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Schriftenreihe des Europa Institutes Budapest, Band 9:45–57.


Jews and Modern Hungarian Culture


The modernisation of Hungarian society is to be found more embodied in its culture than has up till now been mentioned. New institutions arose and traditional forms took on a different meaning. The part played in this transformation by the assimilated Jews is significant; it was argued about in the spheres of high culture, in the fin de siècle literature, sciences as well as the arts.

Assimilation in Hungary quickly pulled the proverbial rug from under the feet of Jewish culture in terms of language and intellectual life. Hebrew continued to be the language of active religious participation and the synagogue, being understood in ever diminishing quality by fewer and fewer people. Yiddish did not step beyond the bounds of the orthodox subculture of north-east Hungary, and unlike its Polish or Russian counterpart, was unable to develop into a secular language beyond its confines. Secularisation and the openness towards the West freed Hungarian culture from its ties with the Church and the Academy. With these developments, modernity had found a home, a universal culture spiced with local flavour. A number of stages preceded the Jewish commitment towards modernity.

The exceptions were the writer in Hebrew, Avigdor Hameri and Jozsef Holder, the Yiddish writer. The former nurtured his ties with Hungarian literature, even after his emigration to Palestine. He translated Madách, Petőfi and Ady into ivrit. The latter, according to the Hungarian Jewish Encyclopaedia, “is the only noteworthy Yiddish writer that Hungary has produced”(p.376). He translated Ady, among others, into Yiddish. Within the body of the experimental periodical Múlt és Jövő (Past and Future), József Patai tried to bring about a Hungarian language Jewish culture and literature. Aside from some significant works, this too remained a marginal experiment. As numerous as Jews were in cultural life, so striking was the absence of Jewish themes in Jewish writing. In 1909 the critic Lipót Goldschmeid wrote “I only know of one painter who retains a Jewish religiosity, and even he is a greater Jew than a painter”1. There was no Hungarian Jewish Chagall. However, there were many writers and artists of quality who were Jewish, and had no wish to belong to Jewish culture of any description. They took their place in the fabric of the national culture, or rather they tried to. We will see how many, and on what basis their place in posterity was wrested from them.

The role of assimilated Jews was particularly important in the formation of the new urban mass culture affecting the press, theatre, cinema, cabaret, bar life, club life, coffee houses and the world of sport2. A typically new characteristic of these institutions was that they required investment, and the businesses involved risk.

In Hungary, it was in the 1880’s that sport shifted from being an aristocratic pastime to a middle-class competitive activity, and eventually a lower middle-class passion. At the time it was the generally held view that Jews neglect their bodies. They were depicted as puny, shirking physical challenges and in flight from fresh air and nature. This negative view irritated the generation following the emancipation. They considered it an image left over from the ghetto period and wanted to free themselves from it. They suffered from the accusations of not being manly enough and fighting fit in a society that set great store by feudal virtues, daring and courage. Otto Weininger, a Viennese anti-Semite and masochistic Jewish prototype was a child of the time. In his well-known volume “Nem és Jellem”(Sex and Personality), within the bounds of intellectual argument he expressed his self-disgust and equated the female with Jewishness, only to seek refuge from his torturous obsession in suicide.

When the forerunners of Jewish emancipation laid particular weight on sports for the young and participation in a wide a range as possible, it was only the elimination of injury to self-esteem that egged them on. It is thanks to this that we find Jews not only among the great patrons of sports – as with Alfred Brull, an Auschwitz victim- but also as participants. Among these are Richard Weisz, one of the founders of MTK and an Olympic wrestler, or Dávid Müller gymnast and bookseller, mentioned in the Hungarian Jewish Encyclopaedia as “the man with the most beautifully developed musculature” (p. 907). He has been immortalised in the work of Alajos Stróbl, having modelled for the János Arany sculpture – part of the Miklós Toldi composition in front of the National Museum. In the five Olympic Games held up until WWI, of the eleven gold gained by Hungary, five were won by Jews and a further two went to fencing teams in which there were Jewish members. Furthermore, during that period there were international football matches in which more than half the selected team were Jewish. Perhaps the most talked about example was the outstanding Jewish fencing team. Jenő Fuchs, of the above mentioned golds won four alone. In the generation following we are restricted to mentioning Attila Petschauer, who was killed in the Ukraine by Hungarian forced labour overseers. (Horthy refused his request to be exempted from labour camp). Ilona Elek was Olympic champion three times in a row in foil fencing. In water polo, Béla Komjádi, whose teams brought home countless Olympic golds and after whom a Buda swimming pool was named, was also Jewish3.

