Piroska Hamos -- Life on the Danube

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Piroska Hamos was born in Balassagyarmat, a small town in North-Eastern Hungary in 1912, to the family of Armin Schultz, a gentleman's tailor. Her mother Jozefin died very young. Piroska had one sister, Etel, born in 1912. When their father remarried, they moved to Budapest, where Piroska went to school. She started at a commercial high school but dropped out after two years when she married her second-cousin, Imre Hahn.


Imre, born in 1899 in Budapest, worked as a clerk at the Hungarian Royal River and Sea Shipping Stock Company. Imre had a row boat.


Piroska and Imre converted in 1934 because Imre worked for a state company which did not like employing Jews. However, they were still treated as Jews when the anti-Jewish laws were introduced in Hungary. Imre was taken to forced labor and died in Balf little before their liberation. Piroska and her sister were deported to Ravensbrück (both survived). Piroska's daughters were in the Budapest ghetto with Piroska's sister-law, Klari. Piroska never remarried and raised her two daughters alone. After the war she worked in the ministry of health. She died at the age of 93 in 2005.

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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. Find here a history of Budapest from the merging of Buda and Pest in 1867, through the twentieth century, to the present day.

The Empire was dissolved at the end of the First World War in 1918. This marked Hungary's independence after centuries of Hapsburg rule. This marked Hungary's independence after centuries of Hapsburg rule. After a revolution in 1919, a communist state was created known as the Hungarian Socialist Republic, first under Mihály Károlyi, and later Belá Kun. After a revolution in 1919, a communist state was created known as the Hungarian Socialist Republic. This, however, lasted only a very short time. The monarchy was restored following a counterrevolution, and from 1920-1946 the Kingdom of Hungary operated under regent Miklos Horthy.

For an overview of Hungary's involvement in the World War One, the subsequent peace negotiations, and political turbulence, read this article.

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 England, France, Italy, and Germany, Hungary received back some of the territories it had lost in the Treaty of Trianon after World War One.

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Hungary's Jewish population has a long history: read about it here.

Piroska moved to Budapest when she was twelve. 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- this is where Piroska and Imre were married in 1929. 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 invented and popularised the concept in his influential book Der Judenstaat (in English, The Jewish State), which called for the 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.

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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.

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. This essay discusses the growth of anti-Semitism in Hungary before the war, while 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.

Piroska was held at Ravensbrück concentration camp with her sister during the war. Read about the camp in this article from the Jewish Virtual Llibrary, or on the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum website.

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 in Budapest. These were 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 was established in the city centre in November 1944.

From 1944, the Hungarian Forced Labour scheme required healthy Jewish men 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 forced labour in Hungary here.

This page has information on the Soviet liberation of Hungary and life after the German occupation. Imre died in the forced labour camp in Balf less than a day before Russian forces arrived.

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Following the end of the war, Hungary lost the territory it had gained during the interwar period and war years. This article from the Library of Congress discusses the immediate aftermath of WWII in Hungary. 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 on Rákosi here.

Revolution erupted 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 oppression of Stalinist rule. On the 23rd October, a protest of 200,000 people gathered outside the Hungarian Parliament, but when they were dismissed by state secretary Erno Gero, the crowd tore 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.

Find a broad overview of the events of 1989 here, and read about the end of the Soviet Union in 1991 here.

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Piroska Hamos with her sisters
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