By COLlive reporter
Csanád Szegedi‘s story is astonishing. As vice-president of Jobbik, Hungary’s far-right extremist party, Szegedi fervently espoused anti-Semitic rhetoric and was a vocal supporter of the Holocaust denial movement.
Then came a revelation: a long-buried secret was exposed that upended his career and turned his life on its head. Szegedi learned that not only were his maternal grandparents Jewish, but his beloved grandmother was actually a survivor of Auschwitz, who had hidden her faith for fear of further persecution.
Life as Szegedi knew it, was over.
Lengthy, painful and soul-searching conversations with his mother and grandmother revealed not only their Jewish identity, but also his own. Suddenly, the very religion he had despised for over 3 decades had become an undeniable part of his inner life.
Although Jobbik considered retaining Szegedi as the party’s “tame Jew” in order to combat accusations about their anti-Semitic ideology, Szegedi was eventually forced to quit.
Horrified and angry, with his political career in tatters, Szegedi realized he needed to begin searching for his roots and heritage.
Unsure of how to navigate his new identity, Szegedi approached Rabbi Baruch Oberlander, Chabad’s Head Shliach in Hungary and leader of the Orthodox Jewish community in Budapest.
Together, the two most unlikely of allies embarked upon a journey to confront Szegedi’s dark past and reflect on his new future. The journey is chronicled in a new documentary film titled “Keep Quiet.”
Directed by Sam Blair and Joseph Martin, the film charts Szegedi’s 3-year voyage of self-discovery as Rabbi Oberlander guides him from the depths of personal turmoil and crisis, to the possibility of hope.
“Csanad is inherently an interesting character, but the moment we saw him with Rabbi Oberlander we knew we had gold,” says Martin, who has produced films for England’s Channel 4.
Rabbi Oberlander told the filmmakers that his guiding ethos is simple: He believes it his ethical duty to embrace every Jew regardless of their past.
Enabled by Chabad’s acceptance, Szegedi re-evaluates, and is forced to tackle, the painful truths of his familial legacy, his own wrongdoing and the turbulent history of his country.
“Rabbi Oberlander is a wise-cracking New York Rabbi with a big heart and a lot of wisdom,” Matrin says. “He was always tough on Csanád, never shying away from correcting him or pointing out his mistakes. It meant every scene between them had an element of conflict, which helped the storytelling. Furthermore, their odd couple friendship developed and was a great narrative device to chart Csanad’s growth.”
His colleague Blair points out: “As the film shows, not everyone in the Jewish community agrees with Rabbi Oberlander’s decision to take Csanad under his wing.”
But Matrin says he hopes Rabbi Oberlander will be “seen in the context of his own story: the son of Hungarian Holocaust survivors who escaped to New York, now returned to Hungary to help heal the community his parents fled in such a fractured state.”
Szegedi is now a practicing Orthodox Jew. He observes Shabbos, attends synagogue, is studying Hebrew and is trying to familiarise himself with Mitzvos. He has adopted the Hebrew name Dovid and is even considering making Aliyah to Israel.
The 93 minutes movie was shot in Hungarian and English and was an “Official Selection” at the Tribeca Film Festival.
George Robinson of the New York Jewish Week called the movie “a superb piece of nonfiction filmmaking, telling a story of import with grace and intelligence.”