Before 1914 the vocabulary of anti-Semitism was already present in public discourses in Hungary, but it did not yet represent the central problem of a still “liberal Hungary.”
With the First World War, the Hungarian middle classes became the main losers in the social disruption of Hungarian society. 1916 must be seen as the turning point of the social splits and divisions. The former policy of the “Burgfrieden,” or party truce, was undermined by the profound psychological experiences of the war. In this context, old anti-Semitic stereotypes prejudices were reactivated while new ones emerged.
Jews, in general, came to be treated as internal enemies, earning huge profits from the war at the expense of Christian Hungarian society that was being ruined.
This paper analyzes three stages of growing anti-Semitic agitation in Hungarian society during the war: First, the attacks against the banks around 1916; second, the public debate on the Jewish question in 1917, opened by the publication of the book A zsidók útja [The Path of the Jews] by the sociologist Péter Ágoston and intensified by the “inquiry into the Jewish question” of the journal Huszadik Század [Twentieth Century]; third, the surge of anti-Semitism that began with anti-Semitic speeches in the Hungarian Diet in 1917, leading to a broad anti-Semitic campaign by predominantly Catholic newspapers, in which Otto Prohaszka and Bela Bangha were the leading figures.
The thesis is that Hungarian anti-Semitism was far from being a spontaneous outburst of popular feelings. It was fairly well organized and coordinated, mainly by ecclesiastical circles. It was the First World War that proved to be the catalyst, contributing to an extreme anti-Semitism and thereby sealing the fate of “liberal Hungary.”

issue 09 / October 2016 by Peter Bihari