Judaika aukció novemerben!


zsidohu_vonal1.jpg (2637 bytes)

A BRIEF HISTORY OF THE JEWS IN HUNGARY

    Jews had settled in Hungary as early as the 3rd century AD, when the area was part of the Roman Empire’s province of Pannonia. Several inscriptions and finds from the area of Roman military camps and settlements attest to a Jewish presence; one of these is a memorial stone erected by "Cosimus, the leader of the custom station, the prefect of the Jewish synagogue".
    Written documents from the 11th century indicate the settlement of Jews and the creation of Jewish communities in the nascent Hungarian state. Increasingly more Jews settled in the towns, leading to the emergence of the ‘historical Jewish communities’ in Buda, Esztergom, Sopron, Tata and Old Buda.
    Under the Árpádian Dynasty the Jews of Hungary, albeit curtailed by several restrictions, lived under considerably safer conditions than their brethren elsewhere in Europe. The famous charter of privileges, issued by King Béla IV in 1251, was repeatedly confirmed by subsequent rulers. According to the charter the Jews were "servants of the Chamber" to the king, paying their taxes directly to the Treasury, and receiving royal protection in exchange. The Jews were engaged in commerce and in finance – the royal court often turned to them for money, as well as for advice.
    In the 16th-17th centuries Hungary was occupied by the Turks; following the expulsion of the Turks from the country, the re-settlement of the devastated country was begun: together with German, Slovak and other settlers, Jews too arrived in increasing numbers – first from Bohemia and Moravia and, later, also from Galicia after that territory had been incorporated into the Monarchy. The number of Hungarian Jews increased from 20,000 in 1769 to roughly 80,000 by 1787. The Jews were mostly engaged in the commerce of agricultural produce: they were the ones to market the produce (wine, grain, leather, etc.) of the large estates and the villages. They first settled in the larger estate centres and, later, in the towns and cities that lay at the intersection of major trade routes. The Toleration Decree issued by the Emperor Joseph II in 1781 allowed their settlement in the free royal towns, as well as the establishment of their own schools, and it also enabled the Jews to engage in trade and commerce and to possess landed property.
    The Jews participated well above their ratio in the campaigns and battles of the 1848 revolution; however, their emancipation only came about after the Compromise of 1867.
    The half-century preceding World War I was a period of prosperity and achievement for Hungarian Jewry. There emerged an extensive layer of educated intellectuals, well-trained professionals and merchants, who regarded Hungary as their homeland and had no problems in reconciling its Hungarian and Jewish heritage. Hungarian Jewry has played a key role in the creation and development of Hungarian trade and industry, one of the most notable being Manfred Weiss and his family, who established the largest engineering industry plant. Bankers, economists, scholars, engineers and inventors swelled the ranks of Hungarian Jewry. Jewish writers, poets, artists, actors and directors have indelibly inscribed their names into the history of Hungarian culture.
    World War II, German Fascism and the reign of terror brought on by the Hungarian Arrow-Cross brought unimaginable suffering to Hungarian Jewry. Six hundred thousand of the nine hundred thousand Hungarian-speaking Jews perished in the Holocaust. Hungarian Jewry has still not recovered from the losses caused by the deportations and the conscriptions into forced labour battallions. A rather controversial process began after the liberation: some of the Jews who survived the ghetto and returned from the camps and labour battallions turned to the Zionist movements, whilst others – as a result of the suffering and humiliation they had gone through – wanted to forget their faith and their origins. Beginning in 1949, under increasing pressure from an atheist state, religious life, that had temporarily been reanimated, was dampened; later anti-Zionist actions were taken against a number of Jewish leaders and certain members of the younger generation. Quite a high number of Jews left the country in 1956. Under the Kádár regime the community leadership that was strongly controlled by the State Church Office strove to maintain the central institutions of the community and at least a semblance of religious life. We can truly speak of a renaissance of Jewish life following the political changes in 1989-1990. Zionist organizations are now again exerting an influence, together with civil and cultural associations, culture, education and sports. For the first time in forty-five years the main concern of the community is the reclaiming, rather than the selling off of property. The contradictions and tensions accompanying the changes in Hungarian society are also felt by Hungarian Jewry. Following the political changes the Jewish community organized its educational and organizational network, and international ties were also strengthened. At the same time, the feeling of interdependence is bolstered by occasional outbursts of anti-Semitism. Congregations have recently also been organized in towns where there have not been acknowledged Jewish families for long decades. The offspring of mixed marriages too are searching for their roots and for their Jewish heritage. We can now witness the emergence of a Jewish community that, similarly to its counterparts in the West, clings to its faith and its traditions, is proud of the achievements of the State of Israel and has strong ties to its homeland.

    Ferenc Orbán, Budapest