Hungarian Jewry underwent internal changes in the wake of the war. The events of the Holocaust, the enmity evinced by the Hungarian population toward the Jews who returned from the camps, and a resurgence of antisemitism convinced many Jews in Hungary that their future lay elsewhere. Receptivity to Zionism intensified, especially among the younger generation. The spread of the national idea triggered an ideological polemic between the Zionists and their adversaries, centering on the question of assimilation and the future of Hungarian Jewry in general.
The debate was conducted on diverse planes: within the Jewish camp, between the Zionists and their opponents; and outside the community, with the Hungarian intelligentsia and the Communist Party. The controversy was of immense public importance: for the first time an open and frank ideological debate was conducted on assimilation and Jewish self-determination and on Hungarian Jewry’s place in the society and the state.
Assimilation was not a new issue. It had been thrust onto the public agenda in the late 1930s and early 1940s following the anti-Jewish legislation of those years. The Zionists argued then that the Jews must return to their national and cultural roots. Some went so far as to maintain a process of dissimilation was needed, entailing the dissolution of the Hungarian-Jewish association and the Jews’ settlement in Eretz Israel. Following the war the Jews’ deep disappointment in civil emancipation and the attitude of the non-Jewish society lent the revived debate a new dimension. The Zionists rejected assimilation out of hand and adduced the Eretz Israel solution, yet they did not rule out the continued existence of the Jews in Hungary as a recognized national minority. By contrast, the Communist Party looked with fervent disfavor on the idea of Hungarian Jewry’s national separateness; for the Communists this was a reactionary notion, conflicting with their aspiration to create a Socialist society.
The period between the liberation and the establishment of the new regime in 1948-1949 witnessed the unfolding of two central processes with regard to the surviving Hungarian Jews: the restoration of Jewish life, and a metamorphosis of values on both the intellectual and the public planes. In 1945-1946, the community framework was renewed, in large measure thanks to the generous help of Jewish organizations from abroad. It was also in this period that Jews and Hungarians found themselves in confrontation because of the Hungarians’ refusal to accept moral responsibility for the events of the Holocaust or even to acknowledge that the Holocaust had been directed specifically against Jews. The ensuing resurgence of antisemitism led many Hungarian Jews to conclude that their future lay elsewhere.
Following the liberation, national awareness and the idea of a distinctive Jewish identity took increasing hold among Hungarian Jewry, spurred by internal and external struggles to ensure a full Jewish life based on selfdetermination. The Jews who espoused this approach sought to place the relations between Jews and non-Jews in Hungary on a new footing of national, cultural and social autonomy. The prospects for this outcome appeared reasonable in the first two years after the liberation, when a coalition government ruled within the framework of a democratic parliamentary regime. However, the liquidation of this regime spelled the end of Hungarian Jewry’s national development, as Jewish autonomy was restricted solely to the communal and religious realms. Seeing no other viable option, the Jewish leadership acquiesced in the new political conditions that emerged in 1948- 1949.
Source: Gutman, Yisrael and Saf, Avital (eds.), She’arit Hapleta 1944- 1948, Rehabilitation and Political Struggle, Proceedings of the Sixth Yad Vashem International Historical Conference, Yad Vashem, Jerusalem, 1990, pp. 133-142.