A former rising star in Hungary’s far-right Jobbik Party has been drawing closer to Judaism after learning of his Jewish roots.
Csanad Szegedi, who once accused Jews of “buying up” the country, railed about the “Jewishness” of the political elite and claimed Jews were desecrating national symbols, has been studying with local Chabad rabbis, German newspaper Welt am Sonntag reported this week.
Szegedi, 31, said he is keeping Shabbat and trying to observe the laws of Kashrut. “I have discovered that I can reconcile my conservative viewpoints as Hungarian and as observant Jew,” he told Welt am Sonntag.
Following weeks of Internet rumors, Szegedi acknowledged in June 2012that his grandparents on his mother’s side were Jews — making him one too under Jewish law, even though he didn’t practice the faith. His grandmother was an Auschwitz survivor and his grandfather a veteran of forced labor camps.
He became a pariah in Jobbik and his political career reached the brink of collapse.
Under pressure, Szegedi resigned from all party positions in July 2012 and gave up his Jobbik membership. That wasn’t good enough for the party: the next month it asked him to give up his seat in the European Parliament as well. Jobbik said the issue was suspected bribery, not his Jewish roots.
Szegedi stayed in the European parliament as an independent.
Szegedi came to prominence in 2007 as a founding member of the Hungarian Guard, a group whose black uniforms and striped flags recalled the Arrow Cross, a pro-Nazi party that briefly governed Hungary at the end of World War II and killed thousands of Jews. In all, 550,000 Hungarian Jews were killed during the Holocaust, most of them after being sent in trains to Auschwitz and other death camps. The Hungarian Guard was banned by the courts in 2009.
By then, Szegedi had already joined the Jobbik Party, which launched in 2003 and became the country’s biggest far-right political force. He soon became one of its most vocal and visible members and a pillar of the party leadership. Starting in 2009, he served in the European Parliament in Brussels as one of the party’s three EU lawmakers.
Szegedi, who was raised Christian, acknowledged his Jewish origins in interviews with Hungarian media, including news broadcaster Hir TV and Barikad, Jobbik’s weekly magazine. He said that he had a long conversation with his grandmother, who spoke about her family’s past as Orthodox Jews.
“It was then that it dawned on me that my grandmother really is Jewish,” Szegedi told Hir TV. “I asked her how the deportations happened. She was in Auschwitz and Dachau and she was the only survivor in the extended family.”