Ady, as a Nagyvárad (now Oradea) journalist reported on a duel held between István Gulyás, a highly respected Debrecen professor and a Jewish merchant from Arad. The poet/journalist commented in his inimitable fashion “...another stupid prejudice has bitten the dust, because of which the current Hungarian middle class – if it exists – always keeps at arm’s length the most worthy, those with the most promising future, the Hungarian businessmen”4.

Miklós Vázsonyi, was against the match from the outset. As a university student he had fenced with the Jewish Miksa Márkus, the later illustrious publicist and from 1908 advisor to the court of Franz Joseph.

The Jews had a decisive role in the creation of the press, which the anti-Semites commonly called “Jewish press”. According to these views the “Jewish spirit” influenced the Christian journalists; the Jewish journalists as employees were proportionally fewer than Jews among the newspaper proprietors.

Journalism at the turn of the century was not merely political in content, and if it was then it was in a completely different language and style to that which the readership would have been accustomed in the 1840’s. The press was by now no longer the only forum available to political expression, but lacking concurrent mediums, it was in a monopoly position, where outside of politics in a changing world it could influence the circulation of works of high quality. It also fulfilled an important economic function with its advertisements and commercials. It became the agent of public opinion, much more so than in the early days, simultaneously forming and expressing it. This change can be strongly attributed to Jewish influence. Let us remember such legendary figures as Adolf Ágai, who with his weekly paper Borsszem Jankó – the Hungarian equivalent of Canard Enchaine – created a new genre with its dry social criticism and charicatures, or Simon Tolnai – the father of Tolnai Világlapja. Born in the year of the Habsburg–Hungarian compromise (1867), the Hungarian Jewish Encyclopaedia writes: “the typical self-made man who pulled himself up by his bootstraps to become the owner of one of Hungary’s largest publishing houses. From the age of eight he was independent. He began his career in the coffee houses of Budapest by collecting the used newspapers and reselling them”(p. 901). There was also József Vészi’s Budapesti Napló, both a liberal and an independent; he achieved success by publishing the best of contemporary writings of the time. Finally, Andor Miklós must be remembered with his Est-lapok, beginning in 1910, with a dynamic editorship, reliant on a network of foreign correspondents for up to the hour information, the first American style newspaper in Hungary.

Jewish influence was no less significant in the formation of modern theatre and in the choice available in larger cities. The Vígszínház (the Comedy Theatre), founded in the Millennium year by the Jewish Gábor Faludi, often put on the programme performances of contemporary Scandinavian, German, French and Russian writers, while also putting on what the greater part of the audience preferred – farce and comedy. What would have made it more Jewish than the National Theatre, whose director was the renown Shakespearean expert Sándor Hevesi, the non-practising son of the Jewish Mór Hoffmann and among whose cast were such famous Jewish actors as Oszkár Beregi or Jenő Ivánfi?

Criticism regarding the Vígszínház was expressed first and foremost because it did not take upon itself the rigid norms of national classicism. The same criticism was meted out to the Király Theatre and Endre Nagy’s Cabaret. He introduced numerous genres into Hungary, thus those evenings he gave over the stage to poets, chanteuse and renowned actors were very popular.

