Dr. Ernst Brande, Robert’s father, ran a law firm with an apartment in Vienna’s first district. Shortly before the “Anschluss,” he traveled to Poland for a business appointment. That turned out to be his rescue. What his wife, Ernestine Brande, experienced in the days after the Nazis seized power made her mistrustful of the Viennese for a lifetime. She eventually managed to meet up with her husband at her parents’ home in L’viv. From there, everyone fled overland on the Trans-Siberian Railway to Vladivostok and finally to Shanghai. In order to earn some money, Ernst and Ernestine completed a series of courses in Shanghai in which they learned corset making, bookbinding, driving and shirt and tie sewing. In 1943, Ernst Brande received official permission to practice as a lawyer in Shanghai.
Born in 1944, Robert Brande attended the kindergarten in Shanghai with other Jewish children. Because of his young age, he had few memories of Shanghai. But he did report about his cat Muli, who was originally acquired to fight the prevailing mouse plague and subsequently became his friend.
In 1949, the family left Shanghai on board the “General M. C. Meigs” and sailed to San Francisco. While researching for our exhibition, my colleague Daniela Pscheiden coincidentally found a photo of little Robert in his father’s arm on the “General M. C. Meigs”. Just five years old at the time, Robert Brande remembers the hefty storms during the crossing. After arriving in the United States, the passengers were taken to New York on a train guarded by the FBI. They then travelled by ship to Israel, where the Brande family lived until 1955.
Back in Vienna, his parents found out that their former housekeeper and her husband had appropriated everything, even Ernst Brande’s suits and the underwear with their mother’s monogram. For 11-year-old Robert, the return to Vienna proved to be a culture shock. At school he did not let any antisemitic remarks rest. One day a classmate asked him what the difference between a large and a small Jew was. The large one burns longer, was the reply. Robert gave his fellow pupil the thrashing he deserved. Ernst and Ernestine Brande decided to send their son to England for training, thereby not only opening a new horizon for Robert, but also access to a comprehensive education and a second mother tongue. Robert returned to Vienna afterwards and became a successful lawyer.
For me, Dr. Robert Brande was a long-time companion. We met almost daily in the early morning on his way to his regular breakfast spot at Café Korb to get his information from the international newspapers. In the summer of 2020, he shared details about his family and his early years in Shanghai with me and I got to know a new side of Dr. Robert Brande, a courageous man who organized his life with a lot of mettle and at the same time a lot of energy. Conversations with him enriched me and we always said goodbye with a smile. I will miss that. His death leaves a great void and means a great loss, particularly for his family, to whom we send much strength and deep compassion during this difficult time. I will always keep Dr. Robert Brande in fond memory.