Film Review: Keep Quiet

Fascinating if somewhat suspect U.K./Hungarian doc follows the journey of a former Hungarian right-wing extremist politician who becomes an Orthodox Jew after discovering his Jewish roots.
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Joseph Martin and Sam Blair’s Keep Quiet is the riveting “Believe it or not” story of the once-outspoken young anti-Semite and Holocaust denier Csanád Szegedi, who was not only co-founder and vice-president of Jobbik, Hungary’s far-right extremist party, but became a member of the European Parliament on its platform. Previously, in 2007, he also helped found the now-outlawed Hungarian Guard, which was inspired by the Arrow Cross, Hungary’s notorious militia-like World War II pro-Nazi party which was complicit in the murder of thousands of Jews during the war and in a country with a well-known history of anti-Semitism.

But a big change was triggered in Szegedi’s life in 2010 when a fellow Jobbik party member, a resentful farmer who emitted a taste for troublemaking, confronted Szegedi in a phone call that he recorded revealing that the young firebrand politician had maternal Jewish grandparents and that his beloved grandmother was even an Auschwitz survivor. That such lineage is through Szegedi’s mother and that, by Jewish law, that makes him Jewish is the clincher. The rumors spread and Szegedi admits he became devastated, desperate and completely lost.

Leading up to this twist is Szegedi in the present, speaking to the camera and explaining his extremism. There’s also considerable and damning archival material, including Szegedi seated in Parliament and his outspoken, anti-Semitic activism.

That he is actually Jewish shakes him to the spiritual core. After being dropped from the Jobbik party, he takes brave steps to learn about his heritage and Hungary’s own shameful treatment of Jews, even to the present. As Szegedi is forced to turn a big corner, several other significant people come to the fore in Keep Quiet. There’s Rabbi Baruch Oberlander, leader of Budapest’s Orthodox Jewish community, whom Szegedi seeks out and who guides him in instruction and conversion. Wise, kindly, open-minded and good-humored, Oberlander, although Hungarian-born, speaks perfect English and is mightily impressive.

Also impactful is Szegedi’s now-deceased Jewish grandmother, who for the first time shows him the Auschwitz numbers burnt into the arm that she always hid. She also shares stories of her horrors at the camp and how and why she also hid the family’s Jewish past. Others in this amazing story who weigh in significantly are an elderly Jewish camp survivor who accompanies Szegedi on a chilling visit to Auschwitz and, in excruciating detail, shares what transpired there. (Left out is how this woman, who lost her entire family there, managed to survive.) Another person importantly weighing in on Szegedi’s journey is journalist Anne Applebaum.

The doc continues with Szegedi as a newly minted Orthodox Jew traveling to places like Berlin and Montreal to speak at large gatherings regarding his conversion. Because of his extremist past, the Canadian government only allows him a very short stay, so Szegedi must deliver his speech to Montréal’s Jewish community on video.

Importantly, whether speaking directly to the doc camera, to audiences or to intimates, Szegedi comes across as highly articulate, remarkably self-confident, repentant, bright and engaged in his new religious embrace. He’s even quite charismatic at times.

The doc records a number of doubters in the audiences of Jews he addresses, and even some viewers will have their doubts. At the very end, Szegedi himself shares some words to the camera that will provoke further consideration.

Beyond its unique story, Keep Quiet (the two words his grandmother utters to describe what Hungarian Jews had to do) also has special relevance in today’s lying times, when the gift for and compulsion to gab strongly resonate.

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