Leo Perutz

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Leo Perutz (before 1925)

Leo Perutz (real name Leopold Perutz; * 2 November 1882 in Prague, Austria-Hungary; † 25 August 1957 in Bad Ischl) was an Austrian writer. In his civil profession he was an actuary.



Leo Perutz was the eldest son of Benedikt Perutz, a successful textile entrepreneur, and his wife Emilie (née Austrian). The family was of Jewish-Spanish descent and had resided in Rakonitz, a small town about 50 kilometers from Prague, since at least 1730. The family was of Jewish faith, but secular and not very religious. In addition to Leo, there were three younger siblings, brothers Paul (* 1885) and Hans (* 1892) and sister Charlotte (* 1888).

School and army time

Perutz was not a good student. From 1888 to 1893 he attended the prestigious Piarist School in Prague’s Neustadt, where Kafka’s friends of the same age, Felix Weltsch and Max Brod, also went. German State Grammar School in Prague, from which he was probably expelled in 1899 for bad behaviour. From 1899 to 1901 he attended the k.k. Gymnasium in Krumau, but even here his performance was so poor that he was not admitted to the Matura. In 1901 the family moved to Vienna, where Perutz attended the k.k. Erzherzog-Rainer-Gymnasium, which he left in 1902 without graduating. Afterwards he probably worked for some time in his father’s company.

From 1 October 1903 he performed his military service as a one-year volunteer with the k.k. Landwehr Regiment No. 8 Prague. At the end of the period of service, the one-year volunteers became reserve officers, provided they passed the final examination. This does not seem to have been the case with Perutz, as he enlisted for a second year. For health reasons, he retired from the army in December 1904 with the rank of corporal.

Studies and literary beginnings

In the following year, Perutz probably worked again as an employee in his father’s company. For the winter semester 1905/1906 he enrolled at the University of Vienna at the Faculty of Philosophy, but as an “extraordinary student”, since he did not have the university entrance qualification. He took courses in mathematics and economics. In the winter semester of 1906/1907 he transferred to the Vienna University of Technology and studied probability theory, statistics, actuarial mathematics and economics. Although it was not formally possible, Perutz seems to have obtained a degree in actuarial mathematics there; at any rate, documents indicating this were found in his estate.

In Vienna, contacts developed with budding writers who, like Perutz, presented their first literary attempts in the “Freilicht” association. His acquaintances from this time included Richard A. Bermann (who later became known under the pseudonym Arnold Höllriegel), Berthold Viertel and Ernst Weiß. An influential literary role model was Karl Kraus, whose Fackel issues Perutz read regularly. A first prose sketch appeared in February 1906 in the journal Der Weg, a novella in March 1907 in the Sonntags-Zeit.

Actuarial and Café

Assicurazioni Generali – Trieste

Café Central

In October 1907 Perutz found employment as an actuary with Assicurazioni Generali (Franz Kafka also worked for this company) in Trieste. In addition to work, he continued to publish reviews and short stories. In October 1908 he went back to Vienna, where he worked for the insurance company Anker until 1923. As an actuary he calculated, among other things. Mortality tables and insurance rates based on them. He also published on this subject in specialist journals. The Perutz equalisation formula named after him was used in the industry for a long time. Throughout his life Perutz was to take an interest in mathematical problems, which was also reflected in the construction of some of his literary works.

In Vienna, Perutz frequented the literary cafés, initially the Café Museum, then the Café Central. His circle of acquaintances included Peter Altenberg, Hermann Bahr, Oskar Kokoschka and Alfred Polgar. In the period before the First World War, Perutz participated intensively in the literary and musical life of Vienna, and also did a lot of sport, such as skiing and skating, and made several journeys, for example to France, Italy, Spain, North Africa, Turkey, Lebanon, Palestine and Egypt. He could afford this lifestyle, which was comparatively lavish for a salaried employee, because in addition to his salary he also received income from his father’s company.

