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The word “Jew” is used as a more or less self-evident identity category, even though the content it conveys has been just as much transformed by secularisation, modernisation, assimilation and acculturation as any other identity category. In the world before secularisation and the modern idea of the nation - up to the nineteenth century in Hungary - a Jew was somebody whose religion was Jewish. The internal cracks caused the Judaism-based concept of Jewishness in Hungary to fall apart within a couple of decades. The fragmentation of Jewry was no less down to the challenge of national and secular identities, but these challenges only took effect because of the confirmations they promised in different situations. Departing from traditional Jewish ways was “rewarded” by social and intellectual success. Zionism - whose founder, Theodor Herzl, was brought up in the culture of Budapest and Vienna - conceived Jewish identity as a national identity and attempted to bring Jews, who were following divergent routes, together through self-identification with the nation. The Holocaust did not change the historical nature of the disintegrated Jewish identity. The anti-Semitic, disenfranchising Hungarian national consciousness said: it does not matter what you are - if I say you are a Jew, you are a Jew. Communism said: it doesn't matter what you are, if you are not a Communist, you cannot be anything else.

  • A good illustration of the attitude outlined here is the journal Egyenlőség [Equality]. See Lajos Szabolcsi: Two Lifetimes. The Decades of Equality 1881-1931. Recollections and Documents with a Preface by Miklós Szabolcsi (Budapest: HAS Centre for Jewish Studies, 1993).

  • I am referring to one of the most striking careers of assimilation of the age, and its conclusion: Henrik Marczali and his "affair". Henrik Marczali, Memoirs (Budapest: Múlt és Jövő Kiadó, 2000), and Judit Bíró, The Singer-Marczali, Affair, in Scandals in Hungarian Public Life, 1843-1991, compiled by András Gerő (Budapest: T-Twins Kiadó, 1993), 117-136.

  • There is an enormous number of sources and an extensive literature on the formation and character of Hungarian national consciousness. For the sake of simplicity, I mention here only one, which is both a treatment and a source, since it contains studies by greatest authorities and the words of contemporaries. The series published in 1998 by Új Mandátum under the title Hungarian Liberals. The twelve volumes give a thorough picture of liberal Hungarian national identity.

  • Social-based enemy-formation came to the forefront on both the left and the right. The logic that stamped the social democrats and the radicals as "anti-national" was firstly an ideology setting out to overthrow the "class structure" and secondly a central element of the discourse.

  • The "internal enemy" is not intended here to mean open social oppositions, since social conflict is in a sense a constant element in the history of communities, even if the concept of society in the modern sense only came into being in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Here it clearly means the perceived internal enemy of the "nation." On the anti-Semitic party of the time see: Judit Kubinszky, Political Anti-Semitism in Hungary, 1875-1890 (Budapest: Kossuth Könyvkiadó, 1976).

  • The Catholic People's Party, of considerable importance in understanding some utterances of the Horthy era - and some even nowadays - attracts relatively little attention from writers of Hungarian history. The best work in this area is a dissertation by Dániel Szabó, only a manuscript to my knowledge. There are several references to the People's Party and its ideology in Miklós Szabó's political and historical essays, Miklós Szabó, Legacy of the Mummies (Budapest: Új Mandátum Könyvkiadó, 1995).

  • The mood of 48/49 is in my judgement best expressed by the first comprehensive treatment, whose author was also a participant: Mihály Horváth, The History of Hungary's Fight for Freedom in 1848 and 1849 (Geneva: Miklós Puky, 1865).

  • There is a substantial literature on this subject. I find the most useful for appraising the back ground and the process Jacob Katz, Out of the Ghetto. The Century of Jewish Emancipation, 1770-1870 (Budapest: MTA Jewish Studies Group, 1995), (originally published in English in 1973); and by the same author - particularly for its Hungarian features: Final Break. How Orthodoxy Split from the Jewish Religious Community in Hungary and Germany (Budapest: Múlt és Jövő Kiadó 1999) (originally published in Hebrew).

  • For the wider historical context: William O. McCagg, A History of the Habsburg Jews (Budapest: Cserépfalvi, 1992) (originally published in English in 1989). Sketchier, but with a wider scope is Nathaniel Katzburg, Chapters from Modern Jewish History in Hungary (Budapest: Hungarian Academy of Sciences [HAS] Jewish Studies Group, Osiris Kiadó 1999) (originally written in Hebrew in 1975).

