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As the Old Homeland Unravels: Hungarian-American Jews’ Reactions to the White Terror in Hungary, 1919–24

  • Ilse Josepha Lazaroms

Extract

In his office on 1 Union Square West in New York City, Samuel Buchler, president of the Federation of Hungarian Jews in America, sat at his desk and looked at the trees turning red, yellow, and brown in the park below the window. It was September 1924, and Buchler had just read the news from Hungary. After years of anti-Jewish violence—the white terror, passively condoned by the postwar regime—the Hungarian government had decided to honor Felix M. Warburg, president of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC, or Joint), with a Red Cross Decoration. The honor came directly from Admiral Miklós Horthy, regent of Hungary, who wanted to acknowledge the role the JDC had played in “mitigating misery in Hungary.” It was clear that the JDC had aided millions of Jewish war victims across the devastated landscapes of East Central Europe, including Hungary. But Buchler was skeptical. Since its founding in 1916, the Federation of Hungarian Jews had tried to ameliorate the fate of Hungarian Jews across the ocean, who in quick succession had felt the tremors of war, terror, revolution, social exclusion, and institutional antisemitism. It was ironic that the government Buchler held responsible for much of the anti-Jewish violence and agitation was now hoping to be on good terms with the most famous Jew in the realm of international humanitarianism. For Buchler and the Federation of Hungarian Jews, this was cause for concern.

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Footnotes

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I thank Michael L. Miller, Jaclyn Granick, Friederike Kind-Kovács, Emily R. Gioielli, and the anonymous reviewers of the Austrian History Yearbook for their generous and insightful comments on earlier drafts of this text.

Footnotes

References

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1 “A Step Toward the Redemption of Hungary,” The American Israelite, 20 July 1922, p. 4. This article is based on archival material found at the JDC Archives in New York City, as well as a selection of American Jewish newspapers accessed at the American Jewish Archives in Cincinnati, Ohio, The American Hebrew, The American Israelite, and The Jewish Exponent, selected because of their rich discussion of Hungarian Jewish events.

2 “Hungary Decorates Felix Warburg: Decoration Bestowed for Services in ‘Mitigating Misery in Hungary,’” The American Israelite, 11 Sept. 1924, p. 4.

3 Rabbi Samuel Buchler was a lawyer and a Jewish chaplain at Sing Sing prison. In 1932, he was prosecuted for larceny from immigrant aid initiatives and disbarred as a lawyer. Even though these events took place after the events discussed in this article, it does place a shadow over Buchler's involvement with Jewish immigrant aid work.

4 Garland, Libby, After They Closed the Gates: Jewish Illegal Immigration to the United States, 1921–1965 (Chicago, 2014), 45.

5 These questions are inspired by Rebecca Kobrin's work on immigrant communities from Poland. See Jewish Bialystok and Its Diaspora (Bloomington, 2010), 8.

6 Garland, After They Closed the Gates, 47–48.

7 Ibid., 180, 175.

8 Puskás, Julianna, Ties That Bind, Ties That Divide: 100 Years of Hungarian Experience in the United States, trans. Ludwig, Zora (New York, 2000), 179.

9 Ibid., 194.

10 Perlman, Robert, Bridging Three Worlds: Hungarian-Jewish Americans 1848–1914 (Amherst, 1991), 249.

11 “Hungarian Jews Organize,” The American Hebrew & Jewish Messenger, 22 Dec. 1916, p. 236. On the schism, which took place in 1869, see Katz, Jacob, A House Divided: Orthodoxy and Schism in Nineteenth-Century Central European Jewry (Hanover, 1998).

12 “Form Federation of Hungarian Jews,” The American Hebrew & Jewish Messenger, 22 Sept. 1916, p. 624.

13 JDC Archives, Records of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee of the Years 1914–1918, Folder #56, Federation of Hungarian Jews in America, 19/01/1917.

14 JDC Archives, Records of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee of the Years 1914–1918, Folder #56, Letter from Federation of Hungarian Jews in America Provisional Committee to Mr. Felix Warburg, 10/11/1916.

15 JDC Archives, Records of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee of the Years 1914–1918, Folder #56, Letter from Federation of Hungarian Jews in America to Joint Distribution Committee, 16/01/1917.

16 Ibid. At a meeting held on 22 Jan. 1917 at 8 Avenue D, New York, there were present delegates representing more than forty constituent societies of the Federation of Hungarian Jews, 22/01/1917.

