The earliest Jewish literary works in Hungary were late-medieval religious writings in Hebrew, and literary contributions in the Hungarian language only began to appear toward the middle of the 19th century. The first generation of Hungarian-Jewish writers firmly believed in the viability of a dual Hungarian and Jewish identity and in the prospects of Jewish and Hungarian coexistence, and these two concerns have remained central to Hungarian-Jewish literature ever since. Jewish emancipation was warmly supported by the intellectual and political elite of Hungary, and Jewish Hungarians gained full civil rights in 1867. However, to their bitter disappointment, they were soon facing a rapidly rising tide of anti-Semitism that ultimately led to the Hungarian Holocaust, in which over half a million Jewish Hungarians perished. Some Hungarian-Jewish writers responded to the rising tide of anti-Semitism with a classical dual identity position that censured assimilation involving a denial of Jewish identity, others responded by attempting to deliberately shed their own Jewish identities through conversion to Christianity or by becoming Communists, a handful of others by opting for Zionism, and in one controversial instance, by advocating the adoption of an ethno-national minority identity. After the Holocaust, many among the remnant Jewish Hungarians believed that Communism would help resolve the core existential questions facing them, but the studious silence of the totalitarian regime about the Holocaust merely left these sores festering in an unresolved limbo for decades. Curiously, the regime eventually did permit the publication of Fateless by Kertész, undoubtedly because of its anti-Nazi message, and quite missing the irony that its resolute anti-totalitarianism applied equally to them. During the 75 years between Emancipation and Holocaust, the magnitude of Jewish contributions to Hungary's literature, journalism, scholarship, culture, science, industry, banking and commercial enterprise had been almost without precedent in the annals of diaspora Jewish communities, and post-Holocaust Jewish Hungarians continue to play a prominent role in the literary, cultural, political, and academic life of contemporary post-Communist Hungary. However, the core issues of dual identity and co-existence that were first broached with such optimism in the middle of the 19th century are still unresolved and are likely to engage the attention of new generations of Hungarian-Jewish writers into the foreseeable future.
Múlt és Jövő.
There were of course numerous other significant journals and forums for debating the existential questions of dual identity and assimilation by Neologue (reform) Jewish journalists, intellectuals and rabbis, in particular the Hungarian Jewish Review (Magyar Zsidó Szemle) and other publications of the Israelite Hungarian Literary Society (Izraelita Magyar Irodalmi Társulat). Over the past decade and a half the works of some key contributors to this debate, such as Lajos Blau, Vilmos Bacher and Ignác Goldziher have been republished - in particular by the Past and Future (Múlt és Jövő) publishing house, which has been re-established after the regime change under the direction of editor-in-chief János Kőbányai (also cf. fn. 112).
(1882-1954). Among Hungarian-Jewish writers of the time, it was perhaps Patai who had moved furthest away from the generally accepted Hungarian-Jewish ideal of his generation.
Free translation of "Tiértetek csak Cion szíve dobban / Örökké, híven csak anya szeret" (Komlós 2, 150).
Indeed, as a writer, Szomory was the unmistakable voice of the Jewish public of Pest, the Eastern half of Budapest, where the bulk of the Jewish community resided.
"Van-e zsidókérdés Magyarországon?" in Huszadik Század, A magyarországi zsidókérdésről, special edition, Autumn 1917.
Not least because Hungarian-Jewish writers in particular were at the forefront of processes of constantly ongoing creative regeneration in Hungarian literature, both in their innovative uses of the Hungarian language and in their innovative adaptations of new literary trends from the West.
(1889-1937). Lajos Szabolcsi was the publisher and editor-in-chief of Egyenlőség. In his Bar Kochba, Son of a Star (Bar-Kochba, a csillag fia), a historical novel published in 1918, Szabolcsi presented the story of the heroic Jewish war of independence led by Bar Kochba against the Romans, in symbolic proof of the bravery of Hungarian-Jewish soldiers during the First World War, and repudiating there by the charge of cowardice that was often used as the pretext for anti-Semitic atrocities.
