WOLFF, FRITZ, German Iranologist (b. Berlin, 11 November 1880; d. 1943; PLATE I), specializing in Avestan and Šāh-nāma studies and the author of Glossar zu Firdosis Schahname.

Fritz Wolff’s father, Emanuel Wolff (1850-1901), and his mother Hedwig Wolff, b. Wolff (1860-1935), were born in and near Posen (now Poznan in Poland), respectively, and later moved to Berlin. His father was a merchant, and the family was quite well off. Fritz received a general education at the Französisches Gymnasium (Collège Royal Français) in Berlin, founded by Elector Friedrich III of Prussia in 1689 for the Protestant immigrants from France. He left the Collège Royal with the certificate of maturity on 19 September 1899 to begin his studies. During his studies in Munich, Heidelberg, Berlin, and Giessen he was interested in a wide field of literature, languages, and art. Among the teachers important to him during his far-reaching linguistic studies, Wolff himself had mentioned Otto Behaghel (1854-1936), with whom he studied German philology, and Hermann Osthoff (1847-1909), whose special field was Indo-European languages, e.g. Sanskrit. His teacher in philosophy was Karl Theodor Groos (1861-1946). He finally concentrated on Iranian linguistics and graduated at the University of Giessen in 1905 under Christian Bartholomae (1855-1925), by whom he was greatly influenced. For some time Wolff held a chair for Sanskrit in Giessen (Dick and Sassenberg, p. 401), but for various reasons he did not follow an academic career and did not entertain the hope for a professorship, one of the probable reasons being that he did not want to face the possible difficulties arising from the fact that he was a Jew. Another reason must have been his inclination towards quiet solitary research work, for which he was enabled by his economic independence. For a number of years he lived in different German university towns—Münster, Berlin, Tübingen, Giessen—to do research work in the university libraries for his intended publications. In between he spent two years in Italy, especially in Rome and Florence.

With Hitler’s coming to power in 1933, Wolff was faced with the anti-Semitism of the regime, and he would have had great difficulties to see his Glossar zu Firdosis Schahname printed and published, of which he had already completed the manuscript, if the German Reich had not wanted a representative present to be handed over to the Shah of Persia at the occasion of the festivities at the Ferdowsi millenary celebration in 1934. Wolff’s Glossar was selected as the official present of the Reich through the intervention of the Iranologist Hans Heinrich Schaeder, who recognized the immense value of Wolff’s work and who could persuade Geheimrat Oster, a cultural attaché to the German Foreign Office, and his colleague Vice Consul von Heinz to have a preliminary copy of the book prepared for the festivities in Iran with the help of the Foreign Office, which also helped in financing the complicated setting up of the work and the printing of the final edition by the Reichsdruckerei. It was finally published in 1935. In spite of his invaluable contribution to the millenary, Wolff, being a Jew, was not mentioned in H. H. Schaeder’s official speech on Firdosi und die Deutschen held in Berlin at the occasion of the Ferdowsi celebration (27 September 1934), which had been organized by the newly founded Deutscher Orientverein under the patronage of the German government represented at the festivities by the Minister of Education. Wolff’s name and his work were officially mentioned a last time in the report on the annual congregation of the members of the Deutsche Morgenländische Gesellschaft in Bonn (29 August 1934), but he was never mentioned again in the ZDMG or any other German scientific publication till 1950, when Schaeder wrote an obituary for Wolff in the ZDMG.

Having seen the publication of the Glossar, Fritz Wolff continued his research work on Iranian literary subjects by completing the unfinished Šāh-nāma edition of Johann August Vullers (1803-1881) and Samuel Landauer (1846-1937), but his manuscript was never published. He also set about to list corrections and additions to the Glossar which were published posthumously.

Wolff met his future first wife, Minna Pfeffer (1884-1943), during his studies in Giessen. With their children, they lived in Berlin until they moved to Giessen in 1918. Fritz Wolff finally moved from there to Berlin-Neukölln on 21 October 1933 (according to the town archives of Giessen; and not in 1929, as Schaeder stated, 1945-49, p. 165). He had practically finished his work on the Glossar. His wife followed him to Berlin on 3 October 1934. These individual movements could be an indication of the beginning estrangement of the couple. They were divorced on 7 August 1936. Minna Wolff was arrested in Berlin on 14 October 1943 for deportation as a Jewess and murdered in Auschwitz.

Soon after the divorce from his first wife, Wolff married Margarete Marckwald (1900-1943), who had assisted him in the proofreading of the Glossar manuscript and whom he had mentioned in his foreword. Their marriage took place on 28 August 1936. They lived in Berlin-Neukölln.