17 See Lazaroms, Ilse Josepha, “Marked by Violence: Hungarian Jewish Histories in the Wake of the White Terror, 1919–1922,” Zutot: Perspectives on Jewish Culture 11 (2014): 3948.

18 Hanebrink, Paul A., In Defense of Christian Hungary: Religion, Nationalism, and Antisemitism, 1890–1944 (Ithaca, 2006), 8490. See also Hanebrink, , A Specter Haunting Europe: The Judeo-Bolshevik Myth (Cambridge, MA, 2018).

19 “Hungarian Anti-Semites Active,” The Jewish Exponent, 26 Mar. 1920, p. 7; “Hungarian Jews Terrorized,” The Jewish Exponent, 23 Apr. 1920, p. 7.

20 Miller, Michael L., “Numerus clausus Exiles: Hungarian Jewish Students in Inter-War Berlin,” in The Numerus Clausus in Hungary: Studies on the First Anti-Jewish Law and Academic Anti-Semitism in Modern Central Europe, eds. Karady, Victor and Nagy, Peter Tibor (Budapest, 2012), 206–18, here 207.

21 “Jews Beaten in Budapest,” The American Israelite, 14 Aug. 1919, p. 5; “Reign of Terror in Hungary,” The American Israelite, 4 Dec. 1919, 1; “Hungarian Counter-Revolutionists Planned Pogroms,” The Jewish Exponent, 27 June 1919, p. 7; “Jews in Budapest More Hopeful,” The Jewish Exponent, 22 Aug. 1919, p. 7.

22 “Hungarian Pogrom Reports Confirmed,” The American Hebrew & Jewish Messenger, 16 July 1920, p. 235.

23 “Jews in Budapest in Critical Position,” The Jewish Exponent, 13 Aug. 1920, p. 7.

24 Eugene S. Bagger, “Importing the White Terror,” reprinted from The Nation, 24 July 1920, in Federation of Hungarian Jews in America, Importing the White Terror: Articles Reprinted from the Nation, and the London Jewish Chronicle (New York, 1920), 3–7, here 3.

25 Hajtó, Vera, Milk Sauce and Paprika: Migration, Childhood and Memories of the Interwar Belgian-Hungarian Child Relief Project (Leuven, 2016), 7374.

26 Huszár's war record stretched from Budapest to Brașov and included the Kecskemét massacre. On 19 Nov. 1919, a detachment led by Lieutenant Hejjas kidnapped and murdered 200 people, mainly Jews, on the charge that they had been communists. Their mutilated bodies were later found in the forest of Orgovány. While the authorities, including Huszár, knew the perpetrators, Hejjas and his men escaped judgment. See “The Kecskemet Massacre,” reprinted from The Nation, 3 Apr. 1920, in Importing the White Terror, 9–14. See also Josef Halmi, Das schwarze Buch über Kecskemét, Mit einem Vortwort von Andor Gábor (Vienna, 1921).

27 “Urge Deportation of Huszár: Hungarian Jewish Societies Protest Presence of Former Premier in this Country,” The American Hebrew & Jewish Messenger, 13 Aug. 1920.

28 “Foreign News,” The American Israelite, 22 Apr. 1920.

29 “American Money for Hungarian Pogroms,” The American Israelite, 2 Sept. 1920, p. 8.

30 As quoted in “Jews Would Bar Former Premier: Hungarian Organizations in New York and in Chicago Protest,” The Jewish Exponent, 13 Aug. 1920, p. 11.

31 “The Week in Review: Hungary's Relief Angel,” The American Hebrew & Jewish Messenger, 13 Aug. 1920.

32 “American Money for Hungarian Pogroms,” The American Israelite, 2 Sept. 1920, p. 8.

33 “From the Four Corners: Jews Expelled from Hungary,” The American Hebrew & Jewish Messenger, 20 Aug. 1920; “Find Hungarian Premier Obeyed Law,” The Jewish Exponent, 20 Aug. 1920, p. 6.

34 Bagger, “Importing the White Terror,” 3.

35 Ibid., 7.

36 “The White Terror in Darkest Hungary,” by Israel Cohen, reprinted from The London Jewish Chronicle, 11 June 1920, in Importing the White Terror, 18–20, here 20.

