The Percy Brand Papers

Percy BrandThe life of Percy Brand, whose papers are held by the American Jewish Historical Society–New England Archives, sounds like a plot from a movie. Born Peretz Brand in Liepaja, Latvia, in 1908, Brand began studying violin when he was ten years old. By the time he was 33, he had become concertmaster of the Latvian Symphony Orchestra in Riga. In that year, 1941, the Germans took control of the Baltic countries. Brand’s wife Sara and their children Mendel and Judith Basya were killed. Brand himself was sent Buchenwald in Germany.

In the concentration camp, he would be asked to play the violin for the Nazi commandant, who in turn provided him with a small amount of food. He said later that he believed his musical skill, and the nutrition he received in reward for it, was “probably the only thing that kept me alive.” After the war, Brand performed for other survivors in Displaced Persons camps in Germany. It was at one such concert that he met Gertrude (Grunia) Levine, who would become his second wife. She, too, had been widowed during the Holocaust, and had come to hear a violinist from her hometown. After they married, Gertrude also became his manager.

In 1949, Brand and Gertrude immigrated to New York and then moved to Boston, where he worked as a performer on television and radio. He also played for charitable causes including Beth Israel Hospital, Brookline Hospital, and the Zionist Organization. The Percy Brand Papers contain many programs and newspaper articles attesting to the professional success he achieved in the area. He died at the age of 77, in 1985.

Also in the AJHS–NEA collection are artworks of Brand’s, done in pencil, crayon, and watercolor, and – lest anyone think archives contain nothing but old papers – an oversized music stand Brand used when performing.

Note: Percy Brand and his wife, Grunia, also have a case file in the Records of the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, which documents some of the challenges faced by Grunia’s uncle as he tried to help them immigrate to the United States.

About Johnna Kaplan

Johnna Kaplan is the editor of the AJHS-NEA newsletter. A freelance writer based in Hartford, Connecticut, she covers travel, history and Jewish issues, among other topics, and has been published in newspapers and magazines, including Newsweek, the Christian Science Monitor, the Jewish Daily Forward, and She is the currently the editor of Hartford City Center HamletHub and writes about Connecticut on her blog, “The Size of Connecticut.”

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