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Hatvany-Deutsch Family

Hungarian industrialists and cultural figures. The Hatvany-Deutsch family played a decisive role for several generations in the economic and—later—the cultural life of Hungary.

Ignác Deutsch (1803–1873) was a characteristic representative of rural merchants at the beginning of the 1840s. The son of Eisig Deutsch (president of the Arad Jewish community; d. 1865), he moved to Pest in 1852, and from that year on was involved in a variety of enterprises under the name the Ignác Deutsch and Son Company. In addition to their produce business, they worked in banking and insurance and were the chief contractors constructing the Košice–Ödenburg and Munkács–Beszkid railway lines. The firm also helped to establish flour mills in Budapest and, later, in rural areas. When the stock market crashed in 1873, the family was able to double its possessions. After the economic crisis, the ownership of Concordia Power Mill was almost exclusively in the Deutsch family’s hands. At the time of his death, Ignác Deutsch left an estate worth more than 2 million Hungarian forints to his heirs.

The “Son” in the firm’s name was Ignác’s younger son Bernát. In 1879, with several members of the family and mainly as landowners, he was ennobled with the prename Hatvany, referring to a town in which the family had several business interests. The next generation, which too enjoyed a spectacular wave of success, was famous for large-scale industrial investments. Members of the family changed their name to Hatvany-Deutsch.

The cousins leading the company—József (1858–1913) and Sándor (1852–1913)—took over the bankrupt sugar factory of Nagysurány. With two other companies (Henrik Brüll & Sons and Henrik Kohner & Sons), they founded the distillery of Szeged and Temesvár (Timişoara). Later they essentially dissolved two other companies on their own and founded the sugar factories of Hatvan, Garamvölgy, and Sárvár. In the 1890s, the company controlled a 27 percent share in Hungarian sugar production. Not only did it manage to drive out Austrian competition, creating almost a monopoly, but by the turn of the century it helped to turn sugar into one of Hungary’s most important export products.

While the family’s interest in power mills reached 4 million crowns in Budapest alone, they expanded to rural areas as well. Sándor Hatvany-Deutsch was the principal shareholder in six steam mills, and he also had significant interests in timber and paper production. The family had connections with other institutions including the Hungarian Industrial and Commercial Bank, the Domestic Bank, and the Hungarian Commercial Bank of Pest. They were elevated to baron status in 1910.

József Hatvany-Deutsch played an active role in the life of the Jewish community; as a result, the minister of religion and education appointed him president of the board of directors of the Hungarian Rabbinical Seminary. At the same time, he served as president of the Israelite Hungarian Literary Society, which was founded in 1894.

The next generation was prominent in the arts. József’s daughter Lilli Hatvany (1890–1968) was a playwright, and Sándor’s son Ferenc Hatvany (1881–1958) was a well-known artist and art collector. The Russian Army seized the famous Hatvany collection in 1945, and the property rights to the collection are a matter of legal dispute to this day.

Ferenc’s older brother, Lajos Hatvany (1880–1961), was a writer who cultivated close friendships with several generations of literary personalities such as the poets Endre Ady and Attila József. At the time of the Hungarian Soviet Republic in 1919, he moved to Vienna, returning to Hungary only in 1927. He was sentenced to seven, then four, and finally to one and a half years of prison because of articles he had published in Vienna that criticized official Hungarian policies. His novel about his family, a trilogy titled Urak és emberek (Gentleman and People; 1927), contains vivid descriptions of the assimilating Jewish upper middle class. In response to the Huszadik Század questionnaire in 1917 on the Jewish situation in Hungary, Lajos Hatvany reasoned that conversion to Christianity was no more than a natural adjustment, of the same order as dressing up for an evening in a tuxedo. And, in fact, this generation of the family (Lilli, Ferenc, and Lajos) did convert to Christianity.

Bertalan Hatvany (1900–1981), orientalist and art collector, became a patron of Hungarian literature, as was his cousin Lajos. Unlike Lajos, however, Bertalan argued against full assimilation as well as against the so-called double bond (i.e., feeling equally Hungarian and Jewish); as a supporter of the Zionist movement, he defended the Hungarian Jewish spirit, the essence of which he felt meant preserving Jewish identity while at the same time adjusting to “the traditions and spirituality of the larger community.” In 1939 he moved to Paris and lived there, with interruptions, until his death.

Suggested Reading

Béla Kempelen, Magyarország zsidó családai, vol. 2, pp. 61–64 (Budapest, 1938).



Translated from Hungarian by Anna Szalai