Jenő, the hero of Komor's novel The Descendants of Fischman S (Fischmann S. utódjai) (1919) remained unaccepted by the upper classes to whose ranks he aspired, despite having converted to Christianity. Komor (1898-1944) presented the lower middle class Jewish characters of this awkward tale as being totally devoid of human dignity and morals; people who were patently not Christians, but definitely no longer Jewish either.
Új keresztény (1909).
Who converted to Catholicism, in order that they be allowed to build a Catholic church. As a consequence, the majority of their Jewish neighbours turned away from them, and when the church collapsed, the entire village turned on them, too.
Ki a gettóból (1911).
Not from sincere conviction but out of middle class conformism, thereby heedlessly surrendering their own deepest sense of self.
A Pál utcai fiúk (1909).
Whose plays made him world famous between the two world wars. (1878-1952).
Though only a small subsidiary thread in a larger story, the juxtaposition of these two characters is nonetheless integral to the essence of this novel.
The period started with pogroms in rural areas, then saw the introduction of numerus clausus (discriminatory policy in favour of ethnic Hungarians to restrict Jewish participation in higher education), later the inexorable rise to power of the organizations and parties of the extreme right, and later still the introduction of anti-Jewish legislation based on the Nuremberg laws, which ultimately ended in the Shoah.
Az asszimiláció kora a magyar irodalomban 1867-1914 (1938).
Imre Nagy, for example, longed to return to the village ghetto and Zoltán Somlyó (1882-1937), who opted for exile in 1912, held up as ideal not the assimilated Hungarian-Jewish peasant, but the village shopkeeper, who remained steadfastly loyal to his Jewish identity.
In fairness, his critique did not restrict its censure to Jewish authors only, but the ominous sentence in his letter had nonetheless further poisoned an already unhealthy atmosphere.
His language and style were at once naturalist, secessionist and impressionist. In Liza Tímár he censured the snobbishness of a rich Jew and brought him to heal for his disloyalty to the Jewish people; in Doctor Faust (Faust Orvos), he dealt critically with the topic of apostasy; in 1915 he wrote with compassion about the plight of Jewish refugees from Galicia. At the same time he expressed a longing to leave Budapest for Bethlehem, and in the anti-Semitic atmosphere following the First World War and the short-lived Communist dictatorship, in the end he too felt compelled to convert to Christianity.
Gyuri Köves, the hero of the novel, was innocently convicted, exactly as Josef K was in The Trial by Kafka. Totalitarianism degrades human beings into faceless and fateless objects, where victims come to regard what befell them almost as matter of course, the natural order of the world. This is why Gyuri spoke of bliss in the camps.
Also known as Máramarossziget - Sighet in Yiddish, Sighetu Marmatiei in Romanian - a North Transylvanian market town located in present day Romania, which used to be one of the most significant Orthodox communities in historic Transylvania.
Apart from memoirs written by survivors, such as Ernő Szép, Stench of Humans (Emberszag) (1945) and Jenő J. Tersánszky, The Story of a Handcart (Egy kézikocsi története) (1949), and the poetry of Miklós Radnóti, Holocaust literature in Hungary was primarily the work of two authors, both of them outside the Communist mainstream. One was the Catholic poet János Pilinszky, the other Imre Kertész.
Whether they undertook those conversions as the next logical step to follow upon the reform of Judaism or as a deliberate act of breaking away from their own Jewish identities. Oddly enough, this group became pioneers of a Catholic renewal in Hungary.
Communism resembled Nazism in many respects, and not least in that both official and grass-roots anti-Semitism were just as rife in countries of the Soviet block, albeit taking somewhat more muted, subterranean, forms. Consequently, it was unsurprising that the cultural politics of the time did its best to remain silent on the novel by Kertész, given that in light of its official anti-Nazi stance, it was hardly in a position to openly attack the novel for its chosen topic.
It ran into several editions, and was virtually alone in having been able to slip through Communist censorship and present to the Hungarian public a more balanced picture, in sharp contrast to the rabid anti-Zionist propaganda of the Communist Party.
As for instance, Tibor Déry or István Örkény. Actually, this process was already ongoing well before the war, having started at around the time of the First World War. At that time Jewish Hungarians tended to join the Communists for reasons of disillusionment with emancipation and out of faith in the advent of a society without religious or ethnic divisions. Not a few intellectual luminaries joined the Communist Party at the time, as for instance György Lukács, the eminent philosopher of aesthetics and literature.
