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Otto Brod

(1888 Prague - 1944 Auschwitz)

„Meinem lieben Bruder

1. XI. 1920 Max“ [To my dear brother / 1. XI.1920 / Max]

We read this handwritten dedication of the author in a copy of Max Brod's book "Im Kampf um das Judentum" (Vienna/Berlin, 1920). After 80 years - 34 of which it stood on the library shelves of the HfJS - the book should actually now be back in the possession of the owner's family members. Together with the SLUB Dresden, in whose holdings two other books by the same owner turned up, we were able to locate the relatives in the USA and put the books in the mail in the fall of 2022. Since the package could not be delivered on the first try, it is considered lost and we are constantly activating the search requests. The chances of finding the package are slim, but we do not want to resign ourselves to this very disappointing fact. So we still hope for a miracle...

But who was the owner of the books? Thanks to a few preserved testimonies and sources, we are at least able to reconstruct some sequences of his life.

The clear identification of the handwriting as that of the author Max Brod (1884-1968) inevitably leads to his brother Otto as the one to whom the book was dedicated. Max, as well as Otto and sister Sofie (1892-1963) were born in Prague. Their parents Fanny, née Rosenfeld and Adolf Brod - he was an official of the Bohemian Union Bank - lived at the time of Otto's birth in the house with the conscription number 744, which corresponds to today's Jungmannová 26 in Prague's New City. Otto, like his older brother Max, attended the grammar school in Stephansgasse/Štěpánská, not far from there. After four years he left the gymnasium to pursue commercial training at the Commercial Academy, which he completed in the summer of 1905. He probably learned the practical skills also in the Bohemian Union Bank. At a hitherto unknown time, he moved to the sugar factory Joh. Broda & Co. where he can be found as an procurator from 1924 at the latest.

In 1909 a vacation trip took the three friends Otto, Max and Franz Kafka to Riva on Lake Garda and the following year to Paris, from where Kafka had to leave early due to health problems.

From 1914 Otto Brod was called up for active military service. His brother recapitulated Otto's military successes in the rank of lieutenant as follows: "Three decades later, the fatherland thanked him wonderfully for his successful rescue operation [on the Isonzo], which was carried out with the use of his entire person: It poisoned him in
Auschwitz [it poisoned] him and his whole family [...]."

Otto was just as committed to Zionist reconstruction aid in Palestine as his brother Max. In 1919 Otto was elected to the committee of the Zionist District Day in Bohemia. In connection with various fundraising campaigns, for example for the so-called Herzl Forest or the Pro Palestine Campaign, his name appears in the contemporary daily newspapers.

On November 1, 1923, Otto Brod married Terezie Lederer (born in Prague in 1895). The wedding ceremony took place in the synagogue in Geistgasse/Dušní ul., today called the Spanish Synagogue, and was performed by Rabbi Dr. Emanuel Schwartz. In 1926 Marianne was born, the only child of the couple.

From 1927 Otto was active in lodge work; on April 30 of that year his initiation into "Humanitas" within the Independent Order B'nai B'rith took place, and in 1935 we find him listed as chairman of the lodge.

On March 16, 1932, during a lodge evening in Prague, he gave a lecture entitled "The Life of Ants, or Is Communism a Way of Life Possible for Human Beings?" Thanks to his novel "Die Berauschten" ["The Intoxicated"], begun in the summer of the same year, we can reconstruct the views he formulated during this lecture in the lodge and also ten years later in Theresienstadt: the complete setting aside of one's own interests was merely inherent in the nature of ants, termites and bees and could be transferred to human society only by force.

Among other possible borrowings from his own biography but also from that of his parents, Brod has the novel's protagonist in charge of the puzzle column in a newspaper publishing house - another echo of his personal interests expressed in his preoccupation with Franz Brentano's puns.

"Die Berauschten" remained the only more extensive work that Brod completed alone. Together with Max Brod he published "Die Abenteuer in Japan" ["The Adventures in Japan"] in 1938. In addition, he worked on a treatise on Voltaire, which he was unable to complete. In 1936, in the periodical Jewish Frontier, published in New York, he emphasized the importance of Jewish writers born and/or working in Prague. The Nazi invasion and the establishment of the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia not only prevented his further literary work, but destroyed his entire existence as well as that of his wife and daughter.

