Brunner, Constantin, 1862-1937Alternative names
Constantin Brunner (actually named Leo Wertheimer) was born in Altona, Germany on August 27, 1862, the grandson of Rabbi Akiba Wertheimer. He studied at the Jewish Teachers Seminary in Cologne and at the Universities in Berlin and Freiburg 1893-95 with Leo Berg (later Otto Ernst), publisher of the periodical The Observer in Hamburg. Brunner lived since 1895 as an independent academic with his family in Berlin; 1913-30 in Potsdam and after l933 in exile in The Hague, where he died on August 27, 1937.
With his Magnum Opus Die Lehre von den Geistigen und vom Volk (1908) he conceptualized a philosophical System connected to Spinoza and against Kant, Nietzsche and academic philosophy. Brunner fostered concrete and practical consequences of his ideal, the “spiritual reflection.” In Our Christ (1921) he sketched a concept of the “Spiritual”, thus engaging in Christian and Jewish debates about Jesus.
Politically Brunner was a protagonist of emancipation. He took a determined position against German nationalism and racial theory, but also against Zionism ( Der Judenhaß und die Juden 1918.) Brunner considered himself a “recluse” and did not participate in academic discussions.
Since the publication of his main work in 1908, but especially due to his personality, Brunner attracted the spiritually young, as well as intellectuals, politicians and artists, thus creating the “Brunner-Circle”. These friends, who corresponded with him and visited him, made Brunners’ practical stipulation their own. Apart from Berlin, where a Constantin Brunner Society was formed in 1925, the main center was in Czernowitz, (the “Ethical Seminar” founded by Friedrich Kettner in 1919.) Since 1933 his followers dispersed all over the world. In 1947 they founded the “International Brunner Institute” in The Hague to publish Brunner’s work once again and to advocate his memory.
Lotte Brunner (actually Elise Charlotte Müller/Auerbach, later Lotte Stigter) was born on May 1, 1883, the daughter of Georg and Leoni Brunner (a. k a Rosalie Auerbach.) After her mother separated from her father and married Constantin Brunner in 1895, Lotte and her sister Gertrud, who was one year younger, grew up in the home of her mother and her stepfather; her younger brother Hans lived with his father. Lotte Brunner was introduced to literature at an early age by her stepfather. Later on she worked as a teacher, author and translator. She lived most of her life in the home of her parents. She was an adherent of the philosophy of Constantin Brunner and one of his most important dialogue partners. She kept a diary for 30 years, chronicling the intense exchange of ideas about literature and philosophy with her stepfather. After she emigrated with her parents to The Hague, she married Piet Stigter, a Dutch man, in l934. He died in l938 following an operation. When her stepfather became seriously ill, Lotte Brunner became his prime caregiver. After his death she devoted herself to the administration of his estate. She also published several small philosophical scripts and a large number of poems. When The Netherlands were occupied by the Germans and the situation for Jews became very precarious, Lotte Brunner and her mother returned to Germany. Shortly thereafter though, they decided to return to the Hague.Presumably Lotte Brunner was deported to the concentration camp Westerbork in 1942 and from there to Sobibor, where she was murdered April 30, 1943 at the age of 59. Her 84 year old mother Leonie had perished there a few weeks earlier.
Lothar (Eliezer Lazare) Bickel, was born May 8, 1902 in Chisilau, Bukowina. He belonged to the Zionist Youth movement Hashomer Hazair until l920. After graduating from Gymnasium in Czernowtiz, he studied medicine in Bucharest. Before he was 18 years old, he discovered the works of Constantin Brunner, thus getting an introduction into his philosophy. Bickel got in touch with Brunner, and a lively exchange of letters developed between the two. In 1927 Lothar Bikel travelled to Berlin and met Constantine Brunner for the first time. Bikel worked in Berlin as an assistant physician in the gynecological department of the Charité. Later on he became the leading physician at a hospital in Fürstenwalde. He published several academic papers as well as a little book Zur Renaissance der Philosophie . Shortly before becoming a full professor, he felt forced to leave Germany, due to the rise of the National Socialist Party. He returned to Romania, where he continued to practice gynecology. In Bucharest he founded a Brunner-Circle, to which he contributed decisively. In the spring of 1937 Brunner named him curator of his literary estate. After Brunner’s death he saw to the publication of his work Unser Charakter oder Ich bin der Richtige! (l939) followed by the collection of essays Kunst, Philosophie, Mystik (l940.) After World War II, in 1947, Bickel emigrated from Bucharest to Canada, where he managed to publish a short version of Brunner’s work Der entlarvte Mensch . Lothar Bickel died on April 23, 1951 due to a heart condition. During his lifetime his own work Probleme und Ziele des Denkens (l939) was published. Other books, Wirklichkeit und Wahrheit des Denkens (1953) Kultur (1956) Das Leben – eine Aufgabe (1959) as well as The unity of body and mind (1960) were published posthumously.
