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Tiszaeszlar

TISZAESZLAR

TISZAESZLAR (Hung. Tiszaeszlár ), town in N.E. Hungary, not far from the provincial capital, Nyiregyhaza. The town became notorious in Jewish history in connection with a *blood libel there which aroused public opinion throughout Europe at the time and became the subject of stormy agitation in Hungary over many years. Its effects were disastrously clear during the White Terror period (1919–21), and even later during the antisemitic activity which culminated in Hungary with the expulsions of World War ii. In 1882, when the blood libel occurred, there were about 25 Jewish families living in Tiszaeszlar, which had a total population of approximately 2,700. In 1944, the year of the expulsions, there were 61 Jews in the village.

On April 1, 1882, one of the village inhabitants, Eszter Solymosi, a Christian girl aged 14, disappeared. It was later discovered that she had committed suicide by throwing herself into the River Tisza. A short time after her disappearance, rumors were spread that some of the local Jews had murdered her in the community synagogue for religious requirements in anticipation of the Passover festival. The accusers included the leading local official, the provincial deputy in the parliament in Budapest, and the local Catholic priest, who also published an article which, by implication, accused the Jews of ritual murder. The authorities opened an investigation. The examining magistrate and other representatives of the state, who in principle believed the accusation, carried out their investigation with brutal methods. They succeeded by a ruse in convincing a local 14-year-old Jewish youth, Móric Scharf, to give false evidence: namely that with his own eyes he had witnessed how his father, with local Jews and others who had come from the vicinity, had murdered the girl in the synagogue and gathered her blood in a bowl. The investigation was much publicized, as was the trial which followed. There were also stormy debates on the subject in the Budapest parliament. Antisemitic deputies, such as Győző (Viktor) *Istóczy, fomented a violent agitation. The prime minister Kálmán Tisza did not believe in the libel, but because of political considerations did not dare to impede the judicial proceedings. The minister of justice, Tivadar Pauler, did indeed believe that a few uncivilized Jews employed Christian blood for their religious worship. The state prosecutor-general, Sándor Kozma, a man of liberal opinions, was opposed to the charge. A representative of the prosecution at the trial itself, Ede Szeyffert, also supported this opinion.

The trial was held in Nyiregyhaza during the summer months of 1883. In his summing-up speech the prosecutor proposed that the accused should be acquitted, and the verdict subsequently exonerated the 15 Jews accused. The counsel for the defense was brilliantly led by a non-Jewish advocate, Károly Eötvös, who was also a noted author, politician, and member of the Hungarian parliament. It was as a result of his interventions that the tribunal invalidated the false evidence which had been submitted. After appeals, the verdict was finally upheld by the supreme court of Budapest on May 10, 1884. Instead of subsiding, the wave of antisemitism gathered momentum throughout Hungary after the verdict of the district tribunal. In 1883, there were attacks on Jews in Budapest itself and other localities. These outbreaks reached such proportions that in certain districts the authorities were compelled to proclaim a state of emergency in order to protect the Jews and their property. In the wake of the antisemitic movement concentrated around the trial, and led by Istóczy, a specifically antisemitic party was founded (see *Antisemitism: Antisemitic Political Parties and Organizations), which in the parliamentary elections of 1884 won 17 seats. In the same elections, Eötvös, the defense advocate, was unsuccessful as candidate for the Liberals.

A variety of books and articles on the trial were written by both Jewish and antisemitic authors. In 1904, Eötvös published a history of the trial, a work of literary merit, which was published in a second handsome edition in 1968. The youth who had accused his parents and the members of his community underwent a spiritual and mental crisis. He remained for a while with his parents in Budapest and then left for Amsterdam, where he brought up a family in traditional Judaism and found employment in the diamond industry. His memoirs were published (M. Scharf, in: Egyenlőség (Dec. 3, 1927), 13). Numerous articles on the trial appeared in the general and Jewish press in Hungary and the rest of Europe. Its events form the plot of Arnold *Zweig's novel Ritualmord in Ungarn (1914). A young Hungarian historian, Sándor Hegedüs, published a monograph on the trial in Budapest in 1966. In the conclusion, he points out that he visited the village in search of material and to his regret still found "negative memories" of the trial among the elderly inhabitants.

bibliography:

P. Nathan, Der Prozess von Tisza-Eszlár (1892); K. Eötvös, A nagy per …, 3 vols. (1904); S. Hegedüs, A tiszaeszlári vérvád (1966); J. Kubinszky, in: Századok, 1–2 (1968), 158–77; N. Katzburg, Antishemiyyut be-Hungaryah (1969), 106–55. add. bibliography: A. Handler, Blood Libel at Tiszaeszlar (1980); E. Stern, Glorious Victory of Truth: The Tiszaeszlar Blood Libel Trial, 18823: A Historical-Legal-Medical Research (1998).

[Yehouda Marton]

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