Budapest offered enormous variety to those drawn to the night life: coffee houses with music, concert halls, cabarets and a variety of dance halls. And the “red light district” was there too, the life of which, though idealised by the novelist Sándor Hunyadi, was real enough. In what crack-brained way the anti-Semitic lobby accused the Jewish moral decadence of being responsible for all metropolitan features can best be seen in the sphere of prostitution. This was no recent arrival in Hungary either. Neither was it specifically urban, or capitalist, and its participants were drawn from a wide variety of backgrounds. This did not prevent the anti-Semitic classicist Petrassevich to describe these women as ”Hebron’s butterflies flying on the wings of female emancipation”, and to get to the point – a cosmopolitanism foreign to the nation’s morality: “This cosmopolitanism of the Jews (...) conquers territory, it is already to be found in every aspect of Hungarian society, in its morality, in the family, the offices, in public life, in the cultural life; in the salon, on the street, the theatre, in the melodies, in the casino, sports, at the ball – in one word – everywhere5. This list is by no means complete. He forgot to mention the new wonder at the fin de siècle – the film. Barely two years after the Lumière brothers’ discovery in Paris, Gyula Décsi – a Sopron born Jew – founded the first “moving image theatre” and brought the necessary equipment from Paris for the first screenings in Budapest. Within a short space of time, a whole cinema network had been established throughout the country. According to the Hungarian Jewish Encyclopaedia, about 90% of those granted licenses to put on movies were Jewish (p.617) as was film production and distribution. The Jewish founder of the Pannonia Film Studio started the first professional magazine ‘Cinema’ in 1911. After the First World War he became the director of the Hungarian site of the German UFA moving image society. Famous personalities number several Hungarian Jews: son of grocer, Adolf Cukor, born in Zemplén County in 1872, or the Tolcsva born William Fox, 1877 – the founder of 20th Century-Fox, who emigrated to the United States in 1891; he began his career in washing up. Similarly widely acclaimed is the director Sándor Korda, Imre Pressburger or Vilmos Székely, and among the script writes Menyhért Lengyel, Lajos Bíró, Ferenc Molnár, László Bus-Fekete, Lubitsch, and so on. Photography was also considered to be a specifically Jewish, if not a Hungarian Jewish profession.

The situation was similar with the other new artistic branches conquering the masses – in the operetta e.g. Leányvásár, of Victor Jacobi or the Csárdáskirálynő of Imre Kálmán, or in dramas highlighting the complications of village life. These were enormously popular.

The picture would not be complete without mentioning the Jewish role in the modernisation of the Hungarian language, its urbanisation and of the development of the “Pesta speech”. Not least of all Yiddish or Hebrew influences are evident to this day in the spoken language’s expressions and stress. Beside the middle class and industry of Germanic origin having an influence, the German influence in the literature and journalism circulated by the Jews played no small part either. This was evident in the formation of modern literature, if not directly, then more so via the numerous translations, their curiosity, initiative and their receptivity to the new. Plumbing the depths of the strength of expression within a language, the most extreme of rhythms, besides the complicity of feelings as fine as a breath of air – and after significant antecedents, perfect translations were made of the best: Racine, Shakespeare, Dante and Cervantes, Baudelaire and Rilke, Tolstoy, Strindberg and Ibsen. With modernity as an impetus, the greatest Hungarian poets from Ady to Babits, Kosztolányi to Árpád Tóth, translated the major works from the world classics and with Jewish writers included such as the Hungarian language virtuoso Dezső Szomory, Milán Füst or Ernő Szép. This was a fortunate match resulting in the successful rebirth of Hungarian literature.

It is also important to note the Jewish role in the “consumption of high culture”. With the exception of a few subscription lists, there are no statistics about who sat in the theatre, who visited the exhibitions, concerts, who read the new literature, who subscribed to the new scientific and literary periodicals. A number of indicators show that here too, the Jews had an above average presence. In the review Huszadik Század of 1917, the non-Jewish Aladár Körösfői-Kriesch – sceptical about the authentic Hungarianness of Hungarian Jews, linked them to the interpretative rather than to the creative arts. He was forced to conclude that the Jewish intelligentsia had such a “thirst for culture” that in them, Hungarian Genii similar to Ady, Babits, Bartók found an enthusiastic reception.

Yes, this was the circle which protected, distributed and celebrated them.

Above all, this affected the Budapest middle class and those regional cities such as Nagyvárad, Arad, Temesvár, Szabadka, Baja, Kassa, from whence great poets and artists set out.

Budapest with its manifold current Jewish influence became the symbol of ‘being overwhelmed by Jewry’. But more specifically, in 1910 out of the 203,687 Jewish population in Budapest, 93% lived in Pest, mostly in districts VI and VII where they comprised more than half of the total population. However, despite this, the Vth district – the upper middle class Lipótváros, became the symbol of “Jewish capitalism”, whilst Terézváros came to be inhabited by the lower middle class Jews6.