First successes and war

Perutz’s first novel, Die dritte Kugel, was published in 1915, and a second novel, Das Mangobaumwunder, co-written with Paul Frank, was published in 1916. Both books were quite successful, and Die dritte Kugel was favorably reviewed by Kurt Tucholsky and others. The film rights to The Mango Tree Miracle were sold in 1917, and the film version, directed by Rudolf Biebrach, premiered in 1921 under the title Das Abenteuer des Dr. Kircheisen.

Perutz was not carried away by the enthusiasm for war in 1914, which also gripped many writers. Initially, he was not drafted because of his myopia. In August 1915, however, he also had to start military service. He completed four months of training near Budapest, from where he was sent to the Russian front at the end of March 1916. On 4 July he was shot in the lungs in Galicia near Chochoniw (a village near Rohatyn), which resulted in a long stay in hospital. Afterwards he was promoted to lieutenant and from August 1917 he was assigned to the Imperial and Royal War Press Quarters. War Press Quarters, where he made the acquaintance of Egon Erwin Kisch. In March 1918 Perutz married Ida Weil, 13 years his junior, whom he had already met in 1913 and to whom he had been engaged since 1917.


In Vienna, Perutz followed the revolutionary events of 1918/1919 with interest and attended political meetings, taking sides with the Social Democrats. During this time he published several articles in which he sharply attacked the Austrian military justice system. At times he was a member of the workers’ council in the Anker insurance company.

The period between 1918 and 1928 was Perutz’s most productive literary period. He wrote six novels, most of which were very successful with critics and the public; he was also able to sell the film rights to several of them. In addition, he published short stories, novellas and wrote screenplays. Occasionally he also worked as an editor of some of Victor Hugo’s works. In 1923 Perutz’s novel Der Meister des Jüngsten Tages (The Master of Judgment Day ) was a great success with the public and critics; the work was to be translated into many languages in the following years and became a not insignificant source of money for the exile years. In 1928 his novel Wohin rollst du, Äpfelchen ... appeared in installments in the Berliner Illustrirte Zeitung and made Perutz known to an audience of millions.

Perutz’s circle of acquaintances expanded considerably as a result of these successes. Among the writers with whom he communicated or had correspondence during this period were Bertolt Brecht, Bruno Brehm, Egon Dietrichstein, Theodor Kramer, Anton Kuh, Robert Musil, Friedrich Reck-Malleczewen, Alexander Roda Roda, Walther Rode, Josef Weinheber and Franz Werfel. His regular café was the Café Herrenhof. He had his own table in the back room there, where he played cards and where, incidentally, he was known for his often vicious, sometimes violent performances. Thus it came to an éclat there with Otto Soyka, who was also prone to vicious appearances (cf. Friedrich Torberg’s Tante Jolesch).

Vienna, Porzellangasse 37

Perutz’s marriage was happy. Ida and Leo Perutz lived in a four-room apartment in the Alsergrund district at Porzellangasse 37, near Liechtensteinpark, from 1922. In 1920 their daughter Michaela was born, and in 1922 a second daughter, Leonore. Shortly after the birth of son Felix, Perutz’s wife Ida died in 1928, plunging him into a deep crisis.

Crisis and retreat

After the death of his wife, Perutz withdrew from public life for a long time. He visited occultists, with whose help he tried to make contact with his dead wife – although at the same time he remained sceptical about such methods. The economic crisis at the end of the 1920s also reduced Perutz’s income, since on the one hand the income from book sales declined and on the other hand the company run by his brothers no longer yielded the former profits. Politically, Perutz turned to legitimism in the 1930s.[1]

Literarily, he tried to earn money during this time by collaborating with authors such as Alexander Lernet-Holenia. In addition, there were plays, which he wrote with more or less success, mostly together with co-authors. In 1933 Perutz’s novel St. Petri-Schnee was still published in Germany, but after the National Socialists came to power it could hardly be distributed there. Although Perutz himself was not on the list of banned authors, his publisher Zsolnay was considered Jewish and could no longer deliver his books to Germany. For Perutz, his most important market thus disappeared.

Exile and standstill

In 1934 Perutz met Grete Humburger, whom he married in 1935. After the Anschluss of Austria, Perutz fled with his family in 1938, first to Venice, from there to Haifa, and finally settled in Tel Aviv. Perutz would have preferred exile in a European country or even in the USA. However, the immigration conditions there were difficult to fulfil, to which was added the fact that his brother Hans, a convinced Zionist on whom he depended heavily economically, had already moved his company to Tel Aviv and urged Perutz to follow him there.