There was mutual interest at work. On the one hand, the Communists needed to boost their numbers with politically reliable cadre in a defeated but basically hostile country. On the other hand, many among the Holocaust survivors were not merely seeking revenge, but came to be sincerely convinced, at least for a while, that perhaps salvation could indeed lie in an idealist, classless, race-free and internationalist Communist society.
Egy családregény vége (1977). The hero of the novel bore the dual name of Peter Simon, thereby symbolizing the intention of the grandfather for the Jewishness represented by Simon to dissolve into the Christianity of Peter.
Among those who nevertheless addressed some of the existential issues of being Hungarian and Jewish in post-Holocaust Hungary were authors like Mária Ember, Pál Várnai, Pál Bárdos and György Gera.
"Let my withered right hand be the Amen, // To forgetting thee, O Jerusalem! // And let my aching face convulse unto my lips, // Upon forgetting thee, János Arany!" in free translation of "Hát kihűlt jobbom legyen rá az Ámen, / ha elfeledlek egyszer Jeruzsálem / És fájó arcom rángjon majd a számhoz, / ha elfeledlek egyszer Arany János."
Questions such as how could it have happened that so many in Hungarian politics and among ordinary Hungarians became such active participants in the disenfranchisement of Jewish Hungarians, the misappropriation of their property, and ultimately in their deportation to the death camps. The undigested horror of the Hungarian Holocaust remains an unresolved issue in Hungary to this day, for Jewish and non-Jewish Hungarians alike.
Sorstalanság (1975) - Translation of the title as Fateless by Katharina Wilson, Professor of Comparative Literature at University of Georgia, was a not unreasonable adjectival compromise with the nominalised Hungarian form of the word.
Including further Shoah memoirs, such as Miklós Nyiszli's Auschwitz: A Doctor's Eyewitness Account (Mengele boncolóorvosa voltam) (1993).
Komlós, Aladár (1997) Bevezetés a magyar-zsidó irodalomba. Budapest: Múlt és Jövö.
Diósy (1812-1892) represented a generation of Jewish people in nineteenth century Hungary who deeply believed in the prospects of coexistence between Jewish and non-Jewish Hungarians.
The same Kossuth, who afterwards became also well-known in the United States.
I am referring here to literature in the broadest sense, since the first Jewish written records in Hungary - whether in Hebrew or Yiddish - were Responsa, which were religious in nature. The first significant achievement was Sefer HaMinhagim or The Book of Customs (******) (1400), the work of Rabbi Yitzhak (Eizik) Tirnau or Nagyszombat (Tyrnau in German, Trnov in Slovak, a multi-ethnic township in historic Hungary, now in Slovakia), and the first work of literature was the still extant Kinoth or Lamentations (**) in the Cracow Codex (1494), in which Joshua ben Chaim commemorated the auto-da-fé of the Jews of Nagyszombat.
Ephraim HaCohen (1616-1678), a significant scholar of the period, published his responsa in Turkish-ruled Buda - Ofen in German, a historic multi-ethnic township located in the area of present day Buda or Western Budapest - in a collection titled Sha'ar Ephraim or Ephraim's Gate (****) (1688) and it was also around that time that the first Yiddish language works appeared: first Chaim Bochner's Commentary (1710 then the Yiddish translation of Sefer HaMinhagim, (1400).
On the site of Castle Hill in present day Budapest.
The magnitude of the carnage carried out by the armies of Eugene de Savoya was such that it was not until the end of the eighteenth century that the Jewish community in Hungary had finally managed to recover from its consequences. In Megilat Ofen or The Story of Buda (**), Greater Lamentations and Lesser Lamentations, Izsák Schulhoff depicted scenes of siege and massacre of shocking brutality. (Schulhof Izsák, Budai krónika, Magvető, Budapest, 1978) In the Kinoth, Schulhoff recounted the story of his family and of the Jewish community of Buda, respectively. The event was also commemorated by Aharon ben Joseph of Prague, in his Yiddish language poem A splendid new song of Buda (Ajn sajn naje lid fun Ojven).
