The 19th Century
Eastern Europe: Poland, Russia, Hungary
The Russian Empire gained lands from each of the three Partitions of Poland in 1772, 1793 and 1795, significantly increasing the number of non-Russians under its rule.1 This continuous rise of non-Russian subjects was unprecedented.2 It forced the Russian government to adopt a clear political position towards the non-Russians and to create a new legal and institutional framework for dealing with them. In addition, Empress Catherine the Great (1729–1796) used the principle of Enlightened rule3 as the foundation of her integrative political decisions. This created tensions with the traditional social order based upon the Russian Orthodox state church.
Following the First Partition of Poland, the increase in non-Russian subjects remained manageable. As long as this was the case, Catherine the Great could issue effective ukases (tsarist edicts) aimed at integrative reforms. However, this legislation on minorities was unchartered water for Catherine and the experimental character of her ukases usually became apparent when they were put into practice. Often the regional, non-Jewish interest groups insisted on their privileges and the traditional structures of society, economy and power. As a result, the empress's integrative measures were drowned in a rising flood of particularistic exceptions.
Following the Second and, at the latest, the Third Partition of Poland, the Russian government had to coordinate its approach to the Ukrainians, Lithuanians, German, Poles, Jews and other ethnic groups of the annexed multiethnic and mulitreligious Poland-Lithuania. Catherine's Enlightened concept for the integration of all her subjects encountered resistance from both pragmatists and conservatives: the former saw the empress's reforms as too idealistic and illusory, the latter as a threat to the existing social order. For example, after the First Partition, Catherine, who regarded the Jewish population as members of the class of tradesmen and merchants,4 had increasingly sought to resettle the East European Jews in the cities. However, in the 1790s this turned out to be unfeasible due to opposition from the urban Christian population and magistrates.5 Moreover, the feudal ties (via posredničestvo/faktorstvo)6 of the Jewish leaseholders to their Polish liege lords of the szlachta (Polish landed nobility) were too well established for the forced resettlement to the cities to succeed.
The government could not come up with a coherent response to the increasing impoverishment of the Jewish population, which harmed the Russian tax revenues. The Tsarina saw the economic ruin facing Jewish communities as a problem inherited from Poland-Lithuania. The latter had employed the qahal (Jewish community) as a tax-raising organ. However, during the 17th and 18th centuries, immense rises in the tax burden had progressively forced the Jewish communities into debt.7 Under Russian rule, the qahal initially retained its role as a tax-raising organ.
In the last years of her reign, Catherine the Great increasingly neglected these earlier integrative policies,8 as did her successors. The Jews in the Russian Empire were again treated as a special group. Massive pressure from Russian merchants led to a ban on Jewish immigration to Moscow and the core Russian regions.9 This chimed with the traditional Russian idea of an ethnically and religiously homogenous heartland.10 Accordingly, in 1804 Tsar Alexander I (1777–1825) established an area of settlement for the Jews in the conquered Polish areas – a territory in the western part of the Russian Empire beyond whose borders Jews could neither settle nor work. This later became known as the Čerta postojannoj evrejskoj osedlosti (The Pale of Settlement). The Pale existed until the end of the Russian Empire.11 However, in practice, the limitations on settlement were ignored in individual cases – evidence that the official policy of the government could not always be imposed throughout the empire because of the corruption of the provincial bureaucracy. One can therefore suppose that the Pale was intended more as a permanent threat to the Jewish population and a ready outlet providing short-term solutions to socio-political tensions rather than as a strict decree that had to be consistently applied.12 The expulsion of the Jews from Moscow in 1891 is an example of how the Pale and the stipulations associated with it were a constant threat.13 It demonstrates that although the restrictions of the Pale were not strictly enforced (Jews did live in Moscow even though it was outside the Pale) it was a socio-political instrument that could be used if circumstances required it. From 1861, Jews with a university degree were no longer tied to the Pale.14
In the 19th century, two political decisions had a particularly negative impact on the Jews. First, in 1812, the Russian government banned Jews from exercising the propinacja (the monopoly on the distillation and sale of alcohol).15 Together with the forced resettlement to the cities by the Russian tsars, this contributed to the impoverishment of the Jews because many relied on the licenses from the nobility to produce and sell alcohol for their livelihoods. As a result of the ban, a large number of destitute Jewish leaseholders migrated into the cities.16 In the Polish feudal system, the propinacja had also been the main source of revenue for the szlachta, who had farmed out the alcohol monopoly to the highest – normally Jewish – bidder. It was precisely the leaseholders' intermediary position between the nobles and the non-Jewish peasants that created constant social tension. The church, fearing the moral decay of the enserfed Christian peasants, stoked this discord by adding a moralising edge to it.17
Second, in 1844, the abolition of the institution of the qahal as a tax-raising and ritual community18 ended one of the oldest Jewish forms of organisation in Eastern Europe. However, this also represented the Russian government's first step to the creation of a modern administrative state.
