1) Olomouc and Trauneck's origins

The conductor Joseph Trauneck was born Josef Maria Gustav Trawniček1 on 16 February 1898 in the Moravian town of Olomouc, to Karl Trawniček, a railway official of Catholic background, and his wife Rosalia, who was of Jewish decent.2 At the time, Olomouc was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and the number of German-speaking citizens in Olomouc was three times greater than the number of Czech-speakers. The town, originally founded by the Romans, had been an important centre in the Great Moravian Empire of the ninth and tenth centuries. It became a bishopric in 1063 and Empress Maria Theresa raised the town in 1777 to the dignity of an archbishopric.3 What is today its ‘old university’ was founded in 1570 but suppressed by the Austrians in 1858. The Univerzita Palackého v Olomouc was reopened in 1946 in the newly-established Czechoslovakian Republic (today the Czech Republic) and today is a theological seminary with a valuable library.4 As the cultural, administrative and religious centre of the region, Olomouc had become a focal point in the nineteenth century for merchants, officials and musicians from all over Europe and was an important Jewish center in the country. The Jewish community of Olomouc, before the Holocaust, was one of the largest in the Czechoslovakian Republic. The synagogue of Olomouc, once the second biggest in the country, was blown up during the occupation by the Germans after 1939. Moravia produced a number of famous composers and musicians such as Leoš Janáček (1854–1928),Gustav Mahler (1860–1911), Erich Maria Korngold (1897–1957) and Egon Kornauth (1891–1959). In a letter of 8 February 1974 to his friend Peter Gülke, Trauneck described Olomouc as ‘a still vibrant place in terms of musical life.`5

The story of how his parents met explains why Trauneck, born to a Jewish mother, grew up as a Catholic. Rosalia Wendum, the daughter of a Jewish umbrella maker from Vienna, had travelled to Moravia and, on the way home, her train arrived late in Olomouc. As a result, she missed her connection to Vienna and was befriended by the stationmaster, Karl Trawniček, who saw the desperate woman at the deserted station and offered her a place to stay at his home. Soon after, the Jewish girl converted to Catholicism, the couple were married, and remained in Olomouc. Three children were born, two daughters and (in 1898) a son, Josef.

Rosalia’s decision to convert to Catholicism and to educate her children in the Roman faith was made for genuinely religious and not merely social reasons. Conversions from the Jewish faith to Catholicism were very common under the Habsburg monarchy and were undoubtedly a prerequisite for promotion to any position of influence in the public service. One of the most prominent of such cases was the Jewish-born Mahler who would never have been appointed as the director of the Viennese Hofoper had he not converted to Catholicism. While Mahler left his Jewish faith as an adult, others like Trauneck, Arnold Schoenberg, or the playwright Hugo von Hofmannsthal were born into converted families. Though Trauneck grew up to be non-religious, his sister Anna chose to live as a nun in a convent.6


  1. The name Trawniček appears in this spelling only on his birth certificate. In other Austrian documents his name was spelled Travnicek. Birth certificate in Zemský Archiv V Opavĕˇ, popočkaˇ, Olomouc, U Husova , sboru 10, 771 11 Olomouc.

  2. Karoly Csipak conducted several interviews with Lisbeth and in 1990 published, ‘Allgemeine Emigrationsbedingungen – am Beispiel Joseph Trauneck’ [General Emigration Conditions - The Example of Joseph Trauneck, Beiträge 90: Österreichische Musiker im Exil, Edited by the Österreichische Gesellschaft für Musik (Beiträge der Österreichischen Gesellschaft für Musik 8), Kassel: Bärenreiter 1990, p. 119–124. I am indebted to Karoly Csipak, a private scholar who met Trauneck shortly before his death, for his active co-operation. He assembled an invaluable collection of materials with a view to writing a biography of Trauneck. I benefited from an extensive personal interview with Csipak in Berlin on 18 January 2007 and regular correspondence.An other very important source of information on Trauneck is the 'Internationale Schoenberg Collection at the Schoenberg Center in Vienna (hereafter always given as ISG Collection) , which contains his voluminous correspondence (more than 300 letters). Additional information was provided by former colleagues of Trauneck’s during his years in East Germany, including the conductor Peter Gülke and the dramaturge Wolfgang Marggraf.

  3. See W. Müller, ‘Geschichte der königl. Hauptstadt Olmütz’, in: Meyers großes Konversations-Lexikon, Bd. 15, Leipzig: Bibliographischen Institut 1908, p. 47–48

  4. Today, this is the Czech name of the university.

  5. Letter from Trauneck to Peter Gülke, 8 February 1974. (ISG Collection): ‘Olmütz ist auch heute noch ein rühriges Plätzchen auf dem Gebiete der Musik.’ Peter Gülke was dramaturge at the City Theatre in Erfurt between 1957 and 1960 and dramaturge and conductor at the Rudolstadt Theatre 1959–1964 in the German Democratic Republic .

  6. Csipak related this story about Trauneck’s parents in our interview .