Mariann Szamosi -- The Women Who Taught Me Everything

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This is the story of an assimilated, well-to-do Jewish family living in Nagykoros. When Mariann's father lost his business, the family moved to Budapest and Mariann watched as her mother and grandmother took charge of running things.
They were sent to the women's concentration camp of Ravensbrück in northern Germany; only Mariann returned alive. Now in her 80s, Mariann is still running her own publishing company.

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Mariann was born in the town of Nagykőrös in Hungary, then part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. The Empire was formed in 1867 under Austrian Emperor Franz Joseph, combining the power of Hapsburg-led Austria with that of Hungary. The Empire also included Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Slovenia, Slovakia, as well as part of what are now Serbia, Romania, Ukraine, Poland, and the Czech Republic. Read more about Franz-Joseph and the formation of the dual monarchy here.

After the First World War and the collapse of the Empire in 1918, Hungary briefly became an autonomous, socialist nation, first under Mihály Károlyi, and later Belá Kun. Under Kun's administration, Hungary briefly went to war with Romania; this period is known as the Red Terror. In response to this, a series of violent anti-communist attacks and riots took place; this period is referred to as the White Terror. Read more about Hungary in the interwar period here.

For an overview of Hungary's involvement in the First World War, the subsequent peace negotiations, and political turbulence, read this article.

In 1920, Admiral Miklos Horthy took control, taking up the position of "regent".

Following the massive economic downturn of the 1929 Great Depression, Hungary's enconomy gradually improved, largely through trade with Germany. Hungarian authorities fostered a positive relationship with Germany, feeling that the policies of its National Socialist government was in line with Hungary's own aims and values.

A result of this relationship was that in the 1938 Munich Agreement, negotiated between the major Western powers and Germany, Hungary received back some of the territories it had lost in the Treaty of Trianon after World War One. The 1938 Agreement was signed between England, France, Italy, and Germany. This Agreement ceded the Sudetenland to Germany, dividing Czechoslovakia. British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain, a key figure in the negotiations, believed appeasing Adolf Hitler’s territorial ambitions was the most logical way to avoid another large-scale war. Read more about Chamberlain’s policy of appeasement here. The agreement was negotiated among Europe’s major powers without any Czechoslovakian representative- today’s Czechs and Slovakians often refer to the agreement as "the Munich dictate" or the "Munich betrayal". Read a transcript of the original text here.

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Hungary's Jewish population has a long history: read about it here.

Mariann and her family moved to Budapest when she was a child. Budapest was home to one of the largest Jewish communities in Europe, its 1930 population being 204,371. It also housed over 125 synagogues, the biggest located on Dohany Street, currently the largest operating synagogue in Europe. Notable Jewish figures Max Nordeau and Theodor Herzl were both born in Budapest. Both were influential Zionists: Nordeau founded the World Zionist Congress, while Herzl invended and popularised the concept in his influential book Der Judenstaat (in English, The Jewish State), which called for a return of Jewish people to their ancient homeland of Israel. For a more detailed definition of Zionism, see this short article.

Following the 1867 formation of the dual monarchy, life for Jewish communities in Austria-Hungary improved significantly. Jewish people gained full civil rights and began to enter professions that had been previously closed to them. This Centropa video, Jewish Soldiers in the Austro-Hungarian Army, has more information on the condition of Jewish life under emperor Franz Joseph, as well as facts about the First World War.

For an overview of Jewish life in Europe before the Holocaust, explore this page.

In her interview, Mariann recalls celebrating Yom Kippur as a child. Explore this page to learn more about the it.

Read about Jewish life in Hungary after the Second World War here.

In the years following World War Two, discussion of any aspect of the Holocaust and Jewish life were taboo- including expressions of anti-Semitism. These topics were among those covered by dissident intellectuals in the last decades of the Soviet Union. The Yivo Institute for Jewish Research provides a thorough summary of Jewish life in the postwar years and the present day.

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The Second World War began in September 1939, when the German army invaded and occupied Poland. France and Britain, Poland's allies, responded by declaring war on Germany. Large numbers of Polish refugees escaped to Romania, many going on to the West, where the Free Polish Forces were formed to fight against the Axis Alliance. Of the Polish pilots who escaped to Britain, many joined the RAF, where they comprised a significant portion of the flying forces.

Allied to the Axis powers, anti-Semitic legislation began to appear in Hungary in 1938. Despite having been the one to initiate these restrictions, president Miklos Horthy later resisted German pressure to deport the Jewish population of Hungary to concentration camps in Poland. While a large portion of Jewish communities from rural Hungary were deported (either to concentration camps or to the capital city), many Jews were able to survive the war in Budapest. Explore this page for an overview of the restrictions placed against Hungarian Jews, and life in Hungary before the German occupation of 1944.

