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Yehuda Bauer: My Brother's Keeper

A History of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee 1929-1939

[Holocaust preparations in Europe and resistance without solution of the situation]

The Jewish Publication Society of America, Philadelphia 1974

Transcription with subtitles by Michael Palomino (2007)



Chapter 5. Prelude of the Holocaust
[C. 5.18.] Czechoslovakia and Hungary [1933-1938]

[JDC in Subcarpathian Russia]

Another area in which JDC spent sizable sums of money and considerable energy was Subcarpathian Russia (or PKR, in Czech initials), the easternmost tip of Czechoslovakia. A mostly Orthodox Jewish community lived there, subsisting on petty trade, agriculture, and forestry. There was a famous Hebrew secondary (p.218)

school at Munkács (Mukachevo) and a number of yeshivoth. In 1933 JDC started a feeding program for children.

(End note 88: JDC report for 1933)

Occasionally small sums were granted to vocational establishments or small Jewish workshop cooperatives, mainly in the automobile repair and textile branches. Most of this work was done in conjunction with the Jewish Social Institute in Prague and a parallel organization in Bratislava.

About 15,000 Jews from Czechoslovakia succeeded in reaching Palestine between the autumn of 1938 and the end of 1939, the overwhelming majority by means of "illegal" immigration.
(from: Encyclopaedia Judaica (1971): Zionism, Vol. 16, col. 1113)

[JDC in Hungary]

In neighboring Hungary, JDC did not operate at all in the 1930s though it followed developments there with increasing anxiety. The Jewish population in Hungary was actually declining, as a result of numerous conversions among the upper strata of Jewish society and a decline in the birthrate. There were 444,500 Jews in Hungary in 1930. With the annexations of parts of Slovakia and PKR in late 1938 and in March 1939 [and by the accession of a part of Transilvania in 1940] the Jewish population grew to 725,000 by 1941.

In Hungary proper (as contrasted with PKR), and especially in Budapest, Jews tended to be a prosperous middle-class community. In early 1939 it was estimated that 43 % of Hungarian commerce was handled by Jews; 49.2 % of the lawyers and 37.7 % of the doctors were Jewish. Industry, too, was partly in the hands of Jews.

(End note 89: R46, reports for January 1939. The population statistics are taken from Erno Laszlo: Hungary's Jewry: A Demographic Overview, 1918-1945; In: Hungarian Jewish Studies, ed. Randolph L. Braham (New York, 1969), 2:157-58)

[Horthy government]

Yet Jews in Hungary were still considered to be strangers, despite the fact that they had lived in the country for many centuries and despite their own keen desire to be regarded as Hungarians. The regime of the archconservative regent, Admira Horthy, wavered between personal friendship for Jewish elements in the Hungarian aristocracy and anti-Semitism.

[May 1938: Percentage law for businesses - Jews are considered as outlawed]

In May 1938, under the influence of Nazism, Hungarian anti-Semitism won its first great victory in a bill that decreed that by June 1943 not more than 20 % of people working in any establishment could be Jews. As a result, a large number of Jews were thrown out of their professions.

Hungary's politicians followed the German example closely in other ways too. In late 1938, after the Sudeten crisis in the autumn of that year, the Hungarian government published the text of a second bill, which was finally passed in March 1939. The preamble (p.219)

to that law stated quite explicitly that the Hungarians were outlawing Jews as part of a general movement: "Before the (1938) law was promulgated, only one of the neighboring states, Germany, had taken energetic measures to drive the Jews out of the country. Since that time, however, many other states in Europe have followed this example. ...

The Jewish question is an international problem like many other questions of international interest, such as world traffic, world economy, hygiene, and instruction." An international solution - that is, mass emigration and expulsion by international consent - was consequently desired.

[Supplement: No Haavarah agreement for East European Jews]

For German Jews there is the Haavarah agreement. But there is no Haavarah agreement for East European Jews. This is the point that the Yiddish Jews should be exterminated, the German Jews not. It can only be assumed that Zionists are steering this process].

[1939: Hungary: More discrimination laws: Citizenship questions - profession discriminations]

The 1939 bill itself provided for the invalidation of the citizenship of certain classes of Jews who had obtained their Hungarian nationality after 1914; in effect, it revoked the Jewish franchise by instituting a separate Jewish poll in the national and municipal elections; and it barred Jews from positions in the civil service, municipalities, and public corporations, and from working as public notaries and editors-in-chief. The number of Jews in the legal, medical, and engineering professions was limited to 6 %. Publication of papers owned by Jews was forbidden, and state contracts for Jewish enterprises were withdrawn. Most serious of all was the provision that no trade concessions or licenses could be granted to Jews unless the percentage of Jewish license holders dropped to less than 6 %.

The definition of a Jew was clearly Nazi in origin: a Jew was a person of Jewish faith, a Christian born of Jewish parentage, or the offspring of a mixed marriage if the Jewish parent had not been baptized before the marriage.

It was quite clear that very soon Hungarian Jewry would be calling for active help from JDC.