Csanad Szegedi’s 2009 election to the European Parliament was an unexpected boon to Hungary’s Jobbik Party. An avowed anti-Semite and fascist, Szegedi was a rising young star of Hungary’s far right who stepped up as Jobbik’s second-in-command when he was just 26 years old. But by 2012, Szegedi’s life was thrown into disarray after a political foe exposed his Jewish roots. Unbeknownst to Szegedi, his beloved grandmother was a survivor of Auschwitz. “[The revelation] was like a dagger through my heart,” he says.

Keep Quiet,” a measured, considered documentary, tells Szegedi’s story through a series of interviews and close observations. As Szegedi describes it, he was a virulent anti-Semite and an avowed Holocaust denier who was suddenly faced with becoming the very Jew he had always despised. To the credit of co-directors Joseph Martin and Sam Blair, the film never calls attention to itself or boasts how truth can be stranger than fiction. Szegedi is a complicated character, immediately a compelling, articulate, even charming subject who, in a relatively short time, does an about-face when he becomes a practicing Orthodox Jew.


In literature, Szegedi would be an unreliable narrator. For all his well-intentioned Jewish observance, he doesn’t come to Judaism easily or inspired. In one of the film’s first scenes, the camera follows him on a trip to Auschwitz with a survivor, Eva Neumann. On the train ride, he spews the classic canards of Holocaust denial, blustering that the Holocaust was just another act of war the Jews brought upon themselves; Jews were unpatriotic, refusing to assimilate into Hungarian society and unwilling to pledge loyalty to the country. Once Szegedi reaches Auschwitz, he softens his stance, clearly overcome. Later in the film, his grandmother tells him she witnessed Jews going to the gas chambers singing the Shema—Judaism’s central prayer—loudly and in unison.

The centerpiece of the documentary is the series of interviews Szegedi conducts with his mother and maternal grandmother. An aura of sadness stays with them; these women have clearly lived in a society where anti-Semitism is endemic and have chosen not to disclose their Jewish identities. In the film’s most moving scene, Szegedi’s grandmother, whose maiden name was Klein, reveals the number the Nazis tattooed on her arm—a number she had kept hidden for so many years under long-sleeved blouses. She also gives the film its resonant title; when Szegedi asks her how to survive as a Jew in contemporary Hungary, she replies matter-of-factly, “Keep quiet.”

Rabbi Boruch Oberlander, a New York transplant and Lubavitch Hasid who leads Budapest’s small Orthodox Jewish community, immediately welcomes Szegedi to his synagogue. Oberlander not only forgives Szegedi for his transgressions, he also mentors him. The rabbi proves to be the film’s conscience, as well as another complex character. Is he naïve? Or is he supremely optimistic that Szegedi is capable of truly repenting? Oberlander believes in giving every Jew the benefit of the doubt. But the question that lingers throughout “Keep Quiet” is whether Szegedi is a man who is simply channeling his extremist propensities into practicing Orthodox Judaism. After all, Szegedi never willingly renounced his racism; he was pushed out of Jobbik and then forced to confront his Jewish identity.

In the latter part of the film, Szegedi does his best to convince everyone around him that his teshuva—atonement—is sincere and deeply felt. He goes public in an address to a Jewish Youth Congress meeting in Germany, which is met with skepticism and even anger. One young woman tells him that he and his former comrades are the reason she could not be a Jew in Hungary and had to leave.

In a truncated trip to Canada—immigration officials ordered him to leave the country 24 hours after he landed because of his checkered past—he videotapes his speech for a group of survivors in Montreal. But this gathering is having none of Szegedi’s remorse; to them he is a wolf in sheep’s clothing. Rabbi Oberlander, who represents Szegedi at the meeting, fields questions about his motives. One survivor calls Szegedi a Nazi, to which Oberlander good-naturedly answers, “Yes, but he’s my kind of Nazi.”

Oberlander’s cheeky reply captures the film’s many contradictions. While the intent is not to be controversial, Szegedi’s story has a surreal quality throughout the 90-minute documentary. By the end, one might very well side with Rabbi Oberlander and feel charitable toward Szegedi. But Szegedi himself conveys the genius of this film when, in its last moments, he confesses that he is not sure he’ll stay with his newfound Judaism. It’s a devastating revelation, yet also a moment of pure truth that won’t surprise many viewers.

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