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The Grande Dame of Ethnology in Leipzig: A Biography of Eva Lips

Ingrid Kreide‑Damani

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Kreide–Damani, Ingrid, 2022. “The Grande Dame of Ethnology in Leipzig: A Biography of Eva Lips”, in Bérose - Encyclopédie internationale des histoires de l'anthropologie, Paris.

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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).

Eva Lips (1906–1988) was closely linked to the academic approaches of her husband Julius Lips (1895–1950). After his early demise, she shaped the profile of the Leipzig Julius Lips Institute for Ethnology and Comparative Sociology of Law in the former GDR from 1950 to 1968. Under her leadership, a priority for economic anthropology, complemented by her specialty in ethnobotany, became crucial. Until her retirement in 1966/68, she trained more than half of all graduate ethnologists in the GDR. Eva Lips set new standards with her popular scientific work, which was understood in the GDR as an essential part of scientific work, e.g. with her cross-nationally successful “Indian books” for adults and children and the internationally attended public “Winter Lectures” of the Julius Lips Institute, which attracted scientists from various disciplines and lay persons alike. As a committed but unconventional and individually undogmatic citizen, Eva Lips had a decisive influence on the development of her discipline in the GDR, although she had once imagined her life to be quite different. This article is devoted to the various stages of Eva Lips’ life, which led from her hometown Leipzig via Cologne to American exile during the Nazi era and back to post-war Leipzig in the GDR.


Eva Lips had never planned an academic career. When she made the decision to establish herself as a professor of ethnology in Leipzig in the GDR in 1950, she was already 44 years old and convinced that she had to continue working for an idea she had shared with her late husband Julius Lips. In post-war Germany, Julius Lips’ idea aimed at a new beginning for academic ethnology, which until 1945 had been burdened by Nazi doctrine. His approach focused on a non-Eurocentric history of humanity on a common cultural basis, a world historiography leading from the history of peoples without written history to the present. This implied a new understanding of history and culture and, in line with the UN Charter on Human Rights, challenged all claims for white supremacy (Kreide-Damani 2020, 2022).

Julius Lips, director of the Rautenstrauch-Joest Museum of Ethnology in Cologne until 1933 and professor of ethnology and sociology at the University of Cologne, had been appointed professor of ethnology and director of a new institute for comparative sociology of law by the University of Leipzig in the Soviet-occupied zone of Germany in 1948. That same year, during the emergence of the Cold War, Eva and Julius Lips returned to Leipzig – Eva Lips’ hometown – from exile in the United States. In 1949, in the politically explosive phase of the partition of Germany, [1] Julius Lips was elected rector of the University of Leipzig. After his sudden death in January 1950, the Ministry of Culture of the Saxon State Government, the University of Leipzig and the Saxon Academy of Sciences decided to continue the theoretical and substantive scientific approach that Julius Lips had developed during the 15 months of his work in Leipzig. They merged the two institutes headed by Julius Lips under the umbrella of the “Julius Lips Institute for Ethnology and Comparative Sociology of Law” under the direction of Eva Lips. She took over as deputy director of the institute, earned her doctorate and acquired the Venia Docendi (habilitation) as one of the first female professors at the University of Leipzig. [2] As acting director of the Julius Lips Institute until the beginning of the third university reform in 1968, Eva Lips trained more than half of the graduate ethnologists in the GDR. She remained closely associated with Julius Lips’ scholarly approaches as did ethnology in Leipzig, which retained his name in the institute’s designation until 1989. [3]

A Publisher’s Daughter

Born in the middle-upper-class family of the well-known Leipzig publisher Ernst Wiegandt on 6th February 1906 in the city of books and music – as she characterized her hometown – she grew up in the liberal, cosmopolitan atmosphere of the educated middle class. Literature and music were the two things she planned to live for (E. Lips 1936). Her father worked on the board of the Leipzig “Deutsch-Französische Studiengesellschaft” (“French-German Research Society”) together with the internationally known pacifist-democratic philosopher and biologist Hans Driesch, who had taught at the University of Cologne in 1920 and, from 1921, held a chair of philosophy at the University of Leipzig until he was forced into emigration by the Nazis. [4] Eva met Julius Lips in the early 1920s when he was continuing his law studies at the University of Leipzig, having received his first doctorate in psychology in 1919. At the same time in the young Weimar Republic, he became politically involved in the establishment of a German Correspondence Office for Foreign University and Student Affairs (Deutsches Korrespondenzbüro für ausländische Universitäts- und Studentenangelegenheiten) and became a member of the Social Democratic Party of Germany and the Pacifist Student League (Mischek 2010, 288). In 1922, he passed the first state examination at the law school and concentrated on his second doctoral thesis on Thomas Hobbes (J. Lips 1927). He also appeared as a playwright : his play about Ferdinand Lassalle, one of the most important leaders of the early German labour movement, published in 1924 by the Leipzig publishing house “Das Zelt”, was dedicated to Eva Lips (J. Lips 1924). They got married in the same year. Eva Lips was 18 years old at the time and had just published her first article in the Leipziger Tageblatt. The couple left Leipzig and moved to Frankfurt am Main. In 1925, they moved to Cologne, where Julius Lips was promoted from assistant to director of the Rautenstrauch-Joest Museum of Ethnology in 1928 and to associate professor of ethnology and sociology at the University of Cologne in 1930. Both their lives seemed clearly marked out : Julius Lips, a civil servant employed by the city of Cologne, held a “lifetime position”. Eva Lips was in the process of distinguishing herself as an organizer of exhibitions as well as public relations manager for the Cologne museum and in addition as a broadcaster, photographer and travel writer. [5]

