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OBJECT OF THE MONTH – March 2006


Writer Oscar Baum – death anniversary
 
Unknown maker: Death mask of writer Oskar Baum (1883-1940), 1940
Plaster cast, 25.5 x 19 x 18 cm, unmarked
Provenance: acquired by the museum in 2002 from a private collection in Prague, inv. no. JMP 177.765

One of Franz Kafka’s closest friends and, according to the critic and writer Max Brod, one of the key members of the so-called Prague Circle, the writer Oskar Baum was born on 21 January 1883 in Pilsen to a middle-class, German, assimilated Jewish family. Already blind in one eye in early childhood, he completely lost his sight after being brutally attacked by a gang of Czech schoolchildren who resented him because he was German. The sightless 11-year-old boy was sent by his parents to a Jewish institute for the blind in Vienna, the stifling atmosphere of which he described in his first novel Das Leben im Dunkel (Life in Darkness), which was published in Berlin by Axel Juncker Verlag, 1908. Baum moved to Prague in 1902, after passing a state teaching examination in piano and organ music. At first he earned a living as a music teacher and synagogue organist; from 1922 he was employed as music critic for Prager Presse. Aside from musicological topics, he was also interested in social problems and wrote poetry, short stories and novels. His reviews, critiques and essays appeared in various German periodicals (Weltbühne, Aktion, Sturm, Aufbau, Internationale Literatur, Jüdische Revue, Die Kritik, Neue Deutsche Blätter, Pariser Tagblatt, Die Welt im Wort, Das Wort). In his memoirs, Max Brod mentions that in the 1930s Oskar Baum was actively involved in organizing help for German and Austrian writers who sought refuge in Prague from persecution. Baum also tirelessly helped his fellow Jews in need at the beginning of the war. He died on 20 March 1940 from a stomach disease in the Jewish hospital in Prague (now the seat of the Jewish Museum), which was also where his death mask was taken off.

 

 

 


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