Hungary, rarely an exporter of dramatic headlines, has come to the fore following the revelation that Csanad Szegedi, the virulently anti-semitic leader of the radical nationalist political party Jobbik, is actually Jewish.
In an ironic twist, Szegadi — who has accused Jews of “‘buying up’ the country, railed about the ‘Jewishness’ of the political elite and claimed Jews were desecrating national symbols” — apparently discovered his Jewish heritage during a conversation in 2010 with former convict and political enemy Zoltan Ambrus. Both of his maternal grandparents were Jewish, and his grandmother was imprisoned in Auschwitz and Dachau during the Holocaust. Subsequently, Szegadi attempted to bribe Ambrus with EU funds and an EU job offer, which Ambrus declined.
As the Internet rumor mill began to spin out of control, Szegadi finally acknowledged that he was, indeed, ethnically if not culturally Jewish. Since June 2012, Szegadi has been forced to resign from his post at the Jobbik party. He has also met with Hungary’s chief rabbi, and apologized for his comments in the past.
Given Szegadi’s intensely xenophobic rhetoric, many were shocked — none more so than Szegadi himself — to learn of his maternal Jewish bloodline, a central marker of Jewish identity. However, stories like Szegadi’s became fairly common in the years after the Holocaust. Such was the atrocious loss of dignity that many were shamed into permanently burying their Judaism. Others, out of fear of future retaliation and anti-semitism. The secularist wave of communism that took over Europe after World War II further sustained and increased this effect. Assimilated families overcompensated in their rejection of Judaism by becoming intensely religious in their new faith, and withholding their past from their children.
Szegadi’s case is not unlike that of former secretary of state Madelaine Albright, who only at the age of 59 discovered that her parents were Jewish, after a reporter from the Washington Post started making inquiries into her family’s past in Czechoslovakia. Of course, Albright never uttered an anti-semitic statement like Szegadi’s, but her story reveals a historical trend of children being permanently sheltered from a fundamental part of their identity. Albright was raised Episcopalian, and throughout her life was deeply religious. In April, Albright came out with a new book, Prague Winter: A Personal Story of Remembrance, 1937-1948, documenting her family’s story and her Jewish roots in Czechoslovakia.