1. There Are 80K Jews in Hungary

Today Hungary is home to approximately 80,000 Jewish people, most of whom are native Hungarian Jews. Since some Hungarian Jews intermarried as early as the 19th century and many chose to hide their Judaism after the Holocaust, it is very hard to ascertain accurate numbers as many Jews may have been “under the radar” for generations, and some do not know themselves that they are Jewish.

Enjoying a Lag BaOmer parade on the streets of Budapest.
Enjoying a Lag BaOmer parade on the streets of Budapest.

Read About a Hungarian Neo-Nazi Who Discovered He Was Jewish

2. The Lion’s Share Live in Budapest

Budapest’s seventh district was historically the Jewish quarter, and the site of the Nazi-era Ghetto, into which 70,000 Jews were crammed. Today, the quarter is still home to historic synagogues, kosher restaurants, a mikvah, as well as several Chabad Houses. However, Jewish people are scattered all across the greater metropolitan area, from the villas in the hills of Buda to the stately apartment buildings of Pest.

A 1929 photo of Kiraly Utca, the main street of the traditionally Jewish Seventh District in Pest (credit: Kinszki Imre).
A 1929 photo of Kiraly Utca, the main street of the traditionally Jewish Seventh District in Pest (credit: Kinszki Imre).

Read: Bringing Back Jewish Life to Budapest

3. There Were Oberlanders and Unterlanders

Jews living in the western highlands, the Oberlanders, tended to be culturally similar to their compatriots in Austria and Germany, speaking German-tinged Yiddish and following Ashkenazic customs. Conversely, the Unterlanders, from the eastern lowlands, tended to be much more aligned with the Chassidic communities in Galicia, sharing their dialect of Yiddish and more cloistered ways.

4. Jewish Hungary Has Its Own Borders

As borders moved and empires rose and fell, Jews created conceptual borders of their own, which sometimes happened to coincide with those drawn by monarchs and generals.

Thus, Jewish Hungary extended deep into what is now Ukraine and Romania on the west, Slovakia on the north, Austria on the east, and Serbia on the south.

This explains why some of Hungary’s most prominent leaders—such as the Chatam Sofer in Pressburg (Bratislava, Slovakia), the Minchat Elazar in Munkach (Mukachevo, Ukraine), and the rebbe of Satmar (Satu Mar, Romania)—did not even live in what we now consider Hungary.

1931 collage of students and faculty from the Pressburg yeshiva, which supplied Hungary with rabbis, but was located in what is now Slovakia (credit: Yad Vashem).
1931 collage of students and faculty from the Pressburg yeshiva, which supplied Hungary with rabbis, but was located in what is now Slovakia (credit: Yad Vashem).

Read About the Chatam Sofer, a Great Leader of “Hungarian” Jewry

5. Hungarian Jewry Was Nearly Decimated in the Spring of ‘44

While Fascist Hungary aligned itself with the Germans, and Jews were heavily discriminated against, Hungarian Jews were largely spared from mass extermination until the German invasion in March of 1944. In less than two months, nearly half a million Hungarian Jews were deported to the death camps in Poland. By the war’s end, the Hungarian Jewish population was cut down from 800,000 to 200,000.

Jewish women forced to walk down Wesselényi Utca, one of the main boulevards of Budapest, in 1944.
Jewish women forced to walk down Wesselényi Utca, one of the main boulevards of Budapest, in 1944.

Read About a Hungarian Jew Born in Auschwitz

6. Hungary Was Originally Sephardic

While Hungarian Jews today (and their descendants) are predominantly Ashkenazim, the Hungarian Jewish community during much of the 16th and 17th centuries was predominantly Sephardic, as much of Hungary was then part of the Ottoman Empire. With the defeat of the Ottomans, many of the Jewish community were raped, murdered or sold into slavery, and their synagogues burnt. In time, an Ashkenazic community sprang up in their place.

"The Taking of Buda, 1686" in the Deutsches Historisches Museum. The victorious Christian invaders destroyed the Jewish community of Buda, along with their Muslim neighbors.
"The Taking of Buda, 1686" in the Deutsches Historisches Museum. The victorious Christian invaders destroyed the Jewish community of Buda, along with their Muslim neighbors.

Read About a 13th Century Sephardic Synagogue in Buda

7. The “National Anthem” of Hungarian Jewry Is About a Colorful Bird

The Chassidic movement came to Hungary, in part, due to the pioneering efforts of Rabbi Yitzchak Isaac of Kalev, an early Chassidic master (1751–1821). He made famous the song Szól a Kakas Már, which he adapted from a Hungarian folk song he “purchased” from a shepherd. Beginning in Hungarian with a vision of a beautiful bird at sunrise, it ends in Hebrew by longingly praying for the arrival of Moshiach.

