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Following the Holocaust, which saw approximately two-thirds of Hungary’s Jewish population killed, most survivors—if they could bring about to speak about their former lives—initially talked about the most memorable events: the horrors they had gone through. Compared to that, the details of their previous, by and large peaceful lives seemed insignificant. András Koerner has dedicated his research to reconstructing how the Hungarian Jews lived before that cataclysm, in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. He tried in his work to bring this destroyed world to life again—even if only in our thoughts.
Supported by more than two hundred photographs, the second volume of Koerner’s history, How They Lived The Everyday Lives of Hungarian Jews, 1867–1940 (Central European University Press, 2016) examines in great detail how the Hungarian Jews lived their everyday lives—how they raised their children, spent their leisure time, practiced their religion, performed their charity work, and more. His focus is very much on the lives of average people—be they poor, middle-class or wealthy—who spent their lives in Hungary. The picture is a complex one. Differences were often decisive in the lifestyles of the various Jewish or Jewish-born Hungarians: the Hassidim, the rabbinical Orthodox, the culturally ‘assimilated’ Jews who to various degrees remained religious, and those whose assimilation had led to secularism, even to conversion.
The first volume of How They Lived focused on the ways Jews dressed, the places where they lived, and how they earned their living. The presentation of that volume last year at the Center for Jewish History was a successful, sold-out event. The perhaps even more fascinating and important second volume complements this with the investigation of eight additional aspects of everyday life: family life, religious life, social life, learning, military life, vacationing, sports, and charity.