Writing in Exile

But then everything turned out differently :

“In 1932, … there was a name suddenly appearing again and again in the radio and in the papers. This name was : Hitler. … (Hitler) became a well-known figure in public life as in this country (the USA) Mickey Mouse or Popeye, the sailor man. Suddenly (in 1933), he succeeded in becoming chancellor of the (Deutsche) Reich. … Hitler’s funny idea about the superiority of a so called “Aryan” race sounded rather ridiculous – and there were his manners and the manners of his adherents which nobody could imagine as those of a high official. … One day, …we met in the business district a rather strange vehicle. It was an autocar of the city’s garbage department, but it carried none of the huge dust pails. There were passengers on it – nearly twenty men in black robes of the highest court of the Rhine province. Their heads were uncovered, and their hands held wooden logs with posters on them. We read : ‘We are Jewish pigs and the destroyers of the German people !’ On others there stood the words : ‘Throw out the Jewish who drink the German people’s blood !’ Four SS-men were with them in the car, and these men in black who held the posters sang with trembling lips : ‘Die Fahne hoch’, the Hitlerian party song. They were Jewish lawyers and judges, forced out of the court during the sessions before the eyes of their defendants who helped to place them on the garbage car” (E. Lips 1936).

When Eva Lips reported on her personal experiences of Hitler’s takeover in Cologne,
like many other opponents of German National Socialism, Julius Lips had been dismissed from his Cologne positions. At the invitation of Franz Boas, who had appointed Julius Lips to Columbia University in 1934, the couple had been living in exile in the United States for two years. Eva Lips gave her report on the occasion of the invitation of Service Guild of the Christ Church in New York in 1936. She knew how to address her audience :

“You read in your announcement paper about a talk on Hitler and you suspected, I suppose, to hear a political address. But I do not intend to give you facts you can read in any newspaper. Doubtless, you have read books about the Hitlerian concentration camps, purges and assassinations. … But you have perhaps not been told in which way the whole thing started – how the monster came in to force millions into slavery. You got political books, you got Jewish books on Hitler. But perhaps nobody told you the story of a human heart versus the invader. If somebody starts to tell it – it is a mere incident whose voice you hear. I can give you only one sector out of the great circle, one fate for thousands. And if I am forced to use the word ‘I’ more often than it seems decent in such a talk – always understand that this word stands for uncounted German intellectuals whom Hitler tried to break : surgeons, musicians, artists, scientists, and everybody who lived for any kind of invisible things, far from arms and poisoned gas” (Eva Lips 1936).

The book she announced in her moving speech was brought to the public two years later : Eva Lips’s literary debut Savage Symphony. A Personal Record of the Third Reich may be – according to its format – best described as an antifascist documentary drama. It was published by the renowned Random House of New York on March 30, 1938, three weeks after the invasion of Austria by German troops and half a year after the publication of the US-American version of Julius Lips’s anti-fascist exile bestseller The Savage Hits Back or The White Man Through Native Eyes. Julius Lips’ book had a prehistory : As early as 1930, Lips had announced, in a lecture at the Rautenstrauch Joest-Museum of Ethnology in Cologne, an exhibition on the representation of Europeans in the art of indigenous peoples, which, however, could not be realized due to increasing criticism of his and his wife’s avant-garde exhibition concepts. The collection of material, which included over 2,000 photographs, was rescued in early 1934 from confiscation by the Nazis, who felt provoked by ’the black pictures of the white man’, and was taken to England, where the contract for a book publication was concluded with the London publishing house Lovat Dickson with the preliminary contract for a US edition (Kreide-Damani 2010, 83–84, 109–119, 113–114). [6] On the same day Eva Lips’s book was published, the book critic for the widely read New York World Telegram came to the conclusion :

“I suppose that no two books will do more damage to the Nazi pretense to a pure culture than Julius Lips’s The Savage Hits Back, published last fall, and Eva Lips’s Savage Symphony, which appears today with an introduction by Dorothy Thompson” (Kreide-Damani 2010, 154). [7]

A day later, the author and journalist Lewis Gannett offered a synopsis of the book in his daily column in the renowned New York Herald Tribune, where he manifested his opinion that the “Old German Spirit” was heading for extinction in Hitler’s Germany (Pützstück 1995:247 ; Gannett 1938). [8] Without question, the books by Eva and Julius Lips mutually increased their provocative challenge to Nazi Germany (Kreide-Damani 2010, 148–156).

