Directors Sam Blair and Joseph Martin masterfully depict the three year journey of former far-right Hungarian extremist, Csanad Szegedi, as he attempts to reconcile his anti-Semitic past with the discovery that he is not only Jewish, but the grandson of a Holocaust survivor. (EML: 4.5/5)
Review by FF2 Associate Eliana M. Levenson
Keep Quiet begins by introducing the Hungarian political climate in the early 2000s. Impoverished, desperate for change, and with immense distrust of the establishment, the Hungarian public flocked to the far-right extremist parties that promised change. One such party, Jobbik, fueled by the fear of the racist and anti-Semitic, by the desperation of the poor, and the determination of the militant, grew in its popularity and eventually won a place in Hungary’s Parliament. Amongst the heads of this party stood Csanad Szegedi, a man who stood proud behind the values of his party, including blatant anti-Semitism and Holocaust Denial.
Raised as a nationalist, Szegedi saw no issue with pushing a Hungarian first agenda and saw the Jews as “other” not tied to a national identity. He admits that the formation of the Hungarian Guard, which claimed to be purely aimed at mobilizing and empowering the people, was also a fear tactic to inspire those unsure of Jobbik to fall into line. A Nazi-adjacent party in the 21st century, Jobbik carried similar sentiments and utilized Hungary’s already anti-Semitic nature to scapegoat the Jews once again. But, when Szegedi is confronted by a political rival about proof of his Jewish heritage, he is forced to confront the possibility that everything he has fought for and stood for with the Jobbik party is not only incorrect, but self-harming.
After confronting his grandmother about her Jewish heritage and learning that she was a survivor of Auschwitz, Szegedi begins a journey to understand his Jewish self and disprove his own anti-Semitic beliefs. Led by Rabbi Boruch Oberlander, Szegedi attempts to understand himself as a Jew and combat his deep rooted feelings of Jewish inferiority and Jewish otherness.
Though Rabbi Oberlander and Szegedi meet with resistance from the Jewish community, they push forward on their journey. Rabbi Oberlander remains committed to Szegedi’s honesty in his transformation and the Jewish concept of “t’shuvah” or taking responsibility for your mistakes in order to find redemption. Over the course of the film, Szegedi struggles to achieve this “t’shuvah” and to truly come to understand, not only what it means to be Jewish, but the damage he had caused to the Jewish people during his time in Jobbik.
As a documentary, Keep Quiet strikes that delicate balance between informative and entertaining, providing the audience with enough information to understand Szegedi’s past and his reformative journey, without making the film feel like a biographical lecture. Perhaps the film’s greatest strength lies in its rawness, and Szegedi’s willingness to interview his own family members about their relationship to their Jewish identity and his involvement in the Jobbik party.
Hearing Szegedi’s grandmother’s assuredness that the Holocaust will happen again, and watching Eva “Bobby” Neumann, another survivor, explain the shame she felt returning and the silence she kept for fifty years because of it, sends chills down the spine. The clarity with which both women speak about their experiences during and following the Holocaust, cut against Szegedi’s disbelief that things could truly have been and continue to be so terrible, allows for a refreshing dialogue about the Jewish experience and those that deny it. In these interactions, Szegedi represents the anti-Semitic arguments and his grandmother and Bobby represent the reality that disproves these supposed anti-Semitic truths.
Overall, Keep Quiet succeeds not only in its storytelling, but in its ability to raise questions to be debated long after the credits have rolled. Through Szegedi, there is the question of redemption, if it can be earned by everyone or if it is even deserved by everyone. Through his grandmother, there is the question of what does it mean to be Jewish and a survivor, and do our survivor’s have a responsibility to remain proud of the heritage, even in the face of horrors, to stand up against anti-Semitism. Whether Szegedi himself is genuine in his desire to reform or not, Keep Quiet transcends his personal journey to force the audience to look at the bigger picture of what it means to be a post-Holocaust Hungarian Jew and the responsibility Jews have to stand proud in order to prevent a second Holocaust.
© Eliana M. Levenson (1/27/16) FF2 Media
Top Photo: A poster for the award-winning documentary, Keep Quiet.
Middle Photo: A close-up of Szegedi, the anti-Semitic right wing fanatic turned Orthodox Jew.
Bottom Photo: Szegedi & Rabbi Oberlander studying together with Szegedi wearing a tallit and tefillin.
Photo Credits: Kino Lorber