István Szabó's 1999 film Sunshine depicts three generations of a Jewish family in the Austro-Hungarian Empire at the beginning of the twentieth century through the period after the 1956 Hungarian Revolution. Originally named Sonnenschein, the aging patriarch Ignatz becomes a prominent judge but is faced with a moral dilemma when the government sanctions anti-Jewish prosecutions. Conversely, his son Adam changes the family surname to Sors in order to advance his career as a sportsman, entering the Olympics as a champion fencer. After surviving the Shoah, revolution, loss and betrayal, the grandson Ivan realizes that his central allegiance is to himself and to his cultural and familial heritage. The film proceeds from wealth and prestige to poverty and oppression, absorbed with the time and political circumstances of Hungary. From the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian Emperor Franz Josef's liberal and booming Budapest through Admiral Miklós Horthy's impoverished counterrevolutionary Hungary in the 1920s and 1930s, to the German occupation and the Nazi-policies of the Holocaust, then to the post-World War II Stalinist regime, the film also portrays the anti-Soviet revolution of 1956, and, finally, to a neoliberal and cautiously prosperous post-Stalinist Hungary. The essay will explore the political themes and circumstances represented in Szabó's Sunshine (1999), analyzing the context of historical transition in east-central Europe; and will particularly focus on the experience of anti-Semitism (namely, the Shoah) and its consequences on Hungarian Jews; that is, the failure of Jewish assimilation.
[...] virtual golden age for the educated middle class in Hungary, and particularly for the rapidly growing Jewish bourgeoisie. By 1900, one of four persons in the Hungarian capital of Budapest was Jewish, and, while a minority in the overall population, Jews significantly occupied leading roles in industry, banking, the professions, the universities, and the arts [Brustein and King, 2004]. In fact, Jewish prominence in Hungarian society was such during the Austro-Hungarian empire that many Jews were able to make inroads into positions traditionally reserved for the Christian nobility. [...]
[...] Hungary attempted to leave the war by 1943, and the subsequent treatment of Jewish laborers considerably improved as army commanders realized the Jewish laborers were better disciplined and helpful than the Hungarian regular soldiers following the collapse of the Don front [Katzburg, 1981]. It was perceived that the Jewish presence had encouraged cruelty and corruption amongst the army, as soldiers would steal clothes and food from the Jews, and this was a significant factor in the Second Army turning into a rabble during the retreat more appropriately, rout) from the Don. [...]
[...] Concomitantly, a movement of young Jewish intellectuals arose which sought to change society and overthrow the state: in Sunshine, Ignatz's brother Gustave, an idealistic doctor, becomes a radical revolutionary who detests his brother's loyal monarchism. Such political divisions were not uncommon in successful Jewish families. The Great War represented a dramatic shift in the political position of Hungarian Jews. While partially concealed resentment of Jews existed in Hungary prior to 1914, the war saw the Jews accused of being shirkers and profiteers [Katzburg, 1981]. [...]
[...] Szabó's film captures the breakup of central and eastern Europe, and the historical transition of Hungary through stages of oppression and occupation. While the film ends in a note of resignation, Hungary (and most of central and eastern Europe) would not experience the anticipation of a liberal spirit until the peaceful revolution of 1989 with the fall of the Soviet empire. Selected Bibliography Brustein, William I. and King, Ryan D. Anti-Semitism in Europe Before the Holocaust. International Political Science Review, Vol 25, No 35- Carp, Matatias, Holocaust in Romania, Facts and Documents on the Annihilation of Romania's Jews, 1940-1944. [...]
[...] The ultimate failure of Jewish assimilation in Hungary is exemplified by the equal persecution of Christian and Jewish Jews, and the subsequent rejection of ethnic Jews by many Hungarians during the Shoah. When the Red Army broke through the thinly held lines on the river Don of the Hungarian Second Army in the winter of 1942-1943, Jewish suffering would continue (and could be arguably maintained was considerably worse) with the capture of Christian soldiers and Jewish forced laborers by the Soviets [Carp 2000, 191]. [...]
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