Orden und Schriftstücke aus dem Nachlas Hans Julius Wolff

The Hans Julius Wolff Collection

Documents of a Jewish academics family

This collection consists of a wide range of letters, diaries, family documents, medals, and decorations from a large family of Jewish academics whose common ancestor was Rabbi Lewin Aron Pinner (1799–1873).

Evidence suggests that the collection was compiled by Hans Julius Wolff. For example, under the date of March 16, 1917, in War Diary No. 5, his father, Bruno Wolff, writes that he is delighted about his son Hans Julius’s great interest in his ancestors’ history. Bruno Wolff regarded the keen historical awareness of his fifteen-year-old son as something special and acknowledged it in several places.

Hans Julius Wolff, legal historian

Hans Julius Wolff (1902–1983) with his younger brother Reinhard, 1912
Hans Julius Wolff (1902–1983) with his younger brother Reinhard, 1912

Professor Hans Julius Wolff (1902–1983), a world-renowned authority on Roman and Greek law, was forced to emigrate from Germany in 1935 after being stripped of all of his offices. He first went from Berlin to Panama and in 1939 continued on to the United States. When emigrating, he took along several large steamer trunks full of the abovementioned collection of his ancestors' possessions. In 1952, after being appointed professor of ancient legal history in Mainz (he later served in Freiburg as well), he took the large collection back with him to Germany. Thanks to his daughter, Dr. Katherine Wolff, this extremely valuable collection was presented to the Jewish Museum Frankfurt.

The collection

Nearly one thousand letters have survived, most in good condition, which the family members exchanged between 1844 and 1921. They recount the story not only of the Pinner family, but also of the branches of the family that were related to the Pinners by marriage. They create an exciting tableau of Jewish life that sheds light on the emerging Jewish middle class in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. In addition, the documents written by the academically established men show the different types of anti-Semitism existing in the period.

Bruno Wolff and Julius Wolff, physicians

The collection can be used to study two focal points and key figures of medical research:

1. Hans Julius’s father was Bruno Wolff (1870–1918), a physician and professor of pathology in Berlin. He served as a medical officer in the First World War and left behind numerous diaries about this period.

2. Hans Julius’s grandfather and Bruno Wolff’s father was the famous physician Julius Wolff (1836–1902), a professor in Berlin, the father of German orthopedics, and the discoverer of osteoporosis as a disease. At Berlin’s Charité Hospital, Julius Wolff was one of the first doctors to operate on children with cleft palates and patients with clubfoot. In 2008, the Charité honored its famous former staff member by establishing the Julius Wolff Institute. In addition, in 2010, the professors Georg Duda and Georg Bergmann published a reprint of Julius Wolff’s major work, Das Gesetz der Transformation der Knochen (The Law of the Transformation of Bones), which had originally appeared in 1892. It includes several letters from Wolff’s international correspondence with other doctors, which is currently held in the Jewish Museum Frankfurt.

Additional letters and documents

Also worth mentioning are the 137 letters that the merchant Moritz Pinner (1828–1911) – who emigrated to America in 1851 – wrote to his brother Adolf Pinner (1842–1909), professor of chemistry at the Veterinary Institute in Berlin. Moritz and Adolf were the oldest and youngest sons of Rabbi Lewin Aron Pinner, and their letters shed light not only on lived Jewish experience, but also on the political and economic views of the age.

In 2013, a summary of these letters was published in a bilingual German-English edition under the title:
Moritz Pinner (USA) an Adolf Pinner (Berlin): Briefe eines jüdischen Deutsch-Amerikaners an seinen Bruder in Deutschland (1863–1919)
Norderstedt: Books on Demand, 196 pages, ISBN 978-3732237753

The Wolffs’ extended circle of relatives also included Nobel laureate Paul Ehrlich (1854–1915). Both families descended maternally from Abraham Weigert (1786–1868), a factory owner in Rosenberg in Silesia. In addition, the Hans Julius Wolff Collection contains autobiographical writings by Abraham Weigert and his son Hermann Weigert. These provide valuable insight into the circumstances from Abraham Weigert’s grandson Paul Ehrlich came.

VolunteerKarola NickKarola Nick supports the museum by recording and transcribing the hand-written documents in the holdings of the museum’s archives. She was awarded the Medallion of the City of Frankfurt in 2017 for her many years of volunteer work.