  • The developments of the Reform Era are dealt with very subtly, via a particular area - education - by Viktória Bányai: Jewish Education in Hungary 1780-1850. PhD thesis, Budapest-ELTE 2001 (manuscript). On the role of Hungarian national consciousness, András Gerő, "Jewish Roads within Hungarian Bounds in the 19th Century", in Magyar Polgárosodás (Budapest: Atlantisz, 1993), 295-318. On the 1848/49 situation, Béla Bernstein: The 1848 Hungarian War of Independence and the Jews (Budapest, 1898) (Reprinted by Múlt és Jövő Kiadó in 1998); 1848-1849 in the Life of the Hungarian Jews, ed. Jenő Zsoldos (Budapest, 1948) (Reprinted by Múlt és Jövő Kiadó in 1998). The fullest treatment of the emancipation: Ambrus Miskolczy, Jewish Emancipation in Hungary in 1849 (Budapest: Múlt és Jövő Kiadó, 1999).

  • Viktor Karády has made the widest studies of Jewish secularisation and modernisation in recent years. His works have appeared in ever greater numbers. He mainly uses quantification methods. I found particularly useful: Viktor Karády, Jews and Social Inequalities (1867-1945) (Budapest: Replika, 2000).

  • Essential for an understanding of turn-of-the-century affairs: Péter Hanák, The Garden and the Workshop (Budapest: Gondolat Kiadó, 1988); Carl E. Schorske, Fin-de-siecle Vienna. Politics and Culture (Budapest: Helikon, 1998) (Originally published in English in 1961); Steven Beller, Vienna and the Jews 1867-1938. A Cultural History (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989); Gábor Vermes, István Tisza (Budapest: Századvég Kiadó, 1994). The turn-of-the-century changes are treated by John W. Boyer's two monographs: Political Radicalism in Late Imperial Vienna. Origins of the Christian Social Movement 1848-1897 (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press 1981), and the sequel: Culture and Political Crisis in Vienna. Christian Socialism in Power 1897-1918 (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1995); Brigitte Hamann, Vienna and Hitler. Formative Years of a Dictator (Budapest: Európa Könyvkiadó, 2000) (Originally published in German in 1996).

  • These phenomena and the associated attitudes are well illustrated in: Lajos Venetiáner, History of the Hungarian Jews from the Conquest to the Outbreak of the Great War, with Particular Regard to Economic and Cultural Development (Budapest: Fővárosi Nyomda Rt., 1922) which was republished in an abridged from in 1986 by Könyvértékesítő Vállalat.

  • An attempt at a thorough review of anti-Semitism and its variations is: András Kovács, ed., Anti-Semitism (Budapest: Új Mandátum, 2000).

  • The most easily accessible treatment in Hungarian is Zoltán Halász, Herzl (Budapest: Magyar Világ Kiadó, 1995). It does not meet the criteria of an academic work, but gives a good account of how the originally assimilative consciousness transformed into a Jewish national outlook.

  • The limits to the spread of Zionism are revealed by several approaches. To understand the limits of its influence see: "Jews in Budapest" Budapesti Negyed (1995/summer, no. 8); and Kinga Frojimovics, Géza Komoróczy, Viktória Pantai, and Andrea Strbik, Jewish Budapest. Memories, Rituals, History (Budapest: Városháza, Hungarian Academy of Sciences [HAS] Centre for Jewish Studies, 1995).

  • Unfortunately, for several reasons the subject of the Hungarian Jews and Jewish identity in all its forms in the post-war period has been comparatively neglected. There are many blank spots and very little thorough research, although the political transition brought some welcome developments. On religious life and the intellectual life surrounding religion in the post-war period: László Csorba, "Israelite Sects in Hungary from the Age of Peril to the Nineteen Eighties," and Györgyi Tamási, "Jewish Intellectual Life in Hungary after 1945", in Seven Decades in the Life of the Hungarian Jews, vols. I-II (Budapest: HAS Institute of Philosophy, 1990), vol. II, 61-300. (The other contributions in these books, covering earlier periods, are also well worth reading.) János Gyurgyák's wide-ranging book, containing a lot of data, The Jewish Question in Hungary. The History of Political Concepts (Budapest: Osiris Kiadó, 2001) only covers the post-1945 era in the "Epilogue". Tamás Ungvári: Ahasvérus and Shylock: the Jewish Question in Hungary (Budapest: Akadémiai Kiadó, 1999) deals more with post-transition debates than affairs after 1945.

