Jews in East Central European Communist Systems

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After the fall of Communism, overt antisemitism made an appearance in the East-Central European countries. Until the transition years, many people had believed – not without reason – that traditional antisemitic language had been eradicated from the public discourse by the enforced silence of decades of Communist rule, the almost complete taboo surrounding Jewish topics, legal sanctions against antisemitism, and a ban on antisemitic utterances. However, antisemitism did not simply emerge out of nothing after the fall of Communism. In their efforts to impose the fullest possible control over society, the communist parties that seized power in East-Central Europe after World War II eliminated the political, religious, social and cultural institutions of surviving Jewry or made them dependent on the state. However, despite of their total control over Jewish institutions and Jewish community life, the East-Central European communist parties continuously and systematically have seen a disturbing factor in the conflicting historical memories about Jews and in the presence of Jews in the Polish, Czechoslovak and Hungarian society. They permanently kept the problem on the political agenda, and this way they permanently (re)constructed their own “Jewish questions”, what, then, they wanted eagerly to “solve”. The course will focus on this policy of  five Communist states: Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Poland, Romania and the German Democratic Republic and point at the factors which preserved and regenerated the “Jeiwsh Question” in the post-war decades. The subjects discussed in the class are the following:


·         Demography and social structure of the survivor Jewish population

·         Reconstruction of Jewish institutional life; reintegration in the post-war society; conflicts around Jewish property restitution/recompensation;

·         Post-war popular antisemitism, post-war pogroms (Kielce, Kunmadaras, etc.);

·         Establishment of the State of Israel and the policy of the Communist parties related to it;

·         Emigration policy, esp. with regards to Palestine and later Israel;

·         Jews and leaders of Jewish origin in the Communist movements and parties; the accusation of “Jewish Communism”

·         Anti-Zionist campaigns, trials and their representation in the mass media; 

·         Position and politics of Jewish institutions in the Communist states; the problems of collaboration and resistance;

·         Jewish identity options, changes in conditions for identity construction, Jewish grass-root movements under Communist rule