An assimilationist – nationalist period preceded the active part that the Jews played in the fin de siècle literary, artistic and scientific revolution. This was evident particularly in the sciences and in the choice of professions. It is not by chance that Mór Ballagi, the first Jewish member of the Academy, was followed in the field of philology and comparative linguistics by others such as József Balassa or Bernát Munkácsi. Many chose the medical profession. The work of Sándor Korányi led to a baronetcy. In 1885 the Fench government found the outstanding Jewish lawyer, Károly Csemegi’s work in criminal law important enough to want his Csemegi kódex translated.

The contribution that the Jews made to the ‘most Hungarian’ of disciplines, the academic development of modern history, was spectacular; this discipline carried with it, over a number of generations, an awareness of the sense of Hungarian national identity. Pioneers in this field were Henrik Marcali, Ignác Acsády, Vilmos Fraknói or Dávid Angyal. They endeavoured to employ the same methods of research as their European counterparts, the goal being to reconcile the research with this nationalist view and to reinforce the view of the Hungarian people having a cultural calling and their capacity as seemly founders of a nation state in the Carpathian Basin. Beside this, all those involved were interested in becoming part of the traditional institutions – both Academy and University. Of the Academy’s twenty-seven Jewish members between 1849 and 1895, eleven denied their faith, and of the fourteen who were members between 1896 and 1917, eight denied their faith. Their diminished numbers after the Millennium did not mean that their interest in the academic world had waned, merely that official recognition was less important. Evidence of new times showed in the professional profile of these academicians. Whilst the earlier take- up of members showed only three mathematicians among the twenty-seven, the latter take-up showed that eight out of the eleven were involved in the natural sciences7. And as we shall see, those new disciplines established in Hungary due to European influence – such as sociology, philosophy – and psychology, already had a surfeit of Jews.

The nationalist aspirations among those Jews involved in literature and the arts predated the turn of the century vanguard. Fülöp László, a well-known portrait painter at the Viennese court and among Europe’s aristocracy, cut an extremely elegant artistic figure. Ferenc Molnár writes the following of him in his novel of 1910, The Hungry City: “the king lounging against one of the walls was dressed in the ceremonial uniform of a general. Above him hung the Russian czar (...) At this point the portraits of the Jewish women were hidden, because previous to Orsovai, a countess had sat for the famous painter [the novel’s assimilated Jewish hero – F.F.]. After Orsovai would follow the wife of Jakab Schlittauer, Consul of Afghanistan who hailed from the lower Danube region; the artist’s assistants were in the midst of preparing a number of illustrious Jewish portraits. When Orsovai stepped into the studio, the famous artist was preoccupied with creating space for a Jewish woman’s portrait beside those made of every magnate’s wife. The initiated assistants looked askance at the painter when they saw Orsovai. The painter, on thinking that he was dealing with a christianised Jew – and one could never be sure how anti-Semitic these were – with one elegant sweep about faced towards the wall the portrait of a Jewish woman that had just been brought in.”8. The author of The Lily and the Devil did note spare his own fellow travellers his sarcastic jibes.

In the field of sculpture, among the nation’s greats are Ede Telcs and Ede Kallós, whose figures not only populate the capital but other Hungarian cities too. Even more renown was Miklós Ligeti, who aside from creating the figures of Kossuth and Széchenyi, also created those of Franz Joseph, Queen Elizabeth and Rudolf, who was next in line to the throne. We have him to thank for one of the most beautiful statues in Budapest, that of “Anonymous”, the medieval Hungarian chronicler in the Vajdahunyad castle complex in the city park.