  • Also not to be neglected are the instances of Jewish persecution even after the war. See: János Pelle, The last Blood Libels. The History of Ethnic Enmity and Political Manipulation in Eastern Europe (Budapest: Pelikán Kiadó, 1995).

  • I have dealt with this problem in another book: András Gerő, The Nationalised Revolution. The Centenary of 1848 (Budapest: Új Mandátum Kiadó, 1998).

  • An interesting view of this is given by the Gulyás brothers' documentary film on the relocations.

  • The formation of secular Jewish consciousness merits study of its own, since both the secular socialist world and the resolutely anti-Israeli Communist propaganda were both involved in its creation. This form of Jewish identity became especially visible following the political transition, although its precedents had already appeared in the discourse, in urban folklore and in dedicated samizdat publications.

  • On these issues see contributions by Ferenc Erős, András Kovács, Judit Mészáros, and Katalin Pető in Jewishness, Identity, History, eds.: M. Mária Kovács, Yitzhak M. Kashti, and Ferenc Erős (Budapest: T-Twins, 1992). For another - a literary - approach to the problem, see Iván Sanders, "Advanced Metacommunication. The Jewish Reading of Péter Nádas' book 'Memoirs'", in The Boundary and the Bounded. Thoughts on Forms of Hungarian-Jewish Literature, ed. Petra Török (Budapest: National Rabbi Training Institute, Yahalom Jewish Cultural History Research Group, 1997).

  • In this sense, István Szabó's film The Taste of Sunshine is pure history of identity. One of the strengths of the film is the demonstration that the horrors of Communism do not exonerate what gave rise to Communism

  • The classic work on the subject is Randolph L. Braham, The Hungarian Holocaust, vols I-II, (Budapest: Gondolat, 1988) (originally published in English in 1981). The question is put into a European context in: László Karsai, Holocaust (Budapest: Pannonica Kiadó, 2001). I should note that the destruction of legal safeguards brought about by the policies of disenfranchisement and genocide, bathed as they were in anti-Communist rhetoric, opened the way for the Communist policies of expropriation and deprivation of legal rights. There is an implicit reference to this in István Bibó's work, The Jewish Question in Hungary after 1944.

  • Highly enlightening as regards identity history, Sándor Tibor, After the Change of the Guard. The Jewish Question and Film Policy 1938-1944 (Budapest: Hungarian Film Institute, 1997); Mária Schmidt: Collaboration or Cooperation? The Budapest Jewish Council (Budapest: Minerva, 1990); and János Hoffman, Curtain of Mist. Notes of a Jewish Citizen 1940-1944 (Szombathely, 2001).

  • On this see Ignác Romsics, The History of Hungary in the 20th Century (Budapest: Osiris Kiadó, 1999). A slightly different emphasis is given in Jenő Gergely and Lajos Izsák, The History of the Twentieth Century (Budapest: Pannonica Kiadó, 2000).

  • Jenő Gergely, Gyula Gömbös. Political Career (Budapest: Vince Kiadó, 2001) and László Karsai, "Ferenc Szálasi" in Reformists and Radicals in Hungary, ed. Ferenc Glatz (Budapest: Akadémiai Kiadó, 1990).

  • A documentation of racially-based legislation: Jewish Acts and Decrees in Hungary 1938-1945, compiled by Róbert Vértes (Budapest: Polgár Kiadó. 1997). Thanks are due here to Krisztián Ungváry for permitting me to read his manuscript on the intellectual run-up to the expropriation of the Jews. A contribution to thinking on the background to the legislation: Ervin Csizmadia, János Makkai (Budapest: Új Mandátum, 2001).

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Hungarian Studies
Language English
Size B5
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2020 Volume 34
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Founder Nemzetközi Magyarságtudományi Társaság -- International Association for Hungarian Studies
H-1097 Budapest, Tóth Kálmán u. 4. B.8.41.
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ISSN 0236-6568 (Print)
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