Page 43 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 49

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ceptions were not motivated entirely by unshakeable suspicions
and prejudices. Because o f the peculiarities o f Hungarian Jew ­
ish history — e.g., the highly successful Magyarization o f large
segments o f the Jewish population, the destruction o f H unga ry ’s
less assimilated ru ra l Jewry du ring the Holocaust, the postwar
dep a r tu re o f remaining elements o f the bourgeoisie — an over­
represen ta tion o f professionals and intellectuals among the rem ­
nan t Jewish population was inevitable. After the Communist
takeover in 1948, Jews became p rom inen t not only as members
o f the ru ling elite; politically reliable Jewish writers, artists, jo u r ­
nalists, scientists, etc. in many ways dom inated the coun try’s
newly-transformed cultural life. After 1956 this situation chang­
ed considerably, though the Jewish presence in the arts and
the mass media remains fairly strong to this day.
Ironically enough , this fact also explains the relative dea rth
(and du ring the first decade o f Communist rule the almost total
absence) o f works on Jewish subjects. In the 1950s and 60s most
Jewish writers took pains to downplay their heritage, and be­
cause many o f them were then powerful members o f the Com­
munist cultural establishment, ideologically opposed to rival be­
lief and value systems, they made certain that publications o f
Jewish interest, indeed the very appearance o f the term “Jew ”
in print, were far and few between.
To be sure, religious and communal life never ceased; Jewish
institutions, though kept u n d e r close watch, continued to func­
tion even du ring the darkest Stalinist years. Thus, Budapest’s
great synagogues remained open, as did the city’s Jewish high
school and its rabbinical seminary, the only surviving Jewish
institution o f higher learning in Eastern Europe. The biweekly
newspaper o f the Jewish community,
Uj Elet
(New Life), was
also kept alive. It should be noted, though, that a num ber o f
community and religious leaders, because they were so obviously
beholden to the state, lost the confidence o f many Hungarian
Jews, with the result that the meager num ber o f Jewish pub ­
lications that passed official muster were received with consid­
erable skepticism. Nowadays, a favorite targe t o f the rejuvenat­
ed and uncensored Hungarian Jewish press is the form er Jewish
leadership and its accommodationist policies. Even
Uj Elet,
Jewish newspaper that in the past had slavishly adhe red to of­
ficial guidelines, regularly excoriating Israel in the early years
and demonstrating its “courage” later on by more o r less ig­