A week after a leader of Hungary’s far-right Jobbik party called for lists of prominent Jews to be drawn up to protect national security, Janos Fonagy stepped forward.
“My mother and father were Jewish, and so am I, whether you like it or not,” the state secretary of the Development Ministry told parliament, explaining he did not have dual citizenship with Israel and was not religious.
“I cannot choose, I was born into this. But you can choose, and you have chosen this path,” he said, addressing Jobbik deputies. “Bear history’s judgement.”
It is only relatively recently that Hungary’s Jews have celebrated their identity as openly as they did when Europe’s largest synagogue was built in Budapest in the 1850s.
Now they are determined not to allow a political climate in which they have to defend that identity or even suppress it.
More than 500,000 Hungarian Jews were killed in the Holocaust after Hungary sided with the Nazis in World War Two and those left in Budapest were forced into two ghettos.
When the Soviet Red Army moved in and liberated the ghettos in 1945 about 100,000 Jews remained, living reminders of a collaboration with fascism many Hungarians wanted to forget.
“Even 15 years ago, using ‘Jewish’ as a brand required quite some bravery,” said Vera Vadas, the director of the Jewish Summer Festival, launched in 1998. “Now the word just describes our culture and it draws artists and audiences alike.”