restricted access About the Narratives of a Blood Libel Case in Post-Shoah Hungary
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40 About the Narratives of a Blood Libel Case in PostShoah Hungary Andrea Pető After the liberation of Hungary from nazi occupation by the Soviet army, May 1945 was an exciting and agitated time in the capital, Budapest. People were discussing the ongoing peace negotiations in Paris and cases brought before the People's Tribunals that were being reviewed on the front pages of newspapers. During World War II some 500,000 Jews had been deported from Hungary within a period of few months and the People's Tribunals (Népbíróság) were in charge of handling the war crimes and crimes against humanity that had occurred during that period (see Karsai ). In the immediate postwar period, the new law that had brought about these courts had been passed hastily owing to considerable outside pressure from the allied forces. They were called People's Tribunals because, although they were headed by a professional judge, their membership consisted of five lay delegates representing the five political parties of the then governing coalition government. Primarily newly graduated lawyers with no legal experience were appointed as judges and were expected to interpret and apply the new law in hectic and uncertain circumstances. Somewhat later, more strict laws were passed regulating these courts, but the degree of the effectiveness of their post-Holocaust proceedings is a question that divides historians to this day. The People's Tribunals were set up to construct the institutional and legal division between crimes committed during World War II and the period of reconstruction and to define these crimes with legal instruments. This task was not easy in post-Holocaust Hungarian society, where there was a lack of consensus about the role and responsibility of its political elite and other political actors during the war (see, e.g., Pető and Chiantera-Stutte). In this study, I discuss how this post-Shoah transitional jurisdiction did not function properly and I illustrate this through the example of a blood libel case in Budapest in 1946. The case came across my desk from among the hundreds of such before the People's Tribunals in that year while I was working on a study of Hungar- About the Narratives of a Blood Libel Case in Post-Shoah Hungary 41 ian women war criminals (see Pető and Schrijvers). I begin by providing an outline of the scholarship dealing with pogroms in postwar Hungary (the term "pogrom" is used here in the context of public persecution and mob rule and not in the context of a government issued and sanctioned decree as practiced in Czarist Russia, for example), followed by an analysis of the police and prosecutors' investigations and the subsequent proceedings of the People's Tribunal relating to one specific pogrom unleashed on 8 May 1946 at 5b Illatos Street in Budapest (for the documentation of the case, see "Budapesti Népbíróság anyagai" XXV.1.a., 4479/1946 in the Budapest Capital City Archives). I attempt to illustrate my thesis that the People's Tribunals were able neither to serve the communists' political aims of taking over the country through a pseudo-democratic discourse nor bring to account people who had committed war crimes, precisely because the courts themselves operated in a regulated legal framework. I retrace the activities of "H.," the central character in the Illatos Street pogrom, whom I shall refer to only by his initial, since by law I am not permitted to disclose his identity or that of any of the witnesses in the trials found in the documentation. The laws regulating the People's Tribunals, as well as that of the regular penal code, were insufficiently developed at this time and in consequence it was possible for the perpetrators (those who were identified by the jurisdictional mechanisms) to get away with their crimes with impunity—either by legal means, such as with the help of a well-paid lawyer, or through extra-legal means, such as threats and blackmail. I argue that corrective justice based on individual cases did not work because individualized narratives about events during the Holocaust hardly fit into the grand historical narrative: individual stories always create exceptions. In May 1946 Népszava and the Szabad Nép (two leftist newspapers) published reports about accusations against Jews of ritual child murder, which had already resulted in lynching in at least three different districts on the Pest side of the city. Such incidents of antiSemitism and pogroms after the Shoah were in...


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Subject Headings

  • Jews -- Persecutions -- Europe, Central -- History.
  • Holocaust, Jewish (1939-1945) -- Hungary -- History.
  • Kertész, Imre, 1929- -- Criticism and interpretation.
  • Holocaust, Jewish (1939-1945) -- Europe, Central -- History.
  • Hungary -- Ethnic relations.
  • Europe, Central -- Ethnic relations.
  • Jews -- Persecutions -- Hungary -- History.
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