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The Emancipation of Hungary’s Jews

Lawrence Bush
July 27, 2017

The Jews of Hungary were granted complete political and civil rights on this date in 1849 by the First National Assembly, which had been established by a revolution led by Lajos Kossuth (1802-1894). Their civil liberation lasted for just two weeks, however; after the Austrians (with Russian assistance) had suppressed Kossuth’s revolution, the Jews were harshly sanctioned with onerous taxes, imprisonment, and executions, for participating in the uprising. Many Jews emigrated from the Austro-Hungarian Empire to the U.S. at this time, helping to launch Reform Judaism in America and swelling the American Jewish population considerably. Jews had lived in Hungary since the 10th century and grew to 5 percent of the country’s population by the early 20th century, by which time they had also achieved a large degree of social integration. They were the last population of European Jews in Nazi-occupied or -allied Europe to face extermination in the Holocaust, yet more than 70 percent of them were killed, mostly between 1944 and the war’s end.

“In 1849, many Jews participated in [the] failed revolution . . . and judicial and economic restrictions were subsequently placed on the Jews during the 1850s. These restrictions were finally lifted in the 1860s; Jews were allowed to settle in any community and participated in all aspects of commerce. In December 1867, Jews were granted full emancipation. Jews began to play a vital role in agriculture, transport, communication industries, business, finance and the arts.” --Jewish Virtual Library

​​​​Lawrence Bush edited Jewish Currents from 2003 until 2018. He is the author of Bessie: A Novel of Love and Revolution and Waiting for God: The Spiritual Explorations of a Reluctant Atheist, among other books. His new volume of illustrated Torah commentaries, American Torah Toons 2, is scheduled for publication this year.