The Beginnings of Anti-Jewish Legislation

The 1920 Numerus Clausus Law in Hungary
$65.00 / €55.00/ £47.00
PDF version is freely available thanks to the libraries supporting CEU Press’s Opening the Future initiative.
Publication date: 
November, 264 pages, 22 photos, 16 tables
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The Nazi 1933 Civil Service Law and the 1935 Nuremberg Laws are often considered the first anti-Jewish decrees in interwar Europe. Mária M. Kovács convincingly argues that Hungary’s numerus clausus law of 1920, which introduced a Jewish quota at Hungary’s institutions of higher learning, was, in fact, interwar Europe’s first antisemitic law.  By defining—and discriminating against—Jews as a separate “racial” or “national” group, it abrogated the principle of equal rights that had been enshrined into law; as such, it marked an abrupt reversal of Jewish emancipation in Hungary.  Moreover, the numerus clausus law set the stage for subsequent “Jewish Laws” (in the late 1930s and early 1940s) that sought to solve Hungary’s “Jewish Question” by means of extraordinary legal measures that targeted Jews alone.  This book examines the origins and implementation of the numerus clausus, as well as the attempts to dampen its impact on Hungary’s international reputation, focusing on the debates surrounding it promulgation (1920), its modification (1928) and its eventual application to other areas of Jewish life (1938–45).

Foreword to the English Translation



Chapter 1: The Genesis of the Law

Chapter 2: The First Decade of the Numerus Clausus and the Racial Clause

Chapter 3: The Amendment of the Numerus Clausus Law and the Restoration of the Explicit Jewish Quota





Since its publication in Hungarian in 2012, Mária M. Kovács’s meticulously researched and lucidly argued monograph on the 1920 numerus clausus law in Hungary has become a classic. Now issued in English with a title that highlights Kovács’s argument about the continuity of antisemitic legislation—from numerus clausus to numerus nullus and beyond—in interwar Hungary, the study is more timely than ever. It is among the best books written on antisemitism in East Central Europe, presenting a forceful argument against recent attempts to whitewash it.
Hungary’s 1920 numerus clausus law—interwar Europe’s first antisemitic law—was not a response to social crisis. It was a provocation designed to stigmatize Jewish Hungarians and make antisemitism into a legal norm. With this book, the late Mária M. Kovács set the record straight, meticulously reconstructing the origins and legacy of the law and demolishing the arguments, past and present, used to obscure, justify, or minimize its racist intent. An essential work now in English translation by a great and much-missed historian.
Mária M. Kovács’s lucid and penetrating study of the 1920 quotas that severely restricted Jewish access to universities and defined Jews as a nationality or race effectively challenges the evasions and distortions that have stood in the way of a clear assessment of the significance of this pioneering anti-Jewish legislation.
Based on all the indispensable—mostly archival—documentation on this crucial issue, the first implicitly but effectively anti-Jewish law in Europe prior to Nazism, this in-depth study clarifies the sociopolitical conditions of the birth and the realization of the infamous academic numerus clausus in interwar Hungary.