Exhibition: Hungarian Lions of Judah in Galicia

14 Dec 2016

The Story of Jewish Soldiers of Austria-Hungary

In cooperation with the Hungarian Cultural Center, the Galicia Jewish Museum in Krakow opened the door to a little-known part of the history of the Great War: Jewish participation in the Austro-Hungarian army.

This exhibition presents a small but very interesting excerpt from the war - the participation of Hungarian Jewish soldiers in the battles on the Eastern Front (that is, the area of Galicia), as well as the historical, social and religious contexts of the military engagement of Hungarian Jews, and their contact with the Jewish civilians of Galicia.

The army of the, then still vast Habsburg empire, comprised of soldiers of all of the empire's nationalities and religions - having Galicians fighting next to Austrians, Hungarians, etc. While Jewish involvement on all front of the First World War is believed to be as high as 1.5 million, the estimates of the number of Jewish soldiers in the Austro-Hungarian army range from 275,000 to 400,000. (A little known fact reported in the exhibition is that in the individual armies, the percentage of Jewish soldiers was commonly proportionally greater than the percentage of Jewish population of the same country.)

To tell this story, the exhibition relies on a precious collection of artefacts and memorabilia originally belonging to Capt. Akós Biró, as well as objects on lease from Hungarian museums and photographic material from a variety or archives in Germany, Austria, Poland and Hungary. According to the Museum's opening statement, at the core of the installation are the attitudes of Austro-Hungarian Jews towards their multi-cultural homeland - their loyalty to it, to the Emperor Franz Joseph, as well as his successors.

They also reflect to some degree the complex identity of Hungarian Jews: Jewish by religion, politically subjects of the Emperor of Austria and the King of Hungary, and culturally Hungarian. The identities built from these different elements and the sense of belonging to a series of parallel or related communities were indeed quite common throughout the Empire. After its fall, nothing would be the same.

Credit: Galicia Jewish Museum

The exhibition, on display until June 4th 2017, thus adds an additional layer to First World War centenary events and initiatives across Europe, a few of which, like the exhibition above, provide the public with a glimpse into the Jewish participation.

One such interesting initiative coming from the opposide side of the continent is "We Were There Too" - a project aiming to document and commemorate the contribution of London Jews to the First World War. A coomunity and volunteer effort, the project's collection consists of personal records of the lives of Jewish men, women and families during the war, 'ensuring that their stories are not lost for future generations'.

JEU aims at providing a platform for a pan-European exchange on Jewish life, thought and culture that extends beyond national and linguistic barriers.

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