The Savage Symphony and the Antifascist German Emigration

In exile in the USA, Eva and Julius Lips had to re-orient their whole existence within the milieu of a United States society quite hostile to exiles and marked by a negative image of Germany that equated German emigrants with “Teutons”, Nazis or Nazi spies, or labelled them as “premature antifascists” and communists (Koepke 1992, 31). To try and write against this image was difficult even for such notable authors as Franz Werfel, Lion Feuchtwanger and the literarily successful members of the Mann family. In German literature studies in America, they tended to be viewed rather critically and were hardly acknowledged by the general public (Koepke 1992, 25f.). On April 25, 1938, shortly after the publication of Eva Lips’ Savage Symphony, the Austrian Jewish publicist Franz Hoellering, who had just escaped from the clutches of the Gestapo in Prague, commented :

“Contemporary German literature, the literature of the exile, has passed the phase of purely journalistic reporting. It begins to form a basis for the ideas which will overthrow the pseudo-philosophy of modern barbarism.”

With this statement, the critic of the liberal Nation magazine was not referring to distinguished and internationally well-known German-language authors in exile. The editors of the Nation, who had been writing against German fascism since 1933, assumed that the US-American public could only be reached through factual reports and background analyses (Koepke 1992, 30), [9] criteria which perfectly fitted Eva Lips’s Personal Record of the Third Reich : the diary of the 32-year-old daughter from an upper middle-class family who had followed her husband, persecuted by the Gestapo, into exile. She had mixed autobiographical data with personal experiences of intimidation, persecution, and flight and moreover, offered an eyewitness account of the course of events of the trial following the burning of the Reichstag.

Eva Lips’s antifascist bestseller Savage Symphony was the first book against the Nazis by a German woman in the US, [10] and within a short space of time it came to eight editions. Her exemplary “Germany book” as it soon came to be known, was also published in England in autumn 1938 under the title What Hitler Did to Us – exactly in reverse order to Julius Lips’s The Savage Hits Back which was published first in Great Britain and then in the USA. Both books are as closely linked to each other as the married authors were themselves. Eva Lips in her book vociferously advertised the story of the genesis of The Savage Hits Back, which transformed Julius Lips in his resistance to the Nazis from a “civilized” intellectual into a “savage” turning the title of his book into the motto of his life in exile. [11] On the cover of the British version, Albert Einstein, his name in big bold letters, commented :

“Whoever would see the true face of Hitler’s Germany must read this book. It deals with the fate of a non-Jewish, cultured husband and wife, with the struggle which grew entirely out of the upright character of these two admirable people. It is an account from the pen of a trained anthropologist, presenting a clear picture of facts. Whoever reads this book will see clearly what Fascism means !” [12]

In 1939, the Stockholm publisher Tiden issued the book in its Swedish translation.

Following the success of Savage Symphony, Eva Lips continued to tour throughout the USA on lecture trips for several years and spoke on subjects such as “I saw it happen” or, in front of Jewish audiences, on “A message of hope”. [13] Reaching the actual target audience in the US required a certain degree of strategic and sophisticated acculturation : for Eva Lips, this meant painting Cologne, where the book is set, in its Nazi local colour, as well as adapting the behavioural patterns of the first-person narrator and her husband to the American social ideal in some important ways. This stylistic strategy was also employed by Dorothy Thompson in her foreword by promoting Julius Lips, university professor and director of Cologne’s museum of ethnology, to the position of board member of a Protestant congregation in the Cologne suburb of Klettenberg, as befits a respected member of American society. [14]