In Palestine, Perutz initially found it very difficult. Not only did he miss the cultural life, he also had little sympathy for Zionism. Nevertheless, he settled in well after a short time, which was certainly helped by the fact that he had hardly any economic worries to suffer. The modern, chaotic and hot Tel Aviv did not appeal to him much, so that the family subsequently spent mainly the summer months in cooler Jerusalem, whose Old City with its narrow streets Perutz appreciated very much.

Perutz could not think of publishing in Palestine. He had no contact with exile journals and the associations of exiles. Even with the few German-language authors who had emigrated to Palestine – for example Max Brod, Felix Weltsch and Arnold Zweig – the points of contact remained few. From 1941, through the mediation and translation of the emigrant Annie Reney and with the support of Jorge Luis Borges, a number of Perutz’s novels appeared in Spanish in Argentina. He wrote little during this period, although he continued to do research for some older projects.

Between two states

Perutz had accepted the citizenship of Palestine in 1940.[2] Soon after 1945 he thought of returning to Europe, but this was not possible in the turmoil of the post-war period. In addition, Perutz, at his advanced age, was not sure whether he would be able to cope with this new change of location. After the founding of the state of Israel, he felt increasingly uncomfortable there. He rejected all nationalism, and the expulsion of the Arabs by the Jews was not only repugnant to him, but it also destroyed for him the cherished oriental atmosphere of the country. In addition, there was postal censorship and difficulties with exit permits. Nevertheless, in 1950 Perutz and his wife managed to travel to Austria and also to England for the first time. In 1952 Perutz again took Austrian citizenship. In the following years he always spent the summer months in Vienna and in the Salzkammergut.

The literary new beginning turned out to be difficult. Although Perutz had started writing again, he was initially unable to find a publisher. It was particularly problematic that, as a result of the anti-Semitism that still existed, publishers either cut overly “Jewish” passages from his works or, out of consideration for the market, did not want to publish them. For example, his previous publisher Paul Zsolnay refused to publish the new novel Nachts unter der steinernen Brücke, about which Perutz expressed himself very emotionally in a letter:

“Zsolnay spares the sensibilities of that Viennese rabble who do not like to be reminded that there are Jews against whom they have behaved badly. But I don’t want to wait until – as Zsolnay writes – the German soul opens up again to works of Jewish intellectual property, and so I have sent the book to my friend Jakob Hegner, who is to advise me a less shitty publisher for it.[3]

When Perutz’s novel was finally published in Frankfurt am Main in 1953, there were many positive reviews, but the publisher went bankrupt shortly afterwards and the book could not be distributed. A second new novel, The Judas of Leonardo, did not appear until shortly after his death.

Grave of Leo Perutz, Bad Ischl

In 1957 Perutz collapsed during a visit to the house of his friend Lernet-Holenia in Bad Ischl and died shortly afterwards in the hospital there. He was buried in the cemetery of Bad Ischl.[4]

To the work

Jorge Luis Borges appreciated Perutz and supported the publication of Spanish translations in Argentina. In France, his novel The Marques de Bolibar was awarded the Prix Nocturne in 1962.

Perutz’s novels often follow the fate of individuals (e.g. The Swedish Horseman or The Judas of Leonardo). They often contain an element of the fantastic (e.g. Night under the Stone Bridge) and are usually set in the past or refer to the past (e.g. St. Peter’s Snow). The plot is excitingly told and playfully propelled by numerous allusions, ironies, and confusing, conflicting interpretations of events. A central motif is the question “What is real?”, with competing versions, often that of a first-person narrator and that of the environment, confronting each other without any way of deciding which version corresponds to the “actual” events.[5][6] Friedrich Torberg believed “that he belongs to the masters of the fantastic novel.”[7]