The complex, multicausal interaction of minority policies and economic development in the Russian Empire meant that the abolition of the qahal led to a striking increase in poverty among the Jewish population. This was exacerbated by the significant trends towards urbanisation among Jews in the 19th century. The urban Jewish population had been traditionally made up of a small upper class of merchants and a large number of traders and craftsmen (for example grocers, shoemakers, traders in fabrics etc.). It was now swelled by the stream of former rural residents who moved to the cities in search of a new way of making a living. This process varied from region to region: in the east and south east, the regions with an underdeveloped economy, the shtetl (communities with a high proportion of Jews) continued to form the lifeworld of many Jews; by contrast, in the Polish and Lithuanian areas, Industrialisation – and thus the incentive to move to the larger cities – was considerably stronger.19 As a result, a Jewish proletariat emerged in the cities.20 It created its own workers' movement in 1897 by founding the Bund (Algemeyner Yidisher Arbeter Bund in Lite, Poyln un Rusland), which acquired considerable political importance in the 20th century.21 This trade-union and cultural organisation had a national and secular understanding of Jewishness.22 In this way, it paralleled the development of the other national movements in Eastern and South-Eastern Europe in the 19th century.
These developments in the 19th century created migratory movements after the Partitions of Poland. For its inhabitants, the end of Poland-Lithuania meant changes in borders between the individual states. Consequently, the Jews found themselves the subjects of new states. Immigration to Russia was largely impossible due to the introduction of the Pale. By contrast, the Jews of Galicia, which had become part of the Habsburg Monarchy, and the new subjects of the Prussian province Posen had the opportunity to settle in Central Europe. Above all, the larger cities and the capitals of Prussia and the Habsburg Monarchy attracted the Jewish migrants. These industrialised regions offered good opportunities to find work. Over the second half of the 19th century, the number of possible destinations for migration increased: in addition to the traditional Palestine, the attractive option of settling in Western Europe emerged. Furthermore, the growth of the transatlantic infrastructure facilitated immigration to the USA23and the Latin American states,24 an option chosen mostly by young people. Between 1881 and 1897 alone, roughly half a million Jews, about ten percent of the 5.2 million Jews registered in the Russian census of 1897,25 left their East European home.26 Another cause of this mass emigration were the anti-Jewish pogroms in the Russian Empire. These reached their apex in the unstable period between 1903 (the pogrom of Kishinev) and 1905 (about 500 pogroms took place during the First Russian Revolution).27 The overseas emigration of Jewish Russians was normally preceded by internal migration from the shtetl to the larger cities, where it was easier to find work.
Because of the delayed industrialisation and the resulting poor job market in Eastern Europe, many Jews relocated to the major Central European cities, above all Vienna,28 in order to remain close to their families. Those who did not stay in Vienna or did not see a future for themselves in the Polish and Galician cities used the opportunity to emigrate to the USA or other American states in order to begin a new life there.
