On the history of Mattersdorf

[Please note that much of this was written for a non Jewish audience. It is the copyright of R’ Meir Deutsch, a learned reader and commentator on the pitputim blog. We thank Meir for giving his permission to republish]

Rabbi Akiva Ehrenfeld on left with R' Meir Deutsch
Rabbi Akiva Ehrenfeld on left with R’ Meir Deutsch

Meir Deutsch, of Jerusalem, Israel, is the first to provide such a list… and an unusual list it is! He had a copy of the Mattersdorf Jewish court ruling dividing up, among the Jewish households of Mattersdorf, the “Tolerance Tax” to be paid to Prince Esterházy for the year 1880. You might ask why Meir has such a document… the answer is that Mattersdorf is where his father, Josef, was born, and the Jewish judge who signed the ruling was his great-grandfather, Gottlieb Deutsch.

Mattersdorf now goes by name Mattersburg but, Meir tells me, it consisted of two independent townships in 1880, the Markt and the Judenstadt. It would not be until 1902 that the townships were officially merged and 1924 before the name was changed to Mattersburg.

As for the “Tolerance Tax,” it totaled 2,800 Florins and was levied on Jews only. Meir tells me that it was not a per capita tax; instead, the well-off paid more and the poor paid less. Some property-owners in the Judenstadtactually paid nothing, as the list indicates they were not Jewish and were therefore exempt from the tax. Meir presumes that some Gentiles had businesses located in the Judenstadt, as the Judengasse (the Broadway of Mattersdorf) was the main shopping street in Mattersdorf/Mattersburg. Almost all shops and services for the Markt and the Judenstadt were located there.

My thanks to Meir for sharing the list and the history behind it; we will add it to the House list page after it is fully transcribed.

I’ll also note that Meir had graciously agreed to write an article about Jewish Mattersdorf based on a chapter in his 2008 book, “Yalde Shabat” (see here for an English abstract of the book). That article is scheduled for the next newsletter.

2) JEWISH MATTERSDORF (by Meir Deutsch)

Excerpts from book “Yalde Shabat” (= Shabbat Children), Jerusalem 2008, by Meir Deutsch (the book is in Hebrew)

The township of Mattersdorf (Nagy Marton, in Hungarian) was part of Hungary in the Dual Monarchy. Up to 1902, there were actually two administrations, the Marktand the Judenstadt (= Jewish Town). Each of the two administrations had its own Municipality, Police, Court, Jail and Fire Brigade. The Jewish Fire Brigade continued to function after the union of the two townships, until the Jews were expelled in 1938.

The Jewish community is an old one. On the synagogue, it mentions that it was first built in 1354. In 1496, the Jews were expelled from Mattersdorf but rebuilt the community again in 1527, after they were expelled from Ödenburg. The growth of the community started in 1670, after Leopold I expelled the Jews from Vienna, but this was very short-lived. Just a year later, in 1671, they were expelled again and settled in Moravia. The Jews returned to Mattersdorf in 1678 and had to repurchase their own homes. At the end of the 17th century, they got the protection of the Esterházy, but they had to pay high taxes levied on them for this protection.
The Judenstadt of Mattersdorf, on the lower-left of a 1798 map

Mattersdorf was a member the seven Jewish communities in Burgenland: Kittsee, Eisenstadt, Mattersburg, Frauenkirchen, Kobersdorf, Lackenbach and Deutschkreutz (known as Zelem by the Jews). These seven communities were joined later by another three in the South Burgenland: Stadtschlaining, Rechnitz and Güssing.

The Synagogue was the center of Jewish life of the Jewish community. From the street there were two entrances to the Synagogue, one for ladies and a second one for men. In the entrance hall there were a cupboard for the use of the shames (= caretaker) and the chair of Elyahu, better known as “the big chair of the Mohel.” The synagogue’s treasury was rich with valuable antique objects: Goblets, Torah shields and Torah crowns, all from the 16th and 17th century, and two Holy Ark curtains from the 17th century, both woven with gold threads, and one from the 13th or 14th century, woven with silver threads.

Next to the Synagogue was the Town Hall of the Jewish community. In this building, the meetings of the community took place, the communal laws were adopted and the court had its sittings. In one of its wings was the “Hekdesh” that served the poor and the sick. In the town’s registry, the building was described as “the Town Hall and Hospital.”