37 “Pedlow Kapitány, a ki az amerikai-szeretetadományokból több mint egy milliárd korona értéküt osztott szét Magyarországon” [Captain Pedlow, who has distributed more than one billion crowns in US charity donations in Hungary], Vasárnapi Ujság [Sunday Newspaper] 68, no. 3, 13 Feb. 1921, p. 1.

38 For Goldman's assessment of the situation, see JDC Archives, Records of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee of the Years 1919–1921, Folder #148.2, Letter from Julius Goldman to Felix M. Warburg, 13/04/1920, 3.

39 Perlman, Bridging Three Worlds, 251. See also Steinberger, Chaim, First Hungarian Congregation Ohab Zedek, Founded in 1873: A History (New York, 2005), 6.

40 Klein was born in Baracska, Hungary, on 20 May 1849; however, the Jewish press states his date of birth as 22 May 1848.

41 Steinberger, First Hungarian Congregation Ohab Zedek, 6.

42 “Rabbi Klein's Silver Jubilee,” The American Hebrew & Jewish Messenger, 2 July 1915.

43 “Ohab Zedek Congregation Meeting,” The American Hebrew & Jewish Messenger, 15 Mar. 1918; and “Attitudes of Orthodox Jewry to War,” The Jewish Exponent, 15 Mar. 1918.

44 “Cantor Rejects Flattering Offer to Sing in Opera,” The Jewish Exponent, 19 Apr. 1918, and “City Notes,” The Jewish Exponent, 3 May 1918.

45 See also the newspaper clipping “Great and Far Reaching Work Done by American Hungarian Jewish Federation” (date unknown, presumably 1922), Jakob Hoffmann Collection, AR 2017, box 1, folder 6, Leo Baeck Institute, Center for Jewish History, New York.

46 JDC Archives, Records of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee of the Years 1919–1921, Folder #148.1, Letter from the First Hungarian Congregation Ohab Zedek for release, 25/04/1921, 2.

47 The Relief Association for Hungarian Jews in Europe and Palestine was one of the many small nongovernmental organizations by Hungarian Jews in the United States. It appears to have been founded in 1921; the JDC Archives contain two files, one from 1921, the other from 1926. Ibid., Folder #84.2, Relief Association for Hungarian Jews in Europe and Palestine, 12/5/1921.

48 “Hungarian Jews to Be Aided by Former Countryman [sic],” The American Israelite, 7 July 1921, p. 4.

49 See Ilse Josepha Lazaroms, “Jewish Railway Car Dwellers in Post-World War I Hungary: Citizenship and Uprootedness,” in People(s) on the Move: Refugees and Immigration Regimes in Central and Eastern Europe during the Twentieth Century, ed. Joachim von Puttkamer (forthcoming 2019).

50 “Need for Jewish Aid in Hungary,” The American Israelite, 16 Feb. 1922, p. 4.

51 “Budapest Bomb Outrage May Cause Change in Ministry,” The American Israelite, 19 May 1922.

52 Ibid.

53 Embassy of Hungary, “Key Dates in Hungarian-American Diplomatic Relations,” accessed 24 Dec. 2018, https://washington.mfa.gov.hu/eng/page/fontos-datumok. See Friederike Kind-Kovács, “Transatlantic Humanitarianism: Jewish Child Relief in Budapest after the Great War,” in From the Midwife's Bag to the Patient's File: Public Health in Eastern Europe, eds. Friederike Kind-Kovács, Heike Karge, and Sara Bernasconi (Budapest, 2018), 145–72.

54 “Hungarian Propaganda in America,” The American Israelite, 13 Apr. 1922.

55 “Is Hungary a Civilized Country?” The American Israelite, 7 Dec. 1922, p. 4.

56 At this time, the US government seemed to prioritize giving aid to unstable countries, in the hope that the aid would stabilize them, prevent the spread of Bolshevism, and quell poverty—all issues that could stir up antisemitism. American Jews, however, preferred that its government did not fund antisemitic regimes and instead insisted on the United States obtaining real change.

57 “The Puzzle of Hungary, by Harold Berman,” The American Israelite, 3 Aug. 1922, p. 3.

58 “Agony of the Jews in Hungary: Political and Clerical Reactionaries Instigators of Unprecedented and Barbaric Anti-Semitic Campaign by Military,” The American Israelite, 19 July 1923, p. 3.

59 “Sixteenth Annual Report of the American Jewish Committee, November 1922,” American Jewish Year Book, vol. 25 (5684/1923–1924), 385–86.

