Filippo Anfuso on antisemitism in Hungary in 1942



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To His Excellency

Count Galeazzo Ciano di Cortellazzo

Minister of Foreign Affairs, Rome

Budapest, 8th May 1942, XX

Re: Semitism and anti-Semitism in Hungary.


The program of anti-Jewish policy outlined by President Kállay in his speeches to the Lower Chamber and to the Party’s National Council (20th March and 20th April last) and the measures that followed represent the start of a new stage in Hungary’s official anti-Semitism. This R. Legation has repeatedly reported on the various developments and on individual aspects of the Jewish problem in this Country, highlighting along the way the various obstacles that have hindered the implementation of radical measures, the conflicting opinions within the Country, the Clergy and Parliament on the issue of anti-Jewish legislation, and on the frequent compromises ensuing from the doubts of a public opinion at times unconvinced that a drastic action is wise. However, the general situation in which the Jewish problem now again surfaces on the Hungarian political scene has changed deeply since the day when Hungary, linking its destiny to that of the Axis Powers, necessarily had to do away, even in its interior politics, with many hesitations and many formal shackles. Herein lies precisely the interest that the Jewish problem continues to attract after the

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emphatic and formally definitive official stance taken by the present Government. We will not desist from the struggle – said Kállay – until with a systematic and ever increasing pace we have taken away from the Jews every sector of national life and we have at last entirely removed them from our Country. In order to appreciate the significance of these words and to understand the complexity of the situation to which they refer it might be worthwhile to briefly reconsider the fundamental aspects of the Jewish problem in Hungary.

Among the other misfortunes which befell this Country at the time of the Turkish invasion there was also the influx of many Jews who found a favourable situation under the Crescent. The expulsion of the Turks caused most of them to leave. Later, the severe decrees of the Habsburgs, particularly Charles III and Maria Theresa, helped to keep the Jews away from Hungary. Between 1820 and 1830, however, there began that exodus of Jews from Galicia to the Hungarian territory which would continue uninterrupted into our own times, encouraged by the rise of capitalism and by the policies of the liberal governments that enabled the Jews to acquire predominance particularly in culture and in the economy. The census of 1930 registered 444,565 Jews then present in Hungary, to whom one must add 78,190 in Upper Hungary (First

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Vienna Award), 103,000 in Subcarpathia and 148,288 in Transylvania (Second Vienna Award). Today there are approx. 800,000 Jews living in Hungary, that is about 6.2 % of the Hungarian population (13,500,000), a percentage that within Europe is exceeded only by Poland, by Lithuania and perhaps by Romania. In the capital only (1,110,000) the Jews are over 200,000 and have attained preeminent positions in banking, in manufacturing, in commerce, in journalism and in the arts. Even the Hungarian aristocracy, which together with the great landowning middle classes has for centuries held the leadership of the Country and has controlled it politically, has been unable or unwilling to oppose this invasion and in the end even acquiesced to it through a great many marriages that proved eminently useful to the Jews for strengthening their position in political life. The numerous Liberal-Masonic associations which emerged in Hungary in the second half of the past century and the Democratic Party, which immediately became the only workers’ party with a western-style organization, formed the framework which protected Jewish activity and the breeding ground both of the democratic revolution of October 1918 and of the Communist revolution of March 1919.

Statistics show better than any discourse the extent of the Jewish invasion into Hungarian life. If we limit our analysis to Budapest, which sums up the general situation, we will find the following percentages in 1935: bankers 80%; transport 70%; stockbrokers 76%;

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jewellers 74%; typographers 73%; owners of public establishments 57%; lawyers 52%; doctors 40%; journalists 35%.

In the country, only 10% of the great landowners (over 100 Jugers) are Jews, but among the tenants of great properties the Jews number 42%. As for the manufacturing sector, the presence of Jews is shown by the following numbers: iron and steel 50%, machinery 43%, timber 53%, leather 68%, textiles 66%, clothing 73%, paper 58%, chemistry 54%, etc.