Indeed, these questions engaged not just the Jewish community, but also many segments of the ethnic Hungarian community as well, some on positive ways, some recalling the worst excesses of Hungarian anti-Semitism in the past.
Among them the Israeli journalist, editor, politician and now government minister Tommy Lapid, formerly Tamás Lampel, a leader of what used to be the "Hungarian Gang" in the community of journalists in Israel.
The Seven Days of Abraham Bogatir (Avraham Bogatir hét napja) (1968), Where Have the Soldiers Disappeared (Hová tűntek a katonák) (1971), and End of the Story (A történet vége) (1977).
** (Settlement), shorthand reference for the Jewish community in British Mandatory Palestine before the Declaration of the Establishment of the State of Israel by David Ben Gurion on 14 May 1948.
As attested by recent works of post-Communist Hungarian-Jewish authors, such as György Dalos, Imre Goldstein, János Kőbányai and Gábor T. Szántó, and the publishing and editorial work of figures such as Kőbányai (also cf. fn. 36) and Szántó, who is also the editor-in chief of Szombat, a quality current affairs journal published by and on behalf of the Jewish community of Hungary that features the work of leading Hungarian-Jewish journalists and commentators, such as László Seres, Attila Novák, János Gadó, and György Tatár
Its objective was to modernise Jewish culture and religion, one outcome of which was an endeavour to liken Jewish religious services to those of the Lutheran Church. Examples in point were the layout of Reform synagogues, the emergence of the organ and choir in religious services, and the fact that Drasoth **** or sermons were increasingly given in the vernacular language. The Reform movement initiated by the Haskala eventually developed into the modern Conservative, Liberal and Reform streams of Judaism. It also brought about the beginnings of evolutionary changes in the use of the Hebrew language, and genres from modern European literature began to find their way into Hebrew poetry. These were the first beginnings of a process that a century later culminated in the revival of spoken Hebrew and the birth of the Modern Hebrew language.
In 1816 Salamon Lövisohn published a collection of poems entitled Melitzat Yeshurun or Yeshurun's Poesie (**); several other volumes of poetry and drama were also published around that time in Hungary.
On the one hand, knowledge of German was mandatory, because it was the language of Habsburg rule, the lingua franca of the empire and the vehicle that conveyed the learning and ideals that were gradually percolating from the West. On the other hand, Hungarian national aspirations were becoming increasingly vocal and vigorous, and consequently it became also mandatory to acquire a mastery of the language of the Hungarians. The Pest City Association for Propagating the Hungarian Language among Local Israelites(Honi Izraeliták Között Magyar Nyelvet Terjesztő Pesti Egylet), later the Society for Hungarianization (Magyarító Egylet), was formed in 1843 with the aim of promoting the use of Hungarian language by members of the Jewish Community. In their daily life, the Orthodox used Yiddish as their vernacular, and although numerous Hungarian poems were translated into Hebrew, the actual use of Hebrew was confined almost entirely to liturgy and religious studies. Fearing assimilation, the Hatam (Moses) Sofer (1762-1839), the influential rabbi of Pozsony (Pressburg in German, Bratislava in Slovak) - a multi-ethnic town near Vienna that used to host the Hungarian Diet in historic Hungary and is now capital of Slovakia - took a firm stand in favour of Yiddish in 1831; but by that time Jewish community aspirations were unequivocally moving in favour of adopting the local vernacular.
On the one hand, it charged the Jewish people with the crime of having turned Christianity loose on the world, but in the very same breath it also charged them with the crime of having rejected that Christianity, resulting in a rather invidious lose-lose position from a Jewish pespective. By the same token, however, most Enlightenment thinkers - among them Christian Dohm, a leading figure of German Enlightenment - held that individual Jewish persons became corrupted only by nature of their religion and culture, but that they could redeem themselves and become useful members of wider society if they broke away and emancipated them selves from their dark religious and cultural bonds.
Such as ritual murder, the figure of the rapacious Shylockean usurer, and the depiction of the Jew as predestined for evil doing from birth, and doomed to eternal damnation for the sin of crucifixion.
