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An Ethnologist ‘With a Passionate Interest’: Biography of Erika Sulzmann, from the National Socialist Era to the German Federal Republic

Katja Geisenhainer

Department of Social and Cultural Anthropology, University of Vienna
Frobenius Institute, Frankfurt

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Geisenhainer, Katja, 2019. “An Ethnologist ‘With a Passionate Interest’: Biography of Erika Sulzmann, from the National Socialist Era to the German Federal Republic”, in Bérose - Encyclopédie internationale des histoires de l'anthropologie, Paris.

URL Bérose : article1714.html

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Publié dans le cadre du thème de recherche « Histoire de l’anthropologie et des ethnologies allemandes et autrichiennes », dirigé par Jean-Louis Georget (Sorbonne Nouvelle, Paris), Hélène Ivanoff (Institut Frobenius, recherches en anthropologie culturelle, Francfort-sur-le-Main), Isabelle Kalinowski (CNRS,Laboratoire Pays germaniques UMR 8547, Ecole Normale Supérieure, Paris) Richard Kuba (Institut Frobenius, recherches en anthropologie culturelle, Francfort-sur-le-Main) et Céline Trautmann-Waller (Université Sorbonne nouvelle-Paris 3/IUF).

Erika Sulzmann, a German ethnologist, devoted herself to “Völkerkunde” soon after leaving school. She studied in Frankfurt and Vienna, among other places, with Leo Frobenius and Hermann Baumann and obtained her doctorate under Wilhelm Koppers (SVD). Sulzmann led the first major German field research after World War II, the Mainz Congo Expedition (1951-1954). Over the next few decades she travelled again and again to the equatorial forest of Congo and established a close relation with the people there. She wrote several contributions on the Mongo people, in particular the Bolia and the Ekonda. Although Sulzmann’s theoretical approach is considered outdated, she laid the foundation for further research and contact with the people in the equatorial forest region. Nowadays her name is also associated with the Institut für Ethnologie (today : Department of Anthropology and African Studies) at Mainz University. It was newly founded when Sulzmann became one of the first assistants there in 1948. She was a substantial help in building it up into one of the most important German university research institutions for African studies after 1945.

Some essays on Erika Sulzmann have already been published ; most of them focus on her work in Mainz. [1] An overview of this phase of her life as well as her publications will also be given in this chronologically structured review of her professional development. Particular attention is paid to Sulzmann’s career in the Nazi era, to her work during the Second World War and the immediate post-war period. [2]


Erika Sulzmann was born in 1911 and grew up in Mainz, the daughter of an authorized financial business administrator. Before high school graduation (Abitur) in 1930, she was a guest student at the Kunst- und Gewerbeschule (Art and Crafts School) in Mainz, where she studied drawing and applied arts. [3] Financially unable to attend university, she took over graphic works for an exhibition by the Afrika Archiv (Africa Archives) in Frankfurt in 1931. This was part of the Forschungsinstitut für Kulturmorphologie (Research Institute for Cultural Morphology), headed by its founder Leo Frobenius (1873–1938). Sulzmann eventually became a regular staff member. Her responsibilities included library, photographic and archive work. After the Nazi takeover in 1933, the institute continued to be headed by Frobenius. In April 1937 she was hired as a photographer by the Frankfurt Völkermuseum (Museum of Ethnology), also directed by Frobenius, where she also worked as a librarian. [4]

By that time ethnological lectures in Frankfurt were being given by Ernst Vatter (1888–1948), Leo Frobenius, and from 1934 by the subsequent intellectual successor to Frobenius, Adolf Ellegard Jensen (1899–1965). Without being officially registered as a student, Erika Sulzmann attended anthropological lectures parallel to her work – “in keeping with the generous spirit of the institute”, as Sulzmann herself later noted. [5]

In contrast to many other lecturers, none of the above-mentioned included findings based on racist views in their studies, [6] nor were they members of the Nazi party. Vatter was dismissed in 1937 because of his Jewish wife. Frobenius had close contact with the former German Emperor Wilhelm II in his Dutch exile in the Netherlands, who subsidised Frobenius and his expeditions. Furthermore, Frobenius tried to win the support of several officials for his projects. The institute’s international reputation was repeatedly emphasised in these contexts. Some of the Nazi functionaries increasingly criticised Frobenius and his cultural historical approach because he understood culture as an expression of the “soul” of a culture, which he called “Paideuma”. For him, Paideuma was largely independent of humans and its various peoples or supposed races. After his death in August 1938, a number of colleagues expected Jensen to succeed him. Instead, Jensen lost his authorisation to teach due to his “political unreliability” and his marriage to a woman with a partially Jewish background. Opponents of Frobenius and the Frankfurt Research Institute for Cultural Morphology thus now saw a good opportunity to close this institute.

At that time – according to her own account – Erika Sulzmann had enough money to become a regular student. [7] Due to a lack of lectures being offered – as Jensen struggled to maintain his professional existence – Sulzmann quit her Frankfurt museum position (end of August 1940) at the age of 29 to move to Vienna and continue her studies there.

In 1938, Austria had been annexed to the German “Reich”. The previous head of the Völkerkunde department at Vienna University, Wilhelm Koppers (1886–1961), was dismissed and succeeded by the German ethnologist Hermann Baumann (1902–1972), a member of the Nazi Party since 1932. Baumann’s regional, fieldwork-based focus was on Africa. He advocated a basic cultural historical approach like Frobenius, Jensen and Koppers. But in contrast to the Frankfurt approach, where culture was considered quite independent of humans, and also in contrast to the theologically-based Viennese theory of culture circles as championed by Koppers, Baumann represented a concept in which the direct dependence of culture on “race” was emphasised.

In addition to Baumann, her main other teachers in Vienna were Richard Wolfram (1901–1995) and Arthur Haberlandt (1889–1964), who delivered lectures on folklore studies. For prehistory she was a student of Christian Pescheck (1912–2003), Franz Hančar (1893–1968) and particularly of Oswald Menghin (1888–1973). The latter introduced Sulzmann to “prehistoric tribal history” and “the Stone Age of Africa”. [8] In general, the courses that Sulzmann attended in Vienna were more significantly influenced by nationalist and racial ideas than those anthropological seminar courses and lectures that Sulzmann had attended in Frankfurt. Menghin, for instance, had been the Minister (in the Vienna transition government, handing over power to the Nazis) responsible for the rapid dismissal of 40% of academic and administrative staff members at the University of Vienna after the “Anschluss” of Austria. Baumann himself was eager to align the work of the Viennese Institute für Völkerkunde (i. e., for ethnology) with the new orientation toward colonial interests by Nazi Germany in Africa. Many of his colleagues – like the majority of the German population – considered the loss of colonies after the First World War a continuing humiliation. They emphasized Germany’s alleged colonial competence and longed for colonial reappropriation. Baumann’s focus on colonial issues was in accordance with these larger political dynamics. [9]

Sulzmann had started her career a few years before the beginning of the Nazi dictatorship. She studied during the Nazi-period first in Frankfurt, then in Vienna. In Frankfurt the members of the institute cooperated with the Nazis merely to a level that was necessary for carrying out their projects and ultimately for their professional existence. Whereas in Vienna, the new head of the institute, Hermann Baumann, took an active part in colonial matters on his own initiative.

Excursus : Colonial-political institutions and their relevance to academics during the Nazi era

This excursus may serve as an overview on some links of colonial-political institutions and their importance for ethnologists in Germany and Austria during the Nazi era. In the German “Reich” a colonial department had existed in the Foreign Office since 1924. However, the Kolonialpolitische Amt (KPA, Colonial Political Office) of the Nationalsozialistische Arbeiterpartei (NSDAP, National Socialist German Workers’ Party) was responsible especially for these matters. The KPA had been founded in 1934 and headed by Franz Ritter von Epp (1868–1947) and his envoy Rudolf Asmis (1879–1945). In the Berlin department of the KPA under the direction of Asmis, the postgrad Günther Wolff (1907–2002) was employed as an instructor for the subdivision of Colonial Science. In 1937 Wolff had also taken over the international work of the Department of Agriculture and General Biology in the Reichsforschungsrat (RFR, Reich Research Council), thus becoming a liaison between the KPA and RFR. Organisationally, the RFR was subordinate to the Deutsche Gemeinschaft zur Erhaltung und Förderung der Forschung (German Association for the Support and Advancement of Scientific Research, known as DFG for short) [10] and did not have its own budget. Nevertheless, the individual leaders of sections within the RFR were able to be largely independent in deciding on the proposals they received. While the DFG was usually relevant for humanities research, the RFR was particularly responsible for work carried out in the fields of science, technology and basic research. An essential task of the RFR was to integrate science into the realisation of Hitler’s Four-Year Plan, which was aimed at making the economy “fit for war” [kriegsfähig]. In that plan it was an important task to secure sources of food and raw material, supposedly inducing the need for colonies. In the summer of 1940, Wolff was commissioned to set up the colonial science department in the RFR. As early as October of the same year he was able to launch this new facility, whose work was to focus primarily on Africa. Wolff emphasised the cooperation of the RFR with the KPA, which he himself had already given in person. In the period that followed, up to 29 colonial groups were formed in this colonial science department, which were supposed to work closely together. Wolff attached great importance to the section “Colonial Ethnology”, the leader of which was the German anthropologist Bernhard Struck (1888–1971). Among the other section leaders there were a number of other ethnology-related individuals such as Diedrich Westermann (1875–1956) and Eugen Fischer (1874–1967). Additional ethnologists committed themselves to various projects. [11] For instance, the Colonial Political Office and the colonial science department in the RFR supported the project of the Afrika Handbuch (Africa Handbook), which was coordinated and edited by the Viennese ethnologist Hugo A. Bernatzik (1897–1953). Jensen and other staff members of the Institute of Cultural Morphology were involved with this handbook to ensure their institute’s chances of survival. [12]

