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Part of Jewish history
The Tiszaeszlár Affair was a blood libel which led to a trial that set off anti-semitic agitation in Austria-Hungary in 1882 and 1883. After the disappearance of a local girl, Eszter Solymosi, Jews were accused of ritually murdering and beheading her. After her body was found some time later in a river, she having apparently drowned, it was claimed that the body was not that of Eszter, but had been dressed in her clothes. A lengthy trial followed, eventually resulting in the acquittal of all the accused.
Origin of the accusation
On April 1, 1882, Eszter Solymosi, a 14-year-old Christian peasant girl who was a servant in the home of András Huri in Tiszaeszlár, a Hungarian village situated on the Tisza river, was sent on an errand from which she did not return. After a fruitless search, a rumor was circulated that the girl had become a victim of Jewish religious fanaticism. Hungarian agitators, whose leaders, Géza Ónody, representative of Tiszaeszlár in the Hungarian Parliament, and Győző Istóczy, MP, proposed the expulsion of the Jews in the House of Deputies, excited the public against the local Jews, resulting in a number of violent acts and pogroms. They spread the charge that the Jews killed the girl in order to use her blood at the approaching Passover (April 4). On May 4 her mother accused the Jews before the local judge of having murdered her daughter, and urged him to make an investigation.
"Confessions" of the Scharf children
On May 19 the county court of Nyíregyháza sent the notary József Bary to act as examining judge at Tiszaeszlár. After having placed the suspected Jews under police surveillance, Bary met the five-year-old son of the synagogue sexton József Scharf, Samuel, to begin an inquiry. Earlier, by means of monetary presents and pieces of sugar, some women and girls got Samuel to say that József Scharf called Eszter into his house, and the slaughterer ("shoḥeṭ") cut off her head. In Bary's interview, the boy stated that in the presence of his father and other men the slaughterer had made an incision in the girl's neck, and he and his brother Móric had received the blood in a plate. The father and Móric (who was nearly 14 years old) and the other suspected persons denied any knowledge of the disappearance of the girl and of her conjectured murder. On May 19 Scharf and his wife were arrested; Móric repeated his statement and said in addition he had not known anything about the missing girl, not even from hearsay. On the evening of that day Móric was given to Recsky, the commissar of safety, who took him to his country house in Tiszanagyfalu, where the court clerk, Péczely, received orders to watch over the boy's safety. Péczely, a large man who had served twelve years in jail for murder, apparently connived with Recsky to make Móric the instrument of a classic blood accusation.
Intimidated, the boy confessed that after the Sabbath morning service his father called Eszter to his house under the pretext of requiring her to remove some candlesticks (an act forbidden to Jews on Saturdays); that a Jewish beggar, Hermann Wollner, who lodged with them, had led the girl to the vestibule of the synagogue and attacked her; and, after having undressed her, two slaughterers, Ábrahám Buxbaum and Leopold Braun, had held her while another slaughterer, Salamon Schwarz, incised her neck with a large knife and emptied the blood into a pot. These three men, applicants for the vacant position of preceptor and shoḥeṭ, came to Tiszaeszlár to officiate on that particular Sabbath, and had, as the boy said, remained in the synagogue after morning service. All this, according to his confession, Móric observed through the keyhole of the synagogue door. During the 45 minutes he thus stood on watch, he saw after the operation a rag was tied around the neck of the girl and her body dressed again, in the presence of Sámuel Lustig, Ábrahám Braun, Lázár Weisstein, and Adolf Jünger. The two conspirators Recsky and Péczely immediately sent for the examining judge Bary, before whom the same night Móric repeated his account, adding that after the perpetrators left the scene of their crime he had locked the synagogue, and that neither the corpse nor any blood marks were to be found. With feverish zeal Bary continued his investigations in the synagogue and houses and among the graves; but nowhere could any traces of the living or dead girl be discovered. Twelve Jews were arrested on suspicion, and Móric Scharf was given in charge of the jailer.
On June 18 a body that the district physician declared to be of a 14-year-old girl was drawn out of the river Tisza near the village of Dada, and many recognized it as Eszter Solymosi. Her mother, however, emphatically denied it was Eszter's corpse, although she afterward identified the clothes in which the body was found as those of her daughter. A committee of experts, two physicians and one surgeon, declared the corpse was of a girl 18 to 20 years of age who had met with her death eight or ten days before. It was then buried in the Catholic cemetery of Tiszaeszlár. The anti-Semitic agitators, among whom was the Catholic priest of the town, insinuated the body was smuggled in by the Jews and clothed in the garments of Eszter Solymosi in order to conceal the crime of ritual murder. Several of the craftsmen who found the body were induced by promises, threats, and cruel treatment to revoke their former testimony and to declare they brought the body to the river and an unknown Jewess had furnished them with the clothes in which they dressed it. New arrests were made; the affair, which had now become a cause célèbre, was considerably protracted.