Brod's sister Sofie left Czechoslovakia for the USA with her husband, Max Friedmann, a native of Breslau, even before the so-called Munich Agreement. Max Brod managed to escape to Palestine in March 1939. According to his family, his brother's family possessed papers that would have made emigration possible, but the family did not want to leave Otto's in-laws alone in their poor state of health. Two lifts with household goods as well as a suitcase with jewelry were thought to be on their way to Antwerp for shipment soon, but the family's property was probably already confiscated and looted by the german authorities in Prague.

In the summer of 1939, the address Dlouhá/Lange Gasse 39 in Prague's Old City is documented for both the family of Terezie and Otto Brod and for Terezie's parents Sigmund and Hermine Lederer. On the transport cards to Theresienstadt, where Marianne, Terezie and Otto had been deported on December 10, 1941, the last Prague address Biskupská/Bischofsgasse 1157/14 is given. This address corresponds to the one found on a previously undated and anonymous list of Jewish residents of Prague: Here, in addition to the presumed house owners Richard and Klara Benesch, only Otto Brod and his mother-in-law Hermine Lederer are named. Why Hermine's husband Sigmund is not mentioned here remains unclear. Presumably he was living in another place at that time. Hermine succumbed to her severe suffering on February 9, 1942. We do not know who cared for her during her last two months of life - since the deportation of Terezie and Otto. Sigmund was deported to Theresienstadt in July 1942, where he died the following month.

In Terezín, Otto Brod, together with many others, was involved in the so-called "Freizeitgestaltung" ["Leisure Department"]. This unit, self-governed by the inmates, organized most of the cultural life in the camp, which was extremely diverse despite the catastrophic conditions. Very active in this regard was also the fur trader Philipp Manes, who founded his own well-attended lecture series and invited speakers on a wide variety of topics. Thanks to his diary entries, which he had hidden in the Terezín camp before his deportation to Auschwitz, we also get a few personal impressions regarding Otto Brod:

"In the ghetto, only a written document, a request, a report is valid with the authorities if it has a stamp. If you want pencils, paper, pens, notebooks, you have to go to the Economic Department and ask for permission from Otto Brod [...]. During such an official act I met the brother of Max Brod, Prague, the important Jewish poet. He is a delicate, fine man, calm but firm in his demeanor, a man of high education, great knowledge - and quite incidentally a poet. Several times he spoke at the lecture evenings, met with lively applause with his clear, often idiosyncratic thoughts."

Some titles of his lectures have survived, such as "Max Brod and his work", "The Jewish world view", "Freedom of will", "The end and the means". In addition, he created a 6-part cycle on Voltaire, spoke about the Huguenots and finally the topic of ants returns. According to the statements of the surviving fellow prisoner Rudolf Bunzel, Otto Brod was also called "Voltaire-Brod" in the camp, since his lectures on the philosopher enjoyed great popularity. In Brod's view, according to Bunzel, the atheist Voltaire had found his way back to his faith after the devastating earthquake in Lisbon (1755). Against the background of the war and the persecution of the Jews, does this interpretation also reflect a change of heart in Brod himself? One of his poems entitled "Auserwählt" ["Chosen"], which has been preserved, may provide clues. Another untitled poem „In dunklen Stunden, qualenlastend…“ ["In dark hours, torment-laden..."], found in Manes's notes, also dates from the time of his imprisonment. It had been sent by Brod to Manes because the latter had organized a poetic competition.

Manes made the preliminary selection of the approximately 200 poems received and forwarded the ones he considered most promising to Prof. Dr. Emil Utitz, the head of the Leisure Department, so that he could make the placement. Otto Brod's poem took second place in Utitz's estimation, as did a poem by Hugo Friedmann. Manes did not quite agree with this, but bowed to Utitz's judgment, "...because after all, the literature professor understands more than the fur trader."