Sulzmann’s Work during the War : “Tribal map of Africa”

Like most ethnologists in Germany and Austria, Erika Sulzmann acted in the problematic colonial-political context of her time. In the summer of 1940, the German occupation of the northern half of France, Belgium and the Netherlands furthermore raised the pressing question of how to deal with the respective colonial territories. In addition, there were now numerous sources available on the colonised countries – including documents and literature – which had to be sifted through and evaluated. In January 1941 Baumann applied for a grant for a special project : he planned to entrust Sulzmann with the creation of a “tribal map of Africa”. In June Baumann received a positive decision from the Reich Research Council and the German Research Foundation in agreement with the NSDAP Office of Colonial Policy. [13] He thanked Struck for supporting his request [14] and assured him that Sulzmann was “a very gifted, competent student who left Frankfurt because she did not feel well there. She was one of the draughtswomen and, with passionate interest, she delved into ethnology on the side.” [15] As early as April 1941 to March 1942, Baumann entrusted Sulzmann with the preparation of this map as a technical assistant.

Parallel to this task, Sulzmann began to work as a local training director at the Reichskolonialbund (Reich Colonial League) in the local group of Vienna’s 1st district in the spring of 1941. [16] The purpose of the Reich Colonial League was to raise public awareness for “the colonial question” by means of newspaper articles, leaflets, exhibitions and conferences, as well as lectures and films. When Sulzmann started to create “a map of Africa, showing the tribes in their current territory”, [17] the NSDAP Office of Colonial Policy supported this project by letting her make use of maps produced by the NSDAP colonial office. In December 1942 Sulzmann travelled to Berlin, where the envoy of this office, Rudolf Asmis, wanted to meet with her about the project. In Berlin, Sulzmann also conducted research at the Staats- und Kolonialbibliothek (State and Colonial Library). As she was not able to complete her research in Berlin, she planned to visit the German Reich’s capital again a few months later. Until that time Sulzmann worked through the relevant literature she found in Vienna.

In January 1942 – two months before Sulzmann’s employment officially expired – Baumann informed the curator of the Viennese research universities that Sulzmann would travel to Paris with funds from the Research Council. In Paris she would buy urgently needed French literature at costs lower than usual due to the occupation of France. The Reichsstelle für Papier und Verpackungswesen (Reich Office of Paper and Packaging) in Berlin would provide access to foreign currencies. Sulzmann was advised to make those purchases according to Baumann’s instructions.

Sulzmann’s plan was as follows : first she would travel to France, then to Belgium to establish direct contact with the relevant experts in Paris and Brussels. Afterwards she intended to continue her research in Berlin. [19] In February 1942 Sulzmann received a grant from the RFR for her journey to Brussels and Paris to “prepare a tribal map of Africa”. [20] In order to pass the border without obstruction, she obtained a RFR document from Wolff authorising her to take several maps of Africa to Belgium and France. Sulzmann wanted to carry the maps to the meetings in Paris and Brussels. [21] Before she started her journey, Sulzmann’s employment as a technical assistant under Baumann ended in late March 1942. She went temporarily to Mainz, where she asked the police headquarters to “issue a visa for a trip to Brussels and Paris” :

“Since there are almost no publications on the French and Belgian colonies that contain maps, I am now to work with the support of Belgian and French colonial experts on these areas. Most importantly, I have been allowed to use the files of the Colonial Ministry in Paris for my purposes. The completion of my work is urgent and soon expected by my contracting authority because it forms the basis for other colonial-political work.” [22]

Sulzmann started her journey to France and Belgium in May 1942. The trip, which was originally scheduled for four weeks, actually went on for about five months. She stayed “in Brussels for seven weeks and in Paris for almost 13 weeks”, [23] as it proved “that much more time was required to complete the task [on site], because the material had to be collected in a piecemeal fashion from files and literature, as well as in interviews with competent experts.” In these weeks, Sulzmann recorded information in various libraries and archives, took copious notes, and drew and traced many sections of the map with references to the relevant sources. Finally, the information arising from the research was supposed to be transferred to a large “main map”. In addition, she bought books and sent them to Vienna. As a result of a telephone consultation with Wolff, the NSDAP Colonial Policy Office in Brussels lent Sulzmann 400 RM. [24]

Meanwhile a meeting took place at the NSDAP’s Colonial Policy Office in Berlin, which was very significant for the discipline : in May 1942 Hermann Baumann, the anthropologist Bernhard Struck, who led the section “Colonial Ethnology” of the Colonial Sciences Department of the Reich Research Council, the Africanist Dietrich Westermann and other well-known academics such as the geographer Franz Thorbecke (1875–1945), the co-director of the International Institute of African Languages and Cultures Henri Labouret (1878–1959), the ethnographer Karl Gerhard Lindblom (1887–1969) from Sweden, the Africa linguist Ernst Dammann (1904–2003) and the ethnologist and Africanist Günter Wagner (1908–1952) came together. They had all begun to plan a Handbuch der Afrikanischen Stämme (Handbook of African Tribes) – a book with unambiguously colonial intentions. [25] In this context, they also discussed creating maps : they planned a separate map for each tribe. Initially, the main contributors agreed to be responsible for the maps of their own areas of expertise. [26] However, a month later Baumann was asked whether he could undertake the creation of all the maps. [27]

The idea of integrating Sulzmann’s work into the planned Handbook of African Tribes, even if it had not been explicitly expressed so far, must have been evident. Baumann commented on Sulzmann’s job as follows :

“There is no connection between the ‘Handbook’ and the map to be drawn by Miss Sulzmann on my behalf. However, Miss Sulzmann and I plan to publish the ethnological map of Africa, which is also supported by the Reich Research Council, since she received a scholarship for this purpose. The map will be produced in my department. Whether and where it can be published is not certain yet. Miss Sulzmann is commissioned to collect materials in all libraries and museums according to my instructions”. [28]

The Last Years of the War

The course of the war influenced how colonial issues were dealt with. In early 1943, due to military defeats by the German army, the Chancellery of the National Socialist Party issued the instruction to shut down the Colonial Policy Office “for the duration of war”. [29] Thus, research funding could no longer be expected from this source. The focus shifted to other matters. In cities like Berlin and Vienna, the war’s impact on daily life became more and more drastic. Employees of the planned Handbook of African Tribes were drafted into military service. In addition, conflicts erupted between the publishers of the Handbook of African Tribes and Bernatzik, who at the same time prepared the publication of his own Africa Handbook, with significant input from Jensen and his staff in Frankfurt. [30] Numerous academics participated in both projects, which were in competition. The Handbook of African Tribes with Baumann’s involvement was never completed.

In November 1943 Sulzmann began work as a research assistant to Baumann. [31] He was travelling frequently during these months. After the war Sulzmann recalled in her c.v. :

“Thus, my activity was very extensive and – in the absence of the director – quite responsible, especially during the period of repeated air raids. I also had to take care of the daily progress of academic operations, whereby I had to hold many lectures and supervise lessons based only on my abilities, such as administrative work, air-raid protection and salvage, the printing of Prof. Baumann’s journal Koloniale Studien, to supervise the students, and to build up the library.” [32]

As late as March 1945, Sulzmann passed the oral examination for her doctorate in ethnology with Baumann and in prehistory with Menghin.

Only a few days later, as the Red Army was approaching the city of Vienna, Baumann travelled to Berlin without returning to Vienna. When exactly Sulzmann set out on the dangerous journey to Germany in those days of war and turmoil is unclear. Eventually she reached her native city Mainz by way of Saxony. Regarding her project in Vienna, Sulzmann left “the precious material in the cellar of the department due to the air raids”. She decided to only “take the index and the excerpts”. [33]

The Immediate Post-War Period : Doctorate and Denazification

After the end of the war, Sulzmann undertook the completion of her doctoral research. Jensen was reinstated and became head of the Research Institute for Cultural Morphology in Frankfurt. He was willing to supervise Sulzmann’s PhD thesis, which was supposed to be based on the records she had collected in prior years. Most of the papers were still in Vienna however, and Sulzmann set off again to retrieve them. In Vienna, Koppers, who had returned from his Swiss exile, filled his former academic positions again. Sulzmann remained in Vienna “for various reasons” that she did “not want to describe in more detail at this time”, as she wrote to Jensen. [34] Due to the new study regulation, she had to attend university courses again in the summer semester 1946, before she submitted her dissertation at the end of the year. Not focusing on a “tribal map of Africa”, but on the population of a particular area, she completed her PhD under Koppers’ supervision. Her work, entitled Die Mongo. Studien zu einer regionalen Monographie (The Mongo. Studies for a Regional Monograph), was based on numerous publications and on her research results from Belgium and France.

