Find more information about

at the Center for Jewish History:

NOTE: you will be redirected
to the Web site for the

Stern, Samu

(1874–1947), business and communal leader. Samu Stern was born into a rural family in Nemesszalok, near Pápa in western Hungary. He received a general education, studied at the Jánosháza yeshiva for two years, and attended a science high school in Győr. He then moved to Budapest to study commerce.

Stern entered the food trade and established a milk and dairy product marketing company. During World War I, he ran a successful refrigeration business, and in 1916 the emperor granted him the honorary title hofrat (privy councillor). By 1928, Stern was involved in Jewish community affairs, and in December 1929 was elected president of the Neolog community of Pest, a position he held until 1944 (he was also elected in 1932 to chair the central committee of Neolog communities). In this capacity, Stern felt that his major task was to strengthen relations with both the government (they were strained after the numerus clausus controversy) and with Jewish organizations outside Hungary. He was on good terms with prime ministers István Bethlen (1921–1931) and especially Gyula Gömbös (1932–1936). Stern’s memoirs contain an elaborate description of his relationship with Gömbös.

Beginning in 1935, antisemitic incitements worsened in Hungary. In particular, the Arrow Cross Party, which drew its strength from Nazi Germany, picked up power. Admiral Miklós Horthy, the Regent of Hungary, met with a delegation of Jews led by Stern, but Horthy failed to address the matter of most concern to Jews—the fear of new restrictions.

The First Jewish Law was submitted to the Hungarian parliament on 8 April 1938. The Jewish community unsuccessfully initiated a public campaign against the bill. In reality, Jewish leaders accepted the new law ex post facto, provided that incitement and discussion of the Jewish question would come to an end. Though the law came into effect on 29 May 1938, the government began devising a Second Jewish Law just months later, and this one was even more severe. Stern and his colleagues of the assimilationist camp adhered to the principle of political and social integration and regarded themselves as an inseparable part of the Hungarian people. As a seasoned politician, Stern fully understood the new situation, but it was his view—and that of his Neolog colleagues—that there should be no withdrawal from the two basic principles upon which Jewish existence in Hungary had been based: equality of political–civil rights and assimilation.

In May 1939, after the Second Jewish Law was endorsed, the leadership of the Jewish community of Pest dispatched Stern, accompanied by Secretary General Sándor Eppler, to Paris and London. The objective of their trip was to include the Jews of Hungary in the aid initiatives and particularly in the immigration arrangements of Jewish organizations, as well as to establish public committees in France and England for the benefit of the Jews of Hungary.

Back in Hungary, Stern fought to unite the Neolog communities in the capital, since, in addition to the largest community of Pest, there were other communities in Buda and in Köbánya. Stern served as president of the Judenrat in Budapest between 1944 and 1945. He died in Budapest in 1947.

From late 1941 through early 1942, Stern had begun to write his memoirs, devoting a substantial part to the period of the German occupation. These were published under the title Emlelékiaritatbol in Budapest in 2004.

Suggested Reading

Nathaniel Katzburg, “Shemu’el Shtern: Ro’sh kehilat Pesht,” in Pedut: Hatsalah bi-yeme sho’ah (Ramat Gan, Isr., 1984); Mária Schmidt, Kollaboráció vagy kooperáció? (Budapest, 1990), pp. 49–111; Samu (Samuel) Stern, “‘A Race with Time’: A Statement,” Hungarian Jewish Studies 3 (1973): 1–48.



Translated from Hebrew by Rami Hann