There are times when fact can appear to be stranger than fiction. The facts about a recent revelation regarding the ancestry of Csanad Szegedi are strange indeed. Szegedi represents Hungary in the European Parliament and is a member of his country’s far right wing Jobbik Party. To fuel his rapid rise to the upper echelon of his party, he has blamed the Jews for problems facing his country. He has claimed that they were “buying up” the country, desecrating national symbols and having undue influence on the affairs of state. Evidently blaming a small group of people or singling out a segment of the population for special derision pays political dividends in countries all over the world.
What is not clear is whether or not Szegedi really believed what he was saying about the Jews. In his heart, did he really hate them or was he just saying what he was saying because he knew that it would play well with the voters he was trying to reach? Politicians do that sort of thing from time to time. Whatever the case may be, the antisemitism of Szegedi and his party is no small matter. This is especially true given the treatment of the Jewish People in Hungary and Eastern Europe in the last century. Nonetheless, Szegedi, who is only 30 years old, has built his young career on such vile and hateful rhetoric.
That is, until the facts got to be stranger than the fiction. Rumors began to surface about Szegedi’s ancestry. Then there was a tape recorded conversation of Szegedi being confronted with the evidence that his grandmother was a Jew and him offering to pay money to suppress that information. Then he gets in trouble not only for being Jewish, but also for trying to bribe someone to keep that knowledge out of the public eye. When he realized that he would not be able to keep the information from the public, he did what any good politician would do. He shared the information with the public.
Can you image what that would be like? In the twinkling of an eye, you are that which you have blamed for all your problems. Just like that, you are that which you have always seen as being the source of your ills. Without any warning, thought or preparation, you are what you, just moments ago, could not tolerate, abide or stomach.
Charles Caleb Colton, 19th century British minister and writer, said, “We hate some persons because we do not know them; and we will not know them because we hate them.” As Szegedi was coming to terms with the new information about his family origins, he had a conversation with his grandmother. A conversation the likes of which they had never had. She told him about what it was like to be deported. She described for him being imprisoned at Dachau and Auschwitz. As he learned about the brutal treatment and the deplorable conditions, he began to understand why it was that his grandmother was the only member of her generation of the family that had survived the atrocities of the concentration camps. He was not only Jewish, but he was descended from a Jew who had endured and survived the very worst of humanity’s inhumanity to humanity.
Now he is changing. He has apologized for anything he said that was offensive to the Jewish People, he has promised to visit Auschwitz to pay his respect and he has visited with a rabbi to discuss his own need to understand what it means to be a Jew. The rabbi is hopeful even while he acknowledges the difficulty and stress of processing such a revelation.
How we see each other makes all the difference. Csanad Szegedi can no longer look at another Jew and see someone who is all that different from himself. When we can look at another person and see someone who is something completely other than what we are, that is the starting point for treating them in less than human ways. If we can look at a race of people as being completely other than what we are, then we can justify their enslavement and their status as second-class citizens. If we can look at a group of people and see nothing that we have in common with them, then we can more easily turn an indifferent eye to the treatment they receive from others and the rights and privileges that they are denied.
We miss out as well when we see another human being as someone completely different from ourselves and not as someone who bears the same image of God in which we have been created. When we look at another and see a human being created and loved by God, then that person can be, just by being a human being, a wonderful gift to us. In sharing life together with those who are not exactly like us, we open ourselves up to the possibility of receiving the unique giftedness possessed by everyone created in the image of God. We impoverish ourselves when we fail or refuse to see one another as a person made by God’s hands and dear to God’s heart.