In the introduction, Sulzmann referred to the lack of literature in general and accessible literature in particular. Thus the central Congo basin had been either a blank spot in most sociocultural anthropological works, or generalisations on the basis of single phenomena were offered for the whole large area. It was this incompleteness in knowledge that led Baumann to assign her the task of examining the people of Mongo [35] from a cultural-historical perspective. The Belgian colonial official Georges van der Kerken (1888–1953) had chosen the functionalist approach for his own “comprehensive work on the Mongo”. He had predicted “little success” for Sulzmann’s work, since, as he stated, the cultural-historical method did not engender useful results. Nonetheless Sulzmann opted for this approach. [36] It was the method which Sulzmann was familiar with. She was taught by Frobenius, Jensen, Baumann and Koppers ; all of them represented a cultural-historical approach although with different and changing paradigms. Sulzmann leaned on Baumann’s concept of culture provinces which she considered to be the most profound and sophisticated at this point in time. In the first chapter she addressed the “origin, migration and sedentarisation of the Mongo” using, among other things, considerations on supposed races by Egon Freiherr von Eickstedt (1892–1965). [37] The main focus of her study is dedicated to the presentation of the “material culture of the Mongo”. Sulzmann compares individual elements of this material from different regions of the Congo Basin followed by considerations using a diffusionist methodology. Due to the time limit, she only gives a “brief preview of the social and spiritual culture of Mongo”. [38] Towards the end of her work she presents a summary and an interpretation. Like other representatives of diffusionism before her, Sulzmann of course did not succeed in her search for a “pure culture” at all. She concludes that the culture of the Mongo was an “altnigritsch-Hyläisch-Syrtische”-mixture [39] of culture. Sulzmann supposed that originally they came from the South Sahara, north of the area between the bend of the Niger and Lake Chad. [40]

Koppers and Sulzmann agreed she would supplement her study at a later stage. [41] Obviously she had to be examined again. On 1 February 1947 she passed her oral exam a second time. Whereas her doctoral thesis was not given a grade, she was awarded the grade “excellent” in her exam. [42] More than a half year earlier, Sulzmann had asked for a position at the newly founded University of Mainz. [43] Throughout her doctoral work in Vienna, Jensen continued to support Sulzmann. He wished her luck for her oral exam and recommended her for an assistant position in Mainz. Until then, she could work in Frankfurt with the purpose of “labelling the new expedition catalogue”. [44] Baumann and Koppers also wrote recommendations for her. [45] Baumann wrote that Sulzmann’s “strong, almost male intellect should also enable her to carry out purely scientific work with distinction.” [46]

In the post-war years, the so-called Reichsdeutsche, i.e. persons with German citizenship before March 1938, had to leave Austria unless they had been victims of Nazi persecution or had already had permanent residence in Austria before March 1938. Therefore Sulzmann returned to her native Rhine-Main area in spring 1947. She took up a position as an assistant at the Research Institute for Culture Morphology – now renamed the Frobenius Institute – in Frankfurt. [47]

Most German and Austrian anthropologists were in contact with one another in the post-war period, regardless of the attitudes they had held during the Nazi era. Jensen, for instance, who had suffered professional damage under the Nazis, now tried to help Baumann in obtaining a new position because Baumann had lost his previous positions by 1945. Sulzmann, who brought parts of Baumann’s library and photo archives to him from Vienna, testified in favour of her former teacher at his denazification trial. She stated that he had “not belonged to the party” and kept away from the activities of the Kolonialbund (colonial federation). She also testified that Baumann had exclusively selected applicants for positions and PhD students at the Institute, who “openly and sharply opposed National Socialism”. [48] It appears that her testimony had a self-cleansing effect, too. In her own questionnaires for the military government, Sulzmann announced that she had become an involuntary member of the Deutsche Arbeistfront (DAF, German Labour Front [49]) and the Nationalsozialistische Volkswohlfahrt (NSV, National Socialist People’s Welfare [50]) from 1937 to 1940 by registration of her employer. [51]

Sulzmann also took care of the books and documents of her former Viennese teacher and examiner in prehistory, Oswald Menghin. He was dismissed as a university professor in 1945 and became a US army’s prisoner of war. His name was on the first lists of war criminals. [52] Following Menghin’s internment, Jensen stood up for him and helped him with his search for a job. [53] Menghin managed to flee to Argentina in 1948, where he received an extraordinary professorship in Buenos Aires. Immediately afterwards, Sulzmann sent Menghin his books to South America.

Sulzmann succeeded in completing her doctoral degree with backing from Viennese and Frankfurt academics during the immediate post-war era. For a while she planned to finish and publish the “tribal map of Africa”. After two years of efforts it would be regrettable if it remained unfinished or even lost, Sulzmann wrote : She needed about two more months to finish the map. [54] Yet ultimately, she never realised this project.

In Mainz and in the Congo

In the following years Sulzmann was occupied with helping to set up the Institut für Völkerkunde at the University in Mainz and with her studies on the people of the Congo. In April 1948 she took up a position as an academic assistant and probationary official at the Johannes Gutenberg-University of Mainz, [55] where Adolf Friedrich (1914–1956) held a professorship for ethnology. [56] The new Institut für Völkerkunde first consisted of two rooms, one for the staff and one for the newly stocked library in which seminars were held. Sulzmann actively engaged in teaching. Her lectures, lessons and seminars included theories and methods of socio-cultural anthropology in general and for practical training. It was due in particular to Erika Sulzmann’s commitment that a photo archive was established in the department as well as a central photo laboratory at the philosophy faculty, which she directed on a voluntary basis. [57]

During this same period Sulzmann started to plan her first fieldwork study in what then still was the Belgian Congo to research in particular the social and spiritual life of the people she categorised as Mongo. Her aim was to contribute to the clarification of the culture-historical relations in Central Africa. She was also instructed to make photos and films. Describing Sulzmann’s skills and abilities, Friedrich applied for research funding from the Notgemeinschaft der Deutschen Wissenschaft, an organisation which was a predecessor of the DFG (Donor Federation of the Emergency Association of German Science). He emphasised that the university management and Raymond Schmittlein (1904–1974), general director of cultural affairs in the French zone of occupation, supported this undertaking and that Sulzmann was in contact with relevant Belgian academics and with missionaries in the Congo who also supported her endeavour. [58] This expedition was to prepare for her postdoctoral thesis. [59] The proposal was requested on the condition that Sulzmann travel with a male escort. [60] She finally set off to the northwest of the Congo Basin in December 1950, accompanied by the doctoral student Ernst-Wilhelm Müller (1925–2013). In her letters to her colleagues and her family in Mainz, Sulzmann described her experiences in the Congo, the obstacles to their research, new insights and the reasons why they needed to extend their stay in the Congo. Originally scheduled for one year, the expedition was repeatedly extended. In the end they stayed more than two years. Sulzmann returned to her department in Mainz in March 1954. [61] It was the first German academic expedition to the Belgian Congo since 1904, as Friedrich had declared to the Department of Foreign Affairs in September 1950, [62] and in general one of the first post-war German socio-cultural anthropological research expeditions to Africa. [63]

Two years later, Sulzmann travelled again to the Congo to clear up some open questions, [64] followed by a total of seven further voyages in 1959–1960, 1961–1962, 1963, 1971, 1972, 1979 and 1980. On their first trip, Müller and Sulzmann had met the missionary and entomologist Gustaaf Hulstaert (1900–1990). It was the beginning of a lifelong friendship and academic exchange. Sulzmann supported the journal Aequatoria, edited by Hulstaert, and the Centre Aequatoria in today’s Democratic Republic of the Congo. During all these sojourns in the area of the equatorial forest, a close relationship developed between Sulzmann and the people who lived there, in particular with the Ekonda and above all with the Bolia and their ruler. [65]

Following her travels to the Congo, Sulzmann also offered lectures on her expeditions to the Congo and, at the beginning of the 1970s, she started to teach Lingala, one of the main Bantu languages in that country. The ethnographic objects Sulzmann had brought back with her became the basis of a study collection, which she curated from 1960 until her retirement in 1976. [66]

After her journeys to the Congo, Sulzmann published various articles concerning the peoples in the Congo. Her main interest was in social and power structures from a historical perspective. She wrote texts on the ruling system and the royalty of the Bolia, “an ethnic group of the Móngo [...]. The tribe encompasses five subgroups with some 25 000 inhabitants in approximately 90 villages in an area of about 7000 square kilometres to the north of Lake Leopold II.” [67] Unlike her doctoral thesis, her contributions from this point onwards were now based not only on literature but mainly on her field research. Her study Die Bokopo-Herschaft der Bolia (1959c) focused on phenomena which played an important part in the organisation of political power of the Bolia and the ruler’s legitimacy – in a critical discussion of Max Weber’s ideal types.

