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C. ALIENATION AND CONFLICT

       During World War I, Hungarians in Cleveland were in a precarious situation. Most had not resided in the United States for long. Others, who had lived in this country for several years, intended to return to Hungary and because of this had not applied for citizenship. The situation that most Hungarians were not U.S. citizens compounded by the fact that they were classified as "enemy aliens" made the community very vulnerable. Many Hungarians experienced open hostility directed against them: some were dismissed from their jobs for no apparent reason, businesses were boycotted and incidents of harassment took place. Mrs. Margaret Kovell, who was employed by the Austro-Hungarian consulate in Cleveland during the War, related, during a recorded interview, that a large number of unemployed Hungarian "aliens" were constantly petitioning the consul for financial assistance as they were ineligible for any kind of relief in this country.46

       The community was definitely divided on the issue of which side to serve. There were some groups who went back to Europe to enlist in the Hungarian Army. Those who constituted these groups were mainly American residents who were still citizens of Austria-Hungary. Hungarian-born citizens of the United States and second generation Hungarian-Americans generally remained. Some members of the community enlisted when the United States entered the War. From Cleveland alone, over 400 Hungarian men served in the U.S. Army, many of them receiving commissions or other military distinctions.47

       In response to growing anti-immigrant sentiments, the community devoted much time and energy to affirming its loyalty to America and supporting the War effort. The American Hungarian Loyalty League was formed;

 


 

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One group of Hungarian-American who returned to Europe to enlist in the forces of the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy. The group is pictured here with Rev. Joseph Peter, pastor of St. Emeric's Roman Catholic during World War I.

 


 

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according to one source, hundreds of Hungarians in Cleveland served in the League. The community aided the War effort through large purchases of Liberty Bonds and active participation in Red Cross work.

       Large-scale relief programs were formed to aid the suffering and impoverished in post-War Hungary. Organizations such as the Half-Dollar Society and the Hungarian Red Cross were established for the purpose of sending care packages. The East Side American Hungarian Ladies Aid Society was organized in 1924 in response to the tragic situation in Hungary. For over fifty years, this organization has provided assistance to needy Hungarians at home and abroad in times of war, disaster and revolution.

       Several community leaders were bestowed with the Hungarian Order of the Red Cross in recognition of their outstanding work in helping to alleviate the post-War sufferings in Hungary. Three of the recipients were: Msgr. Charles Boehm, who campaigned for the prisoner repatriation fund, Helen Horváth, who initiated a program aiding impoverished teachers and Rose Üto, for her efforts in providing food for malnourished children.

 

*  *  *  *  *  *

 

       During the War, large-scale programs were instituted to "Americanize" the immigrant groups. These programs, promoting the abandonment of one's own heritage, language and mannerisms, were intensified following the end of the War. Various individuals in the community worked in support of the concept with the result that a few "Americanization" newspapers and adult education programs came into existence. The sometimes ludicrous nature of the forced Americanization effort was demonstrated in one photograph of the congregation of St. Emeric Roman Catholic Church, wherein each of the

 


 

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some two thousand individuals photographed is holding a small American flag.

       The Roman Catholic Church in the United States played a major role in the concerted effort to Americanize the immigrant groups. They were among the first to reduce and finally eliminate foreign language classes from the parochial elementary school curriculum. Some Bishops of the Cleveland Diocese made efforts to ensure that Hungarian priests would not serve the Hungarian parishes, believing that they were doing this for the ultimate "good" of the community.

       The Hungarian community was affected by the Americanization program in several different ways. Because of the size and strength of the community, some segments became more determined to maintain the language and culture. Although Hungarian language instruction during regular school hours was discontinued at the Roman Catholic elementary schools, several churches of the Greek Catholic faith and various Protestant denominations initiated Hungarian classes after school and during the summer vacation. Generally, second generation children were perfectly bilingual and spoke Hungarian more correctly than their parents, whose formal education was usually limited.

       The second generation was increasingly affected by the pressure to Americanize. Characteristic of this generation were the numerous cultural organizations which promoted Hungarian culture in the English language: such as the Hungarian Junior League, the Four Arts Club and the Hungarian Civic Club. Numerous Hungarians Anglicized their names, some did so because they wanted to enter a profession.

