Eric Bergtraun, longtime Beth Am volunteer

If Alex Bergtraun and his sister, Caroline Hayes, ever had issues in their personal or professional lives, they had their father, Eric Bergtraun, on speed dial.

“The concepts of loyalty and high ethics and morals were always at the top of his list,” Alex said. “The idea that we can never call him back is really tough.”

Bergtraun died following a stroke Dec. 27 in Los Altos. He was 83.

As friends and family members would attest, Bergtraun was a vibrant part of many organizations, including the Boy Scouts of America, the Association for Facilities Engineering and the Rickshaw Reunions, which facilitates the reuniting of Holocaust survivors in Shanghai.

Born in Vienna, Austria, in 1925, Bergtraun had a poor upbringing due in part to his father’s love of gambling.

Fleeing the German occupation in 1938 forced the Bergtrauns to “open up their horizons,” Alex said. They settled in Shanghai, China, because “my grandfather insisted on having an ocean between him and Hitler,” Alex said.

Life in Shanghai was anything but easy. As things got tougher and his father ran out of work, Bergtraun, then a teenager, was forced to support his family. He found a job with a Danish motor company repairing and rewinding electric motors.

At the start of World War II, all Jewish refugees were moved into the overcrowded, square-mile section known as the Shanghai Ghetto. Alex called his father’s experience “eye-opening,” noting the time his father walked through a courtyard on his way home from work strewn with people killed in an explosion.

Bergtraun’s yearning to find a sense of community in China led him to Jewish engineers who offered to educate him, and the underground British Boy Scouts, which Alex credits with “opening my father’s whole world of personal development and giving him the skills to survive.”

When the American consulate sent word that the Bergtrauns could go to the United States, Bergtraun, then 23, traveled alone to San Francisco while his parents stayed behind, waiting for their visas.

He arrived with $23 in his pocket, enrolled in night school to become an electrician and became scoutmaster of Troop 510. Bergtraun would go on to earn the Silver Beaver award, the Boy Scouts’ highest honor.

“The Boy Scout troop was family for him,” Alex said. “All of the scouts are now in their 60s and everyone says my father was the most important person in their lives, aside from their own parents.”

In fact, after Bergtraun was first introduced to his future wife, Polly, at the Worldlings International Club in 1956, the scouts’ mothers made sure she was an appropriate choice for him.

The couple married a year later and moved their family to Los Altos in 1963, where Bergtraun worked first as a plant electrical engineer at Fairchild Semiconductor, then a facility manager at National Semiconductor in Mountain View. He worked there until he was 71.

A longtime member of Congregation Beth Am in Los Altos Hills, Bergtraun was deeply involved with the synagogue’s chavurah and chaired both the house and library committees.

“He was a wonderful advocate for the library,” said Diane Rauchwerger, Beth Am’s librarian for the past 18 years. “He got things done and knew how to delegate in a way that was very sweet. Whatever organization he was in, he was a vital part of it.”

At home, Bergtraun was the patriarch of the family — “the trunk of the tree,” Alex said. He loved spending time with his grandchildren, enjoyed museums, food and wine, and could fix, or attempt to fix, just about anything.

“I would joke with my dad that I was going to put ‘I have a tool for that’ on his tombstone,” Alex said with a laugh. “When we’d work on something together and I needed a tool, he was sure he had it. But if you saw his garage, you knew it would take three hours to find anything. That’s classic Dad.”

A memorial service for Bergtraun was held Jan. 4 at Congregation Beth Am. Bergtraun is survived by his wife, Polly, of Los Altos; children Caroline Hayes of Cupertino and Alex Bergtraun of Berkeley; and five grandchildren. Donations may be sent to the Congregation Beth Am Library Fund, 26790 Arastradero Road, Los Altos Hills, CA 94022 or the Holocaust Center of Northern California, 121 Steuart St., S.F., CA 94105.