The Beginnings of Anti-Jewish Legislation

The 1920 Numerus Clausus Law in Hungary
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Publication date: 
June, 240 pages

The Nazi 1933 Civil Service Law and the 1935 Nuremberg Laws are generally considered the first anti-Jewish decrees in Europe. Mária Kovács convincingly argues that Act XXV of 1920 concerning university enrollment in Hungary can instead be considered one of the first pieces of twentieth century anti-Jewish legislation – if not the very first. This act, known as the “numerus clausus law,” specified that members of a single “nationality” or “people’s race” could not be admitted at a higher rate than their share in the total population.

The law especially targeted Jews, who represented 6% of the inhabitants yet, until then, about 25% of university students. The study presents the history of the law, including its amendment in 1928, the re-introduction of the Jewish quota in 1939, and its abolition in 1945. By describing the conditions after the disintegration of the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy and the short-lived Hungarian Soviet Republic, Kovács shows in what ways these events, and especially how the numerus clausus law, affected the Jews.

The law heralded a new line of political thought. According to it, the “Jewish question” could only be solved by special laws that denied their equality before the law. In this sense, the numerus clausus law was just as much a “Jewish law” as the four acts, explicitly labelled as such, passed by the Hungarian Parliament between May 1938 and September 1942.