Page 43 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 49

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SANDERS/JEWISH REVIVAL IN CENTRAL EUROPE
35
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,
the
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