Together with Wilhelm Fischer, Otto Brod wrote the play "Der Erfolg des Kolumbus" ["The Success of Columbus"] in the camp and planned the libretto of an operetta entitled "Die ungetreue Muse" ["The Unfaithful Muse"] - also together with Wilhelm Fischer and with Carlo Taub as composer. The latter was probably never performed. Benjamin Murmelstein, the last Elder of the Jews in Theresienstadt, wrote a "Historical Overview" of the camp shortly after the liberation and stated: "A conversation piece written here, "The Success of Columbus", is without any meaning". Even though Max Brod was probably unaware of this text, his 1946 article "Helden" ["Heroes"] in the New Yorker Aufbau appears to be a harsh response to it: on the one hand, Max Brod emphasizes that his brother's play had been performed in the camp a total of 34 times, and next to it, he expresses the harshest criticism of Murmelstein's behavior in his function as Elder of the Jews, thus having a formative effect on Murmelstein's image in the U.S. public."

Otto Brod, his wife Terezie and their 18-year-old daughter Marianne were also in the last transport, which left the camp for Ausschwitz on October 28, 1944.

Since there were indications that Marianne had been deported on to Bergen-Belsen, Max Brod placed a wanted ad in January 1946, hoping that she was still alive. These efforts were unsuccessful, as was his attempt, together with his sister Sofie, to file claims for their brother's seized property. In 1966, the application for compensation in the sense of §5 BRüG was rejected by the so-called Wiedergutmachungsämter [Compensation Offices] of Berlin: The unjustified seizure of the lifts could not be proven.


We would like to thank for the once again trustful cooperation with the provenance research team of the SLUB Dresden, especially Elisabeth Geldmacher, as well as for suggestions and active support Anna Rubin from the HCPO, Peter Brod from Prague, Prof. Dr. Anna Hájková, Warwick, Julian Wolff from the Landesarchiv Speyer, the colleagues from the Landesarchiv Berlin and Tereza Maizels from the Beit Theresienstadt. For permission to publish Max Plaček's portrait of Otto Brod here, thanks are due to the Yad Vashem Art Department, especially Liat Deissy.

Selected Literature

Adler, Hans Günther: Theresienstadt 1941-1945. Das Antlitz einer Zwangsgemeinschaft, Tübingen 1960.

Barkow, Ben und Klaus Leist: Als ob's ein Leben wär. Tatsachenbericht Theresienstadt 1942-1944, Berlin 2005. The edition is based on the manuscripts of the Philipp Manes Collection 1346/1 preserved in the London Wiener Library. (MF Doc 001/1).

Brod, Max: Der Prager Kreis. Stuttgart Berlin Cologne Mainz : W. Kolhammer GmbH, 1966.

ibid.: Franz Kafka: Eine Freundschaft I. Reiseaufzeichnungen, Ed. by Malcolm Pasley, Frankfurt on the Main 1987

ibid.: Franz Kafka: Eine Freundschaft II. Briefwechsel, Ed. by Malcolm Pasley, Frankfurt on the Main 1989

Brod, Otto: Die Berauschten, Leipzig/Vienna1934.

Makarova, Elena u.a.: University over the Abyss. The Story behind 489 lecturers and 2309 lectures in KZ Theresienstadt 1942-1944, Jerusalem 2000.

Shomer-Zaitchik, Bella: Double Signature. Portraits of Personalities from the Terezín Ghetto. Max Plaček, Jerusalem 1994 (Hebrew/English exhibition catalog of the Yad Vashem Art Museum, the portrait of Brod is not included in it).

Smejkalová, Lucie: Otto Brod und sein literarisches Werk, Bachelor thesis at the Faculty of Education of Charles University in Prague, Prague 2017; see online

Uslin, Karen Lin: Grasping at Hours of Freedom: Musical Life in the Terezin Concentration Camp, Washington D.C. 2015 [About Otto Brod's commentary on the song recital dated 07.11.1943 see p. 139 ff.]; see online

Ministerium für Volksaufklärung: Liste des schädlichen und unerwünschten Schrifttums im Protektorat Böhmen und Mähren [Stand vom 31. März 1944] [S. 28: "Brod, Otto - sämtliche Schriften"], see online

o.A.: Seznam majitelů dosud uskladněných svršků, Věstník židovské obce náboženské v Praze (Band 9, Ausgabe 3) vom 1. Februar 1947, S. 34 [List of persons from whose property objects in the "Emigration Fund" of the Protectorate period have been identified, naming Otto Brod: „Brod, Ota; 8.7.88, Praha II, L 639“]

