National Loyalty and Changing the Guard. The Disenfranchisement of the Jews of Komárom and the Surrounding Area (1938–1944)

Bajcsi Ildikó: Nemzethűség és őrségváltás. A komáromi és környékbeli zsidóság jogfosztása (1938–1944). [National Loyalty and Changing the Guard. The Disenfranchisement of the Jews of Komárom and the Surrounding Area (1938–1944)]. Budapest, Múlt és Jövő–Clio Intézet–Impulzus, 2023, 204 p.

Ildikó Bajcsi, the Budapest-based Clio Institute’s talented young researcher needs no introduction. Her writings are well known in academic circles in both Hungary and Slovakia, and her lectures are followed by the general public with an interest in history. I will only mention just a few highlights from the long list of her works. First and foremost, her very first monograph entitled “Hungarian Minority Mission in Czechoslovakia. The Community Engagement of the Sarló Ge neration After Trianon” (Bajcsi 2021) was published as the conclusion of her doctoral research. Additionally, on its website, the Clio Institute published some of her more extensive studies, such as “Regional Conflicts and Elite Organisation in Komárom and Komárom District Following the First Vienna Award” (Bajcsi 2020c), “Slovak Historians’ Inter pretations of Trianon: A Historiographical Review (1989–2019)” (Bajcsi 2020b), and „Jews in the way of a new life: Andor Jaross and the Jewish Question (1938–1940)”

(Bajcsi 2023b).

Based on this, it is evident that, as a social historian, Ildikó Bajcsi focuses primarily on the city and region of Komárom (Slovak: Komárno) and tackles the intricate topics of the existence, identity, and history of the local Jewish minority. It is also clear that the author limits her scholarly interest to the first half of the 20th century.

In the introduction of her book, the author refers to her earlier work entitled “Nationalism and Changing of the Guard: Discrimination Against the Jewish Population in Komárom (1938–1941),” also to be found on the Clio Institute’s website. The volume deals with the same topic and expands the time frame until 1944. Based on my experience as a specialist writer, I would like to point out that this approach is undoubtedly correct as new sources continually emerge, and there is always room for new perspectives in the analysis of existing ones. As I often say, there is no such thing as a finished book!

As for the research methodology, it follows and fully meets the expectations of the social sciences. The author first processed the available Hungarian and Slovak-language literature on her topic, especially on the Komárom region and the Jews of southern Slovakia (Hungarian: Felvidék), then divided the existing material into chapters for her book. I must note that even if processing the secondary lite rature’s facts and findings about the region had been the sole accomplishment, it would have already been a significant advancement for further research. The main contribution of the author, however, is that she has uncovered archival sources to shed light on national issues at the local level, which she has placed perfectly in the historical context drawn from the secondary literature. Ildikó Bajcsi mainly conducted research at the Nitra State Archives in Nyitraivánka and its branch archives in Komárom. There, she examined the records of Komárom County reannexed to Hungary, which include records of the county and district chief magistrates as well as records of the Komárom municipal authorities. Additionally, she reviewed a large number of contemporary press materials, among which I only mention the articles from the Komáromi Lapok. This is also a novelty since a significant portion of these sources had never been brought to light in a single study before.

The book, which is divided into 13 chapters (including subchapters), is extremely carefully annotated in almost 700 footnotes, with an extensive bibliography, and it should not scare away those who are only interested in history as laymen. Ildikó Bajcsi’s style is engaging and easily understandable, and her work’s structures and logical construction greatly helps readers navigate through the labyrinth of events. Moreover, her writing is enriched by touching and poignant personal stories, making it even more captivating. An example of this is the case of Mrs. Sándorné Földes, a resident of Komárom, who addressed Miklós Horthy’s wife directly with the following text in a petition, all for the sake of her daughter: “My 20-year-old daughter, who converted to the Calvinist faith, just as I did, is considered Jewish according to the Second Jewish Law, and despite her outstanding performance at the Hungarian Trade Academy in Bratislava (Hungarian: Pozsony), she cannot find work anywhere because she is considered a Jew. She is consumed by the worst thoughts, and I fear that she might commit suicide in her hopeless situation” (Bajcsi 2023a: 82). Was the petition successful? –

Ildikó Bajcsi’s book reveals this detail as well.

The author’s openness to the general public is evident from the inclusion of carefully selected period photos throughout the book. Furthermore, there are rare images, such as a photo of the Wilhelm family from Komárom, which the author obtained from and published with the permission of the Jewish Community of Komárno.

The structure of the book essentially follows chronological order: the main topic of the book (i.e., the discrimination against the Jewish community in Komárom) is brought to the forefront after a concise summary of the background events following the First Vienna Award (November 2, 1938). It then proceeds to examine the local implementation and the impact of the Second, Third, and Fourth Jewish Laws, ultimately leading to the period of ghettoization and deportation.

While it would be preferable for the readers to discover the book for themselves, I believe that a concise summary of the contents and an outline of the main issues presented constitute an essential part of a book review. In this context, considering the limitations of this review, I will not proceed chapter by chapter but instead focus on the thread of the topics that I see logical.