The rapid growth of the Jewish population drastically worsened their economic situation in Eastern Europe. Reports from relatives who had already emigrated, for example to the USA, painted an enticing picture of the economic and individual opportunities provided by this country.29
The developments in Hungary were very different to those in Russia. Jews first settled in Hungary in large numbers after the three Partitions of Poland, primarily from Galicia, which was now under Habsburg rule. This wave of immigration reached its peak in the middle of the 19th century. By 1910, around 930,000 Jews lived in Hungary, making up about five percent of the population.30 Hungary's unique treatment of its Jewish population in the 19th century was evident in the Magyarisation pursued here which created a large class of Enlightened Hungarian Jews, most notably in Budapest. This development was expressed in the rapid emergence of a liberal Jewish community (the so-called Neology) with a reformed rite; by contrast, the Jews in the peripheries of the South Carpathians and some regions of what is now Romania were predominantly Orthodox or Hasidic.
South-Eastern Europe: The Ottoman Empire
The political conditions in the Balkans were entirely different to those in Eastern Europe. In the 19th century, the multinational Ottoman Empire was increasingly confronted with ethnic and economic crises. Influenced by nationalism, the individual peoples broke away from the High Porte (the government of the Ottoman Empire) and, one after another, founded their own nation states. The explosive power of the opposition to the rule of the Sultans was a result of the ethno-religious understanding of the nation held by many non-Islamic subjects, who understood their national identity to dovetail with their religious affiliation.31 Between the 16th and 20th centuries, the millet system regulated the minority status of the non-Muslims and the autonomy of religious communities in the Ottoman Empire. The millets (confessional communities) had a religious rather than an ethnic basis. The distinction between Muslims and dhimmis ("people benefiting from protection", i.e. Christians and Jews, who, according to Islamic law, were subject to special legal provisions as members of one of the religions of the book) had served as a method of structuring the population since the early modern period. However, in the 19th century it provided the impetus for the separatist desires of most of the individual peoples in South-Eastern Europe. The earlier division of ethnic and religious identity did not correspond to the modern understanding of the nation and nation state. The Jews, however, were in a special position in that they could make no territorial claims in the Balkans.
During the Tanzimat period (1839–1876), which began with the imperial edict known as Hatt-i şerif of Gülhane in 1839, the millet system was reformed. Sultan Abdülmecid I (1823–1861) ended the earlier fundamental social distinction between Muslim subjects and dhimmis. He introduced a modified system of various millets that no longer distinguished communities primarily by means of their religious affiliation to Judaism or the different Christian denominations but classified the various ethnic groups based on their national consciousness. These ethnic groups retained their autonomy within the Ottoman Empire. At the same time, a guarantee of access to education and high office was supposed to provide them with more equality within society as a whole. These reforms benefited above all the Greek and Armenian millets, but also helped the Jews:32 for example, in 1835 the office of the Haham başı33 in Istanbul was created, to which Abraham Levi Paşa (in office 1835−1839) was appointed. Other cities in the Ottoman Empire also had their own Chief Rabbi, but the Chief Rabbi of Istanbul was the primus inter pares who also acted as the official representative of Judaism in the Ottoman Empire. The Tanzimat period was reconfirmed in 1856 with the İslahat fermanı (The Rescript of Reform). However, in the following years, Sultan Abdülhamid II (1842–1918), who reigned from 1876 to 1909, imposed conservative policies ending the period of reform.34 The main aim of the modernisation of the empire was not the integration of the different peoples of the Ottoman Empire but was instead concerned with the military (the power of the Janissaries had been a constant threat to the court), admission to the state bureaucracy and education, and modern infrastructure.
In the end, the new version of the millet system turned out to be contradictory. Inspired by nationalism, the millets in the Balkans hoped to found their own nation states rather than wait for emancipation within the Ottoman Empire. The separatist impetus derived from the ethno-religious differentiation of the individual peoples proved too strong and the High Porte's reforms came too late to restrict it.
However, the Jews in the Ottoman Empire viewed these separatist tendencies sceptically. The Jewish population in the Balkans and western Asia Minor were primarily Sephardic. They had been expelled from the Iberian peninsular by the Alhambra Decree of 1492 and had settled in the Ottoman Empire. For them, the empire was the guarantor of freedom and safety. In contrast, the newly emerging nation states were seen as potential agents of antisemitism. As a result, the Sephardic immigrants were in favour of a continued existence of the Ottoman Empire, which, however, was disintegrating. At the same time, reformist programmes critical of tradition acquired popularity among Jews. In 1840, the anachronistic blood libel trial of Damascus35 led Western governments to support the South-East European Jews and the Haskalah circles based there.36 Moreover, the Francos37 and Ashkenazim in the Ottoman Empire38 helped found a large number of schools sponsored by the Alliance Universelle Israélite (AUI). These aimed to provide Ottoman Jews with better career prospects and a modern approach to their own traditions by giving them a Western education. Orthodox communities in the Ottoman Empire largely did not accept the AUI.39 However, its schools were an enormous success. Their pragmatic educational programme helped counter the impoverishment of the Jewish population that had began in the 19th century (a product of the economic competition with the Armenians and the general downturn in trade).
