DESTROYED JEWISH COMMUNITY: Rechnitz

Development

Rechnitz was the largest and most important Jewish community in what is today Southern Burgenland. Evidence of the Jewish families in Rechnitz can be found in a lease document belonging to the Baumkirchner family from Schlaininger before 1527.

The Jewish community was founded in Rechnitz in the second half of the 17th century under leadership of the Batthyány family. In a letter of protection, which Adam Batthyány issues to the 36 Jews located in Rechnitz in 1687, an agreement is mentioned, which Adam’s father Christoph made with the Jews in 1673. The Rechnitz community was probably formed shortly before this time.

The Rechnitz Jews came partly from Italy, probably Venice, while others were Sephardic, thus of Spanish descent. Connections to the Apennine peninsula are verifiable until the second half of the 18th century.

In 1676, 42 families were counted in the Jewish community in Rechnitz; in 1727 there were already 160 families. Sources from this time speak only of families or houses, which is why the number of individuals is unknown. In 1753, 323 persons are named. In 1850 the Jewish community reached its peak with 850 members. Following industrialization as well as the relocation of the military garrison, which was formerly located in Rechnitz, the financial situation deteriorated; many Jews immigrated to larger cities, such as Budapest, Szombathely and Vienna, and overseas.
By 1900 only 311 Jews lived in the community; in 1934 - only 170.

Jewish Life

The Rechnitz Jews were predominantly merchants and craftsmen. 10% of the fulltime farmers in Rechnitz were Jewish. The Jews mostly lived in town center on Herrengasse, Judengasse, Klostergasse and Anzengrubergasse.

The Jewish community in Rechnitz developed into an intellectual center of Jewish culture and acquired a meaningful reputation. Internationally known Rabbis and scholars came to Rechnitz to study. It is noteworthy how widely scattered members of the Rechnitz community were. According to a 1749 census, Jews from Rechnitz lived in 45 different provinces of Eisenburg, Zala, Somogy and Wesprim.

The fully developed community consisted of a Synagogue, a school and a cemetery and the functionaries which went along with them (Rabbis, schoolmasters, cantors, judges, shochet). In the second half of the 19th century the Jewish community in Rechnitz turned to Reform Judaism.
From 1854-1869 Dr. Mayer Zipser served as Rabbi in Rechnitz. He was one of the first heads of Hungarian Reform Judaism and one of the most famous Jewish scholars of his day.

“... The marriage of my Catholic father to my Jewish mother was an isolated incident in Rechnitz. I cannot remember, from the talk and stories of my parents or grandparents, that this would ever happen in Rechnitz. During the various dances in the Rechnitz clubs Jews and Christians had close contact with one another; Jews were integrated in these clubs. … There were a couple Jewish girls who went out with Christian boys. But there were no ‘mixed marriages’. …

Jews and Christians lived next to one another on Judengasse, Herrengasse, Hochstraße and Hauptplatz. There were close neighbor relationships. The neighbors of the other faith attended weddings, including the church services and feast. The Rechnitz Jews adapted to the majority of the population. They weren’t strictly religious, because during Shabbat (Saturday) children went to school and the adults had their shops open. They
didn’t really have another choice. In order to follow their religion’s commandments and also maintain their shops, almost every Jewish family had hired help, mainly on Saturdays. Christian women and girls were happy to take this offer, as they were rewarded with sugar or other groceries.”

Source: Temmel Johann, Die jüdische Gemeinde in Rechnitz, in: Gombos, Gruber, Teuschler (Hrsg.), "... und da sind sie auf einmal dagewesen." Zur Situation von Flüchtlingen in Österreich. Beispiel Rechnitz,  Oberwart 1992.

1938

Only a few days after the annexation (of Austria by Nazi Germany), representatives of the Nazi party were sent to monitor the businesses of the Rechnitz Jews, initially to control the course of business, and later to take over the shops. Some Rechnitz Jews fled to Vienna in order to pursue emigration. Those who did not succeed in securing a departure were deported to concentration camps.

