About Rudolf Emanuel GOMPERZ
Synopsis of “No Better Place” by Hans Thöni
This short book by the journalist and historian Hans Thöni of Ludesch, Austria, tells about the tragic fate of engineer Rudolf Gomperz (1878 – 1942) scion of an aristocratic family at the head of the Viennese Jewish community; a pioneer of winter sports tourism in St. Anton, whose active and colorful life came to an untimely end in the Shoah. ThÖni was fascinated by this story when he came across it in the 1970's, so much so that he wrote a three part series that was published in the local Landek paper in December 1976, and Felix Mitterer used this story as the base of his successful drama "The Unpleasant Land". Gomperz initiated and developed things that are now an integral part of Austrian life and culture. He devoted most of his energy to the sport of skiing, and began building ski sites before the outbreak of WW1, developing and producing skiing equipment both for civilian and military use. His engineering genius enabled the construction of the alpine transport infrastructure that became a world standard. Civil Engineer Rudolf Emanuel Carl Gomperz was born in Vienna in1878. As a student he would tell everyone he met about the beauty of the mountains. Then, while working as a railway engineer on the Baghdad railway project he contracted malaria and was sent to St. Anton am Arlberg in the Tyrol to recuperate, and that is where he settled. His personal life was turbulent. He married Clara Susan Westphal in 1907, but divorced her to marry Maria Theresia Strecher in 1925. It is probable that the two boys he thought were his sons, Rudolf born in 1922 and Hans born in 1925, were not fathered by him. Engineer Rudolf Gomperz' father, Prof. Dr. Theodore Gomperz, was a well known archeologist in Vienna. Emperor Franz Joseph 1 appointed him as a consultant to the imperial court and to the upper house of the Austro-Hungarian legislature. His mother, Elise whose maiden name was Sichrovsky, was the daughter of Heinrich von Sichrovsky. Her father received his noble title directly from the emperor after the great praise heaped on him for his many years of work building and running the rail network in North-Eastern Austria (Ferdinand-Nordbahn) of which he was the secretary general. It is through the Sichrovsky branch that the family continues today. In 1933 after Hitler came to power in Germany Gomperz had to resign from the German Ski Association (DSV), and then following the Anschluss of Austria he was fired from the tourist bureau as he was considered a Jew as defined by the Nurenberg Laws despite having undergone a Protestant baptism. The fact that he had met many times Hermann Göring when he was frequently traveling between Salzburg and Munich in the 1930's and had acted as a courier for a Munich friend Paula Göring the sister of the Reichsmarschall to be, did not help. During the summer of 1938 Maria told him he was not the real father of their sons. This admission opened up opportunities for these enthusiastic supporters of the Third Reich and in 1939 Rudolf joined the 'SS-Death's Head' division based in Dachau. When the younger son Hans turned 18 in 1942 he joined the Waffen SS in Debica east Poland and was killed near Caen in the Normandy invasion in June 1944. By 1942 Gomperz was one of the few Jews who still remained in the Tyrol. "In the next few days I shall be leaving St. Anton and moving to Vienna. From there they will probably drive me further on, and the chance that I will lose my life is very great. I came to this village a rich man 37 years ago, when it was small and practically unknown. I leave what has become due mainly to my efforts a flourishing and famous place, as a poor beggar. Humility is a merit in someone still alive, but the dead are allowed to speak. With these heartrending words engineer Rudolf Gomperz departed on All Saints Day 1942 from St. Anton – with the clear knowledge that the insane killing machine exterminating the Jews of the Third Reich would not stop at the entrance to his house and spare his life and that of his family. The cruel and inhuman death of one of St. Anton's greatest builders happened when he was alone and abandoned far from his beloved homeland, a death that was wrought on millions of innocent men, women, and children. "I've been delayed yet again. We are holding on. Two days before I left for Poland I got to know Helene von Sichrovsky, Pepi Sichrovsky's granddaughter the brother of my grandfather Heinrich von Sichrovsky. A very nice man in his late 50's. She knew Betina and Myra. I hope she will survive.“ Finally on 24th May 1942 he left Vienna to Minsk with 986 Jews on “Jewish Transport 22”. This was a journey also taken just three months later by his relatives Ernestina Sichrovsky and her eighteen year old daughter Agness whose brother Harry wrote about this in his book “My Ancestor – The Pioneer”. In 1980 Hans ThÖni saw Harry Sichrovsky the Middle East commentator for the Austrian TV company ORF when he appeared a number of times on the TV. Not only does he have the name of Gomperz' mother but he also bears a striking resemblance to him. ThÖni wrote to him asking if he was related to engineer Gomperz. Harry Sichrovsky confirmed the close family ties He did not know at that time that this conversation was to be the foundation of his involvement in the history of his family, but he admitted this later on after the story reached his son Peter. He was born in 1947, studied pharmacy and writes about this industry. Then, because of this biography of Gomperz, Peter Sichrovsky became motivated to start looking into the tragic events that befell the family during the Nazi era. He questioned and investigated young Austrian and German Jews and their stories were documented in his book entitled "We didn't know what would happen tomorrow, we know very well what happened yesterday", which was published in 1985. Recently a family in Israel has taken an interest in the story. By chance Henry and Tova Maimon were on holiday in St. Anton and read about the fate of Rudolf Gomperz. Henry noticed his mother's maiden name 'Sichrovsky' and so it turned out that Harry Sichrovsky is his cousin. Henry was also born in Vienna where their parents name was 'Maimann', and 1935 he went to live in Tel-Aviv where he founded a firm now run by his two sons. For many years he also served in the army armoured corps achieving a high rank and saw much active service.