Traditional Catholic Judeophobia marked church life in Hungary, just as it did across most of Europe. And while there was a substantial number of Catholics with Jewish ancestry as well as some converts, this was not sufficient to mark any change on either official positions of popular myths and phobias regarding Jews. As Hungary moved more and more to the political right through the 1930s the situation for Hungarian Jewry began to worsen.
Angelo Rotta (1872-1965) was nuncio to Hungary from 1930 to 1945. Originally from Milano and ordained in 1895, Rotta entered the diplomatic service of the Holy See and served as Internuncio to Central America from 1922-1925, Apostolic Delegate to Turkey 1925-1930 before his appointment to Hungary on 20 March 1930. Rotta witnessed the increasing resentment towards Hungarian Jewry by the parties of the far-right and provided a steady and detailed set of reports to Rome.
ADSS 6 begins with in March 1939 at the beginning of the papacy of Pius XII.
Contained in the collection are 15 reports from the nuncio to Rome and 6 instructions from Rome. This number will jump substantially in 1944. Among the 15 reports Rotta sent to Rome six deal directly with the second set of anti-Jewish laws passed by the Hungarian parliament in May 1939.
On 8 April 1938 Hungary promulgated a law limiting to 20% the number of Jews in commercial, financial and academic professions as well as the number of Jewish employees in similar organisations. Jews were defined as people who had converted to Judaism after 1919 or who were born of Jewish parents after that date. The church made no major objection to this law; in fact there was no protest of any kind until 1944 and then only for converted Jews. In late May 1938 Cardinal Eugenio Pacelli went to Budapest as the personal representative of Pope Pius XI for the Eucharistic Congress. He made no reference to the law just passed in Hungary.
The second anti-Jewish laws were passed on 5 May 1939. The definition of "Jew" was revised to a racial formula identical to the definition found in the 1935 Nuremberg Laws. The 20% limit on Jewish membership in the professions was reduced to 6%. The law was passed, with some modifications and reservations, with the support of Cardinal Seredi, and Bishop Glattfelder who sat in the Upper House of the Hungarian parliament. Overnight about 250,000 Jews lost their livelihoods.
The Jewish population of Hungary in 1930 was counted as 447,567. According to the 31 January 1941 census the Jewish population had risen because of legal redefinitions and territorial expansion to 725,007 along with Christians who were now classified as Jews. It was estimated that between 85,000 to 100,000 people fell into this category.
By the time the third set of anti-Jewish laws were passed on 8 August 1941 the Hungarian definition of "Jew" exceeded German legal terms. A "Jew" was anyone who had two Jewish grandparents, had been raised a Jew, married to a Jew or to a person with at least one Jewish grandparent, a child born of a Jewish mother and unknown father, a child born of a half-Jewish mother and unknown father and who had not been baptised as a child. Under the last set of laws approximately 58,300 more people were added as "Jews".
Nuncio Rotta's reports are valuable for the insight the thinking and course of action of Cardinal Justinian Seredi (1884-1945), bishop of Ezstergom and Primate of Hungary. Seredi was not known for his sympathy for the Jews unless they were converts. The substance of his argument was in part a defence of traditional Catholic teaching and the hope that by supporting the "moderate" position a greater evil would be avoided.
After the passage of the May 1939 laws, documents to and from Rotta are rare and mostly involve providing help for Polish and Czech refugees in Hungary. This was to remain the pattern until 1944.