The Nation States of Serbia, Greece, Bosnia and Croatia
Serbia was the first country to separate from the Ottoman Empire in the 19th century. In the Second Serbian Uprising (1815–1817) under Miloš Obrenović (1783–1860), the country achieved autonomy but remained subject to Ottoman sovereignty. The Obrenović dynasty could finally declare its independence from the High Porte only in 1867. Serbia had already introduced anti-Jewish laws that hit the rural Jewish population in 1846 and 1861. These prohibited Serbian Jews from buying land in order to initiate their expulsion from the countryside. Consequently, the majority of the rural Jewish population emigrated to the capital. The constitution of 1869 did provide Jews with some legal guarantees. Genuine integration, however, only came in 1888 as a result of increasing foreign political pressure. Serbia was forced to implement measures protecting its Jewish residents in the Treaty of Berlin (1878) and in its 1887 agreement with the Ottoman Empire.
Greece became independent in 1830. However, it was only a rump state that did not include the large Jewish community of Saloniki. The dispute over this city became virulent during the First World War (see section 2.10).
Austria-Hungary occupied Bosnia in 1878 and annexed it in 1908. The large Jewish community in Sarajevo and the Bosnian Muslims now became part of the Habsburg Empire. Some Ashkenazi Jews from Croatia therefore moved to the Bosnian capital.
In Croatia, one must distinguish between the Dalmatian Jews, who had been influenced by Venetia and Italy, and the Jews in the north of the country, which had been part of Hungary since 1102. The modern Jewish settlement in the capital Zagreb only began in the 19th century.40 In many respects, developments among the Ashkenazim paralleled those in Hungary: since 1841, the Jewish community had split into the majority of reform-minded Neologists and a small Orthodox group. The latter only achieved recognition as a religious community in 1873, only to lose this recognition again in 1906.41 Following the Austro-Hungarian occupation of Bosnia in 1878, some Sephardic families settled in Zagreb, too. Thereafter, the Jewish community was made up of three groups – the Ashkenazi Neologists, who were the majority, the segregationist Orthodox Ashkenazim, and the Sephardim. In contrast to the situation in Sarajevo, the majority of Jews, as in Hungary, belonged to the urban middleclasses.42 They used German as their language of daily communication rather than Hungarian or Croatian in order to emphasise their identification with the Habsburg Empire, from whose German-speaking areas they had originated.
The 20th Century
In the developments affecting Jews in interwar Eastern and South-Eastern Europe, one can see common features that crossed national and regional borders, but there were also differences between individual states. One shared factor was that the nation states created after the First World War (in so far as they had not already emerged in the 19th century) came into being on the vast territories of the Russian, Ottoman and Austro-Hungarian empires. Accordingly, the newly founded nation states were structured around not only national identities but also (implicitly) the old regional divisions.
After the First World War, the Jews who had come to an arrangement with the governments of the large states of Eastern and South-Eastern Europe in the 19th century had to readjust their social and political bearings. The Ashkenazim and Sephardim, who tended to be conservative, initially clung on to the prewar order. This brought them into conflict with the new concepts of the state, not least because the pre-1914 concepts of Jewish integration were now out of the question in most countries.