Making of formal accusations
On July 29 formal accusations were made against fifteen persons, as follows: Salamon Schwarz, Ábrahám Buxbaum, Leopold Braun, and Hermann Wollner, of murder; József Scharf, Adolf Jünger, Ábrahám Braun, Sámuel Lustig, Lázár Weisstein, and Emánuel Taub, of voluntary assistance in the crime; Anselm Vogel, Jankel Smilovics, David Hersko, Martin Gross, and Ignác Klein, of abetting the crime and smuggling the body. The delay in the case was caused mainly by the claimed illegal and arbitrary acts of Bary, who conducted his examinations without the aid of the state attorney, wrote without witnesses the minutes of the proceedings, and tortured the accused and suspects. By order of the government, Móric Scharf was under the control of the district bailiff, who placed him in the custody of the warden Henter, and thus removed from contact with the other defendants and other Jews. He was entirely under the influence of their adversaries and received instructions as to the testimony to be given by him at the trial.
The accused were defended by Károly Eötvös, journalist and member of the House of Deputies, with whom were associated the advocates B. Friedmann, Sándor Funták, Max Székely of Budapest, and Ignác Heumann of Nyíregyháza, the seat of the county court before which the case was tried. In a petition to Minister of Justice Pauler, Eötvös protested against the system of torture practised by Bary, Recsky, and Péczely, but this protest had little effect upon the official. The affair was so long drawn out that State Attorney Kozma of Budapest went to Nyíregyháza in September to speed up the examination.
Protest by Lajos Kossuth
This dragging on of the proceedings attracted general attention. The country was greatly agitated. A number of pamphlets appealed to the passions of the people, and attempted to establish the guilt of the accused. Lajos Kossuth, then living in exile at Turin, raised his powerful voice to castigate the action of the authorities and to deprecate this stirring up of anti-Jewish prejudices. The suspicion of ritual murder, he considered, was a disgrace to Hungary; to present as a racial crime or as a ritual crime a murder which at the worst was an individual one was, he said, unworthy of modern civilization. This cry of indignation from the veteran patriot was strangely in contrast with the fury of persecution and prejudice which raged throughout the country and which was echoed in the House of Deputies. An interpellation addressed to the minister of justice by the deputy Ernő Mezei in November 1882, called forth exciting scenes. The attorney-general Havas was then sent to Nyíregyháza, and he found that, despite the official declaration of the examining judge, the accused had not had a single hearing. He released some prisoners; but, realizing he was hampered by powerful influences in his endeavor to accelerate the affair, he offered his resignation, which was readily accepted.
Eszter's corpse exhumed
In the middle of November the wife of József Scharf was set free, while her husband and the other prisoners were being still detained. At the request of the defending lawyers the body found in the Tisza was exhumed (December 7) and reexamined by three professors of medicine at the University of Budapest – Schenthauer, Belky, and Mihalkovics. They found that the opinion of the members of the former committee of examination had no scientific basis, and later, before the court, they taxed them with gross ignorance: the body was too much decayed to allow a positive judgment. The fact the corpse was not claimed by any one left no doubt in their opinion, however, that it was not that of Eszter Solymosi; and as the neck was not cut, no ritual murder could have been committed.
On June 17, 1883, the last act in this affair began before the court of Nyíregyháza. Judge Ferenc Korniss presided, Eduard Szeyffert acting as state attorney. Although the testimony of Móric Scharf was the only basis of the accusation, the court held thirty sessions to examine the case in all its details, and many witnesses were heard. The glaring contradictions of the boy despite the careful training he received, and the falsity of his accusation as exposed by a local inspection of the alleged scene of the murder made by the court in Tiszaeszlár on July 16, resulted in the unanimous acquittal of the accused (August 3). Szalay, the attorney for the widow Solymosi, in a speech full of bitter invectives, appealed against the decision; but the supreme court rejected his appeal and confirmed the verdict of the county court.
The youthful accuser whom the maneuvers of the accusers had alienated from his faith and his coreligionists, and whose filial feelings they had suppressed, returned to his parents, who gladly received him. Móric fully redeemed his past and supported his father until his father's death in 1905.
Acquittal of the accused
The acquittal and release of the prisoners, most of whom had languished in prison for 15 months, were the signal for uprisings in Pozsony, Budapest, and other parts of Hungary. The spectators who thronged the court-house during the sessions, and of whom Onody, the representative of Tiszaeszlár in the House of Deputies, was the most conspicuous, conducted themselves scandalously during the proceedings, insulting the prisoners and threatening the witnesses and counsel for the defence.
21st Century repercussions
- Blood libel against Jews
- The Austrian 1948 film Der Prozeß which was based on these events.
- Arnold Zweig's 1915 surrealist tragedy Ritualmord in Ungarn is based on these events.
- The YIVO Encyclopedia of Jews in Eastern Europe Hillel J. Kieval: Tiszaeszlár Blood Libel
- Krúdy Gyula: A tiszaeszlári Solymosi Eszter, Budapest, 1975. (2nd ed.)
- János Desi: An Old_New Story: The continued existence of the Tiszaeszlar blodd libel, in:Antisemitism in an Era of Transition, Peter Lang Edition Frakkfurt Am main, 2014