Győr and Jewry

Historical review of the co-existence of Jewish and non-Jewish communities in Győr – Part Two

Historical model changes in Győr and their relationship with the religious (ethnic) structure and spatial location of the population

Excerpts from a study by Dr Gyula Szakál, Associate Professor in ret., Economic Historian, Széchenyi István University, Győr

In the first part, you learned how the Jewish population of Győr came into being and how it co-existed with the majority community of other religions over the centuries. In part two, you will learn how the elite of Győr responded to the political crisis and human tragedy of 1944.

The reaction of the Győr elite to the political and human crisis of 1944

An important component of the economic mentality is the ability to gain, keep and overcome disadvantages. We have seen that from the 1850s to the turn of the 1890s, all the behavioural traits appeared in Győr. To what was due this flexibility and sense of reality? Here we must return to the historical path and the time factor. In our city – as in the country as a whole – the organic development of local society from the 1848-49 War of Independence to the Second World War or its eve (here I mean the time of adopting the restrictive laws on Jews) was not disrupted by external political forces. Within families and in the micro- and macro-textures of the urban elite, two or three generations of experience and patterns of behaviour were passed on. [5]

The roots of this pattern of behaviour go back to the city’s more distant past. The need and struggle to change from military town, episcopal city, patrician town, open trading town and then industrial town, the acceptance of the New has always won. Economic and human relations have always been open. This is the reason for the city’s inclusiveness.

Győri Nemzeti Hírlap announcing the 2nd law oj Jews –

The attitude of Győr’s elite was characterised by a sense of reality and social awareness, solidarity and personal responsibility. … In spite of overcoming economic crises and successful model changes, urban elites and their values were also affected by the events of the Second World War, including the laws on Jews and attitudes towards them.

In any case, from the mid-19th century onwards, Győr’s Jewish society became very quickly integrated with the city’s other religious populations. This was a consequence of the overwhelming majority of the Jewish population of the town belonging to the Neologue community and the resulting physical appearance and, crucially, mentality. Naturally, this also required the welcoming, opportunity-seeking attitude of the Christian economic and political elite as a partner. In industrial joint-stock companies seeking to modernise local economic life, or even in Masonic lodges attempting to improve society, the city’s most prominent citizens could cooperate regardless of their religious affiliation. One, if not the decisive, reason for this was that business competition was not linked to ethnicity but to personal performance.

The Józsa-house or Zichy Palace in Győr, with Atlases and commercial publicity, Liszt Ferenc u 20 – Photo: József Glück, around 1920

The quality of a society – and this is even more true for local communities – depends on how it treats immigrant aliens, minority religious and ethnic groups. In the case of Győr, 10% of the population after the turn of the century was Jewish. Among the economic elite, they held a stable position of around 30%, while in the Legislative Committee (of the city) they accounted for 20-30% of the members. They were therefore an inescapable part of the economic and political life of Győr. If we look at the network of relations and the culture of interaction in the bourgeois society of the time, we do not find any tensions that were specifically induced by the antagonism between the Jewish and Christian communities. The best example of this is the Masonic lodge Philanthropy, founded in 1901, in which Christian citizens were involved in addition to Jewish members. Two memoirs, in which no grievances are mentioned, testify to the smooth relations between the two religious groups. [6]

Bishop’s Palace- Photo: József Glück, around 1920-30

However, it is worth mentioning the daily Dunántúli Hírlap, published by the Bishop’s Office of Győr, in which more cautious, sometimes harsher, biting articles were regularly published. Their impact was negligible. We asked about this in conversations with the descendants of successful entrepreneurs (the second generation could still remember the 1910s and 1920s), but they did not perceive such a problem.

This seamless relationship, the interplay of social events and obligations, is illustrated by a series of ceremonies that accompanied the unveiling of a marble plaque commemorating the 85 Jewish heroes of Győr who died in World War I. It was the autumn of 1923 … The ceremony was attended by a delegation from the Ministry of Defence, the Győr Regiment, the leaders of the city and county administration and representatives of Christian churches. [7] The county bishop of Győr, Antal Fetser, himself spoke moving words of remembrance.

Memorial to the Jewish soldiers victims of WW1 in the Synagogue – Photo by P. Krausz

Peace continued and was extended well into the 1930s. In the spring of 1931, on the occasion of the quarter-century anniversary of the inauguration of the county bishop, Dr. Mór Schwarz, Chief Rabbi of Győr, praised the activities of the high priest with striking respect, obviously not without oratorical turns. Almost all Jews in Győr remembered that the wave of anti-Semitism that had appeared at the beginning of the 1920s had largely bypassed the city.

The Back Mill at the turn of the century-

Coexistence and supportive relationships worked on several levels. Around the turn of the century, Ignác Schreiber, a descendant of a former wealthy grain merchant family, set up a foundation to support students, helping those in need regardless of their religious affiliation. The foundation of Hermann Back – the family had long been baptised – helped start-up entrepreneurs.