Sometimes the end justifies the means. The media operate in the same way today. Back then, Dorothy Thompson was one of the most prominent representatives of her profession. [15] She knew exactly what Eva Lips was writing about. As a foreign correspondent in Berlin in 1924 she took on the post of first ever female editor-in-chief on the Berlin editorial board of the New York Post and the Public Ledger in 1925 and experienced the rise of the NSDAP first-hand. The interview she held with Adolf Hitler in 1931 and the book I Saw Hitler (Thompson 1932) based thereon and published in the USA in 1932 gave the German “Führer” cause to have the US-American journalist expelled from Germany within 48 hours in 1934. Back in the USA her voice carried weight. Married since 1928 to Nobel Prize winner Sinclair Lewis, she was considered, next to her friend First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, the most influential woman in the United States. Since the 1920s she had known Thomas Mann, Bertolt Brecht and other authors later forced into exile. It was her commitment to exile literature that brought about her appointment as chairperson of the International Writers’ Congress in New York in 1939, which ran parallel to the World Fair. Eva Lips also took part, having moved among the circle close to the German PEN Club in Exile since 1938. Julius Lips was a member of the “German Academy of Arts and Sciences in Exile”, which acted together with the “American Guild for German Cultural Freedom” until 1940 led by Thomas Mann (Kreide-Damani 2010, 153f. ; Zühlsdorff 1999, 4, cover page). In US exile since 1937, Thomas Mann at first lived in Jamestown, Rhode Island. In 1938 he moved into a house belonging to Caroline Newton who had translated Eva Lips’s Savage Symphony from German into English. Newton, a psychoanalyst and social worker well versed in literature, had been in Vienna in the 1920s for a training analysis under the supervision of Otto Rank. She had met Thomas Mann on a trip through Europe in 1929. In the USA, she came to be Thomas Mann’s most generous benefactor and set up a Thomas Mann Collection, which can still be viewed at Princeton University Library today. [16]

It remains a matter of speculation as to why the author of the Savage Symphony was never sued : In Eva Lips’ book, a stylistic device of questionable legality was used, of which the author herself as well as the translator, the contributor of the foreword, and the publisher had all been well aware. Eva Lips identifies some of her protagonists by name, which is to say she not only makes some of the individuals involved in the plot recognizable by way of specific characteristics or through associations with a particular time and place, but actually has people appear in person as actors and/or supporters of the Nazi regime, for example Julius Lips’ former students Andreas Scheller, Willi Fröhlich and Hermann Trimborn and also Eugen von Rautenstrauch, chairman of the sponsoring association of Cologne’s Rautenstrauch-Joest-Museum. [17] Others, for whom it might have been dangerous if they were identified either by name or by something else, remain anonymous, for example L. Fritz Gruber, to whose custody the photographic material for Julius Lips’s The Savage Hits Back was entrusted in order to keep it out of reach of the Gestapo. It had been clear to everyone working on the book that ensuring the right to privacy was valid for literature. To flout this understanding was a breach of taboo that was meant to be a strategic literary provocation, as Klaus Mann clearly had intended with his novel Mephisto published in 1936. [18] With one difference : before Eva Lips, no other author had dared to disclose real people by using their real names in a literary work.

Reception in Nazi-Germany and in Post-War Federal Republic of Germany (FRG)

The reaction of the Nazi-controlled German press followed immediately in May 1938 in two consecutive articles written in Der Westdeutsche Beobachter, a newspaper published by the Cologne-Aachen Gauleitung (district administration). This included the notorious accusation of anti-Semitism levelled at Julius Lips, said to be documented by an alleged “request or begging letter” written on April 14 or 19, 1933 to the Lord Mayor of Cologne, which despite extensive research has never been found. Still, this created rumours which had an effect even long after the war (Kreide-Damani 2010 : 155, 230). As alleged evidence of the couple’s lack of credibility, attention was drawn not least to Eva Lips’s Savage Symphony which, literarily trimmed for the US-American public as an antifascist docudrama, presented historical “truth” in fiction literary form. Shortly after the end of World War II in British-held Cologne, the return of exiled university professors was encouraged by the British military administration and the dean of the Faculty of Philosophy at the University of Cologne. Julius Lips was invited on March 14, 1946, “to return to our circle and take the place among us that you once had” (Pützstück 1995, 345). The initiative failed, not least because of the lack of control by the British military authorities (Ash 2010, 228). The machinations within Cologne’s insider circles, known locally as the “Cologne clique” (“Kölner Klüngel”), remained hidden to outsiders but were already taking effect in December 1945 when Eugen von Rautenstrauch, chairman of the sponsoring association of Cologne’s Rautenstrauch-Joest-Museum of Ethnology, wrote a letter to Julius Lips’s former student Hermann Trimborn in Bonn :

“I tried to put in a good word for the last director, Prof. Heydrich, whereupon I was told on the phone that the Allies had already put forward a candidate for the post, none other than Mr. Lips ! I’m very sorry for Heydrich whom I had gotten to know as a respectable and decent man. For me, Lips is heavily incriminated. He wasn’t honest with me, he later wrote awful books or had them written by his wife, … I would like to collect some material in order to enlighten the city notables … Can we meet in Cologne or Bonn some time ?” [19]

Still in 1957, the de-nazified museum director and professor of anthropology at the University of Cologne, Martin Heydrich, accused Eva Lips in this sense of “insulting” colleagues (Kreide-Damani 2010, 263). The fact that two years after her death in 1988 Eva Lips was still accused of deliberate and obvious lying, slander and criminal falsification (Fischer 1990, 187, 188, 191), [20] today can only be understood in the context of the conventional narrative of historiography in the FRG during and shortly after the end of the Cold War.

