How Anti-Semitic Discourse Invented the Trope of the ‘Communist Jew’

This article is about how anti-Semitic propaganda during the interwar period has managed to turn the actions of a Communist persecutor of the Jewish community in Hungary into a typical anti-Semitic horror story.

Tibor Szamuely was born to Jewish parents in 1890 in the town of Nyíregyháza in Eastern Hungary. His name has virtually became synonymous with the red terror of the 1919 Soviet Republic of Hungary: as deputy commissar for military affairs, later commissar for education and head of the terror squad of the short-lived communist regime, he was responsible for the deaths of many.

Anti-Semitic journalists and historians have often referred to him as a “Jewish terrorist”, with one anti-Semitic contemporary author, Cecile Tormay even suggesting that he was a “Hassidic Jew.”

In reality, Szamuely was just as enthusiastic about persecuting religious, Zionist or rich Jews as Christians.

In fact, in his early Communistic articles, he used many anti-Semitic tropes: Szamuely called capitalists “parasites and leeches”, “savvy usurers”, whose “throats we have to chew into”.

In another essay he named as an enemy the Conservative Jewish Banker Simon Krausz, a supporter of many right-wing causes.

During the red terror of 1919 Szamuely was responsible for the deaths of many Jews.

According to an article in the contemporary Reform (Neológ) Jewish weekly Egyenlőség, Szamuely personally gave the order to push out the eyes of a Jewish trader in Csorna, one József Glaser, who was then shot in the head.

Sándor Engel was a Jewish counter-revolutionary from the city of Szolnok. According to sources he was also executed on the personal orders of Szamuely.

Szamuely did not spare artists either. Oszkár Beregi, the brother of the leader of the Hungarian Zionist Organization, Ármin Beregi, was forced by Szamuely to participate in the Communist celebrations of 1st May. Jewish comedians Géza Steinhardt and the “small Rott” were also threatened at gunpoint by Szamuely for having made anti-Communist jokes.

Lajos Szabolcsi, editor of the Jewish weekly Egyenlőség wrote in his memoirs that Szamuely personally had his newspaper banned.

According to recent research by Hungarian historians, Szamuely also had a role in the deportation of Jewish refugees from Galicia. These refugees arrived during the First World War, and were of course not deported to their deaths, but nevertheless, they were removed from the country en masse.

After the fall of the Soviet Republic of 1919, Szamuely tried to flee to Austria, but on 2nd August 1919 Austrian gendarmes caught him. Sources differ as to whether he killed himself, or was shot, but one thing is clear: the local authorities wanted to bury him in the Jewish cemetery of Wiener Neustadt, which the local community openly refused.

For this reason, it is not surprising that Oszkár Deutsch, the head of the Jewish Public Education Organization of Újpest spoke thus of Szamuely in his February 1920 interview in Egyenlőség:

The henchman of Szamuely laughed while hanging many of my fellow good Jews.

It is not known whether Szamuely ever hung any members of the Újpest Jewish community, but it is telling that Szamuely was not seen in any better way by contemporary Jewish leaders than by Christian ones.

Through learning about the atrocities committed against Jews by this Communist terrorist, we can see that anti-Semitic tropes about Communism possess little resemblance to reality: Szamuely did not care about his ancestry when it came to dealing with Jews who did not support the regime he served.

About the Author
The author is a Hungarian historian holding an MA in Holocaust and Genocide Studies from the University of Amsterdam. He is a researcher at the Hungarian Jewish Historical Institute of the Milton Friedman University in Budapest and the deputy editor-in-chief of Neokohn.hu, a Hungarian-Jewish news portal.
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