DESTROYED JEWISH COMMUNITY: Mattersdorf (Part 1)

MATTERSDORF -  MATTERSBURG (since 1924)

Development

A legend attributes the founding of the Jewish community Mattersdorf to six Sephardic brothers, who fled Spain at the end of the 15th century. However the founding of a Jewish community didn’t happen until 1527, when displaced Jews from Ödenburg settled in the Forchtenstein County, with Mattersdorf as their principal location.

The further development of the Jewish community was characterized by the constant change from banishment and resettlement, depending upon the particular attitude of the manorial lords.
In 1622 Mattersdorf was acquired by the Esterházy family. This was the beginning of a new chapter in the history of the Mattersdorf Jews, which was mainly marked by a “tolerable relationship between patrons and their charges” (Hodik).

The Mattersdorf Jews were also affected by Kaiser Leopold I’s banishment decree in 1671, although the Jewish community was rebuilt four years later.

In 1694 Count Paul Esterházy issued a letter of protection for the Jewish community Mattersdorf, which was generally accepted by his successors as well. The Jews’ given rights and the related specifications mentioned in the letter laid the foundation for the further development of the Jewish community and ensured the Jews, among other things, political autonomy under institutions (judges and jurors) elected by the Jews themselves, as well as unhindered practice of their religion.

The number of Jewish inhabitants in Mattersdorf drastically increased, particularly in the 18th century. In 1785, 767 Jews already lived in Mattersdorf. One reason for this increase was that in 1739 the Jewish community Neufeld was nullified by manorial lord Paul Esterházy. “The majority of Neufelder Jews found sanctuary in neighboring Mattersdorf”. According to statements from the national topography, in the mid 19th century, around 1500 Jews lived in Mattersdorf. Of course these numbers are rough estimates. At the end of the 19th century, as in all other communities in Burgenland, the number of Jewish inhabitants consistently decreased. While the Jewish community counted 700 Jews in 1883, in 1934 only 511 Jews remained in Mattersburg.

Jewish Life

The community center of Jewish Mattersdorf was in direct proximity to the Wulka stream. In accordance with the Esterházy’s protection ordinances the Jewish community was allowed to build a synagogue and ritual bath as well as accommodate Rabbis, Community and School members, shochet, cantors and gravediggers. Because the Jews were not allowed to own agricultural property, they were mainly involved in business and industry. Judengasse, where food markets were held until 1859, developed into the shopping center of Mattersdorf. Although there were a large number of educated Jews, the majority of the Jewish community was made up of low income families.

The autonomy allowed by the Esterházys afforded independent communal life in the Jewish community and saw to it that Jewish culture and identity were properly preserved until 1938.

The Jewish community Mattersdorf established an autonomous political community beginning in 1871. In 1903 the Jewish community was politically united with the market township Mattersburg and, until 1938, represented their communities in the town council. Yet even after this political incorporation the Jewish community, as a cultural community, maintained a high degree of autonomy. They had their own school and various establishments, which allowed for an autonomous communal life. In the ‘Burgenland Address Book’ the following charitable organizations appeared: the ‘Etz Chaim’ Society (‘Tree of Life)’, the ‘Chevra Kadischa’ Society, as well as the ‘Society of Israelite volunteer Firemen’. This private fire department was an anomaly within the Jewish communities in Burgenland:

“A peculiar procession appeared in front of my home: a dozen Jewish firemen in uniform. Although the Jewish community was an integrated part of the city, this Jewish fire department had maintained its medieval autonomy. This fire department was pleased to have the best reputation among Jews as well as gentiles. When a fire broke out in a remote location, one could be sure that the Jewish fire department would be there first. I was only informed that I was elected president of the fire department during a special meeting. I thanked them for the honor, but said my knowledge of fire fighting, to say it mildly, was inadequate. They reassured me that no special knowledge whatsoever was necessary. I agreed and thought to myself, it is only an honorary position. – Two weeks later I was awoken at midnight by loud voices. As I looked out the window, I saw the firemen standing around their truck. ‘Hurry up, Herr Doctor!’ they called. ‘There’s a fire in Antau!’ In the twinkling of an eye a helmet was pressed onto my head and I was dressed in a fireman’s jacket. I put on the boots in the fire truck. The Jewish firefighters were the first to arrive in Antau”.

