The absence/presence of Jews in Hungarian problem films after 1941

Gergely, Gabor (2013) The absence/presence of Jews in Hungarian problem films after 1941. In: 45th AJS Annual Conference, 15-17 December, 2013, Boston, Mass..

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Item Type:Conference or Workshop contribution (Paper)
Item Status:Live Archive


Dr. Kovács István (1941) by prominent nationalist filmmaker Viktor Bánky was one of the more explicitly racist propaganda films of wartime Hungary. It tells the story of a university lecturer who narrowly escapes betraying his peasant values and his race by marrying into a family of ambitious upstarts. Although made after the third of a series of anti-Jewish laws to be passed by Hungary between 1938 and 1941, curiously, the film was based on a novel by Sándor Hunyady, an author of Jewish origin. The source material was given a racist makeover by future children’s author and national treasure István Fekete. The script was a call to arms against alien-hearted parvenus who seek to protect their indolent way of life and vow to corrupt or destroy those who oppose them.
In this paper I explore the articulation of a Hungarian identity defined in opposition to Jewishness. I argue that with the drive to limit what was called the disproportionate influence of Jews gathering momentum towards full expropriation, ghettoization, and ultimately genocide, films denied the continued Jewish presence in Hungarian public life. Instead, films projected an image of Hungary as the anti-Semitic ideologues claimed it should be: free of Jews. This tension between the anti-Semitic need to warn against the threat of Jewish presence and the desire to show Hungary as already free of that presence is resolved in Dr. Kovács István in the form of a story dealing with a family who are not identified as Jewish, but are marked with Jewishness in ways that would have been easy to decode for contemporary viewers. In this paper I consider this curiously coded anti-Semitism in a film that does not otherwise shy away from racism, and explicitly roots the desirable characteristics of its protagonist in his Hungarian race. In order to explain this fully, and because the film will be unfamiliar to most, I will first set out the context in which Dr Kovács István was made, before giving a brief summary of its plot, and finally going on to examine the way in which the film describes its antagonists as possessing the negative characteristics of the stereotypical Jew in anti-Semitic discourse.

Keywords:Hungary, Cinema, Racial Nationalism, Anti-Semitism, Antal Páger, Viktor Bánky
Subjects:P Mass Communications and Documentation > P303 Film studies
Divisions:College of Arts > Lincoln School of Film & Media > Lincoln School of Film & Media (Film)
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ID Code:29928
Deposited On:18 Apr 2018 14:48

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