Since the late 1980s, Perutz’s work has been rediscovered by the reading public and has appeared in numerous new editions. Among more recent authors, Daniel Kehlmann in particular counts among his admirers: “Perutz is the great magical realist of German literature. He is someone who basically does what Gabriel García Márquez and Jorge Luis Borges also discovered for themselves: namely, to narrate the marvelous, the incomprehensible and magical with – as Marquez calls it – a motionless face.”[8]

Works by Perutz

Novels and novellas

  • Die dritte Kugel (first edition by Albert Langen in Munich, 1915). DTV, Munich 2007, ISBN 978-3-423-13579-5.
  • The Mango Tree Miracle. Eine unglaubwürdige Geschichte (first edition by Albert Langen in Munich, 1916) (together with Paul Frank). New edition by Knaur, Munich 1998, ISBN 3-426-60100-1.
  • Between nine and nine. (1918). First edition published by Albert Langen, Munich, 1918, with color cover drawing by Thomas Theodor Heine. New edition published by Matthes & Seitz Berlin, Berlin 2009, ISBN 978-3-88221-654-7.
  • The inn to the Kartätsche. A story from the old Austria. (1920)
  • The Marques de Bolibar. (1920). Zsolnay, Vienna 2004, ISBN 978-3-552-05305-2.
  • The Birth of the Antichrist. (1921)
  • The Master of the Last Day. (1923)
  • Turlupin (1924). Zsolnay, Vienna 1995 ISBN 978-3-552-04703-7.
  • The Cossack and the Nightingale. (1927) (together with Paul Frank)
  • Where are you rolling to, little apple ... (1928).
  • Lord, have mercy on me. (1930) (Novellas)
  • St. Peter’s Snow. (1933). Zsolnay, Vienna 2007, ISBN 978-3-552-05420-2.
  • The Swedish Rider. (1936)
  • Night under the stone bridge. A novel from old Prague. Frankfurter Verlagsanstalt, Frankfurt am Main 1953.
  • The Judas of Leonardo. (posthumous, 1959). DTV, Munich 2005, ISBN 3-423-13304-X.
  • Mainacht in Wien. (1996) (Fragments from the estate). DTV, Munich 2007, ISBN 978-3-423-13544-3.


  • The Journey to Pressburg. (Play, together with Hans Adler, 1930 premiere in Josephstadt, directed by Emil Geyer)
  • Tomorrow is a holiday. (Comedy, together with Hans Adler and Paul Frank, 1935 premiere at the Deutsches Volkstheater)
  • Why Don’t You Believe Me? (1936) (Comedy, together with Paul Frank)


  • The Field Courts and the People’s Court. (anonymous writing against military justice in the First World War, 1919)


  • Victor Hugo: Quatrevingt-treize (1925, The Year of the Guillotine, with Oswald Levett)
  • Victor Hugo: Bug-Jargal (1929, Flames on San Domingo, together with Josef Kalmer)

Works according to Perutz


  • The Adventure of Dr. Kircheisen. (1921)
  • The Marquis of Bolivar. (1922)
  • The Birth of the Antichrist. (1922)
  • Bolibar (1929)
  • The Cossack and the Nightingale. (1935)
  • Historia de una noche. (1941)
  • Ceniza al viento. (1942)
  • Historia de una noche. (1963)
  • The Master of Judgment Day. (1990)
  • Tyro (1990)
  • St. Peter’s Snow. (1991)

Radio play

  • The Master of Judgment Day. (1988)

Stage versions

  • The Judas of Leonardo. (1999, dramatized by Marius Pasetti and Christoph Prückner – premiere: Theater Brett, Vienna)[9]
  • Nachts unter der steinernen Brücke (2009, dramatized by Kristine Tornquist and set to music by composers Paul Koutnik, Oskar Aichinger, Francois-Pierre Descamps, Wolfram Wagner, Lukas Haselböck, Gernot Schedlberger and Christof Dienz as a series of 9 chamber operas – premiere: by the opera group Sirene Operntheater, (Ankerbrotfabrik Vienna))[10]
  • Between Nine and Nine. (2010, dramatized by Viktorie Knotková and Anna Maria Krassnigg – premiere: Salon5, Vienna)[11]


  • Peter Stephan Jungk: Leo Perutz – The Master of the Night. ORF/ZDF co-production 1989

