Did you know...as of 2016, Hungary ranks 8th in the world in medals at the Summer Olympic Games despite its being torn apart after WWI and losing half her population and 2/3 of her territory. This does not include an additional 6 medals won in the Winter Olympics nor the Hungarians that won medals as nationals of other countries after borders were redrawn or after large-scale emigration.
The beginnings of the Olympic movement in Hungary go back further than the Games in Athens. Ferenc Kemeny, a great pacifist and member of the International Peace Bureau, was one of Pierre de Coubertin's first kindred spirits, with whom he struck up a friendship in the 1880's.
Kemeny took an active part in the Congress for the re-establishment of the Games held in Paris in 1894 and was one of the founding members of the International Olympic Committee (IOC). Coubertin supported Kemeny's suggestion to hold the first Olympics in Budapest in 1896 in honor of Hungary's 1000 years of statehood. While the dream of hosting an Olympics is not yet realized, Hungary has won more Olympic medals than any other nation that has never hosted the Games.
Hungary in the Olympics - Select a Year:
1928 Amsterdam Highlights
See all 1928 medalists (in Hungarian)
Featured 1928 Olympians
Attila Petschauer, Fencer:
In 1923, barely 19 years old, he earned the Individual Sabre bronze medal at the European Championships. In years that followed, he won the "Heroes Memorial Tournament" and earned Individual Euro silver medals in 1925 and 1929, and bronze medals in 1927 and 1930. At the European Championships of 1930 and 1931, Petschauer’s Hungary Sabre team won gold medals.
In Amsterdam in 1928 he was part of the gold medal-winning Hungarian team in sabre, winning all 20 of his competition matches. In the individual sabre competition, Petschauer won the silver medal. In the final round, he tied for first with fellow Hungarian Odon Tersztyansky (they both won 9 of 11 bouts in the finals), but lost the fence-off for the gold, 5–2.
In the 1932 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles, Petschauer was again part of the champion Hungarian sabre team. The Hungarians easily won the gold medal; in the finals, they defeated the United States, Italy, and Poland by a combined 31–6. But though he reached the finals he finished 5th in the individual event. He actually tied 3 other fencers with 5 victories, but fellow Hungarian Endre Kabos was awarded the bronze because he received fewer touches in the finals. This was the only time in his Olympic career that Petschauer did not medal in an event he had entered.
Although allied with Germany as a means to regain Hungarian territories lost at the Treaty of Trianon after World War I, Hungarian resistence to Nazi brutality resulted in the German occupation of Hungary toward the end of World War II in late 1944 resulted in the deportation of many Jews to concentration camps. The uneasy alliance with Nazi Germany, however, sadly resulted in the enaction of anti-Jewish laws. But Petschauer’s reputation as a celebrated sportsman accorded him a special "document of exemption." Nonetheless, during a routine check of identification by the Hungarian police while he was out walking, an unrecognized Petschauer found he had left some of his “papers” at home – an unacceptable explanation to his Hungarian inquisitor.
Shortly thereafter, he was deported to a labor camp in the Ukrainian town of Davidovka in 1943. Petschauer's death was brutal. Olympic champion wrestler Karoly Karpati was a fellow inmate, and witnessed Petschauer's death. He recalled: “The guards shouted: ‘You, Olympic fencing medal winner . . . let’s see how you can climb trees.’ It was midwinter and bitter cold, but they ordered him to undress, then climb a tree. The amused guards ordered him to crow like a rooster, and sprayed him with water. Frozen from the water, he died shortly after.”
Petschauer's life and death were dramatised in the 1999 film Sunshine, starring Ralph Fiennes. Though the film was fiction, it incorporated real stories into the plot, and one of the three lead roles was largely based on Petschauer. Istvan Deak, responding to other critiques of the film, wrote:
"Despite gloomy predictions, the film Sunshine has been remarkably successful in the United States. My article inspired many letters, often by people who recognized in the film their family history, or who had been there. Inevitably, some writers argue that both the film and my essay are too harsh on Hungary. Among other things, they disregard the extraordinary number of Hungarians in the film, whether army generals or domestic servants, who did their best to help the Jews.
By contrast, some letter writers feel that both the film and my essay are too “soft” on the Hungarians. Referring to the writings of a Hungarian historian, an American professor argues in his letter that Jewish-Gentile relations have always been far worse than I claim, even in the best of times. That is, before World War I, Jews and Gentiles lived separate but equal lives. The implication is that life for Hungarian Jews must be equated with the life of blacks in the United States in the same period. Nothing could be further from the truth. In Francis Joseph’s Austria-Hungary, even in anti-Semitic and counter-revolutionary interwar Hungary, at least until 1938, Jews could succeed in nearly every profession; they attended the same schools, ate in the same restaurants, lived in the same apartment buildings, and frequented the same resorts as the Gentile Hungarians. Showing how this led to a false sense of security is one of the many strengths of István Szabó’s film. [read full article]
The Attila Petschauer Event was begun in 1994 as a memorial to Petschauer by his descendant, Dr. Richard Markowitz. It is known across the United States as one of the top sabre events.