The Jewish scepticism towards premature assimilation awakened an open or latent antisemitism among the majority populations. To a certain extent, this was coupled with a fear of the Soviet regime in the East, which was perceived as Jewish, or with the rejection of Zionism. Certainly, most East and South-East European countries had authoritarian and nationalist governments. However, no group professing an antisemitic ideology as the foundation of the state won power or an electoral majority. The tragic fate of the Ashkenazi Jews in Eastern Europe and the Sephardim in the Balkans, who had had deep roots in these areas for centuries and represented the largest part of the Jewish Diaspora, came about because of external pressures – through the events of the Second World War and the expansion of Nazi Germany, which subordinated the nation states to its direct rule or installed puppet regimes that more or less cooperated with Hitler's government.
The Second Polish Republic
In 1918, Poland was able to re-establish itself as an independent state for the first time since the three Partitions of Poland at the end of the 18th century. After the Ukrainians, the Jews were the second largest minority in the state. Historical developments had left Polish Jews as an extremely inhomogeneous group. It consisted of four communities: the Galician Jews from the former Austria-Hungarian Empire, the Jews of industrialised Congress Poland,43 the Jews of the areas annexed from Russia on the Lithuanian border and in Volhynia and the former Prussian Jews, who also demonstrated a high level of acculturation.
As a result of successful lobbying of – mainly – American delegates at the peace conference in Versailles the Jews in Poland received extensive minority rights in 1919. These included for instance the right to their own schools and the freedom to exercise religion in the way they chose, extending to the right to observe their religious holidays. The last laws that discriminated against Jewish citizens were, however, only abolished in 1931.44
Compared to the neighbouring states, the Jews of interwar Poland were the most politically active. At the same time, however, they were deeply divided, above all on the question of Zionism. The Jewish parties can be divided into four categories. The most successful organisation of the Orthodox Jews (including the Hasidim) was Agudas Yisroel ("Union of Israel"). It aimed to secure their culturally and socially hermetic lifeworld and cultivate the Yiddish language.45 The members of the Bund, the secularist Jewish workers' party, also wanted to support Yiddish, albeit on the basis of their secular understanding of nationhood. They only began cooperating with the Polish socialists of the PPS in the 1930s, which turned out to be too late.46 In addition, there were the Zionists, who were riven by internal divisions. The most important party was Poale Zion ("Workers of Zion"), which advocated not only Zionism but also Modern Hebrew.47 Added to this were those willing to assimilate, who, however, did not create their own political parties.
In Poland, it was impossible to found an independent Jewish umbrella organisation that could integrate these different tendencies. Consequently, the Jewish parties were weak and could be easily manipulated.48
Domestic politics in the 1920s were relatively peaceful in Poland. However, in the 1930s, even before the beginning of the Second World War, a decisive turn to the right tinged with antisemitism took place. This reached its apex following the death of the leading politician Józef Piłsudski (1867–1935) in 1935. In 1936, the Sejm (the lower chamber of the Polish parliament) passed a law on the ritual slaughter of animals that strictly restricted this practice in regions with a Jewish population of under three percent. Measures to "promote" the emigration of Jews and various boycotts of Jewish shops followed,49 before Poland once again lost its independence as a result of the invasions by Nazi Germany on September 1 and the Red Army on September 17, 1939.
Lithuania After the First World War
Between the wars, Lithuania was a small agrarian state that had lost its capital Vilnius (Polish: Wilno) to Poland. Instead, Kaunas (Russian: Kovno; Polish: Kowno) became the provisional seat of government. For Lithuanian Jews, this also meant the loss of their spiritual centre, and the proportion of the Jewish population fell to 7.3 percent.50 On the other hand, the Jews placed great hopes in the new state, which initially was very willing to cooperate and granted them wide-ranging autonomy. Jews received the status of a national minority. The young state, which in contrast to Poland still had a low level of national consciousness, promoted Jewish equality in the first years of the rule of Augustinas Voldemaras (1883–1942), who became president in 1918. Of great symbolic value were the decrees that stipulated that street signs in Kaunas should also be available in Hebrew and that allowed the use of Yiddish in the parliament. The Jewish hope for an "East European Switzerland"51 proved, however, to be deceptive. The advantageous conditions were a "marriage of convenience only"52 for the foundation of the state: the Lithuanian representatives agitating in favour of an independent Lithuania had sought to gain the international aid of Zionist interest groups. In the mid-1920s, the rights of the Jewish minority were limited step by step. Nevertheless, Lithuania maintained a comparatively positive attitude towards the Jews for long into the 1930s.53 Jewish culture flourished, as did the state-subsidised schools, in particular those sponsored by the Zionists, which were common in Lithuania.
