laws for the protection of the race." Perhaps his attitude was influenced by a memorandum he had received from a physician by the name of Ferenc Tömösváry, the authorship of which Hitler would have gladly accepted. This memorandum sent to Horthy was the transcript of an article by the same writer, rejected by all scientific publications in Hungary. Tömösváry started with the premise that "the lower classes have a much higher birthrate than the upper strata of society and urged the prevention of the multiplication of such classes detrimental to the purity of the race." In plain English, Tömösváry advocated already at that time, the sterilization of the weak. He concluded, "A powerful central authority that will disregard the often false and hypocritic sentimentalism of our era, conscious of its responsibility toward the race, will perhaps accomplish such a step, but not societies based on democracy and parliamentarism." [*]

Several Hungarian politicians such as László Endre, the future secretary of state, a sworn enemy of the Jews, Gyula Gömbös, Horthy's friend who became prime minister in 1932, and others started a movement to steer Hungarian foreign policy in the direction of a close association with Adolf Hitler. Gömbös himself paid a visit to Hitler as early as 1920, when Hitler was still nothing but the leader of a noisy and obnoxious political movement. After his advent on June 20, 1933, to the prime ministry, Gömbös declared that "Hitler is here to stay and so is fascism: " He saluted Hitler after his elevation to the federal chancellorship and declared that he was proud of being his friend. It was this orientation of the Hungarian authorities toward Germany that made the occupation of the country and the deportation of Hungarian Jews such an easy task for the Nazis in the last phase of World War II.

The increasing influence of Germany on Hungarian national politics, especially the attitude of the Hungarian government toward the Jews, is evidenced by the anti-Jewish laws that followed the "numerus clauses." The law of November 20, 1920, ordered the explosion from Hungary of all Jews who had immigrated to the country after 1914. This law was promulgated at a time when there were pressing questions to settle, such as the resettlement of refugees from former Hungarian territories. The easy solution that presented itself to the lawmakers was to expel the Jews, and settle the refugees in their place. However, the number of the possible expelees was too "insignificant" to cope with the problem.

The law of 1920 was superseded by that of 1925. Paragraph 15 of the latter, point 7, declared that any foreigner who had entered the country as a result of an immigration movement contrary to the interest of the state must be expelled, and his return should be forbidden. As one can see, the law was vaguely worded and allowed any interpretation. The then Minister of the Interior Gyula Kallay declared that this law of 1925 actually fostered the interests of the native Jewish population. He probably meant that it was the immigration of foreign Jews who caused rising anti-semitism from which all Jews, regardless of their origin, suffered, but such a contention, if that was the meaning of the statement of the prime minister, did not stand up in the light of the previous attacks on Jews, as I have related in the preceding pages.

In keeping with the spirit of the law of 1925, the Minister of the Interior sent special instructions to local authorities enjoining them to apply the strictest measures to prevent a "Jewish invasion." At the same time, Hungarian industries and commercial enterprises were instructed to review the necessity to employ foreign (meaning Jewish) workers, and asked them to get rid of the latter as soon as possible. The circular of the Minister pointed out that many Hungarians had emigrated because of the lack of opportunities at home while the Jewish population was increasing.[*]

In compliance with the appeal of the Minister many raids were staged in that year of 1925 against Jewish families and enterprises. As a result of these raids, the official statistics mentioned that 160 Jews with 183 members of their families were expelled immediately. Expulsion proceedings were started in 354 additional cases involving 824 Jewish persons, and 1383 heads of Jewish families with 3113 members were summoned to prove their right to stay in Hungary.

The law of 1925 itself was invalidated by that of 1938, Article XV, called "the law to assure a better balance in Hungarian social and economic life," a strange and telling title. This law limited the proportion of Jews admissible to the professions of journalism, filmmaking, of the stage, as well as to membership in the Bar Association and in the medical profession to 20%. Any industrial enterprise employing more than 10 workers was also limited to 20% of Jewish employment.

One year later, Article IV of the law of 1939 bore even more clearly the imprint of the Rassentheorie of Rosenberg and Hitler. It defined an answer to the question who is considered to be a Jew? Any person either of Jewish faith or having one parent or two grandparents of that faith was classified in that category. Jews were barred from employment in the civil service (they had been de facto long before). The profession of a teacher at any level was forbidden to them. The numerus clauses, that is to say, the limitation of Jewish students in Hungarian universities was reaffirmed. Their proportion remained the same - 6%. The same percentage was applied to licences in any trade. The law also curtailed the right to vote of Jews in Hungary.

The third and last Jewish law promulgated by the government under the regency of Nicholas Horthy was the Law of 1941, Article XV. This one was entitled, "Law for the supplementation and modification of the law of 1894," relative to the right to contract marriage, also the "Law" regarding the protection of the race deriving from the aforesaid law ( of 1894 ) . The gist of this last law was that the right to marry a non-Jew was denied to a Jewish person.

The anti-Semitic laws in Hungary in their increasingly hostile attitude toward the Jewish populations reflect the gradual transformation of the Hungarian state from a feudal form of government that secured a relative freedom of the individuals within the limit of their respective spheres into a totalitarian state, a model for the German Nazis. These laws laid the foundations for the subsequent despoliation of the Jews, the deprivation of their rights as citizens and human beings. They actually delivered the Jews of Hungary who survived the cruel deportations to the native Arrow-Crossists. The latter openly aimed at their annihilation from which they were prevented only by the arrival of the Russian troops in Budapest.

In summary, one can state that official anti-semitism, that is to say, anti-semitism legally adopted as national and governmental policy, originated in modern times in Hungary. The leaders of that country, under the regency of Nicholas Horthy, can be regarded as teachers of the German Nazis.

Because of this fact, Hungary's role in spite of her small size, was very important in the history of the twentieth century.

The actual collaboration of the Hungarian leaders with the German National-Socialists constituted the framework within which unfolded the personal life story of the author.


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MG 2005-05-25