See also

  • Leo Perutz Prize


  • Perutz, Leo. In: Lexikon deutsch-jüdischer Autoren. Volume 17: Meid-Phil. Ed. by the Archiv Bibliographia Judaica. De Gruyter, Berlin et al. 2009, ISBN 978-3-598-22697-7, pp. 441-451.
  • Henry Keazor: “(…) als hätte man ihm einen Hieb vor die Stirne versetzt”: “Sinnreiche Bildnisse” bei Leo Perutz. In: Matthias Bauer, Fabienne Liptay, Susanne Marschall (eds.): Kunst und Kognition. Interdisciplinary Studies on the Generation of Visual Sense. Wilhelm Fink, Munich et al. 2008, ISBN 978-3-7705-4451-6, pp. 87-113 (analysing in particular: “The Judas of Leonardo” as well as “The Sarabande”, “The Painter Brabanzio” (both from: Night under the Stone Bridge) and “The Master of the Last Day”).
  • Peter Mario Kreuter: “Auf dem Karlsplatze war es still.” The Staging of Prague as a Place of the Occult in Leo Perutz and Paul Leppin. In: Wolfgang Müller-Funk, Christa Agnes Tuczay (eds.): Faszination des Okkulten. Discourses on the Supersensible. Francke, Attempto, Tübingen 2008, ISBN 3-7720-8259-9, pp. 187-200.
  • Clemens K. Stepina (ed.): Stations. Texte zu Leben und Werk von Leo Perutz (= Interfaces. Vol. 3). Edition Art Science, Vienna/St. Wolfgang 2008, ISBN 978-3-902157-35-5[12].
  • Tom Kindt, Jan Christoph Meister (eds.): Leo Perutz’ Romane. From Structure to Meaning. With a first reprint of the novella “Von den traurigen Abenteuern des Herrn Guidotto”. (= Untersuchungen zur deutschen Literaturgeschichte 132) Niemeyer, Tübingen 2007, ISBN 978-3-484-32132-8.
  • Hans-Harald Müller: Leo Perutz. Biography. Zsolnay, Vienna 2007, ISBN 978-3-552-05416-5.
  • Alexander Peer: “Lord, have mercy on me!” Leo Perutz, Leben und Werk (= Materials 1). Edition Arts & Science, Vienna/St. Wolfgang 2007, ISBN 978-3-902157-24-9.
  • Monica Strauss: Leo Perutz. Novelist of Old Prague. In: Aufbau. No. 3, 2007, ISSN 0004-7813, pp. 14f. (The author deals mainly with “Nachts unter der steinernen Brücke”).
  • Marina Rauchenbacher: Wege der Narration. Subject and World in Texts by Leo Perutz and Alexander Lernet-Holenia. Praesens-Verlag, Vienna 2006, ISBN 3-7069-0359-8.
  • Peter Lauener: The Crisis of the Hero. Die Ich-Störung im Erzählwerk von Leo Perutz Lang, Frankfurt am Main 2004, (Hamburger Beiträge zur Germanistik 41) ISBN 3-631-52957-0.
  • Brigitte Forster, Hans-Harald Müller (eds.): Leo Perutz. Restless Dreams, Abysmal Constructions. Dimensions of the work, stations of the effect. Contributions to the second International Perutz Symposium, held in Vienna and Prague from 20 to 23 September 2000. Sonderzahl, Vienna 2002, ISBN 3-85449-197-2.
  • Yvonne-Patricia Alefeld: Poetic History and Jewish Identity. Zu Themen und Motiven im Werk von Leo Perutz. In: Frank-Lothar Kroll (ed.): Deutsche Autoren des Ostens als Gegner und Opfer des Nationalsozialismus. Beiträge zur Widerstandsproblematik (= Literarische Landschaften 3). Duncker & Humblot, Berlin 2000, ISBN 3-428-10293-2, pp. 297-319.
  • Arndt Krieger: “Mundus symbolicus” and semiotic recurrence. Zum ironischen Spiel der Wirklichkeitssignale in Noven von Leo Perutz. Tenea, Berlin 2000, ISBN 3-932274-44-X (Accessory: Düsseldorf, Univ., Diss., 2000).
  • Ulrike Siebauer: Leo Perutz – “I know everything. Everything but me”. A Biography. 2., corrected edition. Bleicher, Gerlingen 2000, ISBN 3-88350-666-4 (also: Regensburg, Univ., Diss., 1998).
  • Ulrike Siebauer: “Camaraderie above all. Even about boozing and women’s stories.” Leo Perutz and Friedrich Reck-Malleczewen, 1926-1931. In: Georg Braungart et al. (eds.): Bespiegelungskunst. Encounters on the Side Paths of Literary History. Attempto, Tübingen 2004, ISBN 3-89308-341-3, pp. 231-243.
  • Karl Sigmund: Musil, Perutz, Broch – Mathematik und die Wiener Literaten. In: Mitteilungen der DMV (Deutsche Mathematiker-Vereinigung). Heft 2, 1999, ISSN 0947-4471, pp. 47-54.
  • Michael Mandelartz: Poetik und Historik. Christian and Jewish Theology of History in the Historical Novels of Leo Perutz (= Conditio Judaica 2). Niemeyer, Tübingen 1992, ISBN 3-484-65102-4 (Zugleich: Aachen, Techn. Hochsch., Diss., 1989), table of contents and abstract.
  • Hans-Harald Müller: Leo Perutz (= Beck’sche Reihe 625 Autorenbücher). Beck, Munich 1992, ISBN 3-406-35051-8.
  • Hans-Harald Müller, Brita Eckert: Leo Perutz 1882-1957 (= Special Publications of the Deutsche Bibliothek 17). An exhibition of the Deutsche Bibliothek Frankfurt am Main. Zsolnay, Vienna/Darmstadt 1989, ISBN 3-552-04139-7.
  • Dietrich Neuhaus: Memory and Horror. Die Einheit von Geschichte, Phantastik und Mathematik im Werk Leo Perutz (= Europäische Hochschulschriften. Series 1: German Language and Literature. Vol. 765). Lang, Frankfurt am Main et al. 1984, ISBN 3-8204-7771-3 (also: Paderborn, Gesamthochsch., Diss., 1982).
  • Michael Mandelartz: PERUTZ, Leo(pold). In: Biographisch-Bibliographisches Kirchenlexikon (BBKL). Vol. 18, Bautz, Herzberg 2001, ISBN 3-88309-086-7, Sp. 1141-1149.
  • Tom Kindt:Perutz, Leo(pold). In: New German Biography (NDB). Vol. 20, Duncker & Humblot, Berlin 2001, ISBN 3-428-00201-6, p. 207 f. (Digitalisat).

