City Story: Szeged

The map of Jewish world had been shaped in East Europe by the end of the 18th century and its main characteristics existed until the 20th century. The city of Szeged was placed on this virtual Jewish map when Mihály Pollack, the first Jewish trader, settled in the city in 1781. Jews as a group had been present in town from 1786 when they were allowed to settle by law. Early settlers were dominantly small-scale traders, artisans and peddlers; wealthy entrepreneurs have emerged gradually. The Jewish community in Szeged have been present since 1786; their religious life was led by their own rabbis from the very beginning, out of whom Chief Rabbi Lipót and Immánuel Löw were noteworthy persons, worth mentioning. Lipót Löw was the first Hungarian rabbi of Jewish reform movements; his son Immánuel led the Szeged community following his father’s footsteps between 1878 and 1944, the time of deportations.

The Hungarian moderate reform movement, also known as Neolog movement, sprang from the efforts of reforming western Jews, the expectations of the state, and from the intention of Hungarian Jews to assimilate in 1868. Innovations of Neologism had no effect on the liturgical order, only the language use (Hungarian sermons and prayers) and the spatial arrangement of the synagogue changed. Nevertheless, the new movement brought changes in the dressing code, social behaviour and synagogue building.

An independent Orthodox Jewish community existed beside the Neolog one between 1871 and 1888. The union of the two communities was restored in 1888 and from this time on the Orthodox community functioned as the Hebrew Beth Hamidrash Society in Szeged. The Society was supervised by the Jewish Community of Szeged while the Orthodox rabbi of Makó, Mózes Vorhand, was consulted in religious questions. The community had no independent synagogue, but operated a prayer house and a mikvah (at 6. Török Str.) from 1903 until 1941, after which they held their liturgies in one of the rooms of the Neolog community’s headquarter building (at 24 Gutenberg Str.). In the meantime, the Orthodox community decreased in number, counting only 30 members in 1943. Following deportation and forced labour, members of the community intended to re-establish their society in 1947, however their attempt failed. According to the last available data, 3 people declared themselves Orthodox Jews in 1950. The Jewish community was established in 1791 and they built their first synagogue at the location of the current New Synagogue between 1800 and 1803.

The religious community opened its own primary school in 1844. Jews were allowed to settle in a given residential area embracing the current New Synagogue and its neighbouring streets in the early decades; however, they were allowed to buy a property anywhere in the city from 1859. There was a high demand for that since the number of Jewish population in the city rose to 2093 by 1855, which further expanded to 3628 by 1870 according to local census.

19th century has brought considerable changes in the social status of Jews in Hungary granting them equal political and legal rights similarly to members of other religious congregations. Emancipation created opportunities for numerous families to take part in shaping the economy, industry and the public affairs of the modernizing nation. Several outstanding Jewish persons appeared in the field of science, arts and literature; moreover, Szeged Jews played a pivotal role in rebuilding the city after the Great Flood of 1879. By the first decades of the 20th century the Jewish community counted 8000 members; however, their lives were broken by the Holocaust, altogether 8617 people were taken from the local ghetto. The community had 400 members in 2020.