The Soviet Union
One can see a similar change in the Soviet Union, albeit taking place in a different direction: after the October Revolution of 1917, the Bolsheviks condemned the antisemitic pogroms of the past.54 As a result, a young Jewish generation within Russia was able to develop sympathies for the new system. In accordance with the early Leninist line, Jews received access to the highest offices of state and party.55 Naturally, this was accompanied by a secularisation of the generation affected.56 The dissolution of the Pale after the February Revolution led to mass migrations within the Soviet Union. By 1939, around 40 percent of its Jewish inhabitants had left the former area of settlement. In 1926, the Jewish population of Moscow made up 6.5 percent of the city's inhabitants.57 The programme of Korenizacija58 in the 1920s served to stabilise the system by admitting loyal non-Russians to key positions in the state. However, it distanced Jews from their religion and history and led to a rise in antisemitism among the non-Jewish population.59 Zionist ambitions were now persecuted and Hebrew superseded by Russian (and occasionally Yiddish).60 From about the end of the 1920s, the policy towards Jews changed when Josef Stalin (1879–1953) defeated the Jewish triumvirate of Lev Trotsky (1879–1940), Grigory Zinov'ev (1883–1936) and Lev Kamenev (1883–1936). These developments reached a peak with the Stalinist purges occurring since 1948 and continued up to Stalin's death in 1953. As early as 1939, Jews were systematically removed from their positions of leadership. Stalin's mistrust towards Jews arose primarily from his Cold War suspicion that they were spying for the enemy and from the foundation of the State of Israel, which made him doubt the loyalty of Jews in his own ranks. The discrimination and persecution of Jews in the Soviet Union were officially seen as anti-Zionism rather than antisemitism. As early as the 1920s, the Soviet leadership believed it could deflect charges of antisemitism with the claim that the old Jewish world had been dismantled by Jewish Bolsheviks.61
Like the state itself and the peoples that populated it, Jews in Czechoslovakia were not a homogenous group. There was a west-east divide and, in practice, three distinct Jewries existed. In the Czech half, the majority were reform-minded and secularised Jews, whose cultural orientations were towards the defunct Habsburg dynasty and the German language. Many had important places in the German-language cultural life of the first half of the 20th century (for example Franz Kafka (1883–1924) and Victor Ullmann (1898–1944)). In Slovakia, there was a strong Orthodox element from the former Hungarian crownlands centred in Bratislava. Lastly, in Subcarpathia there existed a Hasidic tradition which used to be influenced by Galicia. There was also a noticeable statistical divide: in 1921 Jews only made up 1.1 percent of the population in the Czech half of the state, while in the east the figure went up to 14.1 percent.62 The liberal Czech Jews were an urban minority, while the overwhelming majority of the Jewish population in Slovakia and Subcarpathia lived in villages and small towns. The treatment of the Jewish minority was different in the two halves of the country. The Czechs possessed a long secular tradition. By contrast, the Catholic clergy occupied an important position in Slovakian society. Here, an open, religiously motivated anti-Judaism often reared its head in the interwar period.
The open policy of the first state president Tomáš Masaryk (1850–1937) set the tone in the 1920s. In the following decade, Czechoslovakia, as the richest East European country, did not experience any significant economic tension that could be channelled into antisemitic agitation.63 The Second World War changed the situation fundamentally. The Munich Agreement of 1938 granted autonomy to Slovakia. A clerico-fascist regime came to power that caused many Jews to emigrate to Hungary. Anti-Jewish legislation was introduced imitating that of Hungary (see section 2.6). During the Second World War, under the rule of President Jozef Tiso (1887–1947),64 the remaining Jews were deported to the death camps.
Following the First World War, Hungary shrank to a fraction of its former size as a result of the Treaty of Trianon in 1920.65 A nation state emerged that lacked the large national and religious minorities which Hungary had possessed in the past. In 1919, there had been a short socialist intermezzo in the form of the Soviet republic under Béla Kun (1886–1939). 20 out of 26 of the ministers in his government had had Jewish roots. This helped create an antisemitic atmosphere in the state which succeeded it (also in 1919).
