The recent revelation that a leading far-right, anti-Semitic Hungarian politician is actually of Jewish origin again brings to light the fact that many neo-Nazis and other fascists are deeply ensnared in a crippling, lifelong struggle with dealing who and what they are.
Csanad Szegedi, a leader of Hungary’s far-right Jobbik party and also a member of the European Parliament, admitted on Monday that he is Jewish.
It was even revealed that his grandmother, Magoldna Klein, was a Jewish Holocaust survivor.
While Jobbik denied that it has an anti-Semitic ideology, both the party and Szegedi have frequently vilified Jews – as well as Roma (Gypsies) -- in their public utterances over the years.
In a bizarre interview with the press, Szegedi tried to downplay the revelation by declaring: I think that what counts is not to know who is a pure race Hungarian, the important thing is the way one behaves as a Hungarian. To be Hungarian for me has always been a responsibility [towards my country], that has nothing to do with racial supremacy.
Jews have had a long, illustrious (and ultimately tragic) history in Hungary -- today, there are about 100,000 Jews left in the country, mostly concentrated in Budapest, down from an estimated 850,000 in 1941, just prior to World War II.
Hungarian Jews have frequently been attacked by nationalists and skinheads, among others. It is inconceivable that Szegedi did not know of his Jewish ancestry all of his life.
However, given the anti-Semitic environment in Hungary, Szegedi may have realized that it was best to hide his Jewish origins and camouflage himself by becoming a prominent member of a far-right political organization like Jobbik. In the coming weeks and months, we may learn why he concealed his ancestry for so long – out of self-hatred or political expediency?
It will also be interesting to see how his Jobbik comrades deal with this news.
Still, such phenomena are not that unusual in the milieu of Europe’s extreme right wing.
Szegedi’s saga reminded me of the bizarre story of an Englishman named Martin Webster, who was one of the most high-profile members of the National Front, the anti-immigration, anti-Semitic, and anti-gay neo Nazi group in Britain that reached the zenith of its power in the late 1970s.
Webster is gay -- a reality that ultimately led to his expulsion from the NF by around 1983. To make matters even more interesting, in 1999, he told British media that he had engaged in a long-term homosexual relationship with Nick Griffin, the man who had by then taken over leadership of the NF’s ideological successor, the British National Party.
Griffin has denied the allegations, spewing the BNP’s official party line that homosexuality is vile (although he admitted that Webster had propositioned him for sex when he was a teenager).
He also said he was in “shock” over Webster’s behavior, given that the NF advocated the persecution of gays.
However, there has long existed a bizarre link between homosexuality and far-right political parties which purportedly espoused an anti-gay stance. Ernst Rohm, the founder of the Nazi Party’s Sturmabteilung (SA) Brownshirt paramilitary wing, was himself a promiscuous and predatory homosexual, while rumors about Adolf Hitler’s true sexual orientation have been debated by scholars and psychiatrists for decades.
Such behavior is also to be found in American political circles, where a number of conservative Republican lawmakers who pushed for anti-gay legislation were revealed to be secretly gay themselves. Idaho Sen. Larry Craig (who was arrested for lewd conduct in a men’s room at the airport in Minneapolis in 2007) is perhaps the most well known.
As for the Hungarian Szegedi, his case harkens back to the tragic story of Daniel Burros, a member of the American Nazi Party and the Ku Klux Klan who committed suicide in 1965 after the New York Times reported on his Jewish ancestry. He was only 28 years old and had a history of mental illness and behavioral disorders.
Burros was the grandson of Russian Jews, attended Hebrew school in his native Queens, N.Y., and even had a bar mitzvah. At some point during his adolescence, his fascination with World War II, the German military and Adolf Hitler metamorphosed into an all-consuming obsession with Nazism and an urge to join the 1960 variant of Nazism -- and a desire to completely eradicate his true identity and background.
Palash has worked as a business journalist for 21 years in New York.