In the GDR Eva and Julius Lips were seen differently. There was no doubt about their credibility. After the war, the couple – by now American citizens [21] – returned to Leipzig in the Soviet-occupied zone, where they arrived in October 1948.

Rebirth in Liberty

Eva Lips had described the arduous acquisition of U.S. citizenship for exiles in 1942 in her second book in exile, Rebirth in Freedom. Against the backdrop of the US entry into World War II, the title fitted Eva Lips’ euphoric Americanism, whose real goal was to fight Nazi Germany. A critic for the Saturday Review wrote in July 1942 :

“The growth of Mrs. Lips’s enthusiasm appears utterly natural : surprisingly soon, she seems to have felt not only the benefits but also the responsibilities of Americanism and American democracy” (Roberts 1942, 19).

However, it is quite possible that Eva Lips, who assisted Julius Lips in his
field research on North American indigenous economics and law and the African American minority, played with or was inspired by Native American ideas about rebirth in choosing the title of her second book. Thus, in 1956, she wrote : “Again and again we encounter the ideal of Indian rebirth : the recovery of Indian life as it was” (E. Lips 1956 b, 394) before the whites conquered the American continent. Rebirth also plays a role in the Christian belief systems of numerous African American religious communities Eva and Julius Lips encountered in Washington. Here, in 1937, as a “White” scholar at the “Black” Howard University, Julius Lips was in charge of setting up a “Department of Anthropology”. He suddenly found himself in the same situation as the majority of lecturers at “Black” universities who were Jewish emigrants, considered to be on the side of the “oppressors” (Kreide-Damani 2010, 18f.). Eva Lips dedicated a whole chapter in Rebirth in Liberty to the couple’s time in Washington, which illuminates the helplessness and culture shock that she as well as her husband and other exiles experienced when confronted with US American segregation politics.

However, according to the critic of the Saturday Review, “some unpleasant experiences made (Eva Lips) for one, not bitter” (Roberts 1942 : 19).

The question, whether Eva Lips’s third publication in exile, which was supposed to be published in London in 1948 under the title Can Americans Be Happy ? but never was, would have differed from this pattern, can no longer be settled. The publisher responsible for the advance notice had launched the English version of Savage Symphony in 1938 :

“In 1938, we published Eva Lips’s first book, What Hitler Did to Us, the story of the persecution which drove her and her husband out of Germany and, in the words of the New Statesman, ‘one of the most honest and convincing books about the Nazi regime’. Since then she has been living in America and this new book she has written is a most penetrating and entertaining analysis of the American social scene. In an enthusiastic report, one of our editorial staff writes : “She assembles and analyses a number of well-known yet, to the European, contradictory facts about the American way of life, and makes sense of them all. No one else I have read on the subject has done quite so well. [22]

Professor of Ethnology in Leipzig, GDR

“The best way of working together (is) to work separately”, as Eva Lips had described the relationship with her husband in 1938 (E. Lips 1938a, 307). On July 14, 1950, half a year after Julius Lips’ sudden death, it was attested that the managing director of the Julius Lips Institute of Ethnology and Comparative Legal Sociology about Eva Lips said :

“Mrs. Lips has excellently and creatively-constructively solved the task assigned to her by the state government on April 6, 1950, to present the lectures of her late husband, ...Prof. Dr. Dr. Julius Lips, on “Beginnings and Early Forms of the Material Cultural Heritage of Humanity (Technology)” to the students of ethnology. As a continuator of the tradition of Julius Lips, she has become indispensable for the training of young scholars, both with regard to the direction of the seminars and in the fields of general ethnology and comparative sociology of law.” [23]

In 1951, Eva Lips obtained her doctorate, [24]qualified as one of the first female professors at Leipzig University in 1954 and received her venia legendi for ethnology and comparative legal sociology. [25] Her postdoctoral thesis was published in 1956 as the first volume of the series “Völkerkundliche Forschungen”, newly founded by the Section for Ethnology and German Folklore of the German Academy of Sciences (Sektion für Ethnographie und Deutsche Volkskunde der Deutschen Akademie der Wissenschaften) in Berlin. On the occasion of her participation in the 32nd International Congress of Americanists, held in Copenhagen that year shortly before the publication of her study, she was able to present ten preprints among the international participants. [26] Corresponding reviews were not long in coming (Hultkrantz 1957, Zbinden 1958).

