Behind the Headlines Hungarian Jewish Community Thriving
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Behind the Headlines Hungarian Jewish Community Thriving

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The Hungarian Jewish community, which 30 years ago lost nearly 600.000 of its members to the Nazi terror, today is perhaps the strongest and most active Jewish community in all the Socialist countries. Three decades after the Nazis swept through Hungary, three decades after Hungarian Jews huddled in the narrow streets of the Budapest ghetto or were rounded up to be sent to concentration camps, Hungarian Jews have re-entered the political and social life of their country with determination and vigor.

The chairman of the Jewish community, Geza Seifert, 62, is said to have excellent relations with the Hungarian government, particularly with the State Secretary for Church Affairs, Imre Miklos. Seifert has been president of the Jewish community for 20 years. A recent article in the community weekly, “New Life,” described Seifert as “a fine guardian of old Jewish traditions and at the same time one who is working hard to assure good relations with the state.”

This relationship between the Jewish community and the Hungarian government was clearly stated 25 years ago, following the atrocities of the war. At that time, the Hungarian government issued a declaration guaranteeing equal rights and liberties for the Jewish people–the first time in Hungarian history that such a declaration was so clearly and firmly enunciated. A special ceremony of Parliament was held to commemorate the signing of the agreement.

EXAMPLE OF HEALTHY EXISTENCE

The Jewish community has had great success with this agreement. It is not known if any other Socialist country has such an agreement with the Jewish community. There are other examples of the growing health of the Hungarian Jewish community. Budapest has a rabbinical school–the only one in all the Eastern European countries. Students come from Czechoslovakia, from East Germany, and even from the Soviet Union to study there.

Before the war, there was a Goldmark Hall in Budapest, named after a poor Jewish cantor, Karl Goldmark, who later became a famous Hungarian composer. During the war. the Nazis tore down the hall. But this year, a new music hall was inaugurated in his honor. The opening of the hall was another occasion for members of the Jewish community to meet with state leaders, cultural personalities and Budapest society in general. During the ceremony, the Jewish community placed a wreath on the statue of Karl Goldmark, while state leaders looked on.

There are, of course, still many problems in Hungary for Jewish people–despite the government declaration. Hungarians of Jewish descent still form a tiny minority of government and party leadership. Anti-Semitism is not dead–it exists in Hungary as elsewhere. But Hungarian Jews, putting the terrible past behind them, are working hard to create a new and vital community. bolstered and sustained by their ancient and enduring Jewish tradition.

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