Hans Wehr

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Hans Wehr 1972

Hans Wehr (born July 5, 1909 in Leipzig ; † May 24, 1981 in Münster ) was a German Arabist who was best known for his Arabic dictionary for the contemporary written language .


Hans Wehr attended the Stadtgymnasium in Halle and studied from 1931 to 1934 Oriental Philology and Romance Studies in Halle (where Hans Bauer had already allowed him to attend some of his colleges as a high school student), Berlin and Leipzig. In 1934 he received his doctorate in Halle on the subject of the peculiarities of modern standard Arabic and from October 1935 to March 1939 he was an assistant at the Oriental Seminary at the University of Halle and at the DMG library associated with the seminar . In 1938 he put his habilitation thesis Unity Consciousness and Trust in God in Halle . The 35th book of al-Ghazâlî's main work and was awarded Dr. phil. habil. appointed. He then took on a teaching position at the University of Greifswald . In December 1939 Wehr was appointed lecturer in Greifswald. Due to a handicap from polio , he was not called up for military service after the beginning of World War II .

In 1943, Wehr received a teaching post at the University of Erlangen, succeeding Joseph Hell, after whose retirement in 1942 the chair for Oriental Studies was rededicated - contrary to the faculty's wishes - for prehistory. From the winter semester of 1943/44, Wehr was also appointed to represent the Munich Chair for Semitic Studies in addition to his obligations in Erlangen. At the end of 1944 he was commissioned to act as a substitute for the Chair of Ethnic and Regional Studies in Arabia at the Faculty of Foreign Studies at the University of Berlin (formerly the Berlin Seminar for Oriental Languages ​​- BSOS), for which the Erlangen faculty had to release him. From Halle he drove to Berlin every week until the end of the semester, despite the chaotic rail connections that were endangered by bombing and low-level aircraft fire, in order to fulfill his obligations.

When it became known in Halle after the end of the war in summer 1945 that the University of Erlangen was to be reopened, Wehr decided to return to Erlangen. In October 1945 he found his way there on an adventurous journey across the zone border and resumed his work as an academic teacher in the winter semester 1945/46. In June 1946 he became a regular associate. Professor appointed, full professor in March 1950. In 1957, Wehr accepted an appointment at the Westphalian Wilhelms University in Münster, where he worked from the summer semester of 1957 until his retirement in autumn 1974. In addition to the tasks that he faced here through the rebuilding of the Oriental Seminary at the rapidly expanding university, there was also the post of first managing director of DMG , which he assumed in 1956 and held until the end of 1962, as well as the publication of the ZDMG from 1957 to 1959 During his years in Münster he also worked for a research center for German philological and historical oriental studies in an Arab country, which finally led to the establishment of the Orient Institute of DMG in Beirut in 1961 .

Arabic dictionary

In Arabic studies, even outside of the German-speaking area, Wehr's name is primarily associated with his dictionary, the basics of which were developed during the Greifswald era. The project to develop such a dictionary had been preceded by a number of individual initiatives that ultimately ended up with the Otto Harrassowitz publishing house . When at the end of 1938 the Foreign Office - in connection with the planned translation of Hitler's Mein Kampf into Arabic - considered an Arabic-German dictionary of contemporary language to be desirable (von Wehr already 1934 in his article Contributions to the Lexicography of Standard Arabic in the Present in Islamica 6, 435-449), on which a German-Arabic dictionary could be based, they turned to the Harrassowitz publishing house and promised funding for such a project. The publishing house commissioned Wehr, at that time still in Halle and proven as a competent scientist through appropriate preparatory work and publications (dissertation), with the work on the project and its management.

Employees in Greifswald and later in Erlangen were Andreas Jacobi, who was trained in Arabic and was discriminated against as a so-called "half-Aryan" and was excluded from public office and employment and found shelter in the project, and Heinrich Becker, who remained in Halle. Jacobi was recognized in mid-1943 (through efforts made by his father) as a "three-quarter Aryans", was thus "worthy of military service " and was soon drafted into the Wehrmacht . Syndic Heinrich Becker, who had been imprisoned in the concentration camp from 1933 to 1937 and was under Gestapo supervision because of his proximity to the Strasser wing of the NSDAP , reported to the Wehrmacht at the end of 1942 because he feared arrest again. At the end of 1941, together with his Hamburg colleagues Schaade and Rathjens, Wehr requested the Hamburg Gestapo from the German-Jewish Arabist Hedwig Klein to work on the dictionary, which was supposedly essential for the war effort, which meant that she was temporarily excluded from being sent to Theresienstadt . She worked from Hamburg, but was deported to Auschwitz in July 1942 . Hedwig Klein did not survive the extermination camp.