Hungarian Jews made up 5.9 percent of the population in 1920.66 Half of these lived in Budapest, making up a quarter of the city's population. The majority of the Budapest Jews were Neologists. The centre of Orthodoxy was along the Czechoslovakian border in the north. Due to the policy of Magyarisation in the 19th century, Hungarian had become the daily language of the country's Jews.67 Yiddish was only spoken in the Orthodox peripheries on the Slovakian and Romanian borders. More wealthy Jews were primarily employed in the learned professions (lawyers, doctors) or banking.68 In addition, mixed marriages were common. One can therefore speak of a patriotic Jewish community which saw its future in Hungary and was very sceptical towards Zionism.
At the same time, Hungary was a state that passed anti-Jewish laws from the very beginning –for example, the introduction of a numerus clausus at the universities based on the percentage of Jews in the population. However, there were limits to the discrimination under Miklós Horthy (1868–1957) in the 1920s. During this period, the prewar elite were in power, who preferred a moderate position.
In 1932, however, Horthy named as head of the government the minister of war and later Nazi collaborator Gyula Gömbös (1886–1936). In May 1938, during the crisis that preceded the Second World War, Hungary passed anti-Jewish legislation that became the model for similar laws in other states in the region (for example, Slovakia and the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes). It placed economic sanctions on Jews, including restrictions on practising certain professions. A second law in the following year ratcheted up this policy.69 After Hungary became a German satellite, the country's Jews fell victim to the Shoah. The temporary exception for Budapest which was based on the differentiation between "Hungarian" and "foreign" Jews (a holdover from the Habsburg period) could not halt the course of events.
Romania made the greatest territorial gains after the First World War, expanding to the north and west as a result of the Treaty of Trianon (1920). However, this also meant that now only two thirds of the population were Romanian and there were large minorities from neighbouring states. The Romanian Jews were also a colourful mix: apart from the core area (Regat), inhabited by Sephardim, Bessarabia and Bukovina were home to Ashkenazi Jews and the former Hungarian Jews of Banat and Transylvania. Those Jewish groups from the former neighbouring states that were now citizens of Romania continued to look to their "lands of origin".70 The government's discriminatory differentiation between "local" Jews and those who had become part of the country after the First World War acquired ever greater relevance due to the continuing immigration to Bessarabia of Russian Jews fleeing the Soviets. In practice, this discrimination meant, for example, that 270,000 of the Russian Jews who had immigrated into Romania lost their citizenship in 1939.
In Romania, too, the once moderate conservative politics took a turn to the right: first following the putsch by King Carol II (1893–1953) in 1938, then with the Antonescu dictatorship in 1940. After tumultuous boycotts of Jewish shops, a pogrom in Bucharest in January 1941 (organised by the Garda de Fier)71 signalled the start of the persecution of the Jews.72 During the Shoah, the division of Jews into two classes was preserved:73 the Jews in the new areas were deported to chaotic camps in Transnistria;74 the Jews of Regat were largely spared due to the support of their umbrella organisation UER75 and could even organise aid convoys to the camps.76 Romania's switch to the Allied side in 1944 allowed a relatively large number of Romanian Jews to survive.77
The Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes (Yugoslavia)
The first Yugoslavia – the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes78 – united Jews from the territories of Austria-Hungary, independent Serbia and the Ottoman Empire, i.e. both Ashkenazim and Sephardim. Regarding the financial situation of the Jews there was a north-south divide (as was indeed true for the non-Jewish population), also evident in the three Jewish centres of Zagreb, Belgrade and Sarajevo. The Ashkenazim of Zagreb chose, similar to the Hungarian Jews, an integrationist approach to society drawing on the Haskalah. They abandoned German or Hungarian in favour of Croatian and did not live in distinct Jewish quarters. Instead, the majority belonged to the urban middle classes. The Sephardim of Sarajevo, by contrast, were very traditional, lived in a Jewish milieu that had existed since Ottoman times and mostly spoke Ladino as their everyday language.79 The Jews in Belgrade adopted a midway position. They maintained good relations with their Serbian neighbours – not least because Serbs had claimed parallels between the Serbian and Jewish identities since as early as the Middle Ages.80 The position towards the Jewish minority in the kingdom was by and large benevolent. Jews received the status of autonomy and in order to exercise this right, the communities of the three cities mentioned above created an umbrella organisation based in Belgrade in 1921. In 1928, a rabbinic seminary was founded to train Sephardic and Ashkenazic rabbis in Sarajevo. In 1929, King Aleksandar I (1888–1934) issued a law on Jews that reconfirmed the self-administration of Jewish communities and granted the Jews a quota of subsidies that was proportionally the highest among those given to religious communities. In addition, this law made allowance for Jewish festivals in certain official contexts and provided lessons on the Jewish religion in state schools.81 At this time, a generational change took place within the Jewish communities towards a younger, more political generation. While the upper class within this younger generation often sympathised with Communism, the middle class leaned towards Zionism.
