Petschauer, a member of the International Jewish Sports Hall of Fame, was a member of the Hungarian fencing team at two Olympiads. At the 1928 Amsterdam Games, he led Hungary to the gold medal in the team sabre event by winning all 20 of his matches in the competition. Among his teammates were Janos Garay, and Sandor Gombos (who are also members of the International Jewish Sports Hall of Fame). In the individual sabre competition, Petschauer won his second medal of the Olympics, taking the silver. 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.
Petschauer returned to the Olympics at the 1932 Los Angeles Games and again competed in the team and individual sabre. He repeated as Olympic champion in the team sabre competition and the Hungarians easily won the gold medal; in the finals, they defeated the United States, Italy, and Poland by a combined 31-6. In the individual competition, Petschauer reached the finals but finished fifth, winning five of nine bouts. He actually tied three other fencers with five 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.
In the late 1920s and early 1930s, Petschauer was one of the world's greatest sabre fencers and a member of the world's best fencing team. In this era, Hungary dominated the sabre event and Petschauer won gold medals at the World Championships in 1930 and 1931. Petschauer never won the world title in the individual sabre, although he captured the silver medal at the World Championships in 1926 and 1930, and the bronze in 1925, 1929, and 1931.
Deported to a Nazi labor camp in the Ukraine in 1943, Petschauer was recognized by a camp officer, Kalman Cseh, who had been a teammate of Petschauer's at the 1928 Olympics. Although, they had been friends, Cseh encouraged camp guards to taunt Attila and according to fellow inmate, former Olympics medalist and wrestler Karoly Karpati: "The guards shouted, "You, Olympic fencing medal winner...letís see how you can climb trees." It was mid-winter 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 brutal and tragic death was depicted in the 2000 motion picture Sunshine starring Ralph Fiennes and directed by Istvan Szabo. The movie is a fictional story of three generations of a Hungarian-Jewish family, but uses real stories; in the film, one of the family members was an Olympic sabre champion.
Birth and Death Dates:
b. Dec. 14, 1904 - d. Jan. 20, 1943
Use links below to navigate through the olympics section of Jews In Sports.
Jewish Sports Legends: The International Jewish Sports Hall of Fame, by Joseph Siegman (Washington, D.C.: Brassey's, 2000)
encyclopedia of JEWS in sports, by Bernard Postal, Jesse Silver, and Roy Silver (New York: Bloch Publishing Co., 1965)
The Complete Book of the Olympics, by David Wallechinsky (New York: Viking, 1988)