Antisemitism was not foreign to Czechos lovak politicians at all: the local Jewish population was mistreated by the zn of the Komárom Jewish community remained Hungarian-speaking and Hungarian in sentiment. From Ildikó Bajcsi’s book, we learn that Rabbi Ernő Waldmann, who lost his life in Auswitz in 1944, even corrected a Czecho=slovak school inspector: “Sir, there is not a single person in our community who knows the state language, so it is not necessary for the pastor to know it” (Bajcsi 2023a: 26).

The Jewish community in southern

Slovakia, including in Komárom, received the First Vienna Award with apprehension, as Hungary had already implemented the First Jewish Law at the time of the territorial annexation. The author points out that, from the perspective of the local Jewish community, this should be considered the “lesser evil”: in the newly established Slovakia, a puppet state of Germany under Jozef Tiso’s presidency issued racial anti-Jewish laws akin to the Nuremberg Laws as early as 1939. Following the annexation, antisemitic incidents occurred, such as the destruction of the bust of Dr. Mór Lipscher, the chief physician of Komárom who had performed the first brain tumor surgery in Hungary.

A crucial part of the book is the in-depth analysis of the antisemitism of Andor Jaross, the Minister without Portfolio for Upper Hungarian Affairs, who played a key role in creating the image of the “opportunistic,” “returning” Jews. The antisemitic-turned Felvidéki Magyar Hírlap, for instance, claimed that Jews had formed their own political party and declared themselves Jewish during the census, causing such a decline in the Hungarian population in Bratislava and Košice (Hun garian: Kassa) that they lost their language rights. The author points out that there was indeed a high level of assimilation among the Jews in Kassa after the change of power, but this was not the case in Komárom. Further more, it is essential to highlight that Ildikó Bajcsi has also examined Jaross’s view in light of the People’s Court records held in the Budapest City Archives. She also discusses Jaross’s exoneration cases and his circle’s corruption cases related to the revision of industrial permits. An important part of the economic destitution of the Jewish community in southern Slovakia was played by the revision of the industrial permits. The book includes a number of locally relevant cases of industrial revision, as well as a series of personal conflicts resulting from the society’s growing antisemitism. One such example from the Royal Persecutor’s Office in Komárom was reported by Ferenc Lovász against Henrik Reif, of Jewish descent, who “On October 3, 1939, during an altercation at the Otthon Café called [Lovász] a shit and said that the levente institution is also shit” (Bajcsi 2023a: 93).

The conflict between Komárom’s mayor, Gáspár Alapy, and Miklós Balogh, a funeral director who was also involved in the city administration, is clearly outlined in the examination of the period following the Second Jewish Law. Alapy displayed excessive tolerance toward the local Jewish population, and thus, he was also transported in 1944. (The author actually commemorated Alapy separately in her “From the Mayor’s Office to the Cattle Car”; see Bajcsi 2020d.) The book vividly illustrates the strawman system that allowed people to circumvent the Jewish Laws, as well as the operation of the silent partnership. To highlight the former, the book quotes Komáromi Lapok: “they enjoy the fruits of the Christian conjuncture, and the strawman, the business substitute, who is rewarded with 160–200 pengős, strolls down the street or basks in front of his shop, having cooked his soup well” (Bajcs 2023a: 92).

We learn that Alapy advocated for the Thrid Jewish Law because he expected it to clarify the application of the law and eliminate illegalities. This may lead to an interesting conclusion: although the Third Jewish Law undoubtedly had a racial foundation based on the German model, it still enforced the uniquely Hungarian form of economic-social (the socalled Prohászka-style) antisemitism. In 1941, however, the vision of the Holocaust began to emerge on the pages of Komáromi Lapok: “When asked to exclude Jews from the local market, one of our leading officials said that, although he is not an anti-Semite, he is willing to exterminate all Jews if the law so ordered. But due to respect for the law, he will not carry out anything the law does not command

(Bajcsi 2023a: 105). The anti-Jewish perspective of the press, which reinforced economic stereotypes, is also illustrated with a collection of contemporary articles. With these, the author also indicates that acts of economic fraud were shown to be committed mainly by Jews. Dezső Weisz, for example, had to pay a fine of 400 pengős for selling, for public consumption, milk diluted by 40% with water. In 1943, he was also interned for dealing sheep cheese for more than double the official price (Bajcsi 2023a: 123).

As the land redistribution in Czechoslo vakia between 1920 and 1935 barely benefited Hungarians, during the execution of the Fourth Jewish Law, efforts were made to compensate for this. Furthermore, the revision of the Czechoslovak Land Reform invalidated numerous legitimate Jewish land acquisitions. In her book, Ildikó Bajcsi highlights the corruption surrounding land redistribution and describes the measures taken to ensure the continuity of production.

