Part 1: Antisemitism in Hungary from 1918 to 1945


About 10,000 soldiers of the “Israeli Faith” died on the battlefield, but traditional anti-Semitism continued to grow after World War I.  Hungarian Jews were accused of obstructing the military, cowardice, the black market, and fraud in military supplies. Controversy over the “Jewish question” flared up in modern newspapers. The most influential was Huszadik Század in 1917. As a result of the defeat in World War I, Greater Hungary was fragmented and greatly reduced in both geographical size and population. Bourgeois radicals and social democrats, many of whom were Jewish or Jewish-born intellectuals, played a key role in the bourgeois revolution led by Mihaly Karolyi. This provoked a negative public reaction, which intensified when the communists, led by Vera Kun (a Jew), seized power in March 1919. Jews or people of Jewish descent served as ministers in the Karolyi government and an unprecedented proportion in the top ranks of the Hungarian Soviet Republic. Of 29 members of the Revolutionary Governing Council, 19 were Jewish. Similar proportions were achieved among rural leaders and activists. The Bolshevik attempts failed at the end of July 1919 due to domestic difficulties and foreign intervention, and the National Army (composed of right-wing counter-revolutionary extremists and supporters of the old regime led by Admiral Miklos Horti) soon seized power. . Only a few Hungarian Jews took part in the revolution. A majority of the middle class opposed the commune from its inception, and some actively supported counter-revolutionary activities. Nevertheless, anti-Semitism flared up more than ever in much of Hungarian society. After the new government came to power in August 1919, anti-Communist and anti-Semitic atrocities were committed in the central regions of the country and in towns and villages in Transdanubia. There were far more Jewish victims than non-Jews. 

Several reasons explain this “new” anti-Semitism: scapegoating explained the defeat of the First World War; negative feelings aroused by the difficulties faced by Hungarian refugees from the successor countries; economic competition; the success of the Jewish people in economic and cultural life; and the role that some Jews – or those considered Jews – played in revolutions. The most important component of anti-Semitic sentiment was the way Hungary was rebuilt after the loss of its national territories: national integration was now based on ethnic principles. 

After the political situation stabilized in 1921, acts of anti-Semitic violence subsided, but Hungarian society continued to be characterized by nationalist, right-wing and anti-Semitic attitudes. The new government’s policy – unlike the pre-war liberals – remained openly anti-Semitic. The Horthy regime simultaneously attempted to strengthen and suppress as much as possible the Hungarian Jewish community. One way to achieve this was to restrict Jewish access to higher education.

In 1920, influenced by anti-Semitic student movements and Christian conservatives, Parliament passed the first “Jewish law” of postwar Europe, the so-called numerus clausus law. Although Jews were not explicitly mentioned and the law used national and racial categories, it was primarily aimed at Jews (who until then had never been legally defined in these terms). The figure capped at 6% the proportion of Jewish students admitted to higher institutions of study. This act, which silently designated Hungarian Jews as a national minority, dealt a blow to pro-assimilation Jews who had declared allegiance to the Hungarian nation. This materialized despite the fact that the official representatives of the Hungarian Jewish community – by order of the government – refused to turn to the League of Nations for help; they did not ask them to put pressure on the Hungarian government to withdraw the measure and even went so far as to distance itself from such initiatives by some international Jewish organizations.

During the interwar period, the Jewish community in Hungary underwent radical demographic, social and economic changes. As a result of the loss of territory (71.5% of Hungary before Trianon), the Jewish population in Hungary decreased from 910,000 in 1910 to just 473,000. The majority were craftsmen, merchants and businessmen of the middle class as well as highly skilled. workers and intellectuals. Their absolute and relative numbers continued to decline in the following decades; The share of younger Jews (up to 20 years old) decreased, while the share of the older Jewish population increased. Jews moved to cities and especially to the capital at an increasing rate: more than half of Hungarian Jews now live in Greater Budapest, making it one of the largest Jewish communities in Europe. In Hungary, 65% are Neologist, 29% Orthodox (most of the major Orthodox Jewish communities were incorporated into the successor states after World War I) and 5% are status quo.


“Hungary and the Jews. from Golden Age to Destruction, 1895-1945.” Sciences Po portal, September 21, 2015.

“Hungary.” YIVO.

Tóth, Csaba. “Boross: It’s High Time We Rethink Hungary’s Interwar Regime.” The Budapest Beacon. The Budapest Beacon, December 15, 2014.

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