60 “A Step Toward the Redemption of Hungary,” The American Israelite, 20 July 1922, p. 5; “Hungarian Jewry Hopeful of Improvement,” The Jewish Exponent, 4 Aug. 1922. This did not mean, however, that antisemitism had vanished from the political landscape. In his memoirs, a member of the Hungarian National Assembly, Pál Sándor, recalled how on the day after his speech in Parliament, in which he denounced the white terror, he had received 207 threatening letters, one of which promised to turn him into “goulash.”

61 “The Hungarian Premier and the Jew: Count Bethlen ‘Is Putting in Pledge the Hungarian Citizens of the Jewish Faith,’ by Wilhelm Vázsonyi,” The American Israelite, 19 July 1923, p. 1.

62 By 1925, about 3,300 Jewish students had gone into exile, supported by the Jewish community. See Katzburg, Nathanial, Hungary and the Jews: Policy and Legislation, 1920–1943 (Ramat-Gan, 1981), 61. See also Miller, “Numerus clausus Exiles”; Ágnes Katalin Kelemen, “Leaving an Antisemitic Regime for a Fascist Country: The Hungarian Numerus Clausus Refugees in Italy” (MA thesis, Central European University, 2014).

63 “Sixteenth Annual Report of the American Jewish Committee, November 1922,” 385–86.

64 “Says Kuhn, Loeb & Company to Help Hungarian Loan: Anti-Semitism Dying Down in Hungary, Finance Minister Declares,” The American Israelite, 6 Dec. 1923, p. 4.

65 JDC Archives, Records of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee of the Years 1919–1921, Folder #151.2, Letter from Dr. Kendall Smith to Ulysses Grant-Smith, 11/03/1920.

66 It thanked the Joint in the name of the government, in the repatriated men and their families, and, “in fact, in the name of the whole nation.” JDC Archives, Records of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee of the Years 1921–1932, Folder #90.a, Letter from Bethlen et al. to Joint Distribution Committee of American Funds for Jewish War Sufferers, 23/07/1921.

67 JDC Archives, Records of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee of the Years 1921–1932, Folder #90.a, Letter from Felix M. Warburg to His Excellency, 12/09/1921.

68 JDC Archives, Records of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee of the Years 1921–1932, Folder #90.a, Letter from Minister of Hungary to the Joint Distribution Committee, 04/10/1923. As to those men still residing in Russia, Széchényi wrote, they had been given ample opportunity to return to Hungary but decided not to do so. Thus they could no longer be considered prisoners, but rather “Hungarian emigrants residing in a foreign country.”

69 JDC Archives, Records of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee of the Years 1921–1932, Folder #90.a, The Ship had on Board 131 Hungarian War Prisoners, Whose Names and Addresses …, 10/04/1923. While this was the Joint's official position, it was not entirely true: the Joint did give aid to non-Jews to establish goodwill with the authorities, and thus be able to better help Jews in a surrounding in which they were still considered the enemy and faced antisemitism and violence.

70 JDC Archives, Records of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee of the Years 1921–1932, Folder #90.a, “Letter from Minister of Hungary to Mr. Wm. J. Mack,” 05/09/1923.

71 The Jacob Rader Marcus Center of the American Jewish Archives, Felix M. Warburg Papers, 1910–1937, MS 457, Series 214, Folder 23, “Federation of Hungarian Jews in America, 1924.”

72 Ibid.

73 Central Zionist Archives, Report by League of Nations on Jewish Community in Hungary, and Newspaper Clippings, Robert Dell, “The Kingdom without A King,” 10 May 1924, The New Statesman,” Z4\30208-22/23. See also “Hungary and Her Jews: Important Article in the ‘New Statesman,’” The American Israelite, 12 June 1924, p. 1; “Hungarian Anti-Semitism,” The American Israelite, 9 Oct. 1924, p. 2.

74 Puskás, Ties That Bind, 301.

75 Ibid.

I thank Michael L. Miller, Jaclyn Granick, Friederike Kind-Kovács, Emily R. Gioielli, and the anonymous reviewers of the Austrian History Yearbook for their generous and insightful comments on earlier drafts of this text.

As the Old Homeland Unravels: Hungarian-American Jews’ Reactions to the White Terror in Hungary, 1919–24

  • Ilse Josepha Lazaroms

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