A number of Jewish poets at the turn of the last century also deserve attention, either as national classicism assimilationists following Petőfi and Arany, or as modernists. To the former belong József Kiss, Emil Makai, Lajos Palágyi and to the latter we would place Jenő Heltai. In 1875 József Kiss became known nation-wide with Ágnes asszony, the perfect Jewish archetype in Judit Simon. Following on from here he gave voice, with ever increasing originality, to the joys and sorrows of Jewish people, and teir cleaving to Hungary. In his major work – Legends about my grandfather – in its strophes he brings to life with a great deal of humour, the old Galician Reb Litvak’s actions and gestures, his ancestor who “almost” found in Hungary a peaceful home. His poetry vibrates with a particular anxiety which arises from the vacillation and fumbling of a Jew on the verge of being captivated by a new culture. Neither József Kiss nor Jenő Heltai lacked anything of the talent or mastery evident in their non-Jewish contemporaries such as Gyula Reviczky, Jenő Komjáthy, János Vajda, together with whom the sought a voice through which to find new expression.

József Kiss founded a political and literary weekly in 1890 called A Hét, in which first and foremost he gave room to the forerunners of modern literature. His desire to be accepted by the Hungarian establishment remained unfulfilled over a long period of time. His desire was to be accepted as a member of the Kisfaludy Society, which not so long ago had been able to boast the best writers and poets among its members, but by the turn of the century had become rigid with academism and conservatism. Ferenc Molnár penned the following: “The other nominee was an old man, Hungary’s greatest living poet. He was a poor Jew and those in the Kisfaludy did not want to accept that it was no shame to belong to the same race as Jesus Christ. Everyone felt that this old man was one of the clearest of poetic voices, (...) But they did not want him, no, no, no”9. Only when it was very late, was his wish fulfilled, by which time classicism had become an anachronism and had been overtaken by the poets of the Nyugat generation.

At the turn of the last century, Hungarian culture embarked on an outstandingly flourishing route. It became colourful, open to new forms and themes. An artistic revolution took place which could only be compared to the generation of the great romantics of the reform period i.e. Vörösmarty, Petőfi, Arany, Eötvös, Kemény and Jókai. This “spiritual rebirth” can be attributed in part to the participation of a large number of assimilated Jews, in Budapest just as in Prague or Vienna.

In the first half of the previous century, with rare exception, writers and poets rose from the nobility or the peasantry, as these were the two strata as much of society which were native Hungarian speaking. By the end of the century, the artistic profile had undergone significant change. The shift was towards the great numbers of gifted Hungarian Jews, who not only exercised mastery over the language, but having a less rigid approach to tradition, were open to the new influences coming from their western literary and artistic contemporaries.

It may well be that among the artists of significance the non-Jews contributed the most; this should be of no surprise. Those artists who rebelled against conservatism and were liberal and humanist in their thinking inevitably found themselves on the side of their semitic brothers. They were all against the “folk-nationalist” classicism expounded by the epigones supporting Petőfi and Arany. Together they had to suffer the pressure vented on them by the conservative establishment, be it government, the bishopric, the National Casino, the Academy, the university, the Kisfaludy Society and, of course, public opinion. The result was a politicisation of literary life. The battle being fought between the old and new in literature, the arts and the sciences was related to the battle being fought by the aristocrats and the bureaucrats against the emerging middle class and workers in the economic and social sphere. The conservatives exercised a monopoly on what was deemed national in all the above mentioned areas. In their eyes, the primary role of culture was to protect the national spirit, which they understood in limited, chauvinistic terms. Besides this, culture had to have popular support, as the Hungarian language and the true national spirit had been kept alive by those in the provinces over the centuries. Those writers who would not bend to this aesthetic terrorism were branded cosmopolitan. This has come to have a derogatory meaning, to be found in conservative-reactionist dictionaries. Towards the end of the nineteenth century, the above mentioned poets: Vajda, Reviczky, Palágyi and Komjáthy were accused of this, having strayed from the strict classicist norms – accused of flowing with the contemporary philosophical currents, giving expression to human feeling without praising the national virtues. This period gives rise to the view that Budapest is without morality, sinful, a viewpoint popularised with the advent in 1919 of Admiral Horthy’s regime. Part of the punishment meted out to the capital city’s culture was a veiled xenophobia and anti-Semitism. Capitalism was something Jewish. It was decided that modern literature, new art and the avant-garde was also Jewish.