In 1951, Eva Lips, who had passed an interpreting exam in the USA, had also completed the German translation of Julius Lips’ internationally successful popular science publication The Origin of Things. Julius Lips had written this book, published in the USA in 1947, not least with a view to re-education in post-war Germany and to a new world view that, following the UN Charter on Human Rights, was to be free of white supremacy as it had been anchored in the ideology of the Nazis. With this “history of mankind on a common cultural basis”, “written as a contribution toward the understanding of the development of human culture” “to find out what aspects of human culture are most directly connected with the problems of our time” (Lips 1947, 5, 6), Lips pursued the consistently anti-racist approach of including indigenous peoples in world historiography, who – as peoples without written history – had hitherto been denied a historical development relevant for humanity’s past and present. In terms of the present, Lips attributed to indigenous societies supposedly “modern” achievements and a hitherto unseen “contemporaneity” (Fabian 1983) :

“Legally and socially, the purposes and aims in a primitive society are the same as in modern society : to regulate life within and without the community, to hold the group together, to safeguard their food supply, to keep the established order, and to maintain peace inside and outside of the borders” (Lips 1947, 326). [27]

Eva Lips consistently followed Julius Lips’ approach. On the occasion of the ’Leipzig Winter Lectures’, with which she set new standards for popular science public relations in Leipzig and in the GDR from 1950 onwards, she put up for discussion in 1952 that peoples without a written language not only have a history relevant to the writing of world history, but also their own literature :

“As on earth peoples do not exist without fire and without ... expressions of religious needs, there are no peoples without language. Every people, however, which possesses a language, possesses with it also traditions handed down, transmitted by the spoken word. ... Only the medium is missing to literature, not the literary content. Therefore, when I speak today of a “literature of indigenous peoples”, I understand by it everything sung, told, handed down, and also improvised, which was invented, preserved and further developed by peoples without a written language – everything, which we, if we could buy it printed, would call literature without further ado.” [28]

For the audience, this unconventionally broad understanding of literature was illustrated by staged readings by students of the Julius Lips Institute. [29] Julius and Eva Lips had introduced this avant-garde inspired presentation format in Cologne many years ago.

Eva Lips’ interpretation of a literature of peoples without written language met with the approval of the Soviet ethnologist S.A. Tokarev, who also promoted a Russian translation of Julius Lips’ The Origin of Things, which was to be declared an official textbook of the Soviet Union with Tokarev’s preface. [30]

In his Leipzig and Berlin lectures as a visiting professor in Leipzig and Berlin in 1951/52, [31] Tokarev provided basic suggestions for a fundamental reorientation of ethnology as ethnography, combining ethnology and folklore, as in the Soviet Union. Under the leadership of Wolfgang Steinitz, a Finno-Ugrist and folklorist who was a friend of Tokarev’s and extremely influential in the GDR’s scientific policy, the new conception of ethnology as an ethnography combining (cross-cultural) ethnology with German folklore was implemented in 1952 with the founding of an Institute for Ethnology at the Humboldt University in Berlin (Kreide-Damani 2020, 2022). This became a marked institutional contrast to academia in the German-speaking west, where the separation between folklore studies “at home” and a cross-cultural and comparative ethnology was maintained.

At the Julius Lips Institute in Leipzig 1952, Eva Lips recorded “an ever-increasing number of students” and “an extraordinary increase in interest in ethnology”. [32] Future state restrictions on the number of students admitted to Leipzig and Berlin to study ethnology, and a binding curriculum for both university locations from 1952/53, prompted the students of the Julius Lips Institute to form a student collective, in whose name Eva Lips repeatedly and extensively objected to the “overall structure of the...curriculum for ethnology” before the state Secretariat for Higher Education. Referring to the Soviet ethnographer S.A. Tokarev, she argued that “the great scientific achievements of the Soviet Union (should) be made purely and undistortedly available (to the) students” so that “(the Julius Lips Institute) could reach the height in scientific quality and quantity that (should) be demanded in the German Democratic Republic”. The lecture programme for ethnology of the Moscow Lomonosov University presented by Tokarev in Leipzig would provide only an introduction for students of the main subject of history and would be not addressed to majors of ethnology, because in the Soviet Union a major in ethnology had not yet been established. [33] The result was a long process of negotiation between Berlin and Leipzig, which included for Leipzig the retention of comparative sociology of law, considered as less relevant in Berlin against the background of a desired combination of ethnography and prehistory. Accordingly, in 1954, Eva Lips read at the Leipzig Winter Lectures on “Everything that belongs to ethnology” (“Das Alles gehört zur Völkerkunde”). While emphasizing the importance of prehistory, (physical) anthropology, geography, and German folklore to ethnology, she followed Julius Lips in stressing the importance of comparative sociology of law as one of the main areas of research at the Leipzig Institute, in addition to its regional specialization in the Americas. On the basis of data on the population proportions of White and Coloured Americans presented by J. Lips in a lecture in 1949, [34] she argued that ethnological studies would provide fundamental historical knowledge for understanding burning contemporary issues that could transform the role of an ethnologist into a political one. On the comparative sociology of law, which she described as fundamentally important to the history of law, she referred, among other publications by her husband, to two works dealing with the enforceability of law through public opinion (J. Lips 1938 a, b) :

