When Rabbi Jacques Cukierkorn and I were in Poland in 2007 doing interviews for our book, They Were Just People: Stories of Rescue in Poland During the Holocaust, we encountered a man who was working his way to the dark side, though at the time we didn't know it.
Later, however, we heard from the good folks who had helped us find this man and set up the interview that he had become a convert to antisemitism, possibly through the influnce of Radio Maryja, a radio station in Poland that spews antisemitic trash.
How sad, we thought.
Now, however, I have just read of a Hungarian man who has moved in the opposite direction. Indeed, he seems to have gone from being a leader of an antisemitic political party there, Jobbik, to being an observant Jew.
A friend alerted me to a piece about Csanad Szegedi (pictured here) in the current issue of The New Yorker. You can find that story here, though you may not be able to read it all unless you're a subscriber. But I found this piece in Haaretz that tells very much the same story.
Szegedi's discovery that he himself has Jewish roots seems to have given him new eyes. Some time will have to pass, of course, before it's clear that this transformation is real and permanent, but it's so far a fascinating tale of how religious bigotry can be kneecapped by personal experience.
When Jacques and I were in Poland we also spoke with a woman who helped to save Jews and who only in recent years learned that she herself is Jewish *though her story didn't make it into our book). That revelation didn't change her view of Jews, but it did come as something of a shock to her, though she fully embraced her Jewish heritage and formally converted from Christianity to Judaism.
The antisemites that Szegedi helped to lead in Hungary, however, continue their campaign against Jews in Hungary, and it's clear that what historian Robert Michael, in his book of the title, called Holy Hatred is a disease that has yet to heal.
* * *
WEEPING FOR THE EXECUTIONER
As a Missourian, I feel deep shame today to be a citizen of the state that yesterday executed white supremacist and serial killer Joseph Paul Franklin. The death penalty drags the state down to the level of the vilest criminal, which Franklin certainly was. Death ends Franklin's deserved punishment and removes any possibility -- however unlikely -- of his rehabilitation. The U.S. is among the last of the developed nations to keep capital punishment, and it demeans our whole society.
* * *
P.S.: My latest Presbyterian Outlook column now is online. To read it, click here.