After their property had been confiscated on 11 March 1943, Fritz and Margarete Wolff were arrested the following day and transported to Auschwitz with the 36th transport to be murdered there, probably soon after their arrival. The arrest of Fritz and Margarete Wolff took place in the course of the extensive last wave of deportations under the name of Fabrikaktion, when even Jews who so far had been forced to do war-related work in factories were taken to Auschwitz.

The fact that Wolff was of Jewish descent had very early decided his choice of a life as a private scholar, and it influenced his life under the National Socialist regime from 1933 till his death. When Fritz Wolff entered the Collège Royal, his religion was entered in his school files as Jewish, and he later converted to Catholicism. But in the nineteen-thirties he became a Lutheran Protestant after having explained to the pastor of the Protestant Philipp-Melanchthon-Church in Berlin-Neukölln, Arthur Rackwitz (1895-1980) that he could not get along with Catholicism. Rackwitz accepted Wolff’s conversion and received him in his church against the directions of the church authorities who did not want a Jew as a member of the church (Kolland, p. 355 ff.). Together with his Protestant wife, he was a regular churchgoer. He was a deeply religious man whose Christian faith was based on a profound trust in God’s will. Thus he found inward peace and the strength to continue his work in Germany after 1933, and he did not leave his country, e.g., to follow his children to the United States, when it was still possible. Founded on this strong faith he did not fear death, even when he knew what his fate would be after learning about the deportations of the Berlin Jews to the concentration camps.

H. H. Schaeder (1945-49, p. 164) describes Wolff, whom he knew personally, as a candid and sincere character, unassuming, and friendly towards everybody, devoted solely to his undemonstrative and unselfish scientific work. Schaeder also cites Richard Tüngel (1893-1970) who after the war became a co-founder of the German weekly DIE ZEIT in 1946. Tüngel was a good friend of Fritz Wolff and his family, and he was the last of his friends to speak with him before his deportation. Tüngel remembers that when news of the deportations of Jews in Berlin reached them, he advised Wolff and his wife to move to his flat and to wait there for any development of the desperate situation. Wolff, however, refused firmly to do so as he did not want to endanger others (1945-49, pp. 166-67).

From his first wife, Wolff had three children. His youngest child, Ursula Wolff-Schneider (born 14 August 1906), who worked as a press photographer in Germany during the Weimar Republic, had emigrated to the United States in 1937. Her older brothers, Emanuel and Walter (who called himself William in the USA), had already left Germany before her and she followed them to Chicago, where in 1942 she married the architect Karl Schneider (1892-1945) who had followed her from Germany soon after her emigration. The same year she became chief photographer for the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago. Her friends describe her as a very amiable woman who preferred to lead a private life, in which she resembled her father. She died in a traffic accident in Chicago on 8 August 1977. Ursula was survived by her brothers. Emanuel Wolff is said to have still been living in Manhattan in 1991. Fritz Wolff had at least one grandchild, Sabine Wolff (Blumenthal, p. 12, note 2).

On 17 September 2008, two Stolpersteine, brass-capped cubic concrete stones, with the names of Fritz and Margarete Wolff were dedicated to Wolff and his wife after having been inserted in the pavement in front of the house Jonasstraße 4 in Berlin-Neukölln, where they had lived up to their deportation. The stones were sponsored by a citizens’ association. More than 61,000 (as of July 2017) such Stolpersteine (i.e., ‘stumbling stones’) have been dedicated all over Germany, the Netherlands, Poland, Austria, Hungary, the Ukraine, and Czechia since December 1992 in remembrance of Jews, political opponents and other people murdered by the Nazis, who had lived in the corresponding buildings before their murder or their deportation to concentration camps. The brass caps are inscribed with the name, the year of birth, the date of the deportation, the way the person died, and the date of death, if known.

Works. Fritz Wolff’s thesis on “Die Infinitive des Indischen und Iranischen,” registered at the University of Giessen as Phil Prom Nr. 319, was published in Zeitschrift für vergleichende Sprachforschung 40, 1907. The development of the Indo-European infinitives from nomina actionis in rigid stages can be observed most distinctly in the Indo-Iranian languages, but it is not always easy to separate infinitives from ordinary nouns, nor infinitives from finite verbal forms. In his thesis, Wolff tries to draw clearer dividing lines in this field.

Having finished his thesis, Wolff immediately took over the completion of the Avesta translation which his teacher, Bartholomae, had begun with the translation of the Gathas: Die Gatha’s des Awesta, Zarathustra’s Verspredigten (Strasburg, 1905), based on Avesta: The Sacred Books of the Parsis, ed. by K. F. Geldner, vols. I–III, Stuttgart, 1889-96. Wolff translated the complete Avestan texts on the basis of Bartholomae’s Altiranisches Wörterbuch (Strasburg, 1904) and published as Avesta: Die heiligen Bücher der Parsen (Strasburg, 1910) and dedicated to Bartholomae, whose concept of the texts Wolff followed closely. With this work he created an indispensable addition to the Altiranisches Wörterbuch.

