Far-right Hungarian politician Csanad Szegedi was a rising star in the Jobbik party. As a senior member in a political party mainly known for its anti-Semitism and racism, Szegedi also had the dubious honor of launching a paramilitary organization called the Hungarian Guard. And then, quite suddenly, his career came a screeching halt.
He found out he was Jewish.
The BBC wrote up Szegedi’s remarkable story: his journey from an anti-Semitic demagogue to an Orthodox Jew. At one point, the once-popular politician even set fire to copies of his memoir.
An earlier story in the New Yorker delved a little bit deeper into Szegedi’s story. Hiding one’s Jewish heritage was a common tactic in Europe after World War II, especially in Hungary, which suffered a rash of anti-Semitic violence in the years following the war. Szegedi’s grandmother was an Auschwitz survivor who wore long sleeves to hide her concentration camp numbers. Szegedi grew up unaware of his own Jewish heritage and his non-Jewish father was given to making anti-Semitic jokes.
When a political rival found his grandmother’s birth certificate and threatened to expose his Jewish heritage, Szegedi initially tried to bribe him to keep it quiet. After the news came out, Szegedi left the Jobbik party and embarked on a slow journey towards his faith.
Initially, he admitted he was having some trouble adapting to an Orthodox lifestyle.
“Kosher cuisine – without pork, salami and the other things that Hungarian cuisine is based upon. It will take me time to wean myself from them,” the former right-wing leader acknowledged.
Szegedi’s story is one of the great second-acts in Jewish history, like the Polish skinhead who became a chasid. Szegedi does a form of repentance for his past life: He delivers talks about anti-Semitism in school across Hungary, fending off questions about what it’s like to undergo circumcision late in life. The article concludes with Szegedi’s thoughts about being Jewish in Hungary; statements that say more about the sad state of Jewish life in the rest of Europe.
In fact, Budapest is a great place to be a Jew in, [Szegedi] beams – with its kosher restaurants, synagogues, and Jewish shops. You can practise your culture, and practise your faith here. You might get funny looks if you wear a kippah – a traditional Jewish skullcap – but you won’t be spat on, or physically threatened as you might be in France or Belgium.
The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.