This in no way expressed reality. Even if numerous Jews were to be found among writers, artists, critics, they alone did not fly in the face of this autochthonous attitude. Besides Ignotus, Zoltán Ambrus and Géza Gárdonyi were equally attacked by the conservative-nationalists. The review Nyugat, whose importance in Hungarian culture is equal to that of the Nouvelle Revue Française or the Mercure de France, was founded by three Jews: Ignotus, Baron Lajos Hatvany and Ernő Osvát, but the majority of its contributors were not Jewish. Its ‘front man’ was Ady – a Calvinist of Transylvanian lesser nobility. Whilst he supported political radicalism, Ignotus was an eclectic, temperate, liberal monarchist, a supporter of pluralism in thought and taste. He was also a supporter of the dualist system and of the pro-German foreign policy of Andrássy. Those involved in the Nyugat were from such a widely varied background ethnically as well as in beliefs. But what united them was that they stood for the acceptance of the wide variety of aesthetic values held, originality, perfection in style and the spirit of criticism. This ensured them a respected place in the history of Hungarian literature. “Write what you will, and observe that it is well done!” This was the advice of Ignotus to the young talents who were gathered in by the editorship with missionary zeal. The spirit of free enterprise moved into the literary realm and disowned any protectionism or state interference.

Modern liberalism rejected all differentiation based on race or class. Lajos Kassák, of proletarian background, from the north east found his poetry, prose and paintings a forum as did the catholic Babits, of patrician origin, or Milán Füst, the middle class Jew (who broke off all connections with his Jewish background). They all found a place where their individual talents could flourish, away from the conservative and nationalist criticism that tried to deny them a place. If we take a look at the list of contributors in the first ten years of Nyugat, we are left with a sense of wonder and are dazzled by that generation “the second reform generation” among whom Ady was the first among equals and where Krudy to Füst, Babits to Kosztolányi, Kassák to Karinthy, Bródy to Heltai, Margit Kaffka to Anna Lesznai, Aladár Schöpflin to György Lukács – the list is endless – all had their own world, own style, favourite subjects and personal language. There is no truth in what Taine Hyppolite says: individuality cannot be traced back to race, a time or social group.

It is undeniable that writers of Jewish origin – say, Ferenc Molnár – brought with them in the words of Aladár Komlós “a number of unusual elements”, in truth “something else”. He evaluated this strangeness, the uncommon, the candid criticism as quality enhancing. The fact that the great figures of both Hungarian reform generations withstood the pressures exerted on them to cease ties with Jewish colleagues and friends, plays and played a decisive role in the native Jew’s strong ties to Hungarian culture, despite their many tribulations. The spirit which radiated from this maturing Hungarian culture significantly influenced writers from other minorities within the country.

What differentiated Hungarian culture from its world famous Viennese counterpart was most probably its militant belief in progress. While Viennese writers and artists were plagued by a sense of foreboding about the break-up of the empire, and a refined aestheticism settled upon them, Hungarian modernism was optimistic and carried within it the hopes of a national and democratic renewal. The future of the nation was of real concern to the contributors to the Nyugat, they wanted to free the country from those ills which had beset it; they buried nationalism, but many did not share Ady’s passionate radicalism. For the most part, their political imagination had not gone beyond the middle class progressiveness of the third French republic. Despite their sense of restraint, they couldn’t avoid being stigmatised by the conservative press as subversives against the nation’s interests, against the odds they remained on speaking terms. During the period of dualism, the freedom of the press, the right to self-expression and assembly was respected, provided it did not impinge on topics related to strikes, the demonstrations of minority nationalities or the organisation of the agrarian proletariat; these were at times brutally suppressed.

The revival of political anti-Semitism naturally left its mark on Jewish writers, who would have liked to believe that they had assimilated into Hungarian culture at the deepest level. They suffered most from the attempts at rejection and ostracization which increasingly took on the mantle of racism. It created problems with self-esteem. Doubts troubled them regarding this whole question of assimilation and break with Jewish traditions. We return to this in the Huszadik Század 1917 debate about the Jewish question.