As said, Mattersdorf was a twin township, a Christian one and a Jewish one. Both congregations had complete independence but co-operated with each other. The Gentiles saw the “Eruv”, a three meters high wire that defined the “private domain” wherein carrying of objects by Jews was allowed on Sabbathand Yom Kippur, as the line that separated the two municipalities. As most of the Christian inhabitants were farmers and fruit growers, and the Jews mostly shopkeepers and small manufacturers, the Jewish fire brigade was usually the first to get to the fire in town and even in the neighboring villages. They got many commendations for their work and dedication. According to the law, if a Gentile or a Jew had a claim against a Jew, the case was brought before the Jewish Judge and vice versa. Up to the year 1848 the Jewish community minted its own coin, called a “fleischkreutzer.” Because of lack of funds of the Jewish community, this dual township ceased in 1903 and the two municipalities were united.

The Jewish population grew up to the middle of the nineteenth century; afterwards, many families settled in neighboring communities and, in the twentieth century, many moved to the larger cities.

The census of 1569 of Mattersdorf recorded 62 Jews who dwelled in 11 houses.
In 1857 – 954 Jews out of a total population of 3265 (29.2%).
In 1923 – 450 Jews out of a total population of 3706 (12.1%).
In 1934 – 511 Jews out of a total population of 5112 (10.0%).

The distribution of the Jewish male population in 1811 was as follows:
Ages 1 to 17: 183
Ages 17 to 40: 127 (Married: 97; Single: 30)
Over Age 40: 118

In the nineteenth century, there were censuses that reported the proportion of German-speaking population. Mattersdorf was part of the Hungarian Kingdom of the Habsburg Empire with Ödenburg (Sopron in Hungarian) as the county’s capital. In the majority of schools, both languages were used. From those censuses, the proportion of German-speaking Jewish people in Ödenburg County were:
In 1830 – Males 84.1%; Females: 45.9%.
In 1850 – Males 99.3%; Females: 91.6%.
What we see here is that, although the county was part of Hungary, nearly all the Jewish inhabitants spoke German.

The Jewish population of Mattersdorf was restricted in building new dwellings beyond the fifty houses they owned (thirty-eight existed in 1816 and twelve were built in 1819). Up to 1819, they were also forbidden to rent houses from the Christian population. On the other hand, a person could marry only if he owned a dwelling. As said, in 1819 the Jews were permitted to build the additional houses, outside the ghetto, and they were calledNeuhausel (new houses). Just for comparison, in 1845, in the whole of Mattersdorf, there were only 283 houses.

Because of these restrictions, the Jewish population suffered from overcrowding. We can see that, in 1724, there were twenty-four owners of a whole house, twelve owners of half a house and nine owners of one third of a house. The total number of houses owned by Jews was thirty-two. Fourteen years later, in 1738, there were twenty-five owners of a whole house, nine owners of half a house, and ten owners of a quarter of a house. In total, the Jews inhabited thirty-two houses. Just six years later, in 1744, we find only seventeen owners of a whole house, two owners of three-quarters of a house, twenty-one owners of half a house, twelve owners of a quarter of a house and two owners of one-sixth of a house. In total, they lived in thirty-three houses. As the time passed, the crowding increased. In 1760, we find only seven who owned a whole house, one owner of seven-eighths of a house, two owners of three-quarters of a house, thirteen owners of half a house, two owners of two-fifth of a house, and others with much smaller parts, amongst them two that owned only one-sixteenth of a house.

The problem of overcrowding can be seen from the will of Elyakim ben Avraham Leib that was signed on the 2nd of February 1817 before Salomon Rosenfeld as witness and Simon Deutsch as Notary, which includes the following paragraph: “If the kitchen has to be divided, it will be divided in a way that each part could put in it a baking oven.”

The distribution by profession of the Jews was, in 1754, as follows: 6 tailors, 16 merchants, 2 furriers, 15 shopkeepers, 8 teachers, 16 winemakers, 3 beer brewers, one musician, 6 grocers, one shoemaker, one barber, one waiter, one singer, one locksmith and one bookbinder.

As there was no building for a school, the lessons were given in the Synagogue and, later, in private houses. The first school building was built only in 1883. Beside the school there was also a College of Talmud (Yeshiva), whose majority of students came from out of town. The records show that, already in the reign of Empress Maria Theresa (1717-1780), there was a state Jewish school in Mattersdorf with many students. Maria Theresa had launched plans for compulsory primary education in Austria-Hungary, whereby all children of both genders from the ages of six to twelve had to attend school.