“Perhaps the most interesting problem in comparative sociology of law is the answer to the question of whether indigenous peoples have a “law” at all. There are still people today who doubt this. ... others, while correctly stating that one of the criteria of law is its enforceability, maintain that among indigenous peoples, where the policeman is not standing at the corner, such enforceability is just not there. ... (But) even in the oldest cultures known to us such enforceability is present. Its medium is public opinion, which has developed into a power factor of the highest order…. I am thinking here of the so-called buffalo police of the Plains Indians, who exercised power over life and death… when the huge herds approached, which meant food for months....” [35]

Under Eva Lips’ leadership and beyond, the focus on economics set by Julius Lips in conjunction with comparative sociology of law remained formative for the profile of the Leipzig Institute and was later complemented by Eva Lips’ speciality in ethnobotany.

Towards German folklore she maintained a distanced attitude. In 1959, the different orientation of student education in Leipzig and Berlin was officially criticized : “Ethnological training in the GDR has so far been carried out according to different principles at the two university institutes (in Leipzig and Berlin). Efforts should be made to unify the training...”. [36] However, the different principles of education in Berlin and Leipzig were not to change : In 1959/1960, Eva Lips turned down an urgent request from the Berlin Institute to lecture on the “folklore” of the North American Indians as part of a series of lectures on “Folk Poetry by Ethnographic Comparison”. [37] Eva Lips served as acting director of the Julius Lips Institute until the beginning of the third university reform in 1968. Her “neglect of folkloric knowledge” led to differences between Berlin and Leipzig ethnography even after Lips’ retirement, until the Ministry of Higher Education finally confirmed both the Leipzig and the Berlin curriculum as binding for the training of ethnographers at universities in the GDR in 1976/78 (Treide 2012, 62–63).

The public “Winter Lectures” of the Julius Lips Institute, introduced by Eva Lips, remained a crowd puller for over 17 years (from 1950/51 to 1967), attracting international cross-border scholars from a wide range of disciplines and lay persons alike. Eva Lips’ repeatedly requested lecture “Der Humor der Naturvölker” became the subtitle of her book Weisheit zwischen Dschungel und Eis (“Wisdom between Jungle and Ice”) in 1959, which also impressed a Japanese reviewer in 1961. [38] Her “Indian books” for adults and children helped transform the “Leipzig Dream of the Indian” (Draeger 2009) into a public image of North American Indians that was oriented toward historical reality, a characteristic feature of how the topic was publicly addressed in the GDR. As a counter-vision to the popular romantic author Karl May and his “Wild West” narratives, Eva Lips’s books were reprinted many times and translated into nine different languages (for example, into Dutch, Danish, and Finnish) while they also appeared in the German-speaking west (Dräger 2009, 458-459).

Eva Lips, however, left herself open to critiques against her idealized characterization of Julius Lips. This was conspicuous, inter alia, in her prefaces to his books’ German translations, for example to The Savage Hits Back which was published as Der Weiße im Spiegel der Farbigen (“Coloured Mirrors of the White Man”) in Leipzig and Munich (FRG) in 1983 and 1984. Her excessive pathos on such occasions fitted neither in the GDR nor in the FRG, and certainly not in academic life. Nevertheless, as a committed but unconventional and individually undogmatic citizen, Eva Lips had a decisive influence on the development of her discipline in the GDR. She represented a lively and socially relevant ethnology that was accessible to anyone interested. As Julius Lips’ successor, she achieved what she had been working for : Julius Lips’ innovative idea of a “history of peoples without written history” had a lasting influence on the reconceptualization of ethnology as ethnography in the GDR : while in Leipzig at the Institute for Cultural and Universal History (later : Institute of General History, Department of Modern History) a non-Eurocentric, non-European historiography and revolutionary historiography was established and the study of German colonial history formed a focus of ethnological work, a non-Eurocentric prehistoriography was to become of fundamental importance for Marxist world historiography (Kreide-Damani 2020, 2022).

Eva Lips’ popularity and esteem were also promoted by her honorary commitment to the city of Leipzig, e.g. to the internationally known “Gewandhaus” and the zoo. Her own exile publications, which were adapted for an American audience, were neither translated into German nor reviewed in the GDR. Today Eva Lips’s Savage Symphony and Rebirth in Liberty are, apart from the Swedish translation of Savage Symphony, still only available in their original English versions.

Archive Sources

Universitätsarchiv der Humboldt Universität zu Berlin (HUB)

Universitätsarchiv Leipzig (UAL)

Archiv des Ethnologischen Institutes der Universität Leipzig (AIEUL)

Biografisches Archiv zur Anthropologie Berthold Riese, Universität Bonn (BAA)

Privatarchiv Gruber, Köln


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[1FRG, founded on 23 May 1949 ; GDR founded on 7 October 1949.