On her first trip to the Congo, Sulzmann had already made films about festivals and dances of the Ekonda. [68] In 1958 she visited the Brussels World’s Fair, where Belgium also presented itself as a colonial power. A Congolese dance group of 120 members named “Changwe Yetu” was formed specifically for this event. These people from Katanga, Kasai, Leopoldville and other places within the Belgium colony were supposed to present their songs, music and dances outside their respective contexts, limited in time and to the space of the stage. Sulzmann was not only among the spectators but also in personal contact with the members of the dance group. This was an exception ; individual contact between Africans and Europeans was generally avoided. As the day of their departure approached they made a request : “Since our arrival, we were given the task to follow all given orders for the success of the [dance] programme. Because of this, we have not had the spare time to have a little contact with the Belgian people, their achievements, and their lifestyle, which could have been an invaluable enrichment for us and for our people.” Their request was denied. [69] In the Belgium journal Zaire, Sulzmann published a text on “Les danseurs Ekonda à “Changwe Yetu” ” (1959d), in which she described four dances against the background of her knowledge of the people and some areas of their life outside this event. It contains some details on dances of the nsambo festival, as well as on the nkumu dance of the Ekonda from the village Bobulamo in the Bikoro territory. Sulzmann obviously felt a close affinity with these people but she probably did not recognise the discriminatory treatment inflicted on them in Brussels. The article ends with the following sentences :

“We are inclined to conclude that they themselves had only new but undoubtedly vague and blurred impressions that they were therefore incapable of communicating intelligently to others. We are nevertheless convinced that they will eventually tell everything they have seen and experienced. There would be a very real psychological interest in knowing how they will present Europe to the people of their villages.” [70]

Sulzmann and Müller were staying in Bondongo, a small village in the Équateur province in Congo, when a villager found decorated ceramic vessels while digging a water pit. In her article ’Zentralafrikanische Keramik aus voreuropäische Zeit’, published in 1960 in Keramos, Sulzmann gave some information about the circumstances of the discovery. [71] Her focus was also on the origin and age of the ceramics. It was the first publication on an archaeological find in the Inner Congo Basin and to a certain extent it represents the hour of birth of rainforest archaeology. E. W. Müller initiated a corresponding research project on the Bondongo ceramics, which was carried out in cooperation with the Institut des Musées Nationaux du Zaire (Institute of National Museums) and funded by the DFG more than 15 years after the find, from September 1977 until February 1978. Manfred K. H. Eggert, a former student of E. W. Müller and Sulzmann, and the geographer Johannes Preuß carried out this project on site. That undertaking was followed by further research projects on the archaeology of the Inner Congo Basin. [72]

In 1960 the Congo achieved independence. In her studies ’Die Sekte der Antonier in Kongo nach 1700’ (The sect of the Antonia in the Congo after 1700) (1959a) and ’Die Bewegung der Antonier im alten Reiche Kongo’ (The movement of the Antonia in the old empire of the Congo) (1961) Sulzmann dealt with the political and religious movement of the Antonians [73] in the 18th-century Congo. She stated that the Bakongo still wished for national unification under an ideal kingship. This was shown, as Sulzmann wrote, by the foundation of the Mouvement de Regroupement des Populations Congolaises (Congolese Peoples Reunification Movement) in March 1959 in Leopoldville. [74]

By now, Erika Sulzmann was a renowned expert on the Congo and in particular regarding the people of the equatorial forest. For her journey to the Republic of the Congo in 1959–60, Sulzmann received a grant from the International African Institute in London. [75] Her stay from 1961 until 1962 was connected with a lectureship at the university in Léopoldville. [76] In 1963 Sulzmann was ordered by the German Federal Ministry of Economic Cooperation to travel as an evaluator to the Congo. [77]

In the meantime, some changes occurred in the direction of the department in Mainz : Friedrich died in 1956 ; his successor was Wilhelm Emil Mühlmann (1904–1988). He was succeeded by Karl J. Jettmar (1918–2002) in 1961. From 1965 until 1968 Eike Haberlandt (1924–1992) became the head of the department. Shortly after his inauguration, Sulzmann, who personified continuity at the department, was appointed academic senior councillor (akademische Oberrätin) in December 1965.

That same year, Mobuto seized power in a coup in Congo and renamed the state Zaire in 1971. In December 1970 E. W. Müller – Sulzmann’s companion on her first expedition to the Congo and Haberlandt’s successor since 1969 – had encouraged Sulzmann’s participation in a multidisciplinary project of the Institut des Recherches Scientifiques en Afrique Centrale (Institute for Scientific Research in Central Africa) under the patronage of the Office National de la Recherche et du Développement (Research and Development Bureau) in Kinshasa. For this project, she travelled to the Congo in 1971 and 1972. [78] In October 1971 Sulzmann obtained a position as academic director of socio-cultural anthropology at the University in Mainz. [79] Three years later the university honoured her 25 years of service with a certificate. [80]

In January 1974 Sulzmann asked the dean of the Philosophical Faculty at the University of Vienna for an ex-post evaluation of her doctoral thesis, although she clearly distanced herself from this work in later years. [81] In her letter she explained that the German university reform offers university staff members the opportunity to be appointed professors and that she would like to make the request for appointment at the suggestion of the dean of Social Sciences in Mainz. Therefore she needed an assessment of her doctoral thesis. Sulzmann asked to take the date of origin into account when attributing a mark. Because she had had to return to Germany in February 1947, Koppers had given her approval to complete the dissertation in its present form. In the following years, as Sulzmann explained, she not only expanded her knowledge in seven research trips to the Mongo tribes, but further questions were also raised. [82] The dean Werner Welzig (1935–2018) rejected a grading in Vienna. Among other reasons he argued that almost 30 years after the end of the Second World War, a stricter standard had been established in all academic matters than at that time. [83] Thus Sulzmann never became a professor.

In January 1976 Sulzmann celebrated her 65th birthday. She retired the same month. [84] She nevertheless continued her work at the Department of Socio-cultural Anthropology in Mainz and published further contributions. As a teacher of Lingala, Sulzmann was also interested in the languages spoken in the Congo. She had drawn up a short review of native languages for the Herder Atlas [85] and revised a Lingala-German dictionary. [86] In her review of “Ein Jagdbericht im Dialekt der Batwa von Ebungu (Ekonda)” (A hunting report in the local dialect of the Batwa from Ebungu (Ekonda)), she also presented line-by-line translations together with original sentences in the local dialect of the Batwa. [87]

In a debate provoked by Giribuma. Contribution à l’histoire et à la petite histoire du Congo equatorial, written by René Tonnoir in 1970, Sulzmann criticised Tonnoir’s chronology of the North Baboma’s history : his dating was based on genealogies, although in this way it wouldn’t be possible to determine precise data. Furthermore, Sulzmann found fault with his references. She stated precisely : “Tonnoirs Kenntnis der Bolia ist Null” [88] (“Tonnoir’s knowledge of the Bolia is nil”). Presenting her own reconstruction of history of Northwest Zaire, she referred not only to written sources but also to oral traditions. [89] This controversy may have inspired her to write an essay on the ancestral history of the Ekonda and on their warlike history with other peoples in the 18th and 19th centuries. [90]

In 1986 a contribution appeared in which Sulzmann described a particular phenomenon she studied : the complex and symbiotic connection of hunters and planters with the Ekonda and Bolia – namely the Batwá and the Baotó, described as two basic social strata. [91] Initially Sulzmann planned to finalise the monograph on the Bolia. But the material was too extensive and her health had deteriorated. Supposedly this was also a reason why she published Quellen zur Geschichte und Sozialstruktur der Mbóle und Imoma (Ethnie Móngo, Zaire) (Sources concerning the history and social structure of the Mbóle and Imoma (ethnic group of Móngo, Zaire)). This book included translated narratives of three individuals belonging to different groups : an unnamed informant of father Leo Sarens, the catechist Ikelya who had written on father Honoré Vinck’s solicitation, and Boóto (Boniface) w’Itambála who had worked as a “language assistant” for Sulzmann and Müller during their first field research in Congo. Sulzmann put the texts in an order which seemed appropriate to her, i.e. subdivided into various areas of life. She prepended introductions on what is known from the few publications about the respective group or topic so far. Pointing to the available literature, Sulzmann provided these records as historical source material for future researchers. [92] Her book was presented, for instance, in the Journal Annales Aequatoria : ’Il est de la plus haute importance que des recherches ethnologiques aient lieu en ces endroits (móngo du sud-est) et nous sommes très reconnaissant à Mme Dr Sulzmann de nous avoir livré ces quelques fragments.” [93]

In 1984 Sulzmann had established the Sulzmann-Stiftung (Sulzmann-Foundation) together with her sister Irma Sulzmann and her sister-in-law Roselore Sulzmann to support socio-cultural anthropological, social, linguistic and literary research of early-carrier researchers with a regional focus on the Congo. [94] Erika Sulzmann died on 17 June 1989 at the age of 78.

Final Considerations

Starting her career at the Research Institute for Cultural Morphology was probably most fortunate for Erika Sulzmann. Many more women were employed in Frankfurt than in any other department of ethnology in the German-speaking countries. Frobenius encouraged some of them, as he did Sulzmann, for instance, when she was allowed to unofficially join the university lectures. Sulzmann received much backing from members of the Frankfurt Institute until the post-war period.

