If Austria had allowed for the emergence of a large well-to-do Jewish middle class, the situation of Jews in pre-World War I Hungary had been even more favorable. Situated in a multi-ethnic kingdom, Jews were beneficiaries of a general tolerance toward the various ethnic constituencies. Indeed the Magyar government, which represented a minority of the country's population, sought Jewish help in their relations with other ethnic groups long before the "compromise" of 1867. In 1848, the Magyar Diet abolished most residential restrictions on Jews, and full emancipation came after 1867. By the turn of the century Jews had achieved considerable success in both the commercial and cultural life of Budapest.
Nor were Jews barred from political office. At least twelve Jews held the rank of State Secretary in the government prior to the Revolution of 1918. And Jews who converted to Christianity found the path to the highest political offices open.40
As in Austria, however, the Left attracted the bulk of political activists of Jewish background. Bela Kun, the leader of the short-lived Hungarian Soviet Republic of March-August 1919, was Jewish, as were thirty of the forty-eight people's Commissars in his revolutionary government. Most managers of the new state farms were also Jewish, as were the bureau chiefs of the Central Administration and the leading police officers. Overall, of 202 high officials in the Kun,government, 161 were Jewish. Jews remained active in the Communist party during the Horthy regime of 1920-44, dominating its leadership. Again, most were from established, middle-class (or, at worst, lower-middle-class) backgrounds. Hardly any were proletarians or peasants.41
Most of the Hungarian Jewish community was massacred during World War II. By the end of the war only about 140,000 remained alive of a community that had numbered 725,000. Nonetheless, the leading cadres of the Communist party in the postwar period were Jews, who completely dominated the regime until 1952-53. Then a series of purges, stemming in part from Stalin's anti-Semitism, eliminated many of them. Jews were also active in other parties, including the Social Democrats, before such parties were crushed by the Communist regime. Their role was most significant, however, within the Communist party. The top membership of the new Communist regime, including the secret police, during its first years was almost entirely Jewish. The wags of Budapest explained the presence of a lone gentile in the party leadership on the grounds that a "goy" was needed to turn on the lights on Saturday.42
[...] Most of the Jews in the party leadership were Stalinists by temperament as well as conviction. As Richard Burks notes, ". . . they did not let mercy or other humanitarian considerations stand in their way when it came to dealing with the class enemy."43 Their rule was Draconian, dominated by terror and characterized by the extensive use of the secret police.
Jews were on both sides of the 1956 Hungarian revolution. Many old-line Stalinists feared the possibility of retribution should a noncommunist or more liberal communist regime come to power. On the other hand, many Jewish writers and intellectuals were in the forefront of the reform movement.44
The Jewish role in the Communist parties of most other Eastern European countries has been comparable to that of Hungary. In Poland, limited statistical evidence indicates that Jews voted for the Communist party in numbers far larger than would be expected, given their proportion of the population. [...] It was among the cadres of Communist parties, however, that Jews had the greatest influence. Official party sources place the Jewish proportion of Polish party cadres at 25 to 30 percent during the prewar years. Some observers, however, estimate the actual proportions as high as 50 percent. (Jews constituted approximately 10 percent of the population of Poland.)46 It should be added that, since party membership at the time was no more than about 5000, the sheer number of Jews involved was quite small. In Lithuania about 54 percent of the party cadres were Jewish.47 Salonika Jewry played a major role in the foundation of the Greek Communist party and remained prominent until the early 1940s. Similar patterns prevailed in Rumania and Czechoslovakia.
Jews played quite prominent roles in the top and second echelon leadership of the communist regimes in all of these countries in the immediate postwar period. They were often associated with Stalinist policies and were strongly represented in the secret police. In Poland, for example, three of the five members of the original Politburo were Jewish and a fourth, Wladyslaw Gomulka, was married to a woman of Jewish background. In both Rumania and Czechoslovakia, at least two of the four key figures in the Communist party were of Jewish background.48
Jews have played a key role in the American Left since the turn of the century. Indeed, Arthur Liebman has argued that, until recently, Jews effectively were the American Left.54 Before we turn to the American pattern, however, we shall briefly describe the role of Jews in Russia and the Soviet Union...
40. See Lendvai, Anti-Semitism, and William O. McCagg, "Jews in Revolutions: The Hungarian Experience", Journal of Social History 6 (Fall 1972): 78-105.
41. See McCagg, "Jews in Revolutions," and Lendvai, Anti-Semitism.
42. R. V. Burks, The Dynamics of Communism in Eastern Europe (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1961), p. 163.
43. Ibid., p. 166.
44. For a discussion see ibid., pp. 305-17.
45. Burks, Dynamics of Communism, p. 160.
46. Ibid., p. 160. See also Lendvai, Anti-Semitism; Celia S. Heller, On The Edge of Destruction: Jews of Poland Between the Two World Wars (New York: Columbia University Press, 1977), pp. 254ff.; and Jan B. de Wyndenthal, The Communists of Poland: An Historical Outline (Stanford: Hoover Institution Press, 1978), pp. 26-27.
47. Burks, Dynamics of Communism, p. 160.
48. Ibid., and Lendvai, Anti-Semitism.
54. Liebman, Jews and the Left.