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The Numerus Clausus in Hungary: Antisemitism, Gender, and Exile a Hundred Years On

Wednesday, February 26, 2020, 11:00 am – 1:00 pm

Act XXV/1920, the so-called numerus clausus law was enacted by the Hungarian National Assembly in September 1920 and has the dubious merit as the first antisemitic law of the post-WWI era in Europe. It pegged university admissions to the ratio of “races” and “nationalities” in the general population and, by defining Jews in these categories, it broke with the liberal principle of equal citizenship. The 6% quota set for Jewish students drastically reduced their representation at universities and erected a serious obstacle in their upward social mobility. Combined with the antisemitic agenda of the early Horthy-regime and the violence inflicted on Jewish students by right-wing student organizations, it also led to the flight of thousands of Hungarian-Jewish students to study abroad.

In this talk I will focus on Hungarian Jewish women who were singled out by university policies as both Jews and emancipated women. I sketch out the law’s long-lasting impact on Hungarian society, present women’s choices (or lack thereof), and connect individual biographies to the larger trends of women’s emancipation and Jewish assimilation during the interwar period, the Shoah, and beyond.

     Photo courtesy of Maryann Farkas