The first Jewish people in what is Hungary today were inhabitants of the Roman province of Pannonia and settled there in the 2nd century CE. Roman legions were sent from this area to beat the Bar Kochba revolt in 132-135 CE. The returning victorious troops brought Jewish slaves back with them.
In 1251 King Bela IV published a Jewish charter, later confirmed by all medieval kings of Hungary, which, in practice put all Jews under royal protection.
After the Ottoman Empire annexed Hungary, Jews faced different fates in different parts of the now divided country. Under Turkish occupation life was peaceful as long as taxes were paid. When the Ottoman Turks were expelled many Jews moved out of the country or became victims of slaughter. Thus Jews all but disappeared from Hungary towards the end of the 17th century.
German speaking, Ashkenazi Jews began to arrive in Hungary in the 18th century mainly coming from Czech and German areas. In 1769 the Jewish population was around 20,000 and had increased to 80,000 by 1787.
The 19th century was a time when many Jews assimilated, with many mixed marriages resulting. Reform Judaism was also born. From the 1830’s poorer eastern European Jews began moving to Hungary in larger numbers. Many Hungarian Jews took part in the 1848/49 rebellion and their economic standing rose.
After the defeat of the Austro-Hungarian Empire in World War 1, the Jews of Hungary found themselves living within the borders of Czechoslovakia, Romania or Yugoslavia. In 1919 a period of ‘White Terror’ followed the short lived Hungarian Soviet Republic and some 3,000 Jews were murdered. In the 1920s’ the situation was more stable, but by the late 1930’s the first of a series of anti-Semitic laws were enacted, restricting socio-economic activities. Large-scale deportation of Jews to the Nazi death camps began after German occupation of Hungary in March 1944. Up to 600,000 Hungarian Jews perished in the Holocaust. In 1946 anti-Jewish feeling led to pogroms in Kunmadaras, Miskoic and other towns. During the 1956 uprising against the Communists, 20,000 Jews chose to leave the country. Life began to improve for the Jews of Hungary in the late 1950’s when they were able to re-establish links with the Jewish world. With the collapse of Communism, all restrictions on ties with Israel were also lifted.
Ezra in Hungary
Hungary is one of the newer countries where Ezra is working and we helped our first Olim from Hungary in 2013, and have continued since then. The numbers leaving Hungary are not high but have been steadily growing. As the political situation worsens – mainly due to the rise of the extreme right wing group Jobbik – the Jewish population is feeling more and more vulnerable. Our representatives are slowly building up relationships in the Jewish community and, as in most countries, are working closely with the Jewish Agency. For many of the Jewish people living outside of Budapest finances are an issue. Ezra has also been able to help several Jewish people from Serbia leave through Hungary.