Jewish heroes were depicted with genuine sympathy, and as Hungarian patriots, by Mór Jókai, the most celebrated novelist of the era. Closer to our own times, another significant novelist, Zsigmond Móricz, perceived a quality of life in Jewry and a culture-shaping force that was in positive contrast with the backward conditions prevailing in the still predominantly rural Hungary of that time.
It bears mentioning, however, that strong interest in public issues was also a feature of mainstream Hungarian literature, yet for all that, vigorous ideological orientation rarely ever came at the expense of quality.
For instance, Mór Szegfi urged religious reforms, but at the same time he also depicted the wonderfully warm intimacy of Orthodox Jewish family life and especially that of Kabalat Shabbat (**), the weekly ritual of greeting the advent of Sabbath in observant households.
(1815-1891), also known as Mór Ballagi, after he Hungarianised his name and converted to Christianity.
People of a mythical Central Eurasian land of gold and horsemen, fondly presumed by the literary imagination of some in Hungary to have been among the forebears of ancient Hungarians.
Free translation of "Nem vagytok többé mostoha gyermekek - érezzétek ezt, és helyezzétek be magatokat - nemzeti érzelmek közepébe" (Komoróczy - Frojimovics - Pusztai - Stribik, 127).
Free translation of "Mert ha végre hő imánkra / Szétszakad a rabbilincs / Megmutajuk a zsidónál / Jobb magyar a földön nincs" (Szalai, 60).
That kind of thinking was also reflected in the works of Galician born Michael Heilprin (1822-1888), who made a name for himself with his Hungarian language poems by the age of twenty. After the failed 1848-49 uprising he emigrated and became a noted scholar in the United States.
The anti-Semitic atrocities after the outbreak of the revolution and the banishment of Jews from the newly formed National Guard therefore both came as serious disappointments to Jewish Hungarians. But at that time, the wounds were still able to heal. The vast majority of Jewish people in Hungary were enthusiastic supporters of the cause of Hungarian independence, and leaders of Hungarian intellectual and literary life came out in vigorous support of the Jewish community. Jewish voices of disappointment were therefore few and far between (cf. Bernstein, Zsoldos).
After the defeat, the Jewish community in Hungary could no more escape punitive retribution by the Habsburgs than the rest of the nation, and as a result there was significant emigration from the country.
Such as those of Bertalan Ormódi (1836-1869), whose work was warmly praised at the time by the great Hungarian poet, János Arany himself (cf. Komlós, p. 85). However, though themes exploring the psyche of the individual began to receive greater attention, the accent continued to remain one of the core issues of Hungarian-Jewish co-existence and the nature of Jewish identity.
Emancipation gave full civil rights to resident Jewish persons under Hungarian law, but it was expected that in return, from that point forward, Jewish people in Hungary would identify themselves as Hungarians of Jewish faith rather than as mere Jewish ethnics, and thereby help inflate the population count of ethnic Hungarians vis-à-vis other large ethnic groups under Hungarian jurisdiction within the territories of historic Hungary. During the second half of the nineteenth century the wave of surname Hungarianisations was mainly attributable to this.
This situation was further exacerbated by the fact that in contrast to the British upper classes which were commercially oriented by tradition, Hungarian nobility had little interest or aptitude for pursuing economic value adding activities. On the other hand, business had always been the sole practical source of livelihood for Jewish people throughout their long history, and their aptitudes in this field filled a vacuum in post-Compromise Hungary.
However, with the passage of time, critical perspectives on the processes of assimilation became more pronounced and several different modes of existence came into being within the Hungarian-Jewish community, most notably the Reform-Conservative, or Neologue, and the Orthodox streams of religious observance. Nonetheless, the use of Hungarian language remained a unifying feature of almost all Hungarian-Jewish literary works.
The literary ideal of the times was the folkish-nationalist poetry best represented in the work of the two giants of Hungarian literature, Sándor Petőfi and János Arany. In contrast to many others, Kiss was no mere derivative imitator of the balladry of Arany but enriched the genre by giving poetic expression to the village Jewish person's dream of emancipation, and created heroes, such as Judith Simon, who in their thoughts and feelings did not differ one iota from the Hungarian peasants among whom they lived. Kiss was also the first in Hungary to elevate chanson writing and the so-called urbanist genre of poetry to the level of literary works of art.