Of the Jews who remained in Rechnitz, 43 were brought to the Yugoslavian border in April 1938. They were refused entry to Yugoslavia and had to be housed in a barn in no man’s land. In June 1938, with the intervention of an international relief organization, the Rechnitz Jews were granted entry. Little is known about their fate thereafter. After Hitler marched into Yugoslavia many were murdered, while some were able to flee to Palestine, China or overseas.

By 1938 the last two Jews had left Rechnitz: Betti Dröszler-Weiss, who was married to a Catholic and had converted, and the community doctor Dr. Hugo Graner.

The Jewish property was arianized. The cultural community’s assets were taken over by the political community, the Synagogue was converted into a youth hostel, the school into a kindergarten, and the cantor’s apartment became the office for consultation for mothers. The cemetery was frequently plundered.

Source: Gemeinde Rechnitz

Returned after 1945:

The Blau family
Leo Blau, his mother and sister Riza, who took her husband’s name Rechnitzer, returned to Rechnitz. Leo Blau carried on the mixed wares shop, which once belonged to his uncle Viktor Engel, who was murdered. Mrs. Blau died a few years later, followed by her son Leo Blau. Riza Rechnitzer lived in Rechnitz until her death in 1989.

Visible traces today

Cemetery
School
Memorial plaque on the former Synagogue
Judengasse

Memorial plaque for Gustav Pick

The creator of the famous ‘Viennese Fiaker Song’ Gustav Pick was born in Rechnitz in Schlossberggasse 2 (today Gasthof Cserer) in 1832. Today the plaque recalls Gustav Pick’s birth house.

Memorial stone for the victims of National Socialism

On November 2, 1991, a memorial stone was unveiled in Schlosspark for the victims of the Kreuzstadl Massacres from March 1945 and for the four Rechnitz resistance fighters.

 

 

 

 

 

Kreuzstadl Memorial

In March 1945 near Kreuzstadl, around 180 Hungarian-Jewish forced laborers were murdered. The organization R.E.F.U.G.I.U.S. - Rechnitz refugee and memorial initiative and foundation- campaigned to preserve the southeastern wall of Kreuzstadl as a memorial for all the victims.

 

See: http://www.refugius.at/hp/mahnmal

 

 

Synagoge

The existence of a Synagogue or house of prayer can be traced back to 1649. In 1707 the Rechnitz Jewish community bought the synagogue from the Batthyány family, who had built it. On this site in 1718 a new baroque building with 400 seats was constructed. The location of the Synagogue is worth noting: isolated on a hill, across from the Catholic church. In 1834 the Synagogue was expanded again and was renovated in 1864. Valuable ritual objects, such as an antique silver goblet, a silver Torah crown, a Torah tapestry from the year 1649, and Torah plaques from the 17th and 18th centuries, are testaments to the importance of the community.

The Nazis converted the Synagogue into a youth hostel. After the war the building was purchased from the community and was used as a fire station, with apartments on the second floor. Today the building houses apartments and a doctor’s office.

 

In 1990 the community decided to install a memorial plaque on the building, although it wasn’t until November 1991 that it was unveiled.

 

The cemetery

In 1682 the Jewish cemetery in Rechnitz was constructed and was expanded several times. With the last purchase of land in 1827, a stonewall was erected around the cemetery. During the Nazi years it was plundered and destroyed on several occasions.

In 1988 the cemetery was restored by the Israelite Culture Community. In the 1990’s the cemetery was again desecrated.

 

 

 

School

The Israelite School was set up by Director Salomon Pollak in 1847 and at the time had two other teachers. In 1864, 50 boys and 42 girls attended the first three grades. In 1900 a school with two classrooms was built thanks to support from the government. In 1914 only 39 students attended the school. In 1920 the last Jewish teacher, Fessler, left Rechnitz and moved to Central Hungary. Catholic teacher Margarethe Kraxner taught here until 1923 when the school was closed due to lack of students.

The building was used as a public elementary school until the early 1970’s. Today the site houses Rechnitz’ public works department.

by Johannes Scholem Graf
Helped in editing: Yohanan Loeffler

2011.05.03