       The second generation further realized that if they wanted to enter the mainstream of American life and attain positions of influence, they

 


 

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would have to wield power through Hungarian professional organizations. The Hungarian Businessmen's and Tradesmen's Club became an influential organization in the city, representing twenty-six lines of business with over 250 members reported in 1941.48 The Magyar Club established a position for Hungarian professionals in the civic and political arena of Cleveland. Founded by lawyers and city politicians in 1924, the Magyar Club has become one of the most prestigious organizations in the community.

       Underlying the campaign to Americanize was the concept that American culture is superior to all others and in this respect it was extremely detrimental to the self-image of Hungarians, particularly those of the second generation, who were made to feel ashamed of their heritage, mother tongue and parents' background. In fact, the Americanization propaganda undermined and ridiculed the way they lived, the way they were raised and the idea of a Hungarian neighborhood. Although the program forced Hungarians to become part of the mainstream of American life at an accelerated pace, this was accomplished at a considerable cost in the loss of cultural contributions and ethnic identity.

 

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       The Labor Movement significantly affected the activities of the community during the 1920s and '30s. Hungarian immigrants were likely victims of exploitation: they were handicapped by language barriers, used to abominable working conditions and were usually willing to take almost any kind of work. Some Hungarians, totally unaware of the labor conditions in this country, were brought to the coal mining regions of West Virginia and Virginia as strikebreakers. Much hatred and violence was directed against them because of this.

 


 

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       Organizations developed which sought to inform the Hungarian immigrant about labor conditions in America and to work for the improvement of those conditions. The Sándor Petofi Socialist Workers' Society of Cleveland made possible the publication of the first Hungarian-language labor newspaper, The Amerikai Népszava (The American People's Voice) in 1891.49 The Népszava was transferred from New York to Cleveland in 1896, but because of incidents of violence and various strikes in that city, was forced to move back to New York within one year.

       In 1912, the first Hungarian-language socialist daily, Elore (Forward) was established in Cleveland; the newspaper's first editor was Louis Tarcai. This newspaper was published in Cleveland for only a few years. Tarcai founded another socialist newspaper, Az Ujság (The News) in 1920, which provided information about local neighborhood news, activities and services. Tarcai was also active in the organization and upkeep of the soup kitchens on Buckeye Road which were supported by local businessmen during the Depression.

       Following the end of the First World War, considerable efforts were expended by the government to weaken the labor movement. Some fifty Hungarian leftist journalists and writers were imprisoned and threatened with deportation. Elore was discontinued in 1921; later that year Új Elore (New Forward) was founded to replace it. During the 1930s, Új Elore was transferred to Cleveland in order to "get closer to the industrial worker masses, in particular those employed in heavy industry."50

       The Hungarian-language labor press served an important function: it informed workers about what the norms were as far as pay, working hours

 


 

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Magyar Munkas Otthon. The Hungarian Workingmen's Home on Buckeye Rd.

 

The Workers Singing Circle on the occasion of it's 25th Anniversary in 1933. (Courtesy of Cleveland Press)

 


 

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and conditions and agitated to change these factors for the betterment of the working class. One example of the many abuses prevalent in industry was child labor. There were few children playing in the streets during the 1920s and 1930s in the Hungarian neighborhood. All efforts went towards earning money, often at the expense of schooling. Child funerals were frequent, these deaths were caused by normal diseases as well as industrial illnesses. For example, girls who worked in the cigar factories often contracted tuberculosis by the time they reached the age of eighteen.

       One Hungarian-language newspaper wrote in 1892: "Many of our countrymen work in the plough factory... The whetstone has already killed two of them. We warn our countrymen in time-although they know it themselves, without the physicians telling them-that the dust created by the grinding of the plough steel on the whetstone settles in the lungs of the workmen and causes consumption in a few years."51

       Új Elore published countless short stories and poems which conveyed the many hardships endured by Hungarian immigrant laborers. The stories were written about fictional characters, however, they were based on actual incidents related by the immigrants themselves. There were short stories published about the mining towns of Pennsylvania and West Virginia, where many of the Hungarians found initial employment. The writings conveyed the degradation of living in shabbily constructed company shanty towns, of having to work underground and breathing the soot and smoke of the mine. There were many other stories as well: of children who were orphaned due to industrial accidents and of young girls who worked in sweatshops under stifling, unhealthy working conditions for meager wages.