News about Hermann Back’s foundation and the emperor’s recognition, Győri Hírlap, 9 November 1904 –

Even after the First World War, the establishment of various foundations was linked to Jewish citizens of Győr. Berta Kohn and her sister Jenny Kohn support the city hospital with a substantial sum of money, which is even appreciated by the Minister of the Interior, Ferenc Keresztes Fischer. In June 1925, the industrialists Lajos Buchwald and János H. Schmiedl registered a foundation to help workers. No wonder that the city’s authoritative bourgeois elite does not allow any anti-Semitic voices anywhere near it. In August 1934, the mayor, Dr. Ferenc Szauter, praised the activities of the Chief Rabbi Dr Mór Schwarz, a member of the General Assembly, and the Legislative Committee recorded this in a resolution.

It cannot be considered a coincidence that the combined support of the liberal and social democratic parties in Győr far exceeded that of the conservative parties in the Horthy regime. In fact, when in 1939, in the absence of liberal parties, only the Hungarian Social Democratic Party existed, it received far more support from local voters in percentage terms than in Budapest. The relations described above thus not only reflect the values of the wealthy bourgeois elite, but also the opinion of a broad section of the population of Győr.

Whereas the economic power field was reorganised earlier, the major political power field was reorganised later. The Second law on Jews abolished the daily Győri Hírlap and from 1 October 1939, with the publication of the Győri Nemzeti Hírlap (National Newspaper), the right-wing and even extreme right-wing media took over the provision of information to the citizens of the city. Among the local bourgeoisie, an attempt had already been made to bring about a (political) realignment, also at the behest of the central authorities.

Just look at the titles. The first page of the Győr National Newspaper (Győri Nemzeti Hírlap), 5 April 1944 –

In July 1937, a local group of the Baross Szövetség (Baross Association, a nationwide social association founded by tradesmen and craftsmen in 1919. Only members of Christian denominations were admitted – ed.), founded in 1919, was set up in Győr.[8] Its first hesitant local steps were limited to communicating the news from the capital and the central patterns of behaviour (expectations). A review of the association’s local membership list suggests that the mainstream urban bourgeoisie approached the organisation with due caution. Despite all the enticements of benefits, they were preoccupied with a lot of petty personal matters. Until they gained local publicity, their visibility was not very high. It was not only the more moderate bourgeoisie of Győr that kept their distance, even their leaders were not very prestigious. This organisation of so-called national Christian craftsmen and merchants was headed first by a lawyer and then by a doctor. It is true that the latter was extremely ambitious, but few people joined him in his activities.

Simultaneously with the events of the war, anti-Semitic language became a permanent feature of the local press. It was constructed quite simply. Jews were either helping ‘foreign agents’ to undermine the chances of victory in the war, or ‘trying to corrupt young Christian girls’, or spreading rumours. The citizens of Győr were bombarded with factoids (in today’s parlance, “fake news” – ed.). And from 1944 onwards, measures taken against the Jews were regularly reported on. Of course, news stories condemning Christian citizens who helped the Jews, highlighting the punishment imposed on them by the law, could not be neglected.

The question for us is how the people of Győr reacted to this. The effect of the fervent anti-Semitism fomented by the local newspaper was not satisfactory to the editors, and in several cases, it was reported with strong disapproval.

On April 21, 1944, 15-20 members of the Attila József Circle of Győr (Attila József (1905-1937), a progressive Hungarian poet – ed.) held a protest walk on Baross Street, wearing yellow carnations in their jackets. It took no small courage to do this simple act in those days, we might add. What we have here is essentially a humane expression of the cultural elite. But just as important for us is what the city’s political elite have been doing in these weeks.

The most difficult test has been the implementation of the decree on ghettoisation. It should not be forgotten that this had to be carried out against Jewish citizens who were members of the municipal council for a longer or shorter period of time, and therefore had a working relationship with the mayor and the drafters of the decree. Their number was not small, since over the previous 20 years or so, between 50 and 100 people had appeared in the municipal Legislative Committee as members of the Jewish community, either as important tax payers and voters or as members of the religious representation.

Forced removal to the ghetto across the Révfalu Bridge, mid-May 1944 –

The mayor of the city, Jenő Koller, presented the most humane solution to the Prime Minister. Based on the model of the capital city, he formed three groups of houses. Accordingly, there would be pure Jewish, pure Christian and mixed streets. Looking at the first plan, we can see that the so-called Jewish streets and squares (Batthyány Square, Bisinger Promenade, Deák Ferenc, Kisfaludy, Király, Dunaszer, Czuczor and Dr Kovács Pál Streets) already had a large number of Jewish-owned houses and apartments, as well as large floor areas and very good running water and bathroom facilities. As few people as possible would have had to move, families could have helped each other, and sanitary conditions were good.