We return at length to Lajos Hatvany, a key figure in Hungarian literature at the turn of the century, who lived through the Viennese emigration and imprisonment and could only continue his career well after the end of the First World War. Hatvany was not only a writer, or important literary figure, he was a generous patron who devoted much of his income to the support of other writers and poets. This type of activity was new as regards culture. Until the middle of the nineteenth century the great patrons of the arts were the noble families such as Esterházy, Festetich, Széchenyi and Grassalkovich. By the middle of the nineteenth century this role was taken over by the Jewish industry and banking interests, Lajos Hatvany being their brightest star. His brother Ferenc, the internationally renowned painter and antiquarian, helped artists. Bertalan, one of their cousins who translated Sanskrit supported the publication Szép Szó as well as Attila József.

Hatvany’s progenitors were merchants who migrated to Hungary from Moravia at the end of the eighteenth century. Under Joseph II they changed their Hebrew name to Deutsch. They were grain merchants over several generations and by the end of the nineteenth century it had made them one of the wealthiest of families owning large mills and sugar factories. Lajos’ father was the economist-factory owner Sándor Deutsch, who in 1922 founded the National Union of Manufacturers and in 1908 was granted a baronetcy by Francis Joseph. In 1897 in his double-barrelled name (Hatvany-Deutsch), he was permitted to use ‘y’ at the end of Hatvany instead of ‘i’. This had been a sign of nobility since the Baroque period. The name Hatvany itself referred to the town where the factory and their castle were located. So it implied Hatvan origin. Lajos left family matters to his brothers and sisters, he chose intellectual pursuits. He continued his studies in Germany in philosophy, writing a doctoral thesis entitled Die Wissenschaft des Nichtwissenswerten causing argument and sensation in academic circles. At home in Hungary he was one of those who ‘discovered’ Endre Ady and was one of his prophets.

Ady merits consideration not only because he was the best of his generation. He had a significant role in the Hungarian Jewish cultural elite’s assimilation; his spirit pervaded the whole of the assimilation process after the turn of the century. He was a pugnacious philosemite who began his journalistic career in Nagyvarad – the most Jewish of cities in the country. His love Léda (anagram for Adel), was a cultivated Jewess who Ady mythologised; there is no doubt that this relationship influenced the young writer and poet in his attitude. Ady totally rejected the clericalism, nationalism and race hatred of his class. On a trip to France just out of the Dreyfus affair, he recognised that anti-Semitism was a powerful political weapon and he never ceased fighting against this in his poetry and prose. This was the direct opposite to his fellow Transylvanian countryman Miklós Bartha, who had nothing but words of loathing and scorn for the oppressed Galicians, or those Romanian Jews in flight from the pogroms. Ady in contrast expressed his empathy towards them. His poem A bélyeges sereg (The stigmatized army) is emblematic of his solidarity with the Jews.


“If your blood be foreign a hundred times over

It is still mine, all mine

Your honey sweet women with their blood red lips

Your steadfast youth with their open hearts

Have all been transfused within me


Eternal planets, eternal forewarners,

Time’s fermenters, I too will accompany you

Stigmatised, star marked.”


It would be difficult to underrate the message contained within these lines, their strength of meaning since then and their effect at the time they were written. The repeated waves of anti-Semitic revival and ostracization, reinforced within whole generations of assimilated Jews that what their fore-bearers had done was wise. Erzsébet Vezér refers to a by no means unusual event in her last Ady volume. “Not so long ago a trustworthy witness told me that in one of the German labour camps, in Dornhau, at a ‘cultural event’ Ady verses were spoken, with which they managed to infuse the will to live into the skeletons.”10

Ady did not protect the Hungarian assimilated Jews merely due to his love of humanity or civilised empathy but vociferously attacked anti-Semitism. He was truly convinced that the Jewish contribution was to the benefit of his people whose faults he admonished as much as he felt bound to them. He had very clear views about the growth of a democratic Hungary of which assimilated Jews and the Hungarian-Jewish coexistence was a part; this is the most succinctly expressed in his Korrobori (Corroboree).11

