The truth about neo-Nazis, by the Jew who was one

Csanad Szegedi was the rising star in an extremist Hungarian party. And then the truth about his heritage came out

Share

It’s the tragedy of Eastern Europe in a single life – with a redemptive coda thrown in. Csanad Szegedi is the towering 31-year-old Hungarian whose career as an extremist politician, MEP and deputy leader of the notoriously anti-Semitic Jobbik party, was brought to a crashing halt when it emerged that he was Jewish.

A history graduate from a university in Budapest, Szegedi was politicised as a student when the Communists returned to government. Searching for an anchor for his identity, he was a founding member of the radical nationalist party which took a hard line against Gypsies and Jews.

Jobbik specialises in garish, violent rhetoric and simple solutions to knotty problems. Szegedi was seen, approvingly, as the “fist” of a party which dreamed of returning to the nationalistic rule of Miklos Horthy, who in 1944 helped the occupying Nazis send 400,000 Hungarian Jews to Auschwitz in a mere eight weeks. Although Jews were a tiny minority in post-war Hungary, the community was one of Jobbik’s favourite targets, blamed for plundering the country and allying with Gypsies to turn “pure” Hungarians into a minority.

But the Szegedi family nursed a secret, about which the young politician knew nothing, and Szegedi’s undoing was his precocious political success. He excited envy among some of his comrades, including an acquaintance called Zoltan Ambrus, who had served time in prison for possession of a pistol and explosives.

Documents, which found their way to Ambrus, showed that Szegedi’s origins were Jewish. Szegedi, by now one of Jobbik’s three MEPs, tried to bribe him into silence. Instead Ambrus spilled the beans to the party. The consensus was that he should be thrown out. One colleague said: “The best way would be to shoot you in the head right now.”

Szegedi learned that his grandmother, maiden name Magdolna Klein, had been herded into a cattle car in 1944 and sent to Auschwitz where the first German she met was Dr Josef Mengele – who sent the 25-year-old to join those assigned work duties, instead of to the gas chambers. The following year she was liberated by the Red Army, returned to Hungary and married another Auschwitz survivor, whose wife and two children had been killed.

They resumed the normal life of Hungarian Jews, visiting the synagogue every Friday. But during the uprising against Communist rule in 1956, the ancient prejudice was back, and the family chose to disappear into mainstream society. Magdolna made sure the Auschwitz number tattooed on her wrist stayed always well covered.

Expelled from the party that had been his life, Szegedi turned to an Orthodox Lubavitch rabbi for help. Initially suspicious, Rabbi Koves agreed to meet him. “I met a man who was in freefall,” he said. “He had lost all his friends and all his certainties.” The rabbi encouraged Szegedi to reinvent himself as what he was. He adopted the name Dovid, wore a kippah, grew a straggly beard, learnt Hebrew, visited Israel, had himself circumcised. He obtained thousands of copies of his book, I Believe in Hungary’s Resurrection, dumped them in an oil drum and set them on fire.

Jobbik, Szegedi sees now, offered an illusory exit from the problem – into the euphoria of hatred. “The political intention of Jobbik’s leadership is to generate tensions in society,” the reborn Dovid Szegedi says. “It does not make much sense to debate with them, but the majority of Jobbik’s one million voters are not anti-Semitic or racist – they are simply people in despair.”

React Now

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Project Implementation Executive

£18000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Chiropractic Assistant

£16500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Chiropractic Assistant is needed in a ...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Account Executive - Midlands

£18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides coaching ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
With an eye for strategy: Stephen Fry’s General Melchett and Rowan Atkinson’s Edmund Blackadder  

What Cameron really needs is to turn this into a khaki election

Matthew Norman
An Italian policeman stands guard as migrants eat while waiting at the port of Lampedusa to board a ferry bound for Porto Empedocle in Sicily. Authorities on the Italian island of Lampedusa struggled to cope with a huge influx of newly-arrived migrants as aid organisations warned the Libya crisis means thousands more could be on their way  

Migrant boat disaster: EU must commit funds to stop many more dying

Alistair Dawber
NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

Let the propaganda wars begin - again

'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

Japan's incredible long-distance runners

Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

Tom Drury: The quiet American

His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

Beige to the future

Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own