After finishing the Avesta translation Wolff began the enormous task of an inventory of the language of the Šāh-nāma based on the editions of Jules Mohl, Le livre des Rois, Paris, 1838-78; Turner Macan, The Shah Nameh in English and Persian, Calcutta, 1829; Vullers-Landauer, Firdusii Schahname, vols. I-III, Leiden, 1877-84; ʿAbdulqâdiri al-Baġdâdensis, Lexicon Šahnâmianum, ed. C. Saleman, Petersburg, 1895; and Asadi’s neupersisches Wörterbuch: Lughat-i Furs, ed. P. Horn, Berlin, 1897 (Abhandlungen der Akademie der Wissenschaften, Göttingen, NF. 1, Nr. 8). Wolff finished his work on the Glossar zu Firdosis Schahname (Berlin, 1935), after 25 years of work.

A first fruit of Wolff’s studies of the Šāh-nāma had already been his publication of a “Liste von Shāhnāme-Zitaten” (ZII 8, 1931, pp. 300-303). In the introduction to this list, Wolff refers to the list of Šāh-nāma quotations in Saleman’s edition of the Lexicon Šahnâmianum (pp. 7 ff.). Saleman had not been able to identify about 960 of these quotations and he had asked his fellow scholars (p. 6) to publish additional findings of such. Wolff found about 570 quotations to be added to Saleman’s list. When the Glossar was published Wolff included this list in the foreword, increased by his latest findings.

Having finished work on the Glossar Wolff spent the following years completing the Šāh-nāma edition of Johann August Vullers and Samuel Landauer, of which only the first three volumes had appeared in 1878-84. On his death, Wolff left behind the manuscript of volumes IV and V, completed before his deportation and deposited with Helmuth Scheel (1895-1967), the Director of the Prussian Academy of Sciences in Berlin, with the request to arrange a publication with Brill in Leiden (Wagner, p. 88). The publication, however, was never undertaken as meanwhile E. E. Berthels (1890-1957) had published his Šāh-nāma in Moscow. The new critical Šāh-nāma edition by Djalal Khaleghi-Motlagh makes a publication of Wolff’s manuscript improbable.

Wolff also left behind a manuscript of corrections and additions to the Glossar which was found in his estate and published posthumously as “Verbesserungen und Zusätze zum Schahname-Glossar” (ZDMG 141, 1991, pp. 88-113).

The Glossar zu Firdosis Schahname. Fritz Wolff’s main work, the fruit of incessant and untiring toil during a quarter of a century, is the Glossar zu Firdosis Schahname. With this book, Wolff has given Iranologists an essential tool, an inexhaustible source, without which any studies of the Šāh-nāma and other Persian poetry of the time of Ferdowsi and any research in innumerable fields of literature, history, and culture of the old and medieval Iran are unthinkable. The Glossar has made the Šāh-nāma really available to modern research. Iranology no longer has to depend on the inadequate works of Persian and Indian lexicographers.

Wolff’s Glossar shows the Persian language at a decisive moment in the development from Pahlavi to New Persian, a moment of great importance in the history of the language. The book is an invaluable step forward in the history of Iranology as it provides modern research, for the first time, with a really useful and indispensable book of reference on the Persian vocabulary. The Glossar supplies innumerable keywords for further studies on the Šāh-nāma which have been and will be used for monographs on a wide range of subjects. It can help in the search for certain passages or verses from Ferdowsi’s work. And of course it has been most important and useful for the publication of the latest critical Šāh-nāma edition by Djalal Khaleghi-Motlagh.

This inventory of Ferdowsi’s language must be arranged between a concordance and a dictionary. In view of the enormous size of the Šāh-nāma the author could not have envisaged to produce a genuine dictionary in which he would have to explain in detail Ferdowsi’s use of the language of his time and discuss difficult or obscure words or passages, as in a lexicologically ordered linguistic commentary. In order to be able to register the vocabulary of about 50,000 double verses, Wolff had to limit himself to putting order into the immense material and adding the most important translations.

Jules Mohl had planned to divide his edition of the Šāh-nāma into fifty episodes corresponding to the reigns of fifty Iranian kings. However, the representation of two of them, Kay Kāvus and Kay Ḵosrow, kings no. 12 and 13, consist of several episodes each, independent of one another, and Mohl counted them separately by adding the letters b, c, d, etc., so that the war in Hāmāvarān, e.g., was registered under 12 b of the reign of Kay Kāvus. The letter a was not used, so that chapter 12 is followed by 12 b etc. Similarly, the reign of Bahrām Gōr was divided into parts 35 and 35 b. For the introduction, Wolff chose the capital E for Einleitung, and for the satire the letter S. Mohl made the mistake of giving both the episode of Ardašir Bābakān and that of Šāpur Ardašir the number 22. Wolff took over the number 22 for both episodes, but registered the words from Šāpur Ardašir under 22*. Later on Mohl noticed the mistake and left out the number 30 to be able to stick to a total of 50 kings. Of necessity, Wolff had to take over Mohl’s mistakes (Glossar, pp. vi-vii; Khaleghi-Motlagh, p. 418). The words in the Glossar are arranged in alphabetical order in accordance with their spelling in Persian, followed by a transcription in Latin letters and a translation into German.

