BUDAPEST, Hungary (AP) — As a rising star in Hungary's far-right Jobbik Party, Csanad Szegedi was notorious for his incendiary comments on Jews: He accused them of "buying up" the country, railed about the "Jewishness" of the political elite and claimed Jews were desecrating national symbols.
Then came a revelation that knocked him off his perch as ultra-nationalist standard-bearer: Szegedi himself is a Jew.
Following weeks of Internet rumors, Szegedi acknowledged in June that his grandparents on his mother's side were Jews — making him one too under Jewish law, even though he doesn't practice the faith. His grandmother was an Auschwitz survivor and his grandfather a veteran of forced labor camps.Having Jewish ancestors really should not be any great surprise. For centuries, Jews have converted to Christianity in Europe and America for a variety of reasons: getting out from under the legal and social disabilities of being Jews; genuine religious belief; sometimes to keep a mob from killing them.
My earliest ancestors in America named Cramer were likely converts. Cramer is one of those names that is both Jewish and Gentile; the name means "peddler" or "small merchant" in German. The maiden name of my great-great-great-grandmother was Kahn, which is one of the many variants of Cohen and Kahane.
What is sometimes amazing is how many anti-Semites turn out to have Jewish ancestors, like Szegedi, or where there is some serious reason to suspect that this might be the case, like Adolf Hitler. Shortly after the Anschluss that united Austria into Germany, it appears that some of his ancestral records disappeared.
I am distinguishing here between Jewish anti-Semites and those who make bizarre compromises. Saul Friedlander's Nazi Germany and the Jews: The Years of Persecution, 1933-1939 is a very readable account of the early years of Nazi rule, and includes the bizarre example of a Jewish professor of classics who supported the Nazis, even though he thought it would likely be to the detriment of the Jews, because Hitler would do such wonderful things for Germany.