Web links

Individual references

  2. Ulrike Siebauer: Leo Perutz – “I know everything. Everything but me”. P. 265: “On September 20, 1940, Leo Perutz acquired Palestinian citizenship.”
  3. Hans-Harald Müller: “Ich bin für Europa ein forgotten writer”. Zur Rezeption des Werks von Leo Perutz in Deutschland und Österreich von 1945 bis 1960. In: Dieter Sevin (ed.): Die Resonanz des Exils. Gelungene und mißlungene Rezeption deutschsprachiger Exilanten. Rodopi, Amsterdam 1992, ISBN 90-5183-383-0, pp. 326-337, here p. 330.
  4. Grave of Perutz at the cemetery Bad Ischl
  5. Cf. Hans-Harald Müller: Leo Perutz. Biography. Zsolnay, Vienna 2007, p. 254.
  6. Cf. also Ulrike Siebauer: Leo Perutz – Ich kenne alles. Everything but me. Bleicher, Gerlingen 2000, p. 151 and p. 192.
  7. Friedrich Torberg: Die Tante Jolesch oder Der Untergang des Abendlandes in Anekdoten. dtv, Munich 3rd ed. 1978, p. 141.
  8. Colourful psychological thriller in a historical setting: Leo Perutz biography published. Deutschlandradio, 22 August 2007.
  9. Chronology at
  10. [1]
  11. Description at of 20 September 2013 in the Internet Archive)
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