Jews are mentioned in Hungary from the middle of the 11th century when Jews from Germany, Bohemia and Moravia settled there. During the 12th century, Jews in Hungary held important economic positions. However, beginning in the 13th century, significant restrictions were imposed on the Jews and anti-Jewish activities became commonplace. By the 15th century, the most important Jewish community in Hungary was in Buda.
When the Turks retreated from Buda after their initial conquest in 1526, many Hungarian Jews joined them and settled in various communities in the Balkans under Ottoman control. After central Hungary was incorporated into the Ottoman Empire in 1541, the status of the Jews improved, and, in the 17th century, Buda became one of the most important Jewish communities in the Ottoman Empire.
By the beginning of the 18th century, most of Hungary was under Hapsburg rule. At this time, a substantial migration of Jews to Hungary took place. The Jewish population grew from about 12,000 in 1735 to 81,000 in 1787. As a result of legal and political reforms in the first half of the 19th century, the Jewish population grew dramatically, and by 1869, the Jewish population was 542,000.
Commencing with emancipation in 1867, Jews established a strong position in the life of the country. Before World War I, 55-60 of the total number of merchants were Jews, approximately 13 of the independent craftsmen, 13 of owners of large and medium-sized estates, and 45 of the contractors. Of those professionally engaged in literature and the arts, 26 were Jews (of the journalists, 42), in law, 45, and in medicine, 49. On the other hand, only a small number of Jews were employed in public administration. The Jewish population numbered 910,000 in 1910. The identification of the Jews with the Magyar element in the Hungarian kingdom was an important factor in determining the general political attitude toward them. In 1895 the Jewish religion was officially recognized as one of the religions accepted in the state, and accorded rights enjoyed by the Catholic and Protestant religions.
After the defeat of Hungary in World War I, the Jewish community underwent significant changes. As a result of the dismemberment of the country, the Jewish community was reduced almost in half (473,000 in 1920). By 1930, this population had declined to about 444,000. However, during the 1930's, the country was substantially enlarged: 78,000 Jews came under Hungarian control when part of Slovakia was annexed in 1938; 72,000 Jews who lived in in the Czech province of Sub-Carpathian Ruthenia came under Hungarian control in 1939; and 149,000 Jews came under Hungarian jurisdiction when Rumanian Northern Transylvania was awarded to Hungary in 1940. According to the January 31, 1941, census, Jews numbered about 725,000. However, this number was increased to over 800,000 as a result of the "Jewish Laws" which defined the term "Jew" on more radical racial principles.
Although the Jewish community was subject to severe anti-semitic laws and acts, the Hungarian government resisted German pressure to eliminate Jews from economic and cultural life and for their deportation to the east. By 1943, German pressure had succeeded in removing Jews from political and cultural life, but deportation was still resisted by the Hungarians. In March, 1944, the Germans occupied Hungary and established a new government. The job of liquidating the Jewish community was given to Adolph Eichmann. Ghettoiziation and deportation began immediately. Just between May and July, 1944, over 440,000 Jews were deported primarily to Auschwitz. It is estimated that of the 825,000 persons considered Jews in the 1941-45 period, about 565,000 perished and 260,000 survived.
In the 1970's, the Jewish population in Hungary was about 60,000, of which 50,000 lived in Budapest.
Encyclopedia Judaica, CD-Rom Edition, Keter Publishing
Copyright © 1998-2005 Edward Victor