Hungary officially joined the Axis Alliance in 1941, declaring war on the Soviet Union. Hungarian forces took part in the invasion of Russia, however after heavy losses and a terrible defeat at Stalingrad, Horthy attempted to leave the alliance, arranging armistices first with the Western powers, then the Soviet Union. These armistices were made void when the German army invaded and occupied Hungary, toppling Horthy's government. Read more about Hungary's involvement in the war here. In October 1944, seven months after the invasion, German powers installed Ferenc Szalasi as president. Szalasi was the head of the Arrow Cross Party, Hungary's fascist and brutally anti-Semitic political faction. The Arrow Cross operated a reign of terror between Szalasi's October appointment and the Soviet liberation in April 1945.

The situation in wartime Budapest had not been good for its Jewish population. However following the German invasion, conditions worstened significantly. Mariann and her parents felt safer hiding in the countryside than moving into the yellow-star houses created in Budapest in June 1944. These were crowded and poorly supplied living quarters for Jews, marked with a yellow star over the doorway. Prior to the formation of the Budapest Ghetto, it was believed that scattering Jewish residency throughout the city would deter Allied bombing attacks, whereas condensing the Jewish population to one area would leave the rest of the city open to destruction. When this strategy proved ineffective, the Budapest Ghetto was established in the city centre in November 1944.

Mariann, her mother, and grandmother were taken to Ravensbrück concentration camp on Christmas Eve, 1944. One of the largest camps for women, at its highest capacity, Ravensbrück held over 50,000 prisoners. Visit the Ravensbrück Memorial website here.

Much of the Jewish community in wartime Budapest was subject to forced labour. From 1944, this scheme required healthy Jewish prople to undertake physically demanding tasks, often construction or strategic fortification near front lines. Conditions were harsh and supervisors could be brutal, with many labourers dying. However those who performed forced labour were not taken to concentration camps, and many people survived the war this way. Learn more about the Hungarian forced labour scheme here.

More information on life in Hungary after the 1944 invasion can be found here.

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Following the end of the war, Hungary lost the territory it had gained during the interwar period and war years. After four years of political uncertainty, the Hungarian Constitution of 1949 established Hungary as a Soviet-style communist state. Mátyás Rákosi was the first leader of post-war communist Hungary, and had been a founding member of the Hungarian Communist Party in 1918. Though he himself was Jewish, he had a complex relationship with popular anti-Semitism. Find more information here.

Revolution errupted in Budapest in 1956. Referred to as the Hungarian Uprising or the Hungarian Revolution, this almost spontaneous seizure of power and statements of intended reform was seen briefly as hope for the Soviet Union, many of its dominions feeling the restrictions and oppressions of Stalinist rule. On the 23rd October, students staged a protest modelled after one that had taken place in Poland, where protestors had been able to negotiate liberalisation and more autonomy before being squashed by forces from Moscow. A protest of 200,000 people gathered outside the Hungarian Parliament, but when they were dismissed by state secretary Erno Gero, the crowd became furious, tearing down a statue of Stalin and marching to the Radio Budapest building to broadcast their demands. Here they were fired on by the Hungarian Secret Police. This violence sparked mass rioting, street fighting ensuing when Soviet forces came to restore order. Popular former state secretay Imre Nagy was restored to power, intending to turn Hungary into an autonomous, multi-party state. However Soviet president Nikita Khrushchev ordered the Revolution to be put down, sending approximately 1,000 tanks into Budapest. Over the course of the Revolution, 2,500 Hungarians died and 200,000 emigrated to the West. Under János Kádár's leadership, restrictions in post-Revolution Hungary were extremely harsh, yet from the 1960s Hungary became one of the most liberal of the European communist states. Read about the Revolution from a Hungarian perspective here, and find a collection of fascinating images of the Revolution here.

For an overview of Hungary's twentieth century history, explore this page.

In 1989, protest movements swept across the Soviet Union. Communist governments were dismantled and replaced, mostly without violence (except for the revolution in Romania, footage of which can be found here- please note that it contains images some may find distressing). On the 18th October, Hungary's constitution was amended to create a multi-party state, and on the 23rd October the People's Republic of Hungary became the Republic of Hungary. Read more about 1989 in Hungary in this article.

Find a broad overview of the events of 1989 here, and read about the end of the Soviet Union in 1991 here.

 

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