Hungarian Blood Libel, 1882
On This Day in Jewish History: April 1, 1882
On this day, 1882, Christain housemaid Eszter Solymosi disappears from her Hungarian village, prompting the community and authorities to accuse local Jews of ritual murder. Thirteen Jewish defendants were arrested, imprisoned, interrogated, and eventually tried for her murder. This event is known as the Tiszaeszlár Affair. The Tiszaeszlár Affair is an example of a blood libel. A “Blood libel” refers to the false idea that Jews murder Christians, particularly Christian children, and use their blood for religious purposes such as the baking of matzah for Passover. A blood libel has a history dating back to the middle ages and though these types of accusations began to die out in 16th century Europe, they had a resurgence in the 19th century, with most of the 19th century cases concentrated in Eastern Europe. In the days following Eszter Solymosi’s disappearance, her mother and aunt concluded that she had been kidnapped and murdered by Jews in the local community, basing this on a conversation with one of the future defendants. At first the police dismissed their assertions as outlandish, and continued treating Eszter’s disappearance as a standard missing person case. In late 19th century Hungary, there was little to suggest that an accusation of ‘ritual murder’ would be given much credibility. However, a combination of factors did indeed lead to the allegation of ‘ritual murder’.
Eszter’s mother, and a widening group of women in the village produced a narrative of kidnapping and murder, with evidence based on information from a 5 year old boy and the coercion of a false account from his brother, Móric Scharf. In addition, Géza Ónody, an antisemitic politician, represented Tiszaeszlár in parliament and he, with help of other political antisemites, pressured the government about the case. Parliament appointed judge magistrate József Bary for the case, who was ruthless and zealous in his investigation. Separated from his family and coerced by Eszter’s mother and aunt, the testimony of 13 year old Móric Scharf, son of the synagogue sexton, József Scharf, was the final factor that produced a criminal investigation into an accusation of ‘ritual murder’. Móric claimed to have witnessed the murder in the synagogue through a keyhole. This was later disproved by the defense, and Móric even spoke of his great regret at his false testimony which he said was based on a story he had heard from his mother of an old blood libel accusation. On June 18, 1882, a group of Jewish and non-Jewish raftsmen discovered the body of a young woman floating on the Tisza River. Judge Bary ordered their arrest and interrogation. Whether this was the body of Eszter or not, was subject to a great deal of debate and conspiracy in the following year, inciting more fervor into the case. A trial lasting six weeks began on June 19, 1883. Salomon Schwarcz, Ábráham Bukszbaum, Lipót Braun, and Herman Vollner were charged with murder. Five others were charged with complicity, and four further men, including the raftsmen, were charged with aiding and abetting conspiracy. The case was a standout event and received considerable national and international attention. The actions of the police and magistrates involved received increasing scrutiny from the Ministry of Justice in Budapest, and a team of defense lawyers, including notable member of parliament Károly Eötvös, were appointed to represent the accused Jewish men. Károly Eötvös’s brilliant defense earned him an international reputation. Addressing the court on July 27, 1883, deputy chief prosecutor Ede Szeyffert, urged the judges to find the defendants not guilty. In the end the judges declared the men charged with conspiracy ‘not guilty’ and those charged with murder ‘not proved’. The Tiszaeszlár Affair furthered both antisemitism and an atmosphere of agitation in Hungary. There followed a new wave of public accusations against Jews in that region of Europe, four of which received enough credibility to become criminal prosecutions. The Tiszaeszlár Affair is seen as a precipitating factor to both the White Terror (1919-21) and Hungary’s expulsions of Jews in World War II. In 1882 the Jewish population in Tiszaeszlár was around 2,700, but by 1944, only 61 Jews remained.
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