[2On 8 December 1954. Title of her postdoctoral thesis : “Die Reisernte der Ojibwa-Indianer. Wirtschaft und Recht eines Erntevolkes”. Eva Lips received the Venia Docendi for Ethnology and Comparative Legal Sociology. UAL, PA1107, Prof. Dr. phil. Habil. Eva Lips, “Lebenslauf”, Bl. 216.

[3Since 1969, the “Lehr- und Forschungsbereich für Ethnographie ‘Julius Lips’ (Julius Lips Department of Ethnography) was part of the newly founded section of Africa and Middle East Studies, which was established in the course of the third university reform.

[4UAL, NA Lips 1/4/18, Blatt 32. In Leipzig and Cologne, streets are named after Hans Driesch.

[5“In Köln war ich führend mit der Gestaltung der Ausstellung des Rautenstrauch-Joest-Museums anläßlich der Jahrtausendfeier der Rheinlande beschäftigt, stellte auch die alljährlichen Vortragsprogramme des Museums zusammen und fertigte die zu ihrer Gestaltung benutzten Zeichnungen an.” (“In Cologne, I was in charge of designing the exhibition for the Rautenstrauch-Joest Museum on the occasion of the millennium celebrations of the Rhineland ; I put together all the museum’s annual lecture programmes and produced all the drawings used in the design.”) Prof. Dr. phil. habil. Eva Lips, “Lebenslauf”, UAL, PA1107, Bl. 212.

[6For the reception of Lips’ The Savage Hits Back or The White Man through Native Eyes, which extends to the present, see Kreide-Damani 2010, 154–156, 270–271 and Kreide-Damani 2019.

[7As quoted by Pützstück 1995, 247.

[8For Lewis Gannett, see Lewis Gannett Papers (MS Am 1888-Am 1888.4, Houghton Library, Harvard University, website of the Houghton Library [oasis]).

[9See also Popp (2008, 288).

[10Women writers among the exiled authors in the USA were in the minority. Mention should be made here of Marta Feuchtwanger, Friederike Zweig, Anna Mahler-Werfel, Bella Fromm and Katja and Erika Mann (Stern/Sumann 1995, 345). Like Eva Lips, they preferred the autobiographical genre, the literary classification of which as factual account, fiction or a mixture of both (“fiction or faction” ?) is still debated today, and so is the literary device of placing not oneself but rather the publicly known or internationally famous partner or father at the centre of the action.

[11“So it happened that the title of this book became the motto of my life ..., even if I myself in persisting became a ‘Savage’” ; Lips 1937 : xxvii. On how the terms “Savage” or in German “Wilder” were used when Julius Lips was alive, see Lips / Lips 1983 : 10–11.

[12Quoted by Pützstück 1995, 255. See also Prof. Dr. phil. habil. Eva Lips, “Lebenslauf”, UAL, PA 1107, Bl. 213-214. In 1938, Lips and Einstein each published articles in the Zeitschrift für Freie Deutsche Forschung, Paris.

[13Eva Lips, “Lebenslauf”, UAL, PA 1107, Bl. 214.

[14“They moved in conservative circles, among people like themselves, who were highly civilized, cultivated, and interested primarily in intellectual matters. They were not Jews ; they were Protestants, and the Professor was one of the Presbyters of The Evangelical Community” (Dorothy Thompson, Introduction, in : Lips 1938a : vii-viii).

[15On Dorothy Thompson, see Reuter 2000, 152–155.

[16See . As a translator, Newton confined herself to well-known writers such as Jacob Wassermann, the author of Kaspar Hauser, who died in 1934, or to specialist literature such as The Development of Psycho-Analysis by her teacher Otto Rank and Sándor Ferenczi.

[17On Andreas Scheller, a member of the Cologne chapter of Reichsleiter Alfred Rosenberg’s “Kampfbund für Deutsche Kultur”, who became the new provisional director of Cologne’s Rautenstrauch-Joest-Museum in April 1933, and on his assistant Willi Fröhlich as well as on Eugen von Rautenstrauch, see Kreide-Damani 2010, 106–113. In Savage Symphony Scheller and Fröhlich, with the consent of von Rautenstrauch, appear in the attempted confiscation of the photo material of The Savage Hits Back, which was seen as a disparagement of Hitler and the Aryan race. On Hermann Trimborn, Eva Lips has Zülsch, the art historian and national socialist director of the cultural office of the city of Cologne, pronounced : “There is a man named Trimborn, of Bonn, who won’t give me any peace. He deluges me with denunciations – about your so-called private life. Seventeen pages ! The man would do anything to get the directorship of the Rautenstrauch museum.” (Lips 1938a, 118)

[18On Klaus Mann’s novel Mephisto, still