The place of immigration in the memory politics related aspirations of German organizations in Hungary, 1920–1945

Principal investigator: Ferenc Eiler

Period: 2019-2023

Research questions and objectives:

Among the most important components of the collective identity of ethnic and national-based communities are the awareness of a common past, the integration of its most important events into cultural memory, and the continuous reflection on the past on several levels. Thus, the past, as a chain of events that has already been canonized and passed through the filter of historical policy makers, is necessary to maintain the cohesion of groups existing as a collective entity. The awareness of the importance of the past also contributes to creating an emerging sense of belonging among “targeted” groups—that is, groups that do not exist as communities yet, but are already targeted by “ethnic entrepreneurs.”

The aim of the research is to show, through the examination of German organizations between the two world wars, how the narrower and then expanding circle of German ethnic entrepreneurs in Hungary tried to build on the experiences of the Germans before and during the First World War to incorporate the memory of the 17th–19th century settlement of the Germans to Hungary as a fixed element of the common past into the cultural memory of the German population that they intend to reconstruct, thus using it in community building beyond the local and regional levels in creating a sense of German togetherness in Hungary.

The analysis is based on the national cultural organizations of the Germans in Hungary between the two world wars: the Hungarian German Folk Culture Association (MNNE, 1924–1940), led by Jakab Bleyer, then after 1933 by Gusztáv Gratz, and the Franz Basch-led Volksbund (1938–1945). The MNNE and the Volksbund were cultural associations organized on an ethnic basis, which, although they could not officially express political activity, both defined themselves as the advocacy body of the Germans in Hungary and as such were actually involved in political life. Although Basch’s organization was rooted in the MNNE in terms of much of its membership and objectives, it would be a simplification to say that the organization led by Bleyer paved the way to a more radical, younger generation-led, better-organized association. The emerging dominance of the Volksbund required a decade and a half of the Hungarian government’s insensitivity to the subject and then, after 1938, its at times limited indulgence in foreign policy interests as well as its support for National Socialist Germany.

Research history:

The issue of the settlement of Germans in Hungary has been addressed by several (recently, almost without exception, German) authors. However, the 20th century aspects of memory politics and the context of cultural memory and memory politics have so far only been discussed by Márta Fata (IDGL - Tübingen) to the extent of a few papers and a volume of studies. Thus, the research aims for the complex exploration of an area that may rely on sporadic results, but overall it may bring new results in relation to the history of the Germans in Hungary between the two world wars.

Research methods:

The research is mainly based on a qualitative analysis, in which the sources to be explored and selected for analysis are: archival documents, Hungarian German weekly newspapers and calendars, publications printed by Hungarian Germans, contemporary memoirs of Hungarian Germans, ethnic textbooks, works by Hungarian and German authors published in the 19th and 20th centuries on the issue of settlement and on the history of Hungary.

Research results in 2019:

In 2019, the literature on cultural memory and memory policy was examined. In addition, as a result of a previously started study, the exploration of the weekly newspapers of the Germans in Hungary between the two world wars was completed by selecting and processing the relevant articles.

Publications, databases:

A magyarországi német szervezetek történelempolitikai törekvései és a német kisebbségi sajtó (1921–1944). In: Filep, Tamás Gusztáv (szerk.) Ünnep és felejtés: Emlékezet, identitás, politika. Budapest, Kalligram Kiadó, 2018. 87-118.