All they wanted was to study...
The Numerus Clausus and the Young Women

Exhibition at Frauenmuseum, Bonn - November 20 to December 22, 2022

Watch our exhibition opening clip

Exhibition opening

Women's fates in black-and-white photography

Year-end exhibition at the Bonn Women’s Museum ('Frauenmusem') focuses on  young Hungarian Jewish women whose lives were fundamentally altered by the so-called "numerus clausus law" of 1920. It explores its impact on women’s emancipation and Jewish assimilation. Based on family memories, historical documents and photographs, it brings to life the fate and exceptional achievements of women born in the first quarter of the twentieth century. 

Launched at the 2b Gallery, Budapest, in August 2021, the exhibition has been adopted by the Bonn Center for Dependency and Slavery Studies (BCDSS) for the Women's Museum Bonn. It originates from a research project on “Academic antisemitism, women’s emancipation, and Jewish assimilation” by Judith Szapor of McGill University, Montreal, which was funded by the Canadian Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council via a Canada Insight Grant.

© Evi Fabian

Young Women from a wide background

The young women depicted in the exhibition differed widely in terms of birth place, socio-economic, family and cultural background, denomination, subsequent career, and fate during the Shoah. What they all had in common was their desire to study and the fact that the numerus clausus law fundamentally altered their lives, greatly limiting their opportunities and life choices. The exhibition highlights the tremendous obstacles these young women faced but also the contributions they made to modern fields from psychoanalysis to photography, reform pedagogy, modern dance, and the arts - within as well as outside Hungary. 

Historical Background

In September 1920, Hungary introduced Law XXV of 1920 “On regulating enrolment at universities, technical universities, the faculty of economics, and the schools;” the so-called “numerus clausus law” was the earliest instance of anti-Jewish legislation in interwar Europe. In an era of resurgent ethnic nationalisms in Central and East Central Europe, universities became the battleground between traditional and modern elites, between liberal-democratic and illiberal ideologies, and antisemitic violence engulfed universities from Poland to Austria, Romania, and even Czechoslovakia. The numerus clausus law breached the liberal principle of equal citizenship: it overrode the 1867 emancipation of Jews in Hungary and restricted their numbers in the student body to 6% until the end of the Second World War. The law also barred left-wing students – and for part of the 1920s, all women – from universities. Coupled with the official antisemitism of the interwar period, it also led to the “peregrination” of Hungarian Jewish students to the universities and art schools (including the Bauhaus) of Austria, Germany, Italy, and Czechoslovakia, until the mid-to-late 1930s.

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© Evi Fabian
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All they wanted was to study...
20 November to 22 December 2022

BCDSS Exhibition in cooperation with Frauenmuseum, Bonn

Im Krausfeld 10
53111 Bonn

Contact: Cécile Jeblawei, Press and PR Manager
+49 228 7362477

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