The ghetto was established in Győr-Sziget – Photo: István Nagy

The move to the ghetto had already begun when Interior Minister Andor Jaross disagreed, saying that the Jewish population of Győr should be relocated to a well-controlled and isolated area. The new location of the ghetto was designated on 15 May 1944, and was situated in the area bordered by the Moson-Danube, the Rábca and Bercsényi park. Needless to say, this was a decidedly inhumane solution on the part of the Minister of the Interior. From the 1870s onwards, the Jewish and non-Jewish populations of Győr gradually became mixed. The wealthier citizens moved from the former Jewish district to the central parts of the city. From 1904, with the unification of Sziget and Győr, this process accelerated even more. Christian citizens bought the smaller houses and flats, which were left empty and of low comfort there. Here, too, there was finally a thorough mix-up … Conditions here were much worse. Houses were small, space was tight and sanitary conditions were very poor. Even this did not please the Home Secretary. The city tried to postpone the resettlement to the third and absolutely horrible ghetto, but the elite of Győr were completely helpless, although even the church leaders tried their best. …

Vilmos Apor, who took up his episcopal office in Győr during the period of the adoption of the third law on Jews, did his best to help the persecuted. He used all the means at his disposal for their protection. As president of the Hungarian Holy Cross Association, he provided them with legal and material aid and also sought to relieve the pressure on the Jews through his contacts. He wrote letters and sent telegrams to church and secular leaders. Archival records show that, in his defence of the Jews, he became involved in a heated exchange with the county’s government commissioner, who was forced to tell him that there was nothing more he could do. In June 1944, he personally visited the barracks on Buda Street to bring food, medicine and spiritual aid to Christians of Jewish origin. But the guards turned him back in a brutal and humiliating manner. The barracks on Buda Street were built as an emergency military hospital during World War I. By 1944 they were almost uninhabitable. Who would have thought that this ruin would be the home of thousands of citizens of Győr, even if only for a short time.

Since 1953, a school has occupied the site of the Budai út barracks –

The Arch-abbot of the Benedictine Order in Pannonhalma, Kelemen Krizostom, who was closely connected to Győr, was more successful thanks to his position. He contacted the Hungarian representative of the International Red Cross and they agreed to consider the whole settlement of Pannonhalma as a children’s shelter and thus put it under the protection of the Red Cross. His goal was achieved, and thousands of Jews among the refugees managed to survive the war. In 1998, he was awarded the “Righteous Among the Nations” medal for his achievements.

Kelemen Krizostom, Abbot of Pannonhalma, was awarded the title of Righteous among the Nations on 22 June 1998 –

The civic tolerant value model of Győr, which permeated the churches here, tried to do something for the persecuted even during the time of the Holocaust. However, greater historical power structures overruled the destiny of the country and the life of the settlements within it.

Unfortunately, the values and attitudes that had been formed over a long period of time could not be handed down through the generations, as the life of the country and its towns and villages was repeatedly shattered from the late 1930s onwards, and the guiding principle became the denial of the past rather than its continuation.

[5] As a result of the traumatic changes following the First World War, Győr suffered perhaps the least loss of all the large towns close to borders. (There are no specific studies on this.)

[6] Quittner 1996; Körner 2005.

[7] Lónyai 2004. The years between the two world wars and the events of the Holocaust have so far only been briefly reviewed from this perspective by Sándor Lónyai. Detailed knowledge of the events still requires much research.

[8] Archives of the City of Győr X/1. Documents of the Győr group of the Baross Association 1937-1944. These documents are still completely unprocessed.


Computer processing of ecclesiastical sematisms in the Győr-Moson-Sopron County Archives

Computer processing of the list of the instructions of the second law on Jews, which is kept as a separate list in the archives of the City of Győr

Archives of the City of Győr X/1. Records of the Győr Group of the Baross Association 1937-1944. Data have been taken from the records, but the source as a whole is completely unprocessed


Borovszki Samu: Counties and towns of Hungary, Győr county; Budapest, 1910

Eva Quittner: Pebbles of memory Győr, 1996

József Kemény: The History of the Jews of Győr, Győr, 1930.

András Körner: Taste of the past, Budapest, 2005

Sándor Lónyai: From the numerus clausus to Auschwitz, Budapest, 2004

Lajos Gecsényi: Győr guilds in the second half of the 16th century and the first half of the 17th century; Arrabona 21, 1979.

Lajos Gecsényi: Soldiers and citizens in the fortresses of Győr in the 16th and 17th centuries; Military History Publications, 1984

Gyula Szakál: Citizen entrepreneurs in Győr; Budapest, 2002

This study was published in the journal Műhely (Vol. 36, No. 2, 2013). Republishing rights were granted by Dr. Gyula Szakál.

The pictures are not included in the study, they are for illustration purposes only.

Edited and translated into English by Péter Krausz.