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Újvári, Péter

(1869–1931), writer, journalist, and editor. With his multifaceted ties to the religious communities of Pozsony (Bratislava) and Galicia, and his isolated Jewish upbringing, Péter Újvári was fundamentally different from the assimilated Jews whose trials and tribulations are well recorded by Hungarian Jewish and even non-Jewish writers. Újvári was the first Hungarian Jewish writer who wanted to write specifically Jewish prose in Hungarian. While he had few admirers, those who did appreciate his work thought of him as the Hungarian Sholem Aleichem or Sholem Asch, or even as the Jewish equivalent of the great Hungarian writers Kálmán Mikszáth and Mór Jókai.

Újvári’s father, Wolf Grossmann, served as rabbi of Érsekújvár (Nové Zámky), the source of the family’s new name. At the end of his life, Újvári described his father and his own desertion of his father’s world in words of regret. Following yeshiva studies in Nagysurány, Vác, and Miskolc, Újvári worked as a private tutor and then became a journalist and editor in Szeged. He sent his first poems, written in German, to periodicals in Germany; editors there acknowledged his talent but rejected the poems on the grounds that they were overly influenced by Heine, whose work Újvári had not even read.

In Szeged, Újvári was a correspondent and then editor for several newspapers (Szegedi Hiradó [Szeged News]; Szeged és Vidéke [Szeged and Environs]). There he mastered Hungarian and sent to the Pesti Hirlap (Daily Pest) a series of short essays on Jewish themes that he later collected in the volume Legendák és krónikák (Legends and Chronicles; 1905). He invested his wife’s dowry in a short-lived literary weekly, Magyar Szó (The Hungarian Word). Another publication he founded was Szombat (Sabbath), Hungary’s first Jewish illustrated weekly; also short-lived, it ceased publication in 1910.

Újvári’s first novel to attract attention, Az új keresztény (The New Christian; 1908), described a Galician family’s assimilation and conversion to Christianity in Hungary, as well as the family’s predicament in functioning between two worlds. The book received wide attention, including a review in the Budapesti Szemle (Budapest Review). Another novel, A mécs mellett (By the Light of the Oil Lamp; 1908), described breaking away from the yeshiva world.

Újvári moved to Budapest in 1907, where he worked for several national newspapers, including Magyar Hírlap (The Hungarian Daily), Budapest, and Magyarország (Hungary). He became a regular contributor of short essays and serialized novels to the Hungarian Jewish press. After the fall of the Hungarian Soviet Republic, he immigrated to Vienna. From 1920 to 1923, he worked for Új Kelet (New East) in Kolozsvár (Cluj) and later established various Jewish periodicals in Slovakia: Szombat in Érsekujvár and Judea in Pozsony (both in 1923), and Új-Judea (New Judea) in Kassa (Košice) in 1926. He then returned to Budapest where he founded and edited a Jewish periodical, Országos Egyetértés (National Concord; 1926–1927).

Újvári’s most enduring work was his editing of the Magyar zsidó lexikon (Hungarian Jewish Encyclopedia; 1929), for which he assembled a group of highly talented writers. There was great resistance to the encyclopedia; many people did not want to be included, and one-third of Hungary’s Jewish communities refused to provide data. The losses that followed the Holocaust make the information in the encyclopedia invaluable; it is cited in virtually every work about Hungarian Jewry.

Included among Újvári’s other major works are Tűzistenek (Fire Gods; 1911); Földanyánk lovagjai (Knights of Mother Earth; 1914); Astarte temploma (The Temple of Astarte; 1918); A bosszúálló isten (Vengeful God; 1920); and A cédrusfa daliája (Stalwart of the Cedar Tree; 1921). After his death, his two sons intended to publish his collected works but succeeded in printing only the first volume, A mécs mellett (By the Light of the Oil Lamp; 1932). Their introduction records titles and summaries of several plays and novels that were among their father’s papers.

Suggested Reading

László Újvári and Imre Újvári, “Újvári Péter 1869–1931,” introduction to A mécs mellett, by Péter Újvári, pp. 1–28 (Budapest, 1932).



Translated from Hungarian by Imre Goldstein