The year 1943 marked a transition for the Hungarian Jewish community, since legislative activity had virtually ceased. Furthermore, the author includes other intriguing aspects, such as the Komárom forced labor camp workers. For instance, Ottó Gimes, a worker in the camp, filed a complaint against his sergeant, stating: “Seargant Durmics kept the company in constant terror, constantly made antiSemitic remarks, praised Szálasi, and regularly beat us to a bloody pulp. Durmics, a harsh, merciless sadist, determined to carry out all kinds of wrongdoing, used tortures of various kinds, drove us into puddles, constantly struck us, or had us beaten, hit some of us on the head with logs, and forced others into the icy Danube, and my comrade Kellner died of a disease he thus contracted (Bajcsi 2023a: 157).

Before the concluding section, we read about the ghettoization of the Jewish community in Komárom, their desperate struggle for survival, the rescuers, and the deportations. For example, a fur trader appealed to the gendarmes, hoping that if he were arrested, he could escape deportation. The passage from the handwritten autobiography of Szilárd Holczer is equally heartbreaking: “The loading into the trains took place under horrible conditions, with the Hungarian gendarmes beating the people like cattle into the wagons. There they slept. There they carried out their necessities, crammed into tiny little spaces, the sick wailing, screaming. You can imagine what a train like that must have looked like when it arrived at Auschwitz and the doors were opened” (Bajcsi 2023a: 166). Incidentally, trains from Győr and Komárom were mistakenly directed towards Kassa instead of Strasshof in Austria.

Finally, after this rather concise content summary, I would like to commend the meticu lous editorial work, which reflects well on the Clio Institute, and to add a personal recommendation for the book. My professional background is in the history of public law and administrative history, so I must admit that my more rigid regulatory and enforcement-oriented thinking means that I am relatively far removed from social history. The author, a social historian, may not even realize how much source material she has processed for my preferred disciplines. I was most impressed by the parts that describe how in November and December 1938, during the period of military administration, the gendarmerie used the lack of “communal affiliation” (pertinenza, illetőség) as a reason for deportation, whereas in February 1939, the Slovak–Hungarian bilateral agreement introduced the more modern concept of permanent residence (Bajcsi 2023a: 45). Another example is where the author discusses that, since the mass deportation of Jews had already begun in Slovakia in 1942, the Hungarian authorities had to face a wave of refugees in the border areas. In Komárom, a “criminal organization” assisting in such escapes was uncovered in the spring of 1942 (Bajcsi 2023a: 124–125).

Needless to say, the book contains loads of source material on how the Jewish Laws were applied and circumvented; the word “disenfranchisement” in the title of the book already implies this. Connected to this, I note that the author has also looked through the baptismal records in the Roman Catholic parish of north Komárom and has kept track of the number of converting Jews, which was a tactic less and less successful as the Jewish Laws appeared. Ildikó Bajcsi’s latest book thus offers useful information for colleagues working in other fields as well, and I heartily recommend it to them.

To conclude, I encourage the author to continue her research! Although she briefly touches on it in the final pages of the book, it would be interesting to examine the return of Holocaust survivors, and the rebuilding, in the light of another change of power, of the local Jewish community in the area that once again became part of Czechoslovakia. It would be worthwhile to organize the sources from the perspective of Hungarian public administration by adding more information about the chief magistrates’ person, career, and legal practices, especially their relationship with the Jewish community. We could learn more about them, just as Mayor Alapy’s way of thinking becomes evident. I wish the author continued her research on this topic with similar success!

Bajcsi Ildikó 2023a. Nemzethűség és őrségváltás. A komáromi és környékbeli zsidóság jogfosztása (1938–1944). Budapest, Múlt és Jövő–Clio Intézet–Impulzus.

Bajcsi Ildikó 2023b. „Az új életnek útjában áll a zsidóság”: Jaross Andor és a zsidókérdés (1938–1940). Clio Műhelytanulmányok, 1. sz.

Bajcsi Ildikó 2021. Kisebbségi magyar küldetés Csehszlovákiában: A sarlós nemzedék közösségi szerepvállalása Trianon után. Budapest, L’Harmattan.

Bajcsi Ildikó 2020a. Nemzethűség és őrségváltás. A komáromi zsidóság diszkriminációja (1938–1941). Clio Műhelytanul mányok, 11. sz. muhelytanulmanyok

Bajcsi Ildikó 2020b. Szlovák történészek Trianon értelmezései: Historiográfiai áttekintés (1989–2019). Clio Műhelytanulmányok, 4. sz.

Bajcsi Ildikó 2020c. Regionális konfliktusok és elitszerveződés az első bécsi döntést követően Komáromban és a Komáromi járásban. Clio Műhelytanulmányok, 2. sz. https://

Bajcsi Ildikó 2020d. Polgármesteri székből a marhavagonba (Alapy Gáspár). In: Czókos Gergely–Kiss Réka–Máthé Áron–Szalai Zoltán (szerk.): Magyar hősök: Elfeledett életutak a 20. századból. Budapest, Mathias Corvinus Collegium–Nemzeti Emlékezet Bizottsága–, 11–15. p.

Gábor Hollósi