I moved into a Jewish apartment – Part I

I noticed a newspaper from August 25, 1944, in the Muzeon archive. One of the items they published was about Hungarian Jewish people who abandoned their apartments  as a result of the deportations to Auschwitz. The editor of this magazine made the decision to publish a number of letters from Hungarians who described their experiences while living in the apartments they had to relocate into as a result of the bombing that destroyed their homes. The variety of reader experiences and responses is what piqued our interest in translating this post.

”We are alone”, VII, No. 17, August 25, 1944.

We Are Alone was a newspaper on the subject of war and antisemitism, a socio-political and literary magazine published between October 1938 and October 1944. The paper’s politics was right-winged. The place of publication was Budapest. It was published by Stádium.

It was edited by György Oláh, Kálmán Pongrácz and József Kárász. In its camp of popular writers are several (József Darvas, Gyula Illyés, László Németh, Pál Szabó, Péter Veres), Transylvanian (Jenő Dsida – posthumously -, Albert Wass), Hungarian writers from Slovakia (László Dobossy, Pál Szvatkó) and other groups of writers (Endre Illés, Zoltán Csuka, Andor Németh, Lőrinc Szabó, Gyula Takáts, Sándor Tatay, Sándor Weöres).

Readers’ testimonies about what they found in abandoned Jewish homes

In the first part of this article we provide you the first letter sent by a reader from Hungary. It is about a painter and his wife who, after losing their home in the bombings, moved into an abandoned Jewish house. From the tone of the letter we can see how upset they were by what they found in the flat. As mentioned in the beginning, this is an antisemitic newspaper and what we want to do by publishing the article is only to present the documents of the time and its perceptions.

I moved into a Jewish apartment, ”We are alone”, VII, No. 17.

„Now that the apartment house in which our editorial office was located has been occupied by a defence authority for office purposes, and we have been allocated three office rooms from the luxurious apartment of a Jewish lawyer, we are studying with particular interest what it means today for a Christian accustomed to narrow, modest circumstances to suddenly find himself in luxurious Jewish apartments through no fault of his own. On this subject we can now listen to our acquaintances who have been bombed out or evacuated one after the other.

H.I., the famous painter, whose apartment on Sziget Street was a hit and now he is living in a luxury apartment in Szentistván körút, because he doesn’t even have any furniture left,  recounts the adventure of his arrival:

— It was an unspeakably uncomfortable feeling to be drawn into this strange world. Even the style of the furniture itself was completely strange and totally foreign to us in such a Jewish home. The wealthiest Hungarian Jews reached the heights of a lifestyle in which home furnishings were a top priority around the same time that the families of our Hungarian nobility began to fall into poverty. We find beautiful empire, biedermeier and mid-century furniture in our nicer Hungarian homes, but at the turn of the century, especially in the so-called Art Nouveau period, our families no longer knew what luxury was, and could only afford to buy more modest, middle-quality items. Even with the so-called modern furniture, we had no idea of the metrics of lavishness and ostentation that were achieved in such a Jewish home. The one I was put in, for example, had a bar stool with inlaid glass shelves on both sides so large that a family could move in. In the bedroom, we sleep under a wall-hanging wood canopy and read under cleverly concealed overhead lighting. The armchairs have such upholstery, that I’d like to leave them covered with the summer cloth all year round, because I’d never feel comfortable in those chairs.

The first letter from a reader, ”I moved into a Jewish apartment”.

— I love a good pálinka (traditional fruit spirit with origins in Carpathian Mountains) — he continues — but I couldn’t imagine the regiment of different brands of brandy and whisky, of different western liqueurs, that the bar cabinet presented to me. Most unpleasant and disturbing, however, was every time I reached into the two secessionist library cabinets. About every twisted kitsch or bloated and obnoxiously distorted artistic greatness from the turn of the century, we find huge German, French or Italian albums here. Every book I’ve come across here I’ve struggled with only to be filled with loathing. If I want to get a sense of what a closed and completely different world they had, completely and utterly different, all I have to do is reach between these bookshelves. But I’m the same way with the pictures I’m slowly taking down. If a small metal plaque on one of them says that it was painted by a master of past centuries, after a short study I realise that it is a cheap forgery. Underneath, in stark contrast, hang the most obscure, wild sketches by the fashionable, modern masters of the past decades. Because the name is the main thing here. These upstart art patrons could be persuaded to do anything by enthusiastic art dealers..

I moved into a Jewish apartment, ”We are alone”, VII, No. 17.

And now the painter’s wife intervenes:

— It’s all as my lord says. But may I add, behind all that dazzling vintage furniture, behind all that shiny furniture, what a dishevelled latrine we found. What a neglected and shabby state we found the white-tiled kitchen in. It was crawling with a whole regiment of cockroaches, and the bathroom still smelled of something so sweet and heavy that we can hardly remove it. Even in the eastern bazaars and baths, there cannot be as many face creams and gels, as many strange cosmetics, as we have found here in jars and tubes. But perhaps the most surprising discovery for me was the small stack of letters tied with a pink ribbon, which the former owner seems to have hidden among his papers, I really don’t know by whom. We women – with or without secrets and letters – are curious. I have read three of them. All three contained the woman’s childhood confessions. She confesses to her husband, without a trace of blushing, that she had three lovers by the age of fourteen, as the most natural thing in the world… Since reading these letters, I feel even more alienated in this bright, five-room home.–”

I moved into a Jewish apartment, ”We are alone”, VII, No. 17.

Despite the impressions from the published interviews, it is important to understand that their purpose was to reinforce stereotypes about the supposedly very good material status of Jews, when in reality most Jewish families were not wealthy.


Egyedül Vagyunk, VII Évfolyam, 17. Szám, 1944 Augusztus 25, 8. oldal.



Új magyar irodalmi lexikon I. (A–Gy). Főszerk. Péter László. Budapest: Akadémiai. 1994. 487. o.

Evelyn Ciocan is an archaeologist and PhD student of the Doctoral School `History.Civilization. Culture` at Babes Bolyai University. She holds a degree in History from the Faculty of History and Philosophy of UBB, specializing in Ancient History-Archaeology. She also holds a Master's degree in History, specialising in Archaeology at UBB. She has participated in some of the most important archaeological sites in the country, such as Ulpia Traiana Sarmizegetusa, Apulum, Napoca and in various restoration projects of important monuments in Transylvania. Evelyn has a particular passion for heritage, for the past, for memory and museums.

Tuesday ‒ Sunday: 10am ‒ 06pm
Monday: Closed

Adults: 29 lei (6 €)
Children & Students (up to the age of 26): 19 lei (4 €)
Persons over 65: 15 lei (3 €)
Omnipass Card: 15 lei (3 €)
Members of the Cluj Jewish Community: Free

3 Virgil Fulicea Street
Cluj-Napoca, Romania
(+40) 364 100 472
(+40) 364 153 654