Once in a while, a really incredible story hits the news — and shows us that even people we might have thought were beyond redemption aren’t as far removed from us as we think. Csanad Szegedi’s journey as the descendant of Holocaust survivors is one of those stories.
Szegedi is a Hungarian politician with a long history of making anti-Semitic statements to the media. He’s made disgusted comments about the “Jewishness” of Hungary’s political class and accused Jews of “buying up” the country. He was a prominent leader of the Jobbik Party, one of the few blatantly anti-Semitic movements in Europe. The party’s presidental candidate once publicly referred to Israeli Jews as “lice-infested, dirty murderers.”
It’s not surprising that, given this environment, Szegedi did everything he could to hide his Jewish roots after being confronted with them in 2010. In a taped conversation with a convicted felon, Szegedi was apparently blindsided when the other man offered up documents proving that Szegedi is actually Jewish through his mother’s side. It turns out his grandmother was an Auschwitz survivor, and his grandfather lived through forced labor camps.
Initially, Szegedi tried to cover the revelations up by offering to pay the convict to keep quiet. Instead, the tape was passed on to other members of the Jobbik party in an effort to undermine Szegedi’s credibility — and it worked. He’s been forced to resign from most of his party positions after going public with his story this August.
The Jobbik party claims he lied about his background, but Szegedi tells a different story. After WWII, he says, his grandparents hid their Jewish heritage to avoid further persecution. They were the only survivors in their extended families, so there was no way for him to know differently. He was even raised in the Presbyterian faith. It wasn’t until December 2011, Szegedi says, that his grandmother spoke to him honestly about her experiences in Auschwitz.
Since then, he’s had a crisis of conscience. He’s issued a public apology for any past statements that have offended the Jewish community and pledged to visit Auschwitz to pay his respects. He also met with a prominent orthodox Rabbi in the Jewish Hungarian community.
Rabbi Slomo Koves told the Associated Press that the meeting was stressful, but “[a]s a rabbi … it is my duty to receive every person who is in a situation of crisis and especially a Jew who has just now faced his heritage.”
It’s been a challenging time for Szegedi, both professionally and personally — he’s been abandoned by his colleagues and even his personal assistant since his background became public. But it’s also an opportunity to grow.
Rabbi Koves told the Wall Street Journal, “I wish for him that he be able to redeem the past years. He can do that best, if, apart from getting to know his own roots, he does everything in his power to keep others from being led astray, like he had been.”
Photo credit: Roy Lindman via Wikipedia.org