Selected archival material

Archiv des Jüdischen Museums Prag/ The Archives of the Jewish Museum in Prague:

  • Member lists of the Independent Order B’nai B’rith, inv. no. 197

Beit Terezin Archives:

  • Review of concert Lindt-Schaechter Aronsonn [sic], written by Brod Otto, 8.November 1943, inv. no. 297.000.032 [meant are Hilde Lindt-Aronson and Rafael Schächter]

Landesarchiv Berlin, Wiedergutmachungsakten:

  • B Rep 025-04 Nr. 16051/59 (Applicant: Dr. Max Brod)
  • B Rep 025-04 Nr. 16052/59 (Applicant: Sofie Friedmann)

National Archives, Prague (Anträge auf Ausstellung eines Reisespasses und weitere Dokumente)

  • Národní archiv Praha > Policejní ředitelství v Praze > 1941-1950 > B > Brod Ota (signatura B 3101/1)
  • Národní archiv Praha > Policejní ředitelství v Praze > 1931-1940 > B > Brodová Mariana (signatura B 2977/29)
  • Národní archiv Praha > Policejní ředitelství v Praze > 1931-1940 > B > Brodová Terezie (signatura B 2977/5)

National Library of Israel (these and further archival documents of the NLI could unfortunately not be considered here):

  • ARC. 4* 2000 03 113 (Max Brod Archive/Correspondence/Otto Brod)
  • ARC. 4* 2000 03 114.1 (Max Brod Archive/Correspondence/Otto Brod and family)
  • ARC. 4* 2000 03 114.2 (Max Brod Archive/Correspondence/Otto Brod und Familie)
  • ARC. 4* 2000 03 115 (Max Brod Archive/Correspondence/Max Brod an Otto Brod und Familie)
  • ARC. 4* 2000 03 116 (Max Brod Archive/Correspondence/Korrespondenz über Otto Brod und dessen Familie)
  • ARC. 4* 2000 03 118 (Max Brod Archive/Correspondence/Korrespondenz über das Schicksal von Otto Brod und seiner Familie in Theresienstadt und Auschwitz)

Prague City Archives

  • Association cadastre, Inv.-Nr. II/0703 (Lože Humanitas / Independent Order B'nai B'rith, Association registration data and list of officials)

US Holocaust Memorial Museum:

Yad Vashem Archives:

Yad Vashem Art Department:

  • Plaček Max, Portrait of Otto Brod, 1942, pencil on paper, Gift of Hermann Weiss, courtesy of Dr. Stephen Barber Canada, acc. no. 164-114.

Sources for quotes in the text

Max Brods article "Helden" in Aufbau (July 12th 1946, p. 22),

Max Brod on Otto's merits in the First World War: Brod, Max. Der Prager Kreis. Stuttgart Berlin Cologne Mainz : W. Kolhammer GmbH, 1966, S. 167.

Philipp Manes about Otto Brod's activity in the economic department of Theresienstadt: Barkow, Ben und Klaus Leist: Als ob's ein Leben wär. Tatsachenbericht Theresienstadt 1942-1944, Berlin 2005, p. 130.

Philipp Manes on Emil Utitz's placement of the received poems:  Barkow, Ben und Klaus Leist: Als ob's ein Leben wär. Tatsachenbericht Theresienstadt 1942-1944, Berlin 2005, p. 391.

Benjamin Murmelstein on Otto Brod's play “Der Erfolg des Kolumbus“: The Archives of the Jewish Museum in Prague, Collection Terezin, inv. no. 052, Murmelstein, Benjamin: historický přehled "Židé v Terezíně" [Historischer Überblick: „Juden in Theresienstadt“], fol. 11; Digitalisat: (Blatt 11)

Link to the copy which has been found in Heidelberg.

Link to the two copies found in Dresden in the electronic catalogue of the SLUB (1 + 2)

Restitution protocol of the two Dresden books and the report of the planned restitution.

[Text: Ph. Zschommler]