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IV. THE WORLD WARS AND THEIR IMPACT ON HUNGARIAN-AMERICANS

A.The Inter-War Years

       The Emergency Quota Act of 1921 seriously limited the number of Hungarian immigrants bound for the United States. The Quota Act curtailed immigration in any year to three percent of the number of the nationality in the United States, according to the 1910 census. No more than 5,747 Hungarians were allowed to immigrate per year, as designated by this new law. This represented a substantial reduction in comparison to the pre-war annual average. In 1924 a new act was passed which further curtailed immigration to a two percent quota. This allowed only 869 Magyars to enter the United States annually.

       This restrictionism exerted a profound effect upon Hungarian-American communities, which became increasingly isolated from the mother country. The lack of new immigrants brought about the following reactions: in the smaller communities the rate of assimilation was augmented; there was little a small community could do to withstand the pressure to Americanize. The larger communities became introverted, their institutions and organizations concentrated on maintaining Hungarian culture and language. The communities remained isolated from the homeland for over twenty-five years, until new immigration laws were finally enacted after the Second World War.

       According to a report on immigration and naturalization, published by the U.S. Department of Justice, between 1921 and 1940, 38,541 Hungarians entered this country. The inter-war immigrants came out of various reasons: there were political emigrés who left Hungary following the dissolution of the socialist government of 1918 or the communist rule of 1919. There were those who emigrated because of the miserable economic situation. Still others emigrated from the partitioned territories of Hungary, not wanting to live as part of a minority under foreign rule.

 


 

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       Generally, these immigrants were educated and from the middle class; most were professionals, businessmen or skilled workers. Because of the relatively small number of immigrants who came over a span of twenty years, the inter-war arrivals had little impact on existing Hungarian communities.

 

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       Hungarian-American communities were significantly affected by two historical events: the quota system which literally isolated them from the homeland and the Treaty of Trianon, dictated to Hungary following World War I. The Treaty of Trianon united Hungarian-Americans in opposition to the dismemberment of Hungary's historical territories and to the injustices inflicted upon fellow countrymen living in the partitioned areas.

 

Hungarians in America could belong to different religions and classes could differ in world outlook, but there was one issue on which nearly all ex-Hungarians in the United States agreed after World War I: the question of Hungary's boundaries. Even the least nationalistic Hungarians agreed that the frontiers of Hungary were not just.57

 

In 1923 the New York-based Hungarian-American newspaper, Amerikai Magyar Népszava (American Hungarian People's Voice), led a campaign to aid the Hungarian refugees who had fled the occupied areas of the mother country. As a result of the campaign, twenty-six carloads of gift packages were collected and sent to Hungary by communities in New York and New Jersey.

       In a more dramatic effort to bring attention to the injustices of Trianon, Hungarian-Americans, in conjunction with the Hungarian World Alliance, sponsored a transatlantic flight in 1930, on the tenth anniversary of the treaty. The historic trip took place on July 15, 1930 from Harbour Grace, Newfoundland to Budapest on a non-stop flight of twenty-six hours. The plane was called Justice for Hungary and was piloted by George Endresz and Alexander Magyar. The flight occurred in the days of the first transatlantic

 


 

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Participant of the first International Congress in Hungarians-Budapest, 1929

 


 

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flights and was the first plane crossing the ocean which had radio contact with both the starting and landing aerodromes.

       In 1936 Szabadság (Liberty), a Cleveland-based daily launched a campaign to protest the injustices of the Treaty of Trianon. Through the efforts of the newspaper, one million signatures were collected demanding the revision of the treaty. The signatures were given to President Roosevelt on March 4, 1936

       Attempts to unite the over two hundred Hungarian-American organizations had been for the most part unsuccessful. The American Hungarian Federation was founded in Cleveland in 1906 with the expressed purpose of uniting and protecting Hungarians living in the United States. In the years which followed, however, the federation diminished in importance because of lack of support and interest.

       The American Hungarian Federation was reorganized at a grand assembly of all Hungarian organizations held on May 29, 1929 in Buffalo, New York. The federation obtained full support and was recognized by the United States government as the official spokesman of Hungarian-Americans. One of the American Hungarian Federation's purposes was to coordinate efforts for the revision of the Treaty of Trianon and bring to the attention of politicians and lawmakers the importance of such a revision.

       The Hungarian World Alliance was formed in Budapest to unify and coordinate worldwide efforts to revise the treaty. Members included representatives of Hungarian communities in many parts of the world and friends of Hungary from foreign countries. The first International Congress of Hungarians was held in Hungary in August 1929. From the United States alone, 125 delegates participated, representing fifty-two Hungarian-American organizations. The Second International Congress, held in 1938, was attended by 283 Hungarian-American delegates.

