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
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
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.
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.”