There was much attention given to education in Jewish Mattersdorf. In 1873, there were, in the Jewish school in Mattersdorf, a hundred and thirty students aged six to twelve in three classes, out of them, seventy-six boys and fifty-four girls. There were three teachers who taught them. If we compare the ratio of students to teachers, we find a ratio of forty-three pupils to one teacher in the Jewish school as against ninety-three pupils to one teacher in the Christian school. We can deduce from it that the education in the Jewish school was superior to the Christian one. In addition to the elementary school, there were also higher grades in the Jewish school, which included eleven boys and six girls aged twelve to fifteen. We can see from the pupils attending the Jewish school that the education of girls was an integral part of the education system in Jewish Mattersdorf already in the nineteenth century. The number of female pupils in the Jewish school in Mattersdorf was nearly as great as that of the males.

The Talmud College (Yeshiva) was known as one of the best in the Habsburg Empire. The Chatam Sofer(Rabbi Moses Schreiber, a former Chief Rabbi of Mattersdorf and later in Pressburg) used to say: “Rabbinical studies are to be learned in Mattersdorf.” Not everybody was accepted to the College. Anyone who wanted to be accepted had to prove his ability to master the learning.

The two communities, the Christian and the Jewish lived together in harmony. There was not much competition between them as the Christian community members were usually farmers and wine and fruit growers and the Jews were manufacturers and shopkeepers. It was said that the priest delivered a speech one day in which he accused that: “the Mattersdorf Jews have killed our savior.” The head of the Christian community came to see the head of the Jewish community and asked him: “Dear friend, what can you say in defense of the priest’s accusation?” The head of the Jewish community replied calmly: “It was not us; they were from Kobersdorf (a nearby township).” The head of the Christian community, who knew that the Mattersdorf Jews were not violent, was satisfied with the answer, and peace between the two communities was restored again.

As Jews do not play musical instruments on their holy days, the music was taken over by the Gentile population. On Simchat Tora, a Jewish holy day, as the community escorted the Rabbi from the synagogue to his home, the Gentile community joined the procession and played the music.

But not everything went smoothly in Mattersdorf. During the first half of the eighteenth century there were many calamities in the congregation. In 1831, there was a cholera epidemic in the Jewish township. It was brought in, probably, by a Jewish family of eight people that came from Baden, and that despite them being in isolation for eight days. On the 27th of September 1831, when the epidemic started, about one hundred and fifty people got infected and twenty-seven died. The Jewish township was put under isolation up to the 14th of October. The Christian population raised money to supply the Jews with bread, flour, potatoes, wood for heating and money.

In 1810, after the burning down of fifty-six houses in the Christian township, the Jewish population donated money to help their neighbors.

There were also other large fires which caused heavy damage. The fire of 1802 burned down thirty-two Christian houses and thirty-two Jewish houses. Another fire, that started out in the Christian Township in 1837, spread to the Jewish Township and destroyed many houses. Yet another fire, on the night between the 7th and 8th of July 1853 at the house of Abraham Koppel, burned down thirty-five houses in the Judengasse and affected seventy-seven families.

Running a business needed capital. The capital had to be raised and repaid. From a document of 1817 we see one such transaction:
On 19 May 1817, the couple, Mandel Deutsch and his wife, took a loan from Albin Pfaller, a noble citizen of Wr. Neustadt, a capital of 21,700 fl. Vienna currency, bearing interest of 5%, for a period of six months. The note was guaranteed by the signatures of Simon Deutsch and Lowy Hirshel on 27 May 1817.
The amount of 21,700 fl. was a very large sum. Just for comparison: in 1812, the price of a sheep was 2 fl. and the price of a milk-giving cow was 15 fl.

Many of the Jewish men of Mattersdorf joined the Austro-Hungarian Army in World War I. Just as an example, my father had 4 brothers (i.e., five boys in the family). Four of them served in the K. u. K. army. As a minor, born in 1906, their younger brother was the only boy that stayed at home.

Doing business in Mattersdorf was quite harsh. As said, the Christian population was mostly agrarian and dependent on the harvest and fruit picking for obtaining their cash. As the Christian community lacked available money, it affected also the Jewish shopkeepers. They got paid after the harvest season. Dr. Berczeller, the Jewish doctor, has a story in his book, “Time Was,” that depicts the situation. He writes:
On New Year’s Day, around five in the morning, my doorbell rang, then rang again, and again. I looked out of my window and saw, in the light of the street lamp a man with a red beard. It was Schwartz the Seltzer (every merchant had a nickname).

‘Herr Doktor, hurry,’ he shouted. ‘My wife is in labor, she’s bleeding, and Frau Handler says she is going to die.’

A few minutes later Schwartz the Seltzer and I were running towards the Judengasse. Frau Handler, the old midwife, received me with gloomy face.

‘The baby doesn’t move down, only blood comes out.’ She shrugged, ‘she will probably die.’