Today, this song is the unofficial anthem of Hungarian Jewry, sung at communal events, celebrations, and ceremonies.

A bar mitzvah in the magnificently renovated Óbuda synagogue, which was built in 1820 in classic French Empire style.
A bar mitzvah in the magnificently renovated Óbuda synagogue, which was built in 1820 in classic French Empire style.

8. They Officially Broke Into Three Streams Around 1870

As the enlightenment swept through Western and Central Europe, the Hungarian Jewish community was torn. Some wanted to follow the German Jews, who were fast reforming (or abandoning) the traditions of their forefathers, while others wished to maintain their fealty to Judaism as it had been practiced for generations.

After much internal strife, the community officially broke into three parts, recognized by the Austro-Hungarian monarchy: Orthodox (who clung tenaciously to tradition), Neolog (which promoted religious reforms and cultural assimilation), and Status Quo (a smaller group, who did not follow the leaders of either group).

These guidelines, issued in 1865, were intended to ensure that innovations such as church-inspired architecture and Hungarian-language sermons be kept out of Orthodox synagogues.
These guidelines, issued in 1865, were intended to ensure that innovations such as church-inspired architecture and Hungarian-language sermons be kept out of Orthodox synagogues.

9. Sixty Percent of Hungarian Nobel Laureates Were Jewish

Depending on what criteria are used, one can say that between 14 and 21 Hungarians have been awarded Nobel Prizes. Of them, approximately 60% are either Jewish or of Jewish descent. This is astonishing when one considers that Jews comprise less than 1% of the Hungarian population today and have never constituted more than 10% of the population.

10. Short German Family Names Are Popular

Hungarian Jews may have last names that are Hebrew or even Hungarian (such as Farkas, which means “wolf”), as well as “typical” Jewish last names such as Goldstein and Rosenbaum etc. However, almost unique to Hungarian Jews are German language monosyllabic, descriptive names such as Schwartz (black), Weiss (white), Roth (red), Gross (big), Klein (small), and Stark (strong).

Read 10 Keys to Understanding Ashkenazi Last Names

11. Jewish Hungary Was Recreated in the US and Israel

Following the Holocaust, droves of Hungarian Jews migrated to Israel, the US, Canada, South America, and Australia.

In time, many Chassidic groups reestablished themselves, using the Yiddish names of their cities of origin. Thus, strolling in Brooklyn, one encounters the Pupa synagogue (founded by members of the Chassidic group that once flourished in Pápa), the mikvah of the Kerestirer Rebbe (originally from Bodrogkeresztúr), the synagogue of the Rebbe of Kalev (known in Hungarian as Nagykálló), and of course, many foods bear the certification of the erstwhile Rabbi of Debretzin (Debrecen).

Read About the Rebirth of Jewish Live in (Actual) Debrecen

On the left is a Brooklyn, N.Y., synagogue that bears the name of Szombathely, west of Budapest. Next door is a synagogue for those harking from Sulitza (Sulița), today Romania (credit: Google Maps).
On the left is a Brooklyn, N.Y., synagogue that bears the name of Szombathely, west of Budapest. Next door is a synagogue for those harking from Sulitza (Sulița), today Romania (credit: Google Maps).

12. Chabad-Lubavitch of Hungary Was Founded in 1989

Rabbi Baruch and Rebbetzin Batsheva Oberlander arrived in Budapest in the summer of 1989, just before the fall of communism. The rabbi is the son of Hungarian Holocaust survivors who had settled in Brooklyn. His wife is the child of Chabad emissaries to Milan, also with Hungarian roots.

Today, they oversee a bustling bevy of Chabad centers, humanitarian organizations, a publishing house, and more, directed by 18 emissary couples.

Read About a Summer Camp in Historic Mád

Rabbi Baruch Oberlander kindles a giant menorah near Budapest's Nyugati Train Station.
Rabbi Baruch Oberlander kindles a giant menorah near Budapest's Nyugati Train Station.

13. There Are Many Israelis in Hungary

Since the 1990s Israelis have come to Hungary (a 3-hour flight from Tel Aviv) for business and touring. Some come for a short time, but others stay. Hungary also attracts many Israeli medical students, who find it easier to gain entry into Hungary’s academic institutions than those in Israel. Thus, some Chabad Centers in Hungary cater specifically to Israeli families and students.

Celebrating Purim with Chabad on Campus in Debrecen, which serves both Israeli and European Jews.
Celebrating Purim with Chabad on Campus in Debrecen, which serves both Israeli and European Jews.