Source: Berczeller Richard, Verweht, Eisenstadt 1983

1938

With the annexation of Austria to the German Reich, within a few months the Mattersburg Jews were displaced, expatriated and ousted. Already in September 1938 NS Mayor Franz Giefing hung a white flag on the synagogue, to show all the Jews were run out of Mattersburg. On October 8, 1938, the Kleine Volks-Zeitung reported the event with the headline “Mattersburg Jew-free – White flag on the former temple”:
“At the end of the last month the last Jews left Mattersburg. The area infamous for being home to the 530 Jews is thus completely Jew-free. As a sign of salvation from the Jew-plague the mayor, accompanied by jubilant crowds, had a white flag hung on the former Jewish temple. The Jewish quarter will be dismantled sooner or later. Instead of the wretched ‘Wanzenburgen’ new buildings and parkways will be built.”

Source: Kleine Volks-Zeitung, Nr. 277 des 84. Jg., Nr. 29984,

Some of the Mattersburger Jews could immigrate; others were registered in the transport lists in Vienna and sent to concentration camps. Around 100 Mattersburg Jewish men, women and children perished in the Nazi regimes’ concentration and extermination camps
In Yad Vashem memorial website there are 330 names of victims born in Mattersburg and 173 names of victims who lived in Mattersburg before the Holocaust.

Mattersburg Jews detained in the county court
Photo: Gemeindearchiv Mattersburg

Few people returned after 1945.

Among them Dr. Ernst Brandl.

Traces visible today:

* Cemetary
* Judengasse
* Monument in memory of the former synagogue


* Commemorative plaque for Richard Berczeller
A commemorative plaque on Hauptplatz 2 recalls the memory of Richard Berczeller. Dr. Richard Berczeller, born in 1902 in Ödenburg, was a practicing doctor in Mattersburg between 1930 and 1938 and lived with his family on Hauptplatz 2. He died in 1994 as an immigrant in New York. Besides his career as a doctor he was also an active writer.

Picture credit: Horvath/ Snowdon-Prötsch (Ed.), Richard Berczeller 1902-1994, Mattersburg 1996

* Kiryat Mattersdorf

The last Rabbi from Mattersburg, Samuel Ehrenfeld, founded the community ‘Kiryat Mattersdorf’ in New York after 1945. His son then founded the settlement ‘Kiryat Mattersdorf’ in Jerusalem in the 1960’s. Thus the tradition of the Burgenland Jewish community was carried forward and, for many Jews displaced from Burgenland, a new home with old and familiar ways of life was created.


* Rabbi Akiva Ehrenfeld


Son of the last Rabbi from Mattersburg, in the Jerusalem community ‘Kiryat Mattersdorf’.
Foto: Gertraud Tometich (2001)
 

 

 

* Synagogue

The synagogue was supposedly built at the beginning of the 16th century and was in the vicinity of the Wulka stream. Due to construction in the 19th century it lost its earlier appearance.

Foto: Gemeindearchiv Mattersburg

 

 

 

 

 

In 1940 the synagogue was destroyed by the Nazis. Valuable ritual objects in the synagogue, among them a Torah plaque and Torah drape made of velvet and brocade from the year 1492, were plundered.

Foto: Gemeindearchiv Mattersburg

 


 

 

For a long time a commemorative plaque on the Wulka with the following text referred to the former synagogue: “The Israeli temple of Mattersburg stood here. It was destroyed by Nazi barbarians during Kristallnacht. Israeli Culture Community Vienna.” (Paul)


Actually the synagogue stood 50 meters away from the denoted spot and was not destroyed during the ‘Kristallnacht’ on November 9, 1938, but rather was blown up by a company of soldiers in September 1940
In the meantime this commemorate plaque was replaced with a memorial stone.

Foto: Christine Teuschler (1993)

Foto: Wolfgang R. Kubizek (2002)

 

 

* The cemetery

The cemetery, over 20,000 m², lies at the crossroads between Bahnstraße and Wedekindgasse. In the letter of protection from 1694 the Jews were given a lot of land for the cemetery, which was later twice expanded. The cemetery was also used as a burial site for Jews from Wiener Neustadt.

The Jewish cemetery in Mattersburg was completely destroyed by the Nazis. Then, a memorial was built in the middle of the cemetery out of the meager remaining gravestones. Additionally 150 gravestones from the Schalom society were donated, in order to give the area the character of a cemetery, and to prevent the cemetery area from being ‘misused’ as a playground.

Foto: Gemeindearchiv Mattersburg

Part 2

by Johannes Scholem Graf
Edited 19/2/11 Yohanan Loeffler and Leah Kaminsky

2011.02.20