During the Second World War, the extermination of the Jews was implemented from two sides. The Croatian puppet state of the Ustaše (the NDH state),82 which absorbed Bosnia, deported the Jews of Zagreb and Sarajevo to the German concentration and death camps and to its own concentration camp in Jasenovac. Serbia, which in 1941 was directly occupied by Germany, was one of the first states in the region whose Jewish population was almost completely deported to the death camps. The clerico-fascism that reigned in Croatia allowed many converts to acquire "Aryan rights" and thus avoid death.83
Relatively few Jews lived in Bulgaria.84 Governmental policy between the wars was guided by the Bulgarisation of the minorities, and a bilingual generation who spoke both Bulgarian and Ladino emerged in the Jewish schools. Although the country belonged to the Axis during the Second World War, there were no deportations of Jews to Germany. The reasons for this were the ruling style of King Boris III (1894–1943), the protest of the Holy Synod of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church and Allied pressure on the country. This was not true of occupied Macedonia (1941−1944), whose Jews were seen as stateless people and deported unless they could escape to Italy.
In 1912, Saloniki was annexed by Greece which was ruled by Eleftherios Venizelos (1864‒1936). As a result, the situation of the city and the Jewish majority in this "Jerusalem of the Balkans" changed fundamentally. The Jewish request not to grant Saloniki to Greece but recognise it as a neutral free city failed.85 In 1913, Saloniki finally became Greek in the Treaty of Bucharest. However, the real change came after the disastrous fire of 1917 which destroyed three quarters of the city. Venizelos used the catastrophe to rebuild the city in Hellenic style. He sold the former Jewish area to Greek merchants, pushing the Jews to the periphery of the city. As a result of the population exchanges of the 1920s (see section 2.11), Greeks from Turkey were settled in Saloniki. By 1926, 80 percent of the population of Saloniki was already Greek.86 The state of the economy also contributed to the impoverishment of Saloniki's Jewish community. After the fire had ruined many families, the Great Depression also had an impact on the city and the tobacco industry collapsed.87 The German invasion on April 9, 1941 was the beginning of the end for the Jews of Saloniki. Two ghettos were created and the Jews brought to the surrounding work camps. The first of 19 transports to the death camp Auschwitz-Birkenau left in March 1943; in total, almost 50,000 Jews were murdered. By August that year, no more Jews lived in Saloniki.88
In Turkey, the Jewish communities were primarily concentrated in the cities of Istanbul, Edirne and Izmir; the Jews were not affected by the population exchange with Greece after 1923. The Dönme,89 however, were hit and had to leave their stronghold Saloniki for Turkey on account of their "Muslim" beliefs. The 1923 Treaty of Lausanne promised extensive rights to religious minorities. However, due to the Kemalist "state's exclusivist nationalism",90 these were restricted in the 1930s. Turkey declared its neutrality during the Second World War,91 but the country also passed laws that targeted minorities – above all horrendous tax rises. According to these laws, failure to pay the new taxes would land the offenders in labour camps to work off their debt. This was perhaps the apex of the policy of Turkification. This law was soon rescinded in response to international pressure but left many Jews in Turkey impoverished.