Find more information about

at the Center for Jewish History:

NOTE: you will be redirected
to the Web site for the

Fanta, Berta

(1866–1918), literary and intellectual figure. Berta Fanta (née Sohr) came from an assimilated, well-to-do Jewish family living in the small town of Libochovice (Libochowitz), near Prague. She was an intellectual who hosted a famous philosophical salon. The gatherings that took place in the Fanta family’s home over the two-decade period before World War I were attended by professors at the German university in Prague, including Albert Einstein and Christian von Ehrenfels; intellectuals of the younger generation, such as Franz Kafka and Max Brod; and occasional visitors, such as the anthroposophist Rudolf Steiner.

Topics for discussions at Fanta’s salons went beyond the works of philosophers who were part of the official German canon, such as Kant and Hegel. The ideas of Bernard Bolzano and Franz Brentano, who were particularly influential in Prague, were explored as well. Islam was another frequent topic of conversation. The most active participant in the circle was Hugo Bergmann, who married Fanta’s daughter, Else, and later became the first rector of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. Gatherings at the Fantas were also devoted to scientific and literary topics.

Fanta did not write for publication; only her diary and a few of her poems have appeared in print. Even though her discussion groups were attended by many Jews (as well as gentiles), she was not interested in Judaism and had little or no understanding of the customs of more traditional Jews. With her sister, Ida Freund, she regularly attended university lectures and concerts; they also traveled extensively abroad, visiting art galleries and viewing monuments. Fanta herself lectured on Goethe and other literary topics before large audiences.

In place of religion, Fanta’s life was preoccupied with European—mostly German—culture. She ignored Wagner’s antisemitism and attended performances of his operas diligently. His music engendered mystical, almost religious experiences for her, as did the writings of Nietzsche. While few of the scholars with whom Fanta associated were Jews, many of her friends came from Jewish families. Fanta’s summer home in Podbaba, on the outskirts of Prague, was a center for large-scale philanthropic activities that transformed the intense antisemitism of the region so that Jews felt more accepted.

When, toward the end of her life, Fanta prepared to move to Palestine, it was to escape her luxurious existence and, above all, to be close to Hugo Bergmann. She died unexpectedly, presumably of a heart attack, while preparing to emigrate.

Suggested Reading

Georg Gimpl, Weil der Boden selbst hier brennt: Aus dem Prager Salon der Berta Fanta, 1865–1918 (Furth im Wald, Ger., and Prague, 2001); Wilma A. Iggers, “Berta Fanta,” in Women of Prague: Ethnic Diversity and Social Change from the Eighteenth Century to the Present, pp. 142–163 (New York and Providence, 1995).