Just how serious Sulzmann’s desire was to further her studies is shown by the fact that she left Frankfurt when the institute struggled to survive. She continued her studies in Vienna in 1940. The war had already begun and men were drafted into the military. More women found themselves taking on tasks which might have been performed by men under other circumstances. In this respect, this part of Sulzmann’s biography shows us a view of “normal” academic life under war conditions.

It is well acknowledged that in the nearly fifty years that spans the turn of the 20th century to 1943, most German ethnologists could hope for support, funding or a position if they acted according to colonial interests. As we know today, this quite often turned out to be a reasonable assumption. When the recovery of German colonies seemed so close at the beginning of the 1940s, representatives of socio-cultural anthropology and African studies and their research were given increased attention. Sulzmann, too, was willing to work for colonial interests in favour of her career and with the support of the Colonial Policy Department of the NSDAP. Probably all ethnologists who were not directly affected by the Nuremberg Laws, persecuted for other reasons or active in the resistance accepted Nazi party and government agency support. At any rate, numerous scientists financed their research by attracting the support of party agencies, provided the studies were deemed valuable from the perspective of the NSDAP. Some of these academics agreed with the National Socialists’ ideology ; to others this simply offered a safe income and, furthermore, a chance for the men to be exempted from military service. More or less active between conformity and entanglement each of them automatically became part of the system. Sulzmann’s career during the Nazi period also illustrates another issue, however : it shows how during the Nazi and the post-war era, ethnologists tended to stay in close contact with colleagues who represented similar research priorities or employed similar methods. In this case it is the cultural-historical and cultural diffusion-oriented approach represented, for example, by Frobenius, Jensen, Baumann and Menghin. These contacts could often even be sustained regardless of their respective political positions towards the Nazi regime. These lasting personal networks also obstructed critical engagement and directed reflections on the Nazi period at German universities in the post-war period.

Sulzmann continued to assert herself in the male-dominated academic world in Mainz. Unmarried and with no children to divide her attentions, she lived for her work. She played a substantial role in establishing the new department, the library on socio-cultural anthropology and African studies, the ethnographic collection, the photo archive, the central photo laboratory and she maintained close contact with students. Finally, she could travel to the Congo, whose inhabitants she had only known from literature up until then. Despite her outdated theoretical approach which she could not abandon, Sulzmann became a renowned expert on the people of the equatorial forest of the Congo, where she took her main interest in the history and life of the Ekonda and Bolia, their social fabric and political organisation, without considering European or rather colonial influences. While recognising the complex history of the population of the Congo, Sulzmann was often caught in the image of clear, distinct groups of people who had only intermittently been in reciprocal exchange. These contacts she strove to recover. Her historical essays are characterised by expulsions and conflicts between the various groups of people.

Sulzmann never dealt with decolonisation in Africa in her publications. Maybe this and her perspective on the Mongo’s history are indications that she was still committed to the former culture-historical approach which usually was not primarily focused on present developments. Her former student E. W. Müller, who accompanied her on the first journey to the Congo, assumed Sulzmann knew that her approach was outdated but that she did not admit it. This fact, and that she adopted oral traditions without any criticism of the source, had possibly blocked her from finishing the monograph on the history and ruling system of the Bolia. [95] Furthermore, she did a lot of work at the institute – in the manner she saw fit. In return she received recognition and she maintained, so to speak, control over her dominion. Hence she did not succeed in processing all her notes and material for a postdoctoral thesis or a monograph.

Nonetheless Sulzmann contributed to a larger knowledge of the history, language and culture of the populations in the Congo. She called attention to the existence of ancient pottery in the Équateur Province of the Congo and laid the foundation for research studies, for example those of Hans Peter Wotzka. [96] Sulzmann inspired young academics and aroused their interest in this area of Africa. With the creation of the Sulzmann Foundation, she ensured support for young scholars to carry out appropriate research. [97] She made her field research and source material available, for instance to Anna-Maria Brandstetter (Mainz) for her doctoral thesis in addition to Brandstetter’s own field research in the Congo. [98]

Almost 15 years after Sulzmann’s death E.W. Müller stated that her unpublished material of her travels which she left behind was not prepared to such an extent that it was of great use. [99] Nevertheless, until recently, Sulzmann’s publications and notifications were used as sources for studies on the history and languages of the people in the Congo. [100] A thorough academic biography on Erika Sulzmann, her life and work and her direct relationship with her informants in the Congo, among other things, on the basis of an in-depth processing of her notes and manuscripts and of archive material is a task that still remains to be done.


Annales Aequatoria : Reviewed Work : „Quellen zur Geschichte und Sozialstruktur der Mbole und Imoma (Ethnie Mongo, Zaïre)“ by E. Sulzmann (1986). Annales Aequatoria 8 (1987) : 465.

Bassey Andah, Alex Okpoko, Thurstan Shaw, Paul Sinclair (eds.) : The Archaeology of Africa. Food, Metals and Towns. London, 1993.

Serge Bahuchet : “Changing Language, Remaining Pygmy”, in : Human Biology 84/1 (2012) : 11–43.

Hermann Baumann : „Völker und Kulturen Afrikas“, in : Hermann Baumann, Richard Thurnwald, Diedrich Westermann (ed.), Völkerkunde von Afrika mit besonderer Berücksichtigung der kolonialen Aufgabe. Essen, 1939 : 3–371.

Bettina Beer : Frauen in der deutschsprachigen Ethnologie : Ein Handbuch. Cologne, et al., 2007.

Anna-Maria Brandstetter, Ernst-Wilhelm Müller : „Vorwort in memoriam Erika Sulzmann (7.1.1911-17.6.1989)“, in : Anna-Maria Brandstetter, Ernst-Wilhelm Müller : Forschungen in Zaire ; in memoriam Erika Sulzmann (7.1.1911-17.6.1989). Münster, Hamburg 1992 : VII–X.

Anna-Maria Brandstetter : Leben im Regenwald, Politik und Gesellschaft bei den Bolongo (Demokratische Republik Kongo). Münster, Hamburg, London : LIT, 1998.

Anna-Maria Brandstetter : „Dr. Erika Sulzmann (1911–1989)“, in : Hedwig Brüchert (ed.), Rheinland-Pfälzerinnen. Frauen in Politik, Gesellschaft, Wirtschaft und Kultur in den Anfangsjahren des Landes Rheinland-Pfalz : Mainz, 2001 : 414–417.

Anna-Maria Brandstetter : “Erika Sulzmann. Zwischen Mainz und Kongo”, in : Anna-Maria Brandstetter ; Carola Lenz (eds.), 60 Jahre Institut für Ethnologie und Afrikastudien. Ein Geburtstagsbuch. Cologne, 2006 : 87–95.

Jürgen Braun : Eine deutsche Karriere : die Biographie des Ethnologen Hermann Baumann (1902–1972). Munich, 1995.

Doris Byer : Der Fall Hugo A. Bernatzik. Ein Leben zwischen Ethnologie und Öffentlichkeit. Cologne, et al., 1999.

Anita Dick : Walter Hirschberg am Museum für Völkerkunde (Wien) im Dienst des „kolonialen Traums (1938–1945). Diploma thesis, University of Vienna. Vienna, 2009.

Manfred K. H. Eggert : “Der Keramikfund von Bondongo Losombo (Region de l‘Équateur - Zaire) und die Archäologie des Äquatorialen Regenwaldes”. Allgemeine und Vergleichende Archäologie 2 (1980) : 381-427.

Manfred K. H. and Rosemarie K. Eggert : “Mainz und das Kongobecken. Archäologisch-Ethnographische Forschungen 1977-1987”, in : Anna-Maria Brandstetter ; Carola Lentz (eds.), 60 Jahre Institut für Ethnologie und Afrikastudien. Ein Geburtstagsbuch. Cologne, 2006 : 209-223.

Leo Frobenius : Das unbekannte Afrika : Aufhellung der Schicksale eines Erdteils. München : C.H. Beck 1923.

Katja Geisenhainer : “Frankfurter Völkerkundler während des Nationalsozialismus”, in : Jörn Kobes ; Jan-Otmar Hesse, et al. (eds.), Frankfurter Wissenschaftler zwischen 1933 und 1945 (Schriftenreihe des Frankfurter Universitätsarchivs). Göttingen, 2008 : 81–110.

Katja Geisenhainer : “[...] zwischen ‘Paideuma’und der ‘Rassenseele’. Adolf Ellegard Jensen und die Auseinandersetzungen um die Frobenius-Nachfolge”, in : Katja Geisenhainer, Katharina Lange (eds.), Bewegliche Horizonte. Festschrift zum 60. Geburtstag von Bernhard Streck. Leipzig, 2005 : 377–402.

Katja Geisenhainer : “Erika Sulzmann und die ‘Stammeskarte von Afrika’ : Ein Beitrag zur Ethnologie im Nationalsozialismus”. In : G. Castryck, S. Strickrodt, K. Werthmann (eds.), Sources and Methods of African History and Culture - Essays in Honour of Adam Jones. Leipzig, 2016 : 493-520.

