French Jews Resent Minister’s Stand on Numerus Clausus By Our Paris Correspondent
Under the headline “Count Klebelsberg’s Confession,” Alfred Beryl, editor of the “Paix et Droit,” organ of the Alliance Israelite Universelle, estimates the statement of his attitude on the question of the numerus clausus made by Count Klebelsberg, Hungarian Minister of Education, in the economic organ of the Christian Socialist Party, “Nemzeti Ussage.”
Count Klebelsberg did not vote for this law in 1920, Mr. Beryl begins. In recalling the motives that prevailed at its inception, he does not hesitate to give the reasons for his forbearance. These reasons were dictated not by sentimental scruples, but by the clear understanding of national advantage.
The consequences of this attitude of exclusion were not long in making themselves felt in diplomatic circles, as well as in the economic situation. The exchanges of Europe and America remained deaf to appeals addressed to them by the rulers at Budapest. At Geneva, the most legitimate arguments in favor of Magyar minorities who had been annexed by the countries of Roumania, Czechoslovakia and Jugoslavia, were shattered upon the rock of the numerus clausus and the nationalistic excesses of the one side, seemed to act as the counter-balance and expiation of the intolerance of the other.
The Count, in admitting these truths, cites as the extenuating circumstances of the numerus clausus two orders of facts: First, the misfortune of the fatherland and, second, the grave responsibilities incurred by the Jews in the days following its defeat.
The country of Hungary, reduced to a third of its population, and its original territory, nearly ruined by the war, had been obliged to receive and feed many refugees from the regions of which it was deprived. Since there was not enough room for all in government positions, as well as in the universities, it seemed natural to prefer the salvation of the Christian bourgeoisie to respect for the principles of equality and right.
On the other hand, the Minister explains, the Jews had provoked public reproof since the Communist dictatorship, which many of them had served, and whose accomplices or, at least sympathizers they had been. In the eyes of the Hungarian people, the numerus clausus was at the same time a just revenge for the atrocious regime of Bela Kun for which the Jews as a whole became the scapegoat–and a legitimate mode of defense, necessary for the future of the land. (M. Albert Vasy, a high Magyar functionary, has written a book in which, by referring to documents and figures, he disposes of the calumny cast against the Jews and shows what a small percentage of Jews declared themselves as partisans of Bela Kun.)
Many Hungarian Jews, upon being excluded from the national universities, went to study abroad. The spirit of solidarity of their co-religionists abroad helped them to gain, along with the special culture which they sought, the knowledge of languages, of environments and ideas, of which their Christian fellow-citizens did not receive the benefit at the schools at home, Klebelsberg stated.
Meanwhile, animosities died down, the country tired of the excesses of the anti-Semites, and the government was able to modify the law. It has not abrogated it, it is true, but it has withdrawn its point, directed against the Hungarian Jews. If the principle of university exclusion is maintained as a social precaution, intended to curtail the dangerous multiplication of intellectual proletarians in a State so greatly diminished, this principle will at least not be based upon considerations of the race or religion of candidates. The law is not any more a measure of exclusion directed against a particular class of citizens. It is not that the actual government is not interested in the Christian middle class. It means, on the contrary, to re-establish an equilibrium with the Jews who have profited by the assistance of the Jews abroad. It will increase still further, after having already considerably enlarged it, the number of scholarships reserved for the children of officials who are today always of Magyar origin and Christian faith.
Such is, in substance, what is known as the confession of Count Klebelsberg.
It seems to us that the admissions forced by necessity from the Hungarian minister are neither wholehearted nor without reservation, Mr. Beryl writes. If he disavows anti-Semitism that is “general and aggressive,” he does not denounce anti-Semitism of every kind.
Many prejudices are disguised by the moderation of his languages; for example, he is haunted by the spectre of Jewish solidarity, which assumes in his mind somewhat distorted dimensions and obscures from his view other religious solidarities, as if it were more active and more efficient.
It undoubtedly exists, especially in an emotional form. It owes its origin to sameness of faith and especially of destiny. It represents sufferings borne in common for a common cause, but in scattered fashion, passively, without resistance, at different times and in different places.
Protest and solidarity is much more firmly cemented. It is made up of memories of violent struggles, endured together, of blows received and returned with equal vigor and equal valor, on the same fields of battle. As for Catholic solidarity, it did not find it necessary to assert itself by any particular organization.
The right to an education is not a right that is specifically Jewish, it is one of the rights of man. It is quite the same, whether it be denied to a Jew or a Gentile. The sentiment of indignation and revulsion is universal; it is felt in Geneva as well as in London, in Paris as well as in New York. This is something about which the promoters of the “numerus clausus” did not think, and of which Count Klebelsberg himself saw only half. He has not yet felt its entire weight, because he has not had the courage to demand the complete repeal of the law of exclusion. Taking away its sting is not sufficient. That is only an external concession of form.
He tells us that university admission is no longer based upon ethnic origin or religious faith, but simply upon the moral and civic fitness of the candidate. This progress is only theoretical. In the reality of facts, nothing has changed. A sentimental regard has been substituted for the baptismal certificate. And in spite of externals, it lends itself to the same abuses, and leads to the same results. The origin of Jewish students will no longer be an avowed cause of exclusion, but will be excluded just the same. It will no longer be an unjust law that will exclude them but the arbitrary will of an official. Count Klebelsberg is an adherent of gentle methods. He abhors brutal execution; he prefers simply to favor certain ones and to remove their rivals without naming them. It is thus, that to the direct hardships of the “numerus clausus,” he prefers the favor of general scholarships restricted to the sons of officials who, by definition, are all of Magyar origin and Christian faith.
In this way, there will be a re-establishment of the “equilibrium broken in favor of the Jews,” who received instruction at foreign universities, thanks to the support of their co-religionists abroad. The only point that the minister is forgetting is that this foreign support has been given only because the “numerus clausus” had already broken the balance and abolished the exercise of free competition.
In reality, this institution of scholarships, and the exclusive manner of granting them is only another form of the “numeus clausus.”
How can anyone justify this difference of treatment among various elements of the same country? And why should the Jewish taxpayer who has consented to such heavy sacrifices in order to assure to his children some spiritual life, be forced to support still another burden of which his people will never reap a corresponding benefit? It seems that the governing powers of Hungary have lost in the last few years the notion of equality and justice. Count Klebelsberg renounces the direct and formal exclusion of one element only to institute an unjust protectionism in favor of another.
Why have this discrimination between classes and confessions? The Christian bourgeoisie has suffered, but it has not been the only victim of the war. The Jewish bourgeoisie has suffered the same losses, the same misery after sharing the same dangers and the same trials.
The minister thinks it clever and possible to give injustice its due. He adapts himself to a disguised anti-Semitism which would assure him of the votes and political patronage of the “Progressive Magyars” without shocking too violently Western liberalism, and without suffering exclusion from “financial markets” and exposure to reprisals on the part of progressive states and the disfavor of the League of Nations.
The Archive of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency includes articles published from 1923 to 2008. Archive stories reflect the journalistic standards and practices of the time they were published.