in Hungary and Miskolc

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Undated graphic of historic Miskolc

Jews in Hungary: Archaeological finds of monuments and tomb inscriptions confirm that Jews were present in what is now Hungary by the second or third century CE, when the western region of modern Hungary was the Roman province of Pannonia.[1] Many of the province’s Jews were soldiers or traders from Rome; others were slaves who were brought to Pannonia by the Roman legionnaires after the Bar Kochba rebellion (132-135 CE).[2] That there were Jewish communities in the area long before the 10th-century Magyar conquest is attested to by such evidence as the plaque found in the Roman ruins of Intercisa (now Dunaújváros), which reads: "To the Eternal God. For the salvation of our Lord the pious, felicitous Emperor Severus Alexander and the Empress Julia Mamea, mother of the Emperor; Cosmius, chief of the Spondilla customhouse, head of the synagogue of the Jews, gladly fulfills his vow."[3]

Turkish Jews were known to have come from Constantinople after the region was conquered by the Ottomans in the sixteenth century. But despite firm evidence of the early presence of Jews in the area that now is Hungary, the ancestors of the majority of Hungarian Jews did not arrive until the 18th century (from Bohemia and Moravia) and the 19th century (from Poland and Galicia).[4] Thereafter, Jews had a “central role” in the growth of the Hungarian economy and were involved in agriculture (as lessees, medium and small-sized landowners, and farmers), trade and small crafts, industry, and banking.[5]

Jews in Miskolc: There is an old saying to the effect that whenever the “first Jew” arrives in a region, there always is another Jew there to meet him.[6] While it is not known exactly when the first Jews came to Miskolc, they did not have a noticeable presence in the town until the beginning of the 18th century, when Jews sold wine and liquors at the Miskolc fairs. "In 1717 the municipal council sought to expel them, but reconsidered its attitude in 1728 and granted them the right to sell at the market.... In 1765 several Jews owned houses. They enjoyed judicial independence and were authorized to impose fines and corporal punishment."[7]

By 1780, there were 70 Jews in Miskolc.[8] "Early in the 19th century... many Jews acquired houses and land, but the majority engaged in commerce and crafts."[9] In 1850, the town's Jewish population had reached 4,000 and by the 1930s, there were some 10,000 Jews in the city.[10] The Miskolc Jewish community “has traditionally played an important role in the development of the area’s industry.”[11]

  1. Patai, Raphael, "The Jews in Roman Pannonia and Dacia" in The Jews of Hungary: History, Culture, Psychology (Wayne State University Press, 1996), p. 21. Scheiber, Alexander, "Jews at Intercisa in Pannonia" in The Jewish Quarterly Review, New Series, Vol. 45, No. 3 (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, January, 1955), pp. 189-197
  2. Patai, Ibid and Scheiber, Op. Cit.. See also "Shalom, Hungary," pp. 3-4
  3. Patai’s book, Ibid at p. 23, has a graphic of the inscription.
  4. Bauer, Yehuda, Jews for Sale?: Nazi-Jewish Negotiations, 1933-1945 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1994), p. 146
  5. Ibid
  6. "Jacob Rader Marcus, often regarded as the dean of American Jewish historians, was fond of saying that no matter who was identified as the first Jew in a given place, it was certain that another Jew had been there before him." Weissbach, Lee Shai, Jewish life in Small-Town America: A History (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2005), p. 36
  7. Halpern, Lipman, "Miskolc" in Encyclopedia Judaica (Jeruselem: Keter Publishing Company, 1972), Volume 12, p. 153
  8. Lupovitch, Howard, The Jews of Miskolc, 1780-1848: The Expansion and Development of Traditional Society in the Age of Royal Absolutism and Liberal Reform (Ann Arbor: UMI Dissertation Services, 1996), p. 2
  9. Halpern, Op. Cit.
  10. Lupovitch, Op. Cit.
  11. "Shalom Hungary," Op. Cit., p. 18

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