Wehr's application to join the NSDAP at the end of 1940 came under pressure from Greifswald's Lecturer League Leader, who made it clear to him that the younger lecturers were expected to become members of the party and the SA . The manuscript worked out by Wehr together with Jacobi was set in 1944. Wehr was able to save a complete copy of the flag over the last months of the war, which he deposited in the DMG library in Halle in autumn 1945. When it was delivered to him in the spring of 1947, he resumed the analysis of Arabic texts, but reckoned that the dictionary would have to be re-set because he had heard that the printer had been hit by bombs and that the sentence had been destroyed. It was not until 1948 that he found out that the sentence in the dictionary had remained intact, and he hurried to incorporate the supplements he had collected up into the dictionary. The conditions in post-war Germany with complicated approval procedures, paper shortages, etc. however, delayed printing, so that the first edition of the dictionary under the title Arabic dictionary for the contemporary written language could not appear until 1952. He continued his collecting activity without any direct employees of his own, but supported by users who informed him of neologisms that they had come across in their work or reading and that had not yet been included in the dictionary. As a result, the supplement appeared separately in 1959, which was finally incorporated into the 5th edition published posthumously in 1985.

The quality of Wehr's dictionary , which was consistently obtained from primary sources, was soon recognized outside of the German-speaking area, especially in the USA, which led to a translation into English, the Hans Wehr Dictionary of Modern Written Arabic , edited by J. Milton Cowan ( 1st edition 1961), in which the supplement was already incorporated. In 1976 a photomechanically reduced paperback edition was published, known because of its green cover as "the green Wehr". A considerably expanded new edition appeared in 1979 (fourth edition).


Wehr's research activities focused on syntax, grammar and history of the Arabic language as well as Arabic so-called “folk literature”, which he contributed to knowledge by editing a medieval collection of stories and translating the best stories from it. The Arabic dialectology is documented primarily through a series of dissertations that he initiated and supervised. He willingly left materials that he had collected in his own field work to his students for their work. A list of the writings by Hans Wehr can be found in ZAL ( Journal for Arabic Linguistics ), Issue 8, 1982, pp. 7-11.

Publications (selection)

  • The Arabic elative (= treatises of the Academy of Science and Literature Mainz. Humanities and social science class. Born 1952, number 7). Verlag der Akademie der Wissenschaften und der Literatur, Mainz (commissioned by Franz Steiner, Wiesbaden).

Web links

Individual evidence

  1. Stefan Wild: National Socialism in the Arab Near East between 1933 and 1939 , in: Die Welt des Islams, Vol. 25, 1985, 126-173 (esp. 163-169).
  2. Heinz Grotz field: Obituary Hans Wehr , in: ZDMG 133, 1983, p 7, n. 3.
  3. ^ Peter Freimark: PhD Hedwig Klein - at the same time a contribution to the seminar for the history and culture of the Middle East , in Krause, Eckart; Ludwig Huber u. Holger Fischer (ed.): Everyday university life in the “Third Reich” . The Hamburg University 1933-1945. Part II, Faculty of Philosophy, Faculty of Law and Political Science . Berlin 1991, pp. 851-864.
  4. According to other sources, the collaboration took place from 1939 to 1941 and Hedwig Klein was deported to Auschwitz on July 10, 1941, cf. Freimark, Peter: Promotion Hedwig Klein - at the same time a contribution to the seminar for the history and culture of the Middle East , in: Hochschulalltag im “Third Reich”. The Hamburg University 1933–1945, ed. v. Eckart Krause, Ludwig Huber, Holger Fischer, Berlin / Hamburg 1991, part 2, pp. 851–864.
  5. Stefan Buchen: The Jewess and "Mein Kampf" . In: The daily newspaper: taz . February 28, 2018, ISSN  0931-9085 , p. 5 ( taz.de [accessed on February 28, 2018]).
  6. Hans Wehr: Arabic dictionary for the written language of the present. Arabic-German . 5th edition. Revised and expanded with the help of Lorenz Kropfitsch. Around 22,000 new lemmas from collecting activities since 1952 have been incorporated into it (cf. foreword).
  7. See Wolfdietrich Fischer: Obituary for Hans Wehr . In: Der Islam 69, 1982, pp. 1-3.