|Olympic medal record|
|Competitor for Hungary|
|Gold||1928 Amsterdam||Team sabre|
|Gold||1932 Los Angeles||Team sabre|
|Silver||1928 Amsterdam||Individual sabre|
Born in Budapest, Petschauer was a member of the Hungarian fencing team in the 1928 and 1932 Olympics. Petschauer was regarded throughout the late 1920s and early 1930s as one of the world's top fencers.
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. Among his teammates were János Garay and Sándor Gombos, who are also members of the International Jewish Sports Hall of Fame. In the individual sabre competition, Petschauer won the silver medal. In the final round, he tied for first with fellow Hungarian Odon Tersztyanssky (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, also a member of the International Jewish Sports Hall of Fame, 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.
Concentration camp and death
The German occupation of Hungary during the last year of World War II in 1944 resulted in the deportation of most Jews to concentration camps. Before that, under Hungarian rule allied with Nazi Germany, Jews were subject to 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, Petschauer found he had left some of his “papers” at home – an unacceptable explanation to his Hungarian inquisitor.
Shortly thereafter, he was deported to the Davidovka concentration camp in the Ukrainian town of Davidovka in 1943. During a line-up of prisoners, Petschauer was recognized by a military officer and commander of the camp, Lieutenant Colonel Kálmán Cseh von Szent-Katolna, who had been an equestrian competitor for Hungary in the 1928 Olympics. The two had once been friends, but Cseh exhorted camp guards to taunt his onetime comrade and "Make things hot for the Jew". Petschauer's death was brutal. Olympic champion wrestler Károly Kárpáti 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.
Hall of Fame
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.
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