Katja Geisenhainer : “Baumann, Hermann (1902–72)”, in : Hilary Callan (ed.) The International Encyclopedia of Anthropology. 12 vols. Hoboken, NJ : John Wiley & Sons 2018.

Katja Geisenhainer : “Das Institut in Zeiten von Diktatur und Krieg”, in : Frobenius – die Kunst des Forschens. Catalogue accompanying the exhibition of the same name, 24 March – 14 July 2019, Museum Giersch der Goethe-Universität Frankfurt, 2019.

Julia Gohm-Lezuo : “Die Studierenden der Völkerkunde an der Universität Wien 1937-1945.” unpubl. Diss, University of Vienna, 2014.

Julia Gohm ; Andre Gingrich : “Rochaden der Völkerkunde : Hauptakteure und Verlauf eines Berufungsverfahrens nach dem ‘Anschluss’”, in : Mitchell G. Ash, Wolfram Nieß, Ramon Pils (eds.), Geisteswissenschaften im Nationalsozialismus : Die Universität Wien 1938–1945. Göttingen, 2010 : 167–197.

Horst Gründer : “... da und dort ein junges Deutschland gründen”. Rassismus, Kolonien und kolonialer Gedanke vom 16. bis zum 20. Jahrhundert. Munich, 1999.

Dieter Haller : Die Suche nach dem Fremden : Geschichte der Ethnologie in der Bundesrepublik 1945-1990. Frankfurt, New York, 2012.

Beatrix Heintze : “Hermann Baumann”, in : Christian F. Feest and Karl-Heinz Kohl (eds.), Hauptwerke der Ethnologie. Stuttgart, 2001 : 36–40.

Beatrix Heintze : “Hermann Baumann”, in : Deutsche Forschungsreisende in Angola : Ethnographische Aneignungen zwischen Sklavenhandel, Kolonialismus und Wissenschaft–Kurzbiographien mit Selbstzeugnissen und Textbeispielen ; Beatrix Heintze (ed.), Frankfurt : 2007 : 126–34.

Axel Klein : „Reviewed Work : Quellen zur Geschichte und Sozialstruktur der Mbole und Imoma (Ethnie Mongo, Zaire) by Erika Sulzmann (1986)“, in : Africa : Journal of the International African Institute 60/ 1 (1990) : 171.

Peter Linimayr : Das Institut für Völkerkunde der Universität Wien 1938–1945. Unter Mitberücksichtigung des Museums für Völkerkunde Wien, vol. 2 (Sources). Diploma thesis, University of Vienna. Vienna, 1993.

Peter Linimayr : Wiener Völkerkunde im Nationalsozialismus. Ansätze zu einer NS-Wissenschaft. Frankfurt am Main. 1994.

André Motingea Mangulu : Le Lokonda des Bosanga du lac Tumba (RDC), in : Annales Aequatoria 27 (2006) : 381–465.

André Motingea Mangulu : “Le réseau fluvial Congolais et la problématique de l’expansion Bantoue”, in : Annales Aequatoria 30 (2009) : 839–988.

André Motingea Mangulu : “Language Decline and Linguistic Convergence in the Congo
Central Basin”, in : Bulletin des Séances/Mededelingen der Zittingen 61/2-3 (2015) : 299–372.

Udo Mischek : “Der Weg zu einer Planungs- und Verfügungswissenschaft für den kolonialen Raum”, in : Bernhard Streck (ed.), Ethnologie und Nationalsozialismus. Gehren, 2000 : 129–147.

Ernst Wilhelm Müller ; Anna-Maria Brandstetter (eds.) : Forschungen in Zaire. In memoriam Erika Sulzmann (7.1.1911–17.6.1989). Münster, et al. : LIT, 1992.

Susanne Schröter : “Die Sammlerin der Dinge : Erika Sulzmann, Forscherin in Afrika”, in : Karl-Heinz Kohl (ed.), Das exotische Ding. Geschichten einer Sammlung. Mainz : 1996, 23–34.

Signe Seiler : “Erika Sulzmann räumt auf. Erinnerungen an die 1960er und 1970er Jahre”, in : Anna-Maria Brandstetter ; Carola Lentz (eds.), 60 Jahre Institut für Ethnologie und Afrikastudien. Ein Geburtstagsbuch. Cologne : 2006 : 131–134.

Irmtraud Stellrecht : “Feldforschung als Erfahrung. Adolf Friedrich und Karl Jettmar in Nordpakistan”, in : Anna-Maria Brandstetter ; Carola Lenz (eds.), 60 Jahre Institut für Ethnologie und Afrikastudien. Ein Geburtstagsbuch. Cologne : 2006 : 23–48.

Erika Sulzmann : Die Mongo. Studien zu einer regionalen Monographie. Dissertation, University of Vienna. Vienna, 1947.

Erika Sulzmann : “Afrika : Sprachen der Eingeborenen”, in : Carl Troll (ed.), Grosser Herder Atlas (Herders Bildungsbuch, Atlasband). Freiburg : 1958 : 185.

Erika Sulzmann : “Die Sekte der Antonier in Kongo nach 1700”, in : Alexander Busch (Deutsche Gesellschaft für Soziologie (DGS) (ed.), Soziologie und moderne Gesellschaft : Verhandlungen des 14. Deutschen Soziologentages vom 20. bis 24. Mai 1959 in Berlin. Stuttgart : Ferdinand Enke, 1959a : 220–221.

Erika Sulzmann : “Das Königtum der Bolia”, in Alexander Busch (Deutsche Gesellschaft für Soziologie (DGS) (ed.), Soziologie und moderne Gesellschaft : Verhandlungen des 14. Deutschen Soziologentages vom 20. bis 24. Mai 1959 in Berlin. Stuttgart, 1959b : 247–248.

Erika Sulzmann : “Die Bokopo-Herschaft der Bolia”, in : Archiv für Rechts - und Sozialphilosophie 1959c (45/3) : 389–717.

Erika Sulzmann : “Les danseurs Ekonda à ‘Changwe Yetu’”, in : Zaire (13) 1959d : 57–72.

Erika Sulzmann : “Zentralafrikanische Keramik aus voreuropäische Zeit”, in : Keramos (8) 1960 : 19–21.

Erika Sulzmann : “Die Bewegung der Antonier im alten Reiche Kongo”, in : Wilhelm E. Mühlmann (ed.), Chiliasmus und Nativismus : Studien zur Psychologie, Soziologie und historischen Kasuistik der Umsturzbewegungen (Studien zur Soziologie der Revolution 1). Berlin : Reimer 1961 : 81–85.

Erika Sulzmann : “Afrika : Sprachen der Eingeborenen”, in : Carl Troll (ed.), Der Neue Herder Handatlas (vol. 11/12) Freiburg : Herder, 1966 : 76.

Erika Sulzmann : “Ekonda : Fest bei der Einsetzung eines Hauptlings der pygmoiden Batwa (Botsika) durch den Dorfhäuptling (Nkumu) von Isangi unter Mitwirkung des Nkumu von Wenga” [text brochure]. Encyclopaedia cinematographica. Göttingen : Institut für den Wissenschaftlichen Film, 1972a.

Erika Sulzmann : “Ekonda : Tanzfest (Nsambo) in Isanga mit mehreren Tanzgruppen.” [text brochure part 1 and 2]. Encyclopaedia cinematographica. Göttingen : Institut für den Wissenschaftlichen Film, 1972b.

Erika Sulzmann : “Ein Jagdbericht im Dialekt der Batwa von Ebungu (Ekonda)”, in : Annales Aequatoria (1) 1980 : 467–476.

Erika Sulzmann : “Oral Tradition und Chronologie. Der Fall Baboma-Bolia”, in : Mélanges de culture et de linguistique africaines : publiés à la mémoire de Leo Stappers, C. Faik-Nzuji Madiya and Erika Sulzmann (eds.) with the collaboration of Jan Daeleman and Kazadi Ntole, (Mainzer Afrika-Studien 5), Berlin, 1983 : 525-586.

Erika Sulzmann : “La soumission des Ekonda par les Bombomba”, in : Annales Aequatoria (6) 1985 : 3–17.

Erika Sulzmann : Batwa und Baoto. “Die Symbiose von Wildbeutern und Pflanzern bei der Ekonda und Bolia”, in : Sugia (7) 1986a : 369–389.

Erika Sulzmann : Quellen zur Geschichte und Sozialstructur der Mbóle und Imoma (Ethnie Móngo, Zaire). Mainzer Ethnologische Arbeiten 7. Berlin 1986b.

Barbara Smetschka : Frauen – Fremde – Forscherinnen. Leben und Werk der Absolventinnen des Wiener Instituts für Völkerkunde 1945-1975. Ein Beitrag zur Wissenschafts- und Frauengeschichte. Frankfurt am Main, et al. 1997.

Matthew Stanard : “Bilan du monde pour un monde plus déshumanisé : The 1958 Brussels World’s Fair and Belgian Perceptions of the Congo”, in : European History Quarterly (35/2) 2005 : 267–298.

Matthew Stanard : “Belgium, the Congo, and Imperial Immobility : A Singular Empire and the Historiography of the Single Analytic Field”, in : French Colonial History (15) 2014 : 87–110.

