A Brief Town History
Mattersdorf was one of the Sheva Kehilloth (Seven Holy Communities) in Esterházy lands that were renowned for their piety and the eminent rabbis they produced. The others communities were Eisenstadt, Frauenkirchen, Lackenbach, Kittsee, Kobersdorf, and Deutschkreuz (Tzehlem in Yiddish). Today, Mattersburg (Mattersdorf) lies in the midsection of Burgenland, a long, narrow strip of land between the foothills of the Alps and the lowlands of Hungary. Since 1921, Burgenland has formed Austria’s easternmost province and is famous for its many castles and vineyards. However, in the 1700s it was Hungary’s westernmost region and together with territory that is now Slovakia, was known as Royal Hungary, part of the Austrian Habsburg Empire.
According to tradition, six brothers named Schischa who fled Spain in the 14th or 15th centuries found a new home in Hungary and started the Mattersdorf Jewish community. Nonetheless, Jews may have settled in Mattersdorf as early as 800 CE. The synagogue, which was destroyed during the Holocaust, reportedly had a wall tablet that marked the building’s construction date as 1354. By 1569 there were 67 Jews living in Mattersdorf in 11 houses. The town lay along the route of the Turkish invasion of Vienna and was looted numerous times by the Turks between 1544 and 1671. In 1622, Mattersdorf came under the rule of the Esterházy family, Hungarian nobles loyal to the Austrian Habsburg monarchy.
In 1671, the Habsburg emperor, Leopold I, expelled the Jews from Habsburg territories but they were permitted to return a few months later. The Mattersdorf Jews found that in their short absence Christians had claimed their houses and only in 1675 were the Jews allowed to buy back their own homes. In 1694, Paul Esterházy issued a letter of protection to the Jews of Mattersdorf, which was confirmed by his heirs and updated in 1800.
In a scene right out of “Fiddler on the Roof” the Jews from the neighboring community of Neufeld (who were also under the protection of the Esterházys) were permanently expelled from their homes in 1739, ostensibly to stop the spread of an epidemic. They were resettled in Mattersdorf and the six other Jewish communities in the region. Mattersdorf’s Jewish community had to absorb 186 new residents into its small and already overcrowded Jewish quarter and assume additional financial burden. By 1744, about 416 persons inhabited 33 houses in Mattersdorf’s Jewish section. The number increased to 897 Jews by 1811, but shrank during the cholera epidemic from 1830-1832.
The Mattersdorf Jewish community government consisted of an 11-man council lead by the Rosh Ha-Kahal (head of the community), who was typically one of the wealthiest men in town and quite learned. Other council members included two community elders, two city elders, three tzedakah (charity) treasurers, and three appointees in charge of a special tax collection. Additionally two trustees solicited funds for Torah study (just on Mondays) and three trustees collected money for Jews in Palestine. Leadership changed gradually in Mattersdorf as the men aged, died, or moved away and so tracking changes in the council has genealogical value.
Excerpted with permission from “Constructing a Town-Wide Genealogy: Jewish Mattersdorf, Hungary 1698-1939” by Carole Garbuny Vogel and Yitzchok N. Stroh, Avotaynu: The International Review of Jewish Genealogy, Vol. XXIII. No. 1, Spring 2007. See: http://www.recognitionscience.com/cgv/research%20mattersdorf.htm