[Here the Doctor describes what he did, and then continues:]

The midwife’s thousand deep wrinkles spread outward and made her old face bigger as she smiled. With a quick maneuver, I extricated the baby. Frau Schwartz’s face slowly regained its color. I washed my hands and was ready to leave.

‘Herr Doktor,’ Schwartz the Seltzer said, ‘how can I thank you?’

‘A hundred schillings,’ I said. Even in Mattersburg standards, this was a modest fee.

He shook my hand but, needless to say, did not produce any money.

The next night when I came home from a call, I saw by Maria’s face that something dramatic happened.

‘What is it?’ I asked.

‘Come and see.’

As I climbed the stairs my right foot caught. I looked down and saw the lever of a seltzer bottle.

‘What is a seltzer bottle doing here?’ I asked Maria, but she did not reply. She opened the door to the corridor connecting my office with the rest of the apartment.

‘There you are,’ she said!

The corridor was filled with seltzer bottles. They stood neatly arranged in rows, like soldiers. Their rank extended to the kitchen floor and even to the dining room.

‘This afternoon,’ Maria said, ‘Herr Schwartz arrived. He blessed your name for what happened. Then he went to his horse and cart and began to take out seltzer bottles. I couldn’t stop him, not even when he passed the hundred mark. Finally he mopped his brow and said, “Two hundred seltzer bottles at fifty groschen each make one hundred schilling. Tell Herr Doktor that I don’t like to owe money.”‘
Dr. Richard Berczeller was the Jewish Medical Doctor in Mattersburg. He studied medicine at the University of Vienna and was a resident physician there. When the Jewish Doctor of Mattersburg, Dr. Max, died, the community approached Dr. Berczeller to take his place. Dr. Berczeller took a leave of absence from the Viennese Hospital and moved temporarily to Mattersburg. The times were hard for him. He had a few clients from the Christian population, but only one Jewish patient, Mrs. Zonnenstein. One day a Talmud student came to his clinic and asked him to come and pay a visit to the house of Rabbi Zobelman, the head of the Rabbinical College. When they arrived at his home, Dr. Berczeller asked the Rabbi: “What is wrong and why was I called?” The Rabbi said: “You are the physician; you tell me what is wrong with me.” After a thorough examination the doctor could find nothing wrong with the Rabbi, except that he had “flat feet.” After the doctor’s findings, the Rabbi told him that he agreed — but told the young doctor that the population was used to Dr. Max, who served for over fifty years, and could not yet absorb the fact that there was a young new doctor. The story that the physician visited the Rabbi spread around the city and the Jewish population started visiting the clinic of Dr. Berczeller.

On the 12th of March, 1938, Austria was incorporated into Germany. The local Nazis went to the Jewish quarter and started breaking the windows of the Jewish houses. Neighbors that were known as friends of the Jewish population came out against them. Dr. Berczeller, himself, was arrested by one of his patients. The Jewish bank accounts were confiscated and the shops, as well as the Jewish houses, were looted. To save theTorah scrolls, they were taken from the synagogue and brought to the Shiff-Shul in Vienna, where they later were destroyed when the Shiff-Shul synagogue was burned down onKristallnacht (= the night of broken glass).

The Jews were driven out of Mattersburg and, in September 1938, Mayor Geising declared that Mattersburg was “Judenfrei”, hoisting a white flag over the synagogue.

The Jewish houses were demolished and the synagogue, after being plundered, was blown up.

That was the end of a Jewish community that dwelled in harmony with its Christian neighbors for hundreds of years. Beside the expulsions, about 100 Mattersburg Jews, men, women and children, were sent to the death camps and killed there.

Today there are no Jews in Mattersburg. There is no synagogue, not even a graveyard. The tombstones in the Jewish cemetery were broken down. Some were used to cover the Wulka River, others, mostly in bits and pieces, are plastered on a wall without any order. The cemetery is now filled by new identical gravestones, bearing no names just a Star of David. They were put up by a Mr. Pagler, who wanted to prevent the place from being used as a soccer field or an ice ring.

The municipality honored Dr. Berczeller, naming a street after him, and recently they also named a lane in the name of the last Chief Rabbi, Samuel Ehrenfeld. The Judengasse is still there, but there are no Jews.


Author: pitputim

I've enjoyed being a computer science professor in Melbourne, Australia, as well as band leader/singer for the Schnapps Band. My high schooling was in Chabad and I continued at Yeshivat Kerem B'Yavneh in Israel and later in life at Machon L'Hora'ah, Yeshivas Halichos Olam.

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