”In Australia there is a tribe whose people are the worlds’ first poets, because they invented the Corroboree. The Corroboree is a great love dance orgy – where the women create the music. (...) What cowardice, not to say that we pursue the corroboree over a number of decades we have danced it along the lands of the Duna-Tisza? Here, two of no race and equally foreign make love with each other according to the rules of the Corroboree. The Jews settled here with musical instruments duplicated from already existing cultures. And we, who call ourselves Hungarians, dance this love dance with a thirst for hatred. Here strangling each other of love we either produce a new people or the deluge will follow. (...). Here the Jews, as with the Australian aboriginal women, are the ones who play the instruments. We the dying male mediums dance with anger and love, with hatred and desire – till we drop. (...) I see before me the prototype of a new people, born of the Corroboree. This would be the solution to all our problems and History’s outstanding event, if it could be true. Culture is created only by those for whose restlessness the whole earth is not enough. (...) The culture and progress of these cross-bred Hungarians wedged between the Balkan races is dependent on a not totally perfect, but useful Jewry.”

Utopia or reality in one? Ady did not foster illusions about the ease with which this could be brought about. His article in 1917, sensing the impending catastrophe only appeared in the Nyugat’s 1924 January edition; the reason for the delay is to date unknown.12 Or, after its first public reading it had “run out of time”, and the text became a kind of testament – after all, what he would have liked could still have been possible in 1917 and in the sixth year of the Horthy regime this utopia became utterly untenable.

Another passage of his is not often quoted from this work: “It is a pity that there are so few of us, such few dancers; there are no Hungarians in Hungary. The explanation would be very political as to the reasons why, but there aren’t any. The burnt out ruling class, a peasantry come late into freedom, in decline because useless mating of types and races has resulted in an asinine citizenry. How in the hell, and from what on earth could we be culturally potent Hungarians? Soon we will no longer be able to dance the corroboree or even enjoy it further”. As if he had weighed up his words of 1902. “There has not yet been and there isn’t a Hungarian society. Allow us the opportunity to create one. At least do not destroy until we can give something into your hands.”13 Let us add to this that the gap continued to close between the greater part of the Jewish middle class and the majority of the non-Jewish Christian middle class, despite the continuing discriminative anti-Semitism. The Jewish laws restricted it, then put obstacles in its path and its choking cannot be talked about by the generations that survived the Soah. With reference to Ady’s with the pathos of one who believes in the future: “if Trianon and Nazism had not happened, then perhaps he might have been proved right.”14





Izraelita Magyar Irodalmi Társulat, Évkönyv (The Israeli Hungarian Society Yearbook) 1895, p. 337.


Gyula Zeke: A nagyvárosi kultúra új formái és a zsidóság (The new forms of cultural life in big cities and the Jewry) Budapesti Negyed, no. 8. 1995/2. summer, pp. 90–106


See Andrew Handler regarding this theme: From the Ghetto to Games: Jewish Athletes in Hungary, New York and Boulder, Columbia University Press, 1985.


Ady Endre összes prózai mûvei (The complete prose of Endre Ady.) I. Publ. Gyula Földessy and István Király. Budapest, 1955, pp. 365–366.


Géza Petrássevich: Magyarország és a zsidóság. Budapest, 1899, p. 174.


Gyula Zeke, A budapesti zsidóság lakóhelyi szegregációja a tőkés modernizáció korszakában, 1867–1941 (The segregation of the Hungarian Jewry’s accommodation in the modern capitalist period, 1867-1941). In: Hét évtized a hazai zsidóság életében. I., Budapest, 1990, pp. 162–183.


(Magyar) Zsidó lexikon ([Hungarian] Jewish Encyclopaedia), p. 17.


Ferenc Molnár: Az éhes város (The Hungry City) Budapest, 1900, pp. 93–94.


Op. cit., p. 105


Erzsébet Vezér: Ady. Budapest, 1994, p. 80.


Ady Endre publicisztikai írásai. III. (Endre Ady’s Political Writings.) III. (Selected and annotated by Erzsebet Vezér.) Budapest, 1977, pp. 520–522.


“I should have spoken out about the Jewish question in the twentieth century, but my intentions died in a small article, mutilated and self-protective.” – wrote Ady in the Nyugat August, 1917. No. 16. This small article to which he refers remains untraceable, unlike the Corroboree, written in 1917, and a little after the conference was published in its unpublished version. (Erzsébet Vezér, Ady..., p. 75.


Endre Ady Political Writings I. Op. cit., p. 208.


Erzsébet Vezér, Op. cit. p. 80.