Holger Stoecker : Afrikawissenschaften in Berlin von 1919 bis 1945. Zur Geschichte und Topographie eines wissenschaftlichen Netzwerkes. Stuttgart, 2008.

John Thornton : The Kongolese Saint Anthony : Dona Beatriz Kimpa Vita and the Antonian Movement, 1684–1706. Cambridge 1998.

René Tonnoir : Giribuma. Contribution à l’histoire et à la petite histoire du Congo équatorial. Tervuren 1970.

University of Frankfurt (ed.), Vorlesungsverzeichnis der Universität Frankfurt. Frankfurt 1932 bis 1940.

University of Cologne : “Forschungsstelle Afrika (Philosophische Fakultät), Regenwald (Kongo, Kinshasa)”, Selected bibliography : [21 February 2019]X

Otto H. Urban : “Die Urgeschichte an der Universität Wien vor, während und nach der NS-Zeit”, in : Mitchell G. Ash, Wolfram Nieß, Ramon Pils (eds.), Geisteswissenschaften im Nationalsozialismus : Die Universität Wien 1938–1945. Göttingen, 2010 : 371–395.

R. Van Everbroeck : Wörterbuch Lingala – Deutsch. (Lingâla Woordenboek 1956) überarbeitet von Erika Sulzmann.. Mainz, 1981.

Jan Vansina : « Vers une histoire des Sociétés Mongo », in : Annales Aequatoria 8 (1987), 9–57

Jan Vansina : “The Many Uses of Forgeries : The Case of Douville’s “Voyage au Congo” ”, in : History in Africa, 31 (2004), 369–387.

Honoré Vinck : “Troisième campagne de fouilles Archéologiques dans la région de l’Équateur (Zaire)”, in : Annales Aequatoria 4 (1983) : 176–177.

Honoré Vinck and Benoit Quersin : “Histoire de l’enregistrement de la musique Mongo”, in : Annales Aequatoria 16 (1995) : 153–174.


Archiv des Frobenius-Instituts, Frankfurt am Main (AFI)

Verwaltungsarchiv (VA)

0005, 0101, 0112, 0141, 0142, 0181, 0619, 1886, 1889, 1890.

Archiv des Instituts für Ethnologie und Afrika-Studien, Mainz (AIfEAS Mz)

Nachlass Sulzmann (NLS) : Institut Post 1959–1962

Korrespondenz Sulzmann, Rund um Kongoreise 1959/60 [correspondence]

Materialien, Afrika-Karte (Sulzmann) [Map of Africa]

Interview mit Erika Sulzmann, carried out by Prof. Karl-Heinz Kohl and Heinzarnold Muszinski on 26 May 1989 from 1:00–4:00 pm in conjunction with the laudation for a commemorative publication on E. W. Müller. Transcribed by Nicole Janowski [Sulzmann, Interview].

Archiv des Staatlichen Museums für Völkerkunde Dresden, Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden (SMVD)

Nachlass Bernhard Struck, Schriftwechsel

Bundesarchiv Berlin (BArch)

R76/I, 117 ; REM Handakte (former BDC) (The “Kurator der wissenschaftlichen Hochschulen” in Vienna, PA Erika Sulzmann 1943–1945)

Institut für Stadtgeschichte Frankfurt/M (IfS Ffm)

8.087 Magistratsakte, Forschungsinstitut für Kulturmorphologie e. V. und Afrika-Archiv

70.662 PA Dr. Adolf Jensen

Landeshauptarchiv Koblenz

Best. 856 Nr. 134094 (Bereinigungsakte Prof. Dr. Hermann Baumann)

Österreichisches Staatsarchiv (ÖStA)

Archiv der Republik (AdR)

Kurator AZ 6131 A

Universitätsarchiv Mainz (UAM), Mainz

S64/850 Personalakte Erika Sulzmann

S 64/850 ; 07/17 (1/3) Stellenbesetzung Entnazifizierungsverfahren

Universitätsarchiv Wien (UAW), Vienna

IfE, A.1.14., S29, Handbuch der afrikanischen Stämme, 1942–1944

PH RA 16.247 Erika Sulzmann

Nationale der Philosophischen Fakultät (Nat. Phil. Fak.), WS 1941/42–SS 1943

Emails, conversations

Anna-Maria Brandstetter, 4 March 2019, to Katja Geisenhainer ; personal message.

Andre Gingrich, 20 June 2015, to Katja Geisenhainer ; personal message.

[1On Erika Sulzmann, cf. Beer 2007, 218–221 ; Brandstetter 2001, 2006 ; Gohm-Lezuo 2014, 96–97 ; Müller/Brandstetter (ed.) 1992 ; Schröter 1996 ; Seiler 2006 ; Smetschka 1997, 159–164.

[2Cf. Geisenhainer 2016

[3AFI, VA 0101 ; Erika Sulzmann, undated CV, probably autumn 1946.

[4AFI, VA 0101 ; Erika Sulzmann, undated CV, probably autumn 1946 ; Cf. also BArch, R76/1, 117 ; undated personal data.

[5AFI, VA 0101 ; Erika Sulzmann, undated CV, probably autumn 1946 ; Cf. also BArch, R76/1, 117 ; undated personal data.

[6Cf. University calendars at the University of Frankfurt [VV Uni Ffm] from 1932 until 1940.

[7UAW, PH RA 16.247 Sulzmann ; curriculum vitae, 21 January 1947.

[8UAW, Nat. Phil. Fak., WS 1941/42, SuSe 1942, letter S and SoS 1943, letter Q–S.

[9On Baumann, cf. Braun 1995 ; Geisenhainer 2018 ; Heintze 2001, 2007.

[10Founded in 1920 as Notgemeinschaft der Deutschen Wissenschaft (Emergency Association of German Science), the name was changed to Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG German Research Foundation) in 1929. After WWII the DFG was no longer active. In 1949 it was re-founded as Notgemeinschaft der Deutschen Wissenschaft (Emergency Association of German Science) and renamed DFG from 1951 ( [retrieved May 4, 2019]).

[11On Wolff in particular and on this background in general, cf. Mischek 2000, Stoecker 2008 : 253-282.

[12Cf. Byer 1999, 295 ff. ; Linimayr 1994 : 138 ff.

[13AIfEAS Mz, NLS ; Materialien, Afrika-Karte (Sulzmann).

[14SMVD, NL Bernhard Struck, Schriftwechsel ; Baumann, 19. August 1941, to Struck and Struck, 25. August 1941, to Baumann.

[15SMVD, NL Bernhard Struck, Schriftwechsel ; Baumann, 19. August 1941, to Struck.

[16BArch, R76/I, 117 ; Staff news on the academic auxiliary Erika Sulzmann. On activities concerning other ethnologists, such as Walter Hirschberg (1904–1996) as a trainer in the Reich Colonial League, cf. Dick 2009 : 33 ff., 64.

[17“Herstellung einer Karte von Afrika, auf der die Völkerstämme in ihrem heutigen Wohngebiet eingezeichnet werden” (Sulzmann, 13 April 1942, to the police headquarters in Mainz).

[18ÖStA, AdR, Kurator, AZ 6131 A ; Baumann to the “Kurator der wissenschaftlichen Hochschulen Wien” (official mediating between the Unversity of Vienna and the government ministry), 16 January 1942.

[19ÖStA, AdR, Kurator, AZ 6131 A ; Baumann to the “Kurator der wissenschaftlichen Hochschulen Wien” (official mediating between the Unversity of Vienna and the government ministry), 16 January 1942.

[20BArch (former BDC), Karteikarte (file card) RFR.

[21Linimayr 1993, Bd. 2, Q 176.

[22Linimayr 1993, Bd. 2, Q177 ; Sulzmann to the police headquarters in Mainz,13 April 1942.

[23Linimayr 1993, Bd. 2, Q183 ; Sulzmann to the Reich Research Council, “Kolonialwissenschaftliche Abteilung”, 2 February 1943.

[24Linimayr 1993, Bd. 2, Q183 ; Sulzmann to the Reich Research Council, “Kolonialwissenschaftliche Abteilung” 2 February 1943. The value (purchasing power) of 400 Reichsmark (RM) correspondents to about €1200 nowadays.

[25On the previous history cf. Stoecker 2008 : 202-204.

[26UAW, IfE, A.1.14., S29, “Handbuch der afrikanischen Stämme” ; minutes of the meeting about the “Handbuch der afrikanischen Stämme”, 15 May 1942 at the KPA.

[27UAW, IfE, A.1.14., S29, “Handbuch der afrikanischen Stämme” ; Westermann to Baumann,15 June 1942.

[28UAW, IfE, A.1.14., S29, “Handbuch der afrikanischen Stämme” ; Baumann to Maes, 26 June 1942.

[29Martin Bormann (1900-1945), 26 January 1943, to Franz Ritter von Epp (1868-1947) (Document printed in Gründer 1999 : 356).

[30Cf. Byer 1999 : 295 ff. ; Linimayr 1994 : 138 ff.

[31BArch, R76/1, 117 ; E. Sulzmanns Eid, 8 February 1944 and UAM S64/850 ; Universität Mainz : Berufungsvorschlag, 16. December 1947.