Under many keywords, cases of a different use of the words are listed. And in case a word can have different meanings, these are listed separately under capital letters A, B, C, etc. In the same way, compound words, participles, verb-preposition combinations, proper names of people and places etc. are listed separately. Even misconstrued meters and rhymes are indicated. Under many keywords, word combinations and phrasal connections, even short sentences and special expressions derived from or constructed with the keyword in question are entered as separate entries, and some of them are translated into German.

With the exception of some pronouns, prepositions, and conjunctions, which are represented by significant examples, Wolff has in this way registered each appearance of a word in the works of Mohl, Macan, Vullers-Landauer, Asadi, and ʿAbd-al-Qāder al-Baḡdādi. However, regarding the verb forms Wolff had to select characteristic examples, which went against his original plans, as the sheer number of them would have exceeded the scope of the Glossar. The main text of the work comprises 911 pages. To these must be added 9 pages of a foreword. The text contains 26 pages of a retrograde word register in which all the words of the Šāh-nāma are ordered in accordance with the final letters in each word, which is an invaluable help for all research undertaken on rhymes. This retrograde register is divided into verbs and non-verbs.

In a special register of 109 pages, Wolff has arranged a concordance of the verse numbering of the Šāh-nāma editions of Mohl, Vullers and Macan. In the foreword to the Glossar Wolff explained to the reader how to make best use of it.


References to major studies by Wolff are given in the text.

Other works cited.

M. M. Blumenthal, “Ursula Wolff (1906-1977): Fotografin für die illustrierte Presse; Leben und Werk einer modernen Fotojournalistin in der Weimarer Republik,” Ph.D. diss., Universität Hamburg, 2007.

Bundesarchiv, Gedenkbuch für die Opfer der Verfolgung der Juden unter der nationalsozialistischen Gewaltherrschaft in Deutschland 1933-1945, Koblenz, 1986, p. 1615.

J. Dick and M. Sassenberg, Jüdische Frauen im 19. und 20. Jahrhundert, Reinbek bei Hamburg, 1993.

E. Ellinger, Deutsche Orientalistik zur Zeit des Nationalsozialismus, 1933-1945, Edingen-Neckarshausen, 2006, pp. 70, 214/15, 424, 541.

P. Kahle ed., “Die Firdosi-Feier in Berlin,” ZDMG 88, 1934, pp. 111-17.

Dj. Khaleghi-Motlagh, “Yādi az dānešmand-e ranjdideh va nākām: Fritz Wolff,Majalle-ye Irānšenāsi 2, 1990, pp. 417-22.

D. Kolland, ed., Zehn Brüder waren wir gewesen … : Spuren jüdischen Lebens in Neukölln, Berlin, 1988, pp. 355-58.

Oberfinanzdirektion Berlin, Deportationsakten, in Brandenburgisches Landeshauptarchiv BLHA, Rep. 36A, Akt. Nr. 40472.

W. Printz, “Bericht über die Mitgliederversammlung der Deutschen Morgenländischen Gesellschaft am 29.8.1934 in Bonn,” ZDMG 88, 1934, pp.*5*-*7*.

H. H. Schaeder, “Firdosi und die Deutschen,” ZDMG 88, 1934, pp. 118-29.

Idem, “Fritz Wolff (1880-1943),” ZDMG 99, 1945-49, pp. 164-67, with a portrait of Wolff.

Senator für kulturelle Angelegenheiten Berlin, Gedenkbuch Berlins der jüdischen Opfer des Nationalsozialismus, Zentralinstitut für sozialwissenschaftliche Forschung, Berlin, 1995.

University of New Hampshire, website of Library, entry on Ursula Wolff Schneider 1906-1977 (https://www.library.unh.edu/find/archives/collections/ursula-wolff-schneider-papers-and-photographs-1923-1983).

E. Wagner, “Verbesserungen und Zusätze zum Schahname-Glossar, Fritz Wolff (†),” ZDMG 141, 1991, pp. 88-113.

(Jürgen Ehlers)

Originally Published: January 24, 2018

Last Updated: January 24, 2018

Cite this entry:

Jürgen Ehlers, “WOLFF, FRITZ,” Encyclopædia Iranica, online edition, 2018, available at http://www.iranicaonline.org/articles/wolff-fritz (accessed on 24 January 2018).