Israel Eisenstein was born March 23, 1903 in the Galician town Zurawno. He studied medicine and made his doctorate in Würzburg. In the middle of the nineteen thirties he wrote Kritik der Abstammungslehre . He had sent the manuscript to Constantin Brunner who was very impressed. The book was published in 1937 under Brunner’s suggested title Irrtum und Wahrheit der Biologie (under Eisenstein’s’ pseudonym Friedrich Andermann.) Israel Eisenstein belonged to the Brunner study group led by Friedrich Kettner in Czernowitz., the so-called Ethical Seminar, which emerged into the Brunner-Freundeskreis, which included Lothar Bickel and the poet Rose Ausländer. Israel Eisenstein emigrated to Palestine in l947, where he practiced medicine. He wrote numerous small scripts and essays, and he lectured a group of Israeli Brunner-friends. He also volunteered at the Internationaal Brunner Instituut. In l989, together with Heinz Hermann Stolte he published the book Ein neuer Beitrag zum Verständnis Spinozas. Aufgrund der Lehre Constantin Brunners . Israel Eisenstein died in 1991.
Shilo Eisenstein, the brother of Israel Eisenstein, attended regularly the meetings of the Brunner circle in Czernowitz. In early 1937 he visited Constantin Brunner in The Hague. Brunner was impressed by Shilo Eisenstein’s writings, and even more so by his personality. Magdalena Kasch described him in her chronicles as an especially modest man. The Brunner Czernowitz circle came to a violent end when a Ghetto was erected, followed by deportations. After the German occupation of Romania, the followers of the Czernowitz circle such as Rose Ausländer and the married couple Phoebus and Genia Grünberg were forced into the newly erected Ghetto. Shilo Eisenstein was interned in a slave labor camp. After the war the majority of the surviving Czernowitz-Brunner circle including Shilo Eisenstein gathered again in Bucharest. This group, whose membership was considerably reduced by emigration, continued to exist until the nineteen eighties. Shilo Eisenstein lived in Israel, where he died.
Magdalena Kasch was born 1885 in Niendorf on the Baltic Sea, the daughter of Hans Heinrich David Kasch and his wife Sophia Dorothea, née Schernitt. She was a baptized Lutheran. At the age of 25, she read Constantin Brunner’s main opus, Die Lehre von den Geistigen und vom Volke which made a deep impression on her. She contacted Brunner, and in 1912 she met with her ‘Master” for the very first time. She became a faithful and convinced adherent of Constantin Brunner and his philosophy. Magdalena Kasch owned a bookstore and a library in Berlin-Neukölln, which was boycotted in l933, and she was forced to sell it under duress. She immigrated to the Netherlands, where she lived with Brunner and his wife Leoni under one roof. Together with his step-daughter Lotte, Kasch cared for him with great devotion until his death. When German troops invaded the Netherlands, she hid the manuscripts of the philosopher from the Nazis. After the war, she participated in founding the Internatinaal Constantin Brunner Instituut, and she acted as the secretary of the organization for many years. In a memorial publication of the Institute, she was called a “woman whose entire life was devoted to the work of Constantin Brunner, who saved it during World War II, and who gave all her energy to its republishing.” In l976 Magdalena Kasch received an Order of the Merit from the city of The Hague. She died there on February 11, 1981 at the age of 96 and left all her personal possessions to the Internatinaal Constantin Brunner Instituut.
Selma van Leeuwen
Selma van Leeuwen, née Gerzon was born on October l8, 1880 in Cologne and spent her childhood and youth there. In l906 she moved to Amsterdam and then to Rotterdam. There she married Salomon von Leeuwen in l908; they had two children. Selma de Leeuwen occupied a leading position in the department store Gerzon in Rotterdam. She carried a steady correspondence with Constantin Brunner and apparently was his most important contact, promoter and finally organizer of his emigration to the Netherlands in l933. Selma de Leeuwen’s husband Salomon died in 1939 after a long illness. On September 28, 1943 she was deported to the concentration camp Bergen-Belsen together with her daughter Rita and her family. Shortly before the liberation of the camp, she was supposed to be sent to Theresienstadt. By then the US army and the Russians had advanced so far, that the transport never managed to get through, and finally Russian units stopped the train. Selma de Leeuwen survived the war and returned to the Netherlands. After spending six years in the United States, where her son and daughter had emigrated, she returned to the Netherlands in 1952. Selma van Leeuwen died in Rotterdam in l972.
Henry Lurié, born in l905, was a member of the Czernowitz Ethical Seminar . Since l932 he lived with his family in Paris, where he worked as an engineer until his emigration to the USA in l957. Next to his main job he translated the texts of Constantin Brunner into French. Already in 1932 the work Spinoza contre Kant - et la cause de la Véritée spirituelle was published. Lurié founded the Cercle Omnia Animata, whose members discussed Spinoza and Brunner and translated Spinoza Ethics and the works of Brunner into French. After his emigration to the United States, Lurié became an associate professor of engineering at C.W. Post College (Long Island, New York.) He continued to work as a translator and published several literary works, among them Chain Mathematics. Introduction and typical Problems (l961), Spinoza, The Ethica (l964), Trilogy of Christianity (l965), and Presence de Goethe. Choix lyrique (l965). In the U.S. Lurié belonged to Walter Bernard’s Brunner-Circle. Henri Lurié died on August 1994 In Cliffside Park, New Jersey.
From the guide to the Constantin Brunner Collection, 1866-2010, (Leo Baeck Institute, Berlin)