When we interviewed Judit Kinszki, she told us, "All my life I've been waiting to find someone who I could tell about my father. Because he was taken from me at such a young age, I feel that when I describe him, I can draw closer to him."
Judit takes us back to the early days of the 20th century. The Kinszkis were upper-middle-class, highly educated, and hardly observed Jewish traditions at all. The Gardonyis were a lower middle class family determined to secure good careers for their children and religiously observant. When Imre Kinszki announced that he wanted to marry Ilona Gardonyi, his family had her fired from her job! Which is all it took for Imre to hunt her down and propose marriage on the spot.
Imre and Ilona had two children--Gabor was born in 1926, Judit in 1934. Judit's biography is one of our most affecting, telling us just how badly a middle class Jewish family suffered as the skies darkened around them. Judit and her mother survived the Budapest ghetto. Gabor and Imre were taken away and perished.
Imre Kinszki, by the way, was more than an amateur photographer. His images, which ten year old Judit saved in the Budapest ghetto, are now considered modernist masterpieces. A tragic story of a family destroyed, and a budding career cut short.
The Kinszki family lived in Budapest, Hungary's capital city. Prior to 1918, Hungary was 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".
Keleti train station is located in the centre of Budapest, and is one of the city's most recognisable landmarks. This was the subject of one of Imre Kinszki's last photographs. Széchenyi Chain Bridge is another of Budapest's famous structures, and can be seen in the video.
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.
Hungary's Jewish population has a long history: read about it here.
Judit was born and spent her childhood in Budapest. 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.
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.
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.
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.
Judit lost her brother and father during the war. Her brother Gabor was sent to Buchenwald concentration camp in central Germany. Find more information about Buchenwald here. Their father Imre died on a death march. Death marches took place in 1945, when Germany was facing defeat and were unwilling to allow large groups of prisoners to be freed by the Allies. During these forced evacuations, prisoners were made to walk from one camp to another, being brutally mistreated by guards all the way.
Imre died on the way to Saschenhausen concentration camp. This camp is known for being the home of Operation Bernhard, a Nazi attemt to undermine Britain's economy by forging enormous amounts of money (produced by imprisoned labourers). When the camp was liberated the banknotes were almost all destroyed: the few that remain are some of the most convincing forgeries Britain has ever seen.
The situation in wartime Budapest had not been good for its Jewish population. However following the German invasion, conditions worstened significantly. June 1944 saw the creation of yellow-star houses: 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, where Judit and her mother were sent to live, was established in the city centre in November 1944.
Much of the Jewish community in wartime Budapest was subject to forced labour. From 1944, this scheme required healthy Jewish people 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.
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. An overview of the Revolution's aftermath can be found here. Find out about the Revolution from a Hungarian perspective in this article, and find a collection of powerful 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.
Judit's father Imre Kinszki, was a noted modernist photographer. He began developing his artistic style taking photos of everyday objects around his home, and soon began capturing images around the city of Budapest. See some of his work.
Andre Kertesz (1894-1985) is another Hungarian-Jewish photographer. He worked in Paris and New York, working in the photographic medium from its early years, and developing great influence in the then-growing field of photojournalism. Some of his images can be found here.
Hungarian artist Laszlo Moholy Nagy worked in the Bauhaus school of art. Before his death in 1946 he lived in Berlin and Chicago, in 1938 founding the School of Design in Chicago. His work can be seen on this website.
Robert Capa is famous for capturing images of America's participation in the Second World War, most notably the Allied landing at Omaha Beach in 1944. A biography and some of his images can be found here.