A key figure in the far-right Jobbik party, Szegedi had contributed significantly to its success, even surpassing party leader Gábor Vona in popularity. As a co-founder of the Hungarian Guard Movement, Szegedi was often mentioned in the press as proof that fascism was taking root in Hungary.
Then it was revealed that he was Jewish. For a year he retreated from the public eye, refused to give interviews and focused on the search for his identity.
Now he knows who he is. He is both Hungarian and Jewish. He keeps the Sabbath, goes to synagogue, is learning Hebrew and studying the Talmud. He is trying to keep the 613 laws of his religion.
“I don’t always manage it,” he admits. “Especially when it comes to eating kosher food. Pork and salami play an important part in Hungarian cuisine.” But as with all things, adjusting to a new identity takes time.
Szegedi has not forgotten who he was before. He was a man who would stand up in parliament and proclaim, “This budget proposal reads as if [Israeli President] Shimon Peres had written it.” He meant that its aim was to take money from ordinary Hungarians and pour it into the pockets of the Jews. He accused “Jewish intellectuals” of debasing the Holy Crown of Saint Stephen, the symbol of the Hungarian nation.
“I was someone who caused people pain,” he says. “My hate speech about Jews and Roma affected children who had done nothing wrong. They might have been very talented, they might have been able to make something of themselves, but I helped to block their path.” But his racist accusations were just what many Hungarians wanted to hear. Szegedi was a man on the make. Party rivals were becoming jealous of his popularity and looking for something to blacken his reputation. Then they discovered his Jewish heritage.
Half of Szegedi’s family died in Auschwitz. His maternal grandparents met and married after both survived Nazi camps, and a few years later they decided to give up their Jewish faith. His grandmother never spoke of it again. His grandfather told his daughter Katalin, Szegedi’s mother, about her heritage, although he made her promise never to mention it.