 


 

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Despite the fact that the underlying theme of many of these writings was that capitalism exploits the working class, the stories realistically described many of the most critical social problems affecting the working class in America during the 1920s and '30s.

       Various segments of the Hungarian labor movement joined larger American labor organizations, such as the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) and the American Labor Alliance. Hungarian leftist organizations provided their members with sick benefits through the Workers' Sick Benefit and Self-Education Federation, which had several chapters in Cleveland. The Workingman's Home on Buckeye Road served as a meeting place for many groups, including: Hungarians with leftist views, members of the community alienated from the churches and unemployed and/or discontented workers. Leftist groups formed their own cultural organizations; during the 1930s, Hungarian workers' choirs were active on both the west side and east side of Cleveland.

       During the 1920s and 1930s, the community was characterized by strong divisions between the left and the right. The left encountered many confrontations, not only with various segments of the community but with local authorities as well. One example of this is a widely accepted rumor that Buckeye Road was originally known as Moreland Road, its name was allegedly changed to Buckeye around 1920 after a Cleveland policeman was knifed to death there by a group of Hungarian communist demonstrators. According to one source: "When the killing received national notoriety, the residents, feeling stigmatized, changed the name of their main street."52

       The popularity of the Hungarian labor movement diminished with the advent of the Second World War and the improvement of economic conditions.

 


 

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Moreover, after the Second World War, many Hungarian-American leftist leaders returned to Hungary.

 

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       During the Depression, one commonly used expression in the neighborhood, which expressed the desperate plight of many of the residents, was: "For fifty cents, we would leap over the rooftop of any building."53 Nearly fifty percent of Hungarian male workers in Cleveland were unemployed, many families lost their homes and thousands in the community watched their savings slowly disintegrate through the long years of economic hardship. Since many of these immigrants were aliens (not U.S. citizens) and property owners of record, they were ineligible for public assistance. There were no social insurance programs in existence at this time such as social security or unemployment compensation. As a result, the majority of unemployed Hungarians in the community were left without any means of support. Even if found eligible for public assistance, psychologically, it was humiliating for the immigrants to request government aid. In many instances, where men could not find work, women became the bread winners as domestic servants earning $2 a day for house cleaning and completing laundry.

       The economic situation put a great strain on everyone; however, it has been often said that nothing brings people together more than hard times and nowhere else was there more evidence of this than in the Buckeye Road Hungarian neighborhood. Families relied on church groups, sick benefit societies and each other for assistance. New organizations were founded in response to the changing needs. The Cleveland Hungarian Ladies Charity Committee was established to assist in the phenomenal task of feeding the hungry, as the majority of the people in the neighborhood were job

 


 

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The Cleveland Hungarian Ladies Charity Committee Preparing packages of food for the needy duribng the Depression.

 

The founding meeting of The Old Settlers Association 1931 (Courtesy of the Cleveland Press)

 


 

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less and penniless in those days. Daily, the women went to grocery stores, meat markets and bakeries requesting foodstuffs. Whatever they received from the merchants was then prepared and served at the soup kitchens. In spite of the fact that the lineups were tremendous, everyone was welcome. The work involved was overwhelming, yet these kitchens were upheld even during the darkest days of the Depression.

       The Old Settlers Association, which later became one of the largest Hungarian organizations in the community, was established during the Depression. It was founded in response to the growing number of Hungarians, who because of economic difficulties or affiliations with the labor movement, lost contact with their churches and could therefore not secure a church burial. For a nominal membership fee, the Old Settlers Association assured all members of a decent burial in addition to providing pall bearers.

       The Small Home Owners' Association was founded in 1930 by a group of homeowners to prevent the eviction of friends and neighbors in the event of foreclosures. The efforts of these homeowners were futile against the injustices of these hard times, but they could not stand by idly as their homes were being confiscated. Some of the demonstrations turned into virtual riots as violent confrontations took place between the police and the Hungarian and Slovak homeowners.

       During these hard times, people spent their free time organizing community activities, such as: dances, socials and plays. The production of community plays involved dozens of people of all ages, nevertheless, the time, energy and even costumes and props were willingly donated. The admission to these plays was very cheap so that many could attend; the aim was to entertain and have fun, not to make a profit. Through this

 


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