"Open plunder became he in his native land, // Disinherited, wretched, exiled. // Maybe the grave would give him peace, // But even it would perhaps cast him out" - a free translation of "Szabad zsákmány volt a hazában, / Kitagadott, szegény, hazátlon. / A sír tán nyugtot ad neki, / de lehet, hogy az is kiveti" (cf. Komlós, p. 137).
Free translation of "E föld, hol állasz, az ígéret földje! (…) / Zsidó, immár van neked is hazád!" (cf. Komlós, pp. 2, 191).
In one of his later essays he expressed an inconsolable alienation in terms of a bitter lament over not knowing what to make of a world where ethnicity counts for more than decent humanity.
With, that, the image of the Hungarian-Jewish peasant also disappeared gradually from Hungarian-Jewish writings. However, despite reservations and some openly critical attitudes, the vast majority of Jewish people in Hungary were by that time already irreversibly assimilated in spirit to the majority community of Hungarians. Thus, they had little interest in the idea of Zionism that was being vigorously promoted by the Hungarian-born Herzl, and his ideas never really gained popularity among Jewish Hungarians, except among largely unassimilated, Yiddish-speaking Orthodox communities in outlying rural areas, and in particular in the very large Orthodox communities resident at the time in the Transylvanian and Ruthenian provinces of historic Hungary.
His novel Azarel (1937) was autobiographical in its inspiration. In this novel Pap gave a compelling portrayal of the conflicts within the psyche of a child whose grandfather remained Orthodox, but whose father - modelled on his own father, the eminent scientist Miksa Pollák - was spell-bound by emancipation and almost completely assimilated. The little boy felt equally alienated from both their worlds, as did Pap himself, who also rejected both these positions. In his other significant novel, The Eighth Station of the Cross (Nyolcadik stáció) (1931), Pap portrayed a young painter who aspired to distil a Jesus of dogma-free religiousness from the sufferings of Christ. The novel happens to present a fascinating parallel to Chaim Potok's My Name is Asher Lev, whose Hassidic Jewish hero was also a painter, although actually, what he attempted to represent in terms of the sufferings of Christ on the cross were the sufferings of his mother. Both these works raised interesting issues regarding the nature of the image of Christ among the Jewish people. Pap's other works, such as his novel You Have Liberated Me From Death (Megszabadítottál a haláltól) (1928/29) and his play Bat Sheba (Betsabe) (1940) also had Biblical themes, albeit taken from the world of the Old Testament, rather than that of the New.
Zsidó sebek és bűnök (1935). Many, such as László Németh, concluded that Pap's program substantiated the proposition that ethnic Hungarians and Jewish Hungarians belonged to separate and utterly alien racial groups, but this view was based on a complete misunderstanding of what Pap wrote.
(1871-1957) - Was Herzl's nephew.
With his detective stories, rollicking sea adventures and adventures in the Foreign Legion, Rejtő created an undying memorial to the characteristic Jewish humour of Pest. But entertaining as it was, his humour concealed a certain wisdom and a peculiar sense of melancholy. One of his novels, The Bone Brigade (Csontbrigád), in fact turned out to be a fearfully prophetic and shockingly accurate depiction of the horrors of concentration camps, a prophecy that was ultimately fulfilled in the horrors of the Shoah.
Among the murdered there were also representatives of the tiny Yiddish language literature in Hungary, such as József Holder (1893-1945), who translated the masterpieces of Hungarian literature into Yiddish. His last major work, a translation of the Hungarian classic The Tragedy of Man (Az ember tragédiája) by Imre Madách, could never be completed. Orthodox communities in the outlying eastern and northeastern provinces of historic Hungary continued to cherish Yiddish and use it as their principal vernacular alongside Hungarian - as well as the Romanian, Ukrainian and German that were all commonly spoken in those areas - whilst Hebrew they used solely for purposes of liturgy and religious studies.
Former students of György Lukács and subsequently his close associates.
(1890-1970) - Formerly Feuerstein, arrived in Israel in 1921.