 


 

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       The tragic consequences of Hungary's participation in the war influenced Hungarian-Americans to an even greater extent: suddenly the maintenance of their language and culture became of primary importance.

       Parochial elementary schools, which taught all or part of their curriculum in Hungarian, were built by the communities next to the established churches. The number of full day Hungarian-American parochial schools expanded from four to some twenty in less than two decades.58 One school, the elementary school of St. Elizabeth of Hungary Roman Catholic Church in Cleveland, had an enrollment of over 1,000 pupils in the 1900s. According to one author, "...in the twenties and early thirties, virtually every Hungarian-American child went to a Hungarian language school, except in the rural and mining communities where the more closely knit family life served the same language maintenance function."59 Second generation Hungarian-Americans were for the most part perfectly bilingual and spoke Hungarian more purely than their parents whose formal education was usually limited.

       The Hungarian-American community attained cultural as well as educational refinement. Choirs, amateur dramatic groups and book collections were initiated and maintained by organizations. Public libraries developed Hungarian collections in response to the increased interest. Theatre performances were encouraged and supported. One group, "consisting of twenty-five professional actors, an orchestra and a large managerial staff, regularly toured the larger Hungarian communities between New York and Chicago."60

       This age of unprecendented cultural development was halted by the Great Depression. The 1930s brought widespread unemployment which in turn made community support of organizations and cultural institutions virtually impossible. Hungarian-Americans, as all Americans, were then primarily

 


 

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concerned with combatting the economic hardships of the times.

 

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       Although the inter-war immigrants made little impact on Hungarian-American communities, there were many talented Hungarians who arrived at this time who made great contributions to American life in the social, cultural and intellectual fields. Many of these immigrants were Hungarian Jews. All were highly talented individuals who were unable to realize their full potential in their homeland. The contributions of only a few in the fields of the theatre, cinema, music and science are examined.

       It was known as the "Hungarian invasion of American theater." Between 1908 and 1940, in New York City alone, adaptations and productions of fifty-three Hungarian plays written by twenty-one authors were presented.61 The plays of Ferenc Molnár, world-renowned playwright, totalled 2,148 first run performances.62 His most famous works included: The Devil, Liliom, The Guardsman, The Swan, and translated from Hungarian, The Prisoners, Eva and The Boys of Paul Street. Architect Joseph Babolnay designed some of the most up-to-date theaters in America. Babolnay also introduced stage television on Broadway in 1931.

       Most of the founders of the American motion picture industry were Hungarian-born Jews. Adolph Zukor was president and founder of Paramount Pictures. William Fox established the Fox Film Producing Company and the Fox Film Theater Trust, the latter encompassed some 900 theaters. Some of the Hungarian-born directors and producers who created films during the 1920s, 1930s and 1940s were: George Cukor, Michael Curtiz (Kertész), the Korda brothers-Alexander, Vince and Zoltán, Joseph Pasternak and Ivan Tors (Törzs). Actors and actresses included: Vilma Bánky (sweetheart of the silent screen and early talkies), Zsa Zsa Gábor, Eva Gábor, Mitzi Gaynor,

 


 

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Leslie Howard (stage name of Árpád Steiner), Ernie Kovács, Peter Lorre (stage name of László Loewenstein) and Béla Lugosi. The acting career of Paul Lukas (Lukács) spanned forty years; he played parts in seventy-seven films. Lukas received an Academy Award for his performance in Watch on the Rhine. Another distinguished actor, Szoeke Szakáll, acted in thirty-nine film roles between 1940 and 1951.63

       Many major American cities have offered the directorship of their symphony orchestras to Hungarian-born conductors. Fritz (Frigyes) Reiner was conductor of the Cincinnati Symphonic Orchestra and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, each for over ten years. George Széll was with the Metropolitan Opera House in the early 1940s before becoming permanent conductor of the Cleveland Orchestra in 1946. Eugene Ormándy was a child prodigy who came to the United States in 1921. He has been conductor of the Philadelphia Orchestra since 1938. Ormándy was renowned for conducting all scores from memory. Antal Doráti made his American debut in 1937 with the National Symphony in Washington, D.C. In recent years he was made conductor of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra. Sir Georg Solti has been musical director of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra since the early 1970s.

       In the area of science, John von Neumann, one of the greatest mathematicians of our time, known as the "father of the computer," was a native of Hungary. Neumann came to the United States in 1931 as a lecturer. In 1945 he was appointed director of the Electronic Computer Project at Princeton University. Neumann's book, Mathematical Foundations of Quantum Mechanics, laid the groundwork for the mathematical applications of the computer and is still used as an invaluable reference. Hungarian-born physicists Edward Teller, Leo Szilárd and Eugene P. Wigner were among the five scientists requested to work on the development of the atom bomb (The Manhattan Project).

 


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