Reviewing Genocide in the Carpathians: War, Social Breakdown, and Mass Violence 1914-19453 min read
Raz Segal’s Genocide in the Carpathians: War, Social Breakdown, and Mass Violence 1914-1945 draws light to an under-researched tragedy and contextualizes the violence committed in Europe against its Jewish population. To those who have studied genocide before, what occurs is a story we have heard many a time. The rise of nationalism, shifts in political power, the loss of territory and irredentism, all culminating in horrifying episodes of ethnic cleansing. Nonetheless, it is a story we must never cease to investigate in order to gain a broader and more informed picture of genocide in Europe.
Segal wastes no time, diving immediately into the subject at hand. He has much to say because, as he rightly points out, the destruction of the ethnic mosaic of Subcarpathian Rus has attracted limited scholarly attention.
We are first introduced to the multiethnic and multireligious Carpathian region of Europe. A failed campaign of “magyarization” before World War I meant that in this isolated region, Jews and Carpatho-Ruthenians lived together, without strict boundaries between the groups. In part due to simple geography, many held similar occupations and spoke each other’s language. As Segal would describe, it would not be until the destruction wrought by the Great War that antisemitism would be imported into the region. In the interwar period, the relations between Jews and Carpatho-Ruthenians would deteriorate as the winds of nationalism swept in, poor economic prospects worsened, and hatred, as Segal writes, intensified.
The ensuing annihilation and levelling of minority populations in this region takes place in the backdrop to the Holocaust. Years before the Nazis entered Hungary to more or less unopposed, what was only bouts of sporadic violence against minority populations quickly evolved into targeted persecution.
Flipping on its head the narrative of Hungarian innocence, à la House of Fates, Segal demonstrates that the Holocaust was not only a German plot for genocide but an international endeavor. While Jews in Hungary were especially targeted given the powerful antisemitism of this time, what Segal describes as multilayered violence swept up peoples in the borderlands and in Subcarpathian Rus in the quest for the creation of “Greater Hungary”. Roma and Carpatho-Ruthenians would all suffer greatly.
Segal takes on the challenging task of crafting together and incorporating all the different groups and actors involved in the mass violence. At points the reader is inundated with names, places, and differing sects. I sometimes found myself wishing to draw out maps of exactly who was involved and what factors were at play in sparking this tragedy. However, if one can sort through all this you will learn about a truly detailed and fascinating mosaic of a region, one certainly worth reading.
While at times wordy, the book truly shines for its care in documentation. Segal takes methodically the step by step path to annihilation and the destruction of neighborly social ties. It is a must-read for anyone wishing to understand the broader context of the destruction of the European Jewry, pushing us to rethink the narrative of the Holocaust in Hungary.
Book details: Segal, Raz. Genocide in the Carpathians: War, Social Breakdown, and Mass Violence 1914-1945 Standford University Press, 2016. Buy. Available for purchase here.