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  • Author or Editor: Szilvia Peremiczky x
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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.

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