RICHARD BERCZELLER

Richard Berczeller was born on February 4th 1902 in Sopron/ Ödenburg, where he lived until 1919. He graduated in Sopron but had to leave Hungary with his family after the fall of the Hungarian Soviet Republic in August 1919. The family relocated first to Wiener Neustadt and then to Sauerbrunn in Burgenland.

His father, Adolf Berczeller, who had been active in the Hungarian Social Democratic Party, joined the effort to assemble a new administration for the new Austrian state. He organized health insurance funds in Burgenland and served as a director of the Burgenland National Health Insurance Fund and vice president of the Burgenland Chamber of Employment.

Richard Berczeller began his studies in medicine at the University of Vienna in the winter semester of 1920/21. His most influential teacher was Julius Tandler, scientist, anatomist and, since 1920, a city counselor for social services in Vienna. His Motto: “Every member of society has a right for assistance, and the society has a duty to afford it” shaped Berczeller’s life.

After his graduation in 1926, Richard Berczeller relocated to Mattersburg in 1930, to work as a medical practitioner. He married at the same year and a year later his son Peter Hanns was born.

Richard Berczeller’s patients were workers and farmers, Christians and Jews; they came from all classes. He gave particular attention to preventative and psychosomatic medicine.

After the events of February 1934 he joined the illegal ‘Revolutionary Socialists’, whose main goals were the battle against Austrian fascism and the advocacy of the ideals and goals of the social democratic worker’s movement.

After the ‘Anschluss‘, in March 1938, Berczeller was arrested along with the Mattersburg Jews. He was released only on the condition that he leaves the country immediately. The Berczeller family left Vienna to France and in 1941 to Ivory Coast, and finally landed in the USA. In New York he set up a new medical practice. In the 1960s Berczeller began to write. His short stories were published in the ‘New Yorker’ magazine; he wrote several books, including two autobiographies.

Until the end Richard Berczeller asked himself if he had been right not to return to Austria, specifically to Burgenland. Immediately after WWII politicians in Burgenland considered offering Berczeller a position in the Burgenland health care policy. He was thus counted among the few who were officially invited back to Austria after 1945. However he decided to stay in the USA. He retained his interest in Austria and particularly in Burgenland for his entire life. Proofs of this are his numerous visits and extensive correspondence with people from all political backgrounds.

In the last years of his life he was repeatedly decorated with honors from the state of Burgenland as well as the Austrian Republic. Richard Berczeller passed away on January 3, 1994 in New York.

Source: Horvath/ Snowdon-Prötsch (Hrsg.), Richard Berczeller 1902-1994, Mattersburg 1996.

 

A letter from Richard Berczeller to the project team, on the occasion of the exhibition and presentation project: ‘Destroyed Jewish Communities in Burgenland - A securing of evidence’ from 3.4- 6.23.1993.

As one of the last survivors, Richard Berczeller was asked by the project team in 1993, to take over the patronage of the project ‘Destroyed Jewish Communities in Burgenland- A securing of evidence’. His answer was read at the opening of the exhibition:

“Ladies and Gentlemen!

I am very pleased by your invitation, to take over the patronage for the exhibition about the Jewish communities.

... It was on March 11, 1938, - a date those who experienced it can never forget. It was around evening, as I returned to my office in Mattersburg from Forchtenau, where I made home visits. We sat eating supper, the radio played music, after a sudden silence the voice of Federal Chancellor Schuschnigg followed: ‘God be with you, my Austria’ followed by the Horst-Wessel song (The Nazi Party anthem). I went to my office and took my passport and a few shillings out of my desk drawer, which I already had ready, should it come to an ‘Anschluss’. I said good-bye to my family and ran to the train station. There were waiting two gendarmes with swastika armbands. Both were patients of mine. One of them said: "I am sorry, Doctor, but I have an order to arrest you". They brought me to the district court, to a cell, where already were a few Jews. After I was held there in atrocious conditions, I was released with a warning that I must be available at any time. I went to Vienna under the supervision of two SS men. It didn’t take long for me to get a visa to France, which I got through the intervention of Anna Freud and Princess Marie Bonaparte. So began my life abroad.

I first saw Mattersburg again after the war, when I came for the first time from America to Austria. It would take much too long to tell what happened during all these years in between.

... I never lost my connection to Austria. I was one of a few to be called back after the war. However I couldn’t accept the invitation. My son had been in a dozen different schools and didn’t want to have to start over again in, for him, a foreign country, in a foreign language. My wife, who had not yet recovered from the experience of being thrown out of our own apartment when I sat in prison after the ‘Annexation’, also did not want to return.
However I travelled to Austria. Despite the Russian occupation and many difficulties, I had the feeling I was home. My first path led me to Mattersburg.
I can remember, as I went from the train station into the city, where I found a lawn instead of graves. Because it was early in the morning, Mattersburg was deserted. That was actually good, because I could go alone through the sites of my youth as a doctor. On Judengasse, the houses were uninhabited. The old ghetto had disappeared from the ground. I went from one street to another. In a short time I had gone through the entire town, immersed in my thoughts. It made a deep impression on me.
One can only sense a tragedy when one has really experienced it. I saw the Jewish community before me as it once was. During home visits, when I went through Judengasse, men in their caftans and ties on their way to the temple. I heard the singing of Torah students from the school. Students came to Mattersburg from all corners of Europe. I saw the Rabbi as he went to the temple. The Rabbi, who was the head of the Burgenland Jewish communities, died and was buried in New York. All this had disappeared from the surface.
Your presentation carries the responsibility not to forget the Jews in Burgenland, the bearers of culture.

As a Burgenland Jew, one of the last survivors of the lost Judaism, I thank you with my whole heart for your efforts.”

Richard Berczeller

Richard Berczeller with his wife Maria, 1930 in Mattersburg

Richard Berczeller, 1938 in Paris

Book Presentation '... connected with Austria‘, 1975 in Großhöflein

All Picture credits: Horvath/ Snowdon-Prötsch (Hrsg.), Richard Berczeller 1902-1994, Mattersburg 1996.

by Johannes Scholem Graf

2011.03.10