[32AFI, VA 0101 ; Erika Sulzmann, undated CV, probably autumn 1946.

[33AIfEAS Mz, NLS ; Afrika-Karte, undated “Bericht” by Erika Sulzmann (after the end of war, probably 1946 or 1947).

[34AFI, VA 0142 ; Sulzmann to Jensen, 26 August 1946. Later on Anna Hohenwart-Gerlachstein stated that she had insisted that the map should remain in Vienna. After his return, Koppers had supported this (Andre Gingrich, personal communication, 20 June 2015).

[35Under the name Mongo, various cultural communities were summarized, including the Bolia and Ekonda. They would never call themselves Mongo, but only with their own names (note of Brandstetter, 4. March 2019).

[36Sulzmann 1947 : II f. For van der Kerkens study “L’ethnie Mongo” (1944) cf. Brandstetter 1998, 64 ff.

[37Sulzmann 1947 : 15–18.

[38Sulzmann 1947 : 150–155.

[39“Altnigritsch” is translated “old-Nigritic”. According to Baumman it means the “ancient culture” which “seemed to be related with the real race of the negroes” (1939 : 50) ; “hyläisch” was related to primeval forest. Frobenius wrote in 1923 : “Hyläa means overpowering domination of the tree over the bush, suppression of herbs. [...] In the Hylaea, the family of the tree giants hamper the development of the herbs, so that they are forced to develop their root pole, and so the inhabitants of the Hylaea and the Hylaean environment become eaters of tubers” (1923 : 128). The term “Hylaea” was also defined and used e.g. by Baumann 1939 : 46-50, also 13, 75, 179, 285. “syrtisch” meant coming from the Sirtes, a wide bay of North Africa, or rather being influenced by peoples of this area (cf. e.g. Baumann 1939 : 56 ; Frobenius 1923 : 159, 164).

[40Sulzmann 1947 : 156–167.

[41Sulzmann 1947 : III f.

[42UAW, PH RA 16.247 Sulzmann ; oral examination certificate, 3 February 1947.

[43UAM, S 64/850 ; Sulzmann to the dean of the Faculty of Philosophy, 11 July 1946.

[44AFI, VA 0141 ; Jensen to Sulzmann, 22 January 1947.

[45UAM, S 64/850 ; Baumann : “Zeugnis”, 13 December 1946 and Koppers : “Gutachten”, 3 February 1947.

[46UAM, S 64/850 ; Baumann : “Zeugnis”, 13 December.

[47UAM, S 64/850 ; Jensen : “Bescheinigung”, 15 March 1948.

[48Landeshauptarchiv Koblenz, Best. 856 Nr. 134094 ; affidavit, 20 February 1949.

[49The DAF was an union federation of employers and employees and the largest NS-mass organisation. Free trade unions were banned.

[50The NSV defined itself as a social welfare organisation which supported deprived families (e.g. with donations to the winter relief), if they were viewed as valuable according to their “race” and hereditary health. Under the same conditions, the NSV later focused more and more on care for children (such as taking over nursery schools), young people, young pregnant women and mothers who had recently given birth. Many persons, who deemed it appropriate to became a member of a NS-organisation, joined the NSV.

[51UAM, 07/17 (1/3) ; Gouvernment Militaire en Allemagne, Questionnaire, filled in and signed by E. Sulzmann, 1 December 1947. Some other colleagues at the Research Institute for Culture Morphology were members of these sub-organisations, which were set up to protect the institute as a free academic institution, as they later explained (cf. Geisenhainer 2019).

[52Urban 2010 : 387.

[53Menghin stayed in Gudensberg near Kassel at this time. A. E. Jensen was in exchange with the Hessian Ministry of Culture and the State Ministry. He sought permission for Menghin to move to Germany (FI, VA 0181 ; Jensen, 2 June 1947, to the Hessian Ministry of Culture and 27 June 1947 to the Hessian State Ministry) and stressed the urgency of Menghin’s attendance in Frankfurt or near Frankfurt. Jensen described him as “a first authority” in the prehistoric field (FI, VA 0181 ; “Bescheinigung” by Jensen, 24 July 1947).

[54AIfEAS Mz, NLS, Afrika-Karte, undated “Bericht” by Erika Sulzmann (after the end of war, probably 1946 or 1947).

[55UAM, S 64/850 ; Johannes Gutenberg-Universität Mainz : “Festsetzung der Dienstbezüge”, 27 April 1938.

[56On Friedrich, cf. Stellrecht 2006.

[57UAM, S 64/850 ; Sulzmann, Photo Labor, Philosophical Faculty of the University of Mainz to the curator, 31 October 1951 and Friedrich to the university rector, 6 February 1964.

[58UAM, S 64/850 ; Friedrich to the Emergency Association of German Science, 3 February 1950

[59UAM, S 64/850 ; Friedrich to the university rector, 8 February 1951.

[60Cf. Beer 2007 : 220 ; Brandstetter 2001 : 417 ; Schröter 1996 : 29.

[61UAM, S 64/850 ; Friedrich to the university rector, 10 February 1954.

[62UAM, S 64/850 ; Friedrich to the Department of Foreign Affairs, Federal Chancellery, 14 September 1950. In 1904 Frobenius had conducted an expedition to the Congo.

[63Cf. Schröter 1996 : 29-32.

[64UAM, S 64/850 ; Sulzmann to “Herr Professor”, 30 January 1956.

[65Cf. Brandstetter 2001 : 416-417, Brandtstetter/Müller 1992 : VIII-IX, Schröter 1996 : 25.

[66UAM, S 64/850 ; prime minister of Rheinland-Pfalz, 7 September 1960.

[67Cf. Sulzmann 1959c : 390-391.

[68„Ekonda : Fest bei der Einsetzung eines Hauptlings der pygmoiden Batwa (Botsika) durch den Dorfhäuptling (Nkumu) von Isangi unter Mitwirkung des Nkumu von Wenga“ and „Ekonda : Tanzfest (Nsambo) in Isanga mit mehreren Tanzgruppen“, I u. II (1960) with accompanying texts (Sulzmann 1972a, 1972b).

[69Quoted from Starnard 2014 : 88. Cf. also Starnard 2005.

[70Sulzmann 1959d : 70-71.

[71As Honoré Vinck wrote, between 1952 and 1954 Sulzmann and E. W. Müller occasionally found ancient pottery (Vinck 1983 : 176).

[72Cf. e.g. Eggert/Eggert 2006, Eggert/Misago 1978, Vinck 1983, Wotzka 1995 : 22f. Universität Köln 2019.

[73The Antonians had been a religious-political movement under the leadership of Ndona Beatrice (1684–1706). Under the name Kimpa Vita and able to communicate with the supernatural world, she fought against the Portuguese rule, the slave trade and against foreign missionaries. The Antonians strove for a revival of the former Kingdom. They stood for a merger of Christianity and indigenous faith (Cf. E.g. Thornton 1998).

[74Cf. Sulzmann 1961 : 85.

[75UAM, S 64/850 ; “Dr. Erika Sulzmann : Lebenslauf” and correspondence in June 1959.

[76UAM, S 64/850 ; “Dr. Erika Sulzmann : Lebenslauf” and Ministry of Culture and Education in Rheinland-Pfalz, 11 October 1961, to Sulzmann.

[77UAM, S 64/850 ; “Dr. Erika Sulzmann : Lebenslauf”.

[78UAM, S 64/850 ; correspondence in winter 1970-71 and spring 1972.

[79UAM, S 64/850 ; rector of the Johannes Gutenberg-University to the Ministry of Culture and Education in Mainz, 1 April 1971.

[80UAM, S 64/850 ; Certificate of thanks, 1 April 1973.

[81Brandstetter 2001 : 416.

[82UAW, PH RA 16.247 Sulzmann ; Sulzmann to the dean of the Faculty of Philosophy of the University of Vienna, 9 January 1974,

[83UAW, PH RA 16.247 Sulzmann ; Welzig to Sulzmann, 22 January 1974.

[84UAM, S 64/850 ; Certificate, 13 January 1976.

[85Cf. Sulzmann 1958 : 1966.

[86Cf. Sulzmann 1981.

[87Cf. Sulzmann 1980.

[88Sulzmann 1983 : 579, Fn. 59.

[89Cf. Sulzmann 1983.

[90Cf. Sulzmann 1985.

[91Cf. Sulzmann 1986a.

[92Cf. Sulzmann 1986b.

[93Annales Aequatoria 1987. Also, in his review of Sulzmann’s book, Axel Klein stressed the importance of “any thorough holistic ethnographic material” on this area (1990).

[95Cf. Haller 2012 : 163. Haller refers to a letter from E.W. Müller (13 March 2009) ; Brandtstetter/Müller 1992 : IX.

[97Brandstetter 2001 : 417.

[98Brandstetter 1992 : 41.

[99Cf. Haller 2012 : 163. Haller refers to a letter from E.W. Müller (13 March 2009).

[100Cf. e.g. Bahuchet 2012 ; Mangulu 2006, 2009, 2015 ; Vansina 1987, 2004 ; Vinck/Quersin 1995.