After the fall of the Bethlen Cabinet (1932), whose policy had greatly facilitated Jewish intrusiveness, the Gömbös Government marked the beginning of a resistance movement, solicited and demanded by the emergent far right organizations that were increasingly exerting their influence on the Daranyi, Imredi etc. governments that came later. The first anti-Jewish law dates from April 1938. The text avoided the word “Jews” and granted such ample discrimination as to leave almost unaltered the average presence of Jews in the different sectors of Hungarian life. The pressure exerted by the rightist parties and the repercussions from the international situation prompted the second Jewish law in December 1938, whose fundamental principles are derived from the Italian anti-Jewish law of 10th November 1939 [sic!, actually 1938] and which, in determining the definition of Jew according to fundamentally racial criteria, contains – numerous exceptions notwithstanding – severe measures. The law

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reduces voting rights to a minimum, excludes Jews from the Lower Chamber; limits the presence of Jews in secondary schools, in universities and in professional associations to 6%, excludes Jews from the editorship of dailies and periodicals, from the directorship of theatres and cinemas, etc. A later law of October 1941 forbade marriage between Jews and non-Jews and punished severely any sexual intercourse between Jewish men and Aryan “honest women”. Lastly, after further measures concerning implementation procedures, the Kállay Government, which came to power in March 1942, has decreed the confiscation of all Jewish landed and wooded property (this R. Legation’s report no. 742/374 of 20th March last ) and the definitive exclusion of Jews from the exploitation of national soil. The latest decree of considerable importance is the one approved by the Chamber on 1st May, which rules that as from that date the Jewish persuasion ceases to be officially acknowledged by the Hungarian state.

Some facts emerge from what has been said here that place the Hungarian Jewish problem in its true perspective.

First of all, the main factor that encouraged the Jewish invasion in Hungary and is still far from having vanished needs to be pointed out. I mean the absence, in the social structure of this Country, of an urban middle class that might carry out the functions and the tasks that have been taken over by the

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Jews. This explains why it is fairly easy to implement the anti-Jewish law in the countryside, where the aristocracy and the landed middle classes are still active and significant forces, whereas it remains difficult to do the same in the towns and particularly in Budapest, where the immediate removal, supposing it were possible to carry it out, of all Jews holding managing posts in industry, commerce and banks would cause a crisis that would overwhelm the Hungarian economy. Only by gradually and simultaneously inserting Hungarian elements that are capable of occupying the posts at present held by Jews will Hungary be able to face the actual expulsions of the latter from the most vital hubs of its economic structure. This necessity highlights another delicate aspect of the problem. As long as it is not able to replace them, Hungary cannot do without the, albeit limited, cooperation of the Jews, yet at the same time cannot be in doubt as to the state of mind of this by no means insignificant part of its population and as to the influence it has on public opinion. This is why, since an immediate and complete solution of the problem looks impossible, the Hungarian Government intends to continue to keep the Jewish question alive and open; its final conclusion, as President Kalláy said in his latest speech, will be removal outside of Hungary of all the 800,000 Jews living in the Country.

As I already said, the numerous mixed marriages entered into by the Jews served them well in strengthening their position in Hungary. Moreover,

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it cannot be ignored that in joining their power to that of many aristocratic and middle class families, the Jews of Hungary have created a network of shared interests and of solidarity with the very social classes that ought to fight them. And they have contributed not a little to the spreading of the liberal ideology, which in this Country is perhaps more enduring than in others.

The solution of the Jewish problem therefore poses for Hungary a distressful and difficult problem as it closely concerns its social structure and its economic organization, and this, moreover, at a time when the Country needs all its energies to face its new and important tasks. This explains the hesitancy apparent in the past in the Government’s anti-Jewish action and a certain scepticism displayed even today by many towards the effectiveness and even towards the sincerity of the Government’s anti-Jewish policies, But the Government’s will to advance on the road it has in part already covered does not appear in doubt and it may not be unnecessary to point out that considerations and influences of an international nature are not without bearing on this will.

Please accept, Sir, the expression of my profound respect.



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