Page 42 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 49

Basic HTML Version

Jewish Revival in Central Europe
A Survey of Recent Hungarian Judaica
a s
r e c e n t l y
a s
a decade ago, Jewish life in Hungary seemed
destined to fade away. T h e time for respectful eulogies ap ­
peared to be at hand , and those still interested and competent
enough to write about Hungarian Jewish culture did often as­
sume an elegiac tone. Yet ten years later, signs o f revival are
everywhere, and Hungarian Jewish literature , too, is showing
new strength. O f course, what made Hungary d iffe ren t from
o the r Communist-ruled Eastern European countries was that,
excepting the Soviet Union, it had more Jews than all its neigh­
bors combined — although the question o f numbers was itself
a sensitive and thorny issue. The last Hungarian census that
inquired into religious orientation was taken in the late 1940s.
For over twenty-five years the num ber o f Jewish Hungarians
was set informally and more o r less arbitrarily at 80,000, even
though it was widely believed that the total number, including
all secular Jews and Hungarians o f partly Jewish descent, had
to be well over 100,000. At the same time, the num ber o f self-
identified o r affiliated Jews in the country was said to be much
lower, perhaps no more than 10,000.1
In one sense, numbers and percentages are irrelevant. The
popu lar belief that Jews, in spite o f enormous wartime losses,
constituted a sizable portion o f the population stubbornly p e r­
sisted decades after the Holocaust, even in parts o f the country
that became tragically
after the war. Yet such miscon­
1. On the statistical quandary, see Victor Karady’s fine-tuned sociological study
o f post-1945 Hungarian Jewry, “Szociologiai kiserlet a magyar zsidosag 1945
es 1956 kozotti helyzetenek elemzesere” (The Situation o f Hungary’s Jews
between 1945 and 1956 — A Sociological Inquiry). In Peter Kende, ed.,
Zsidosag az 1945 utani Magyarorszagon
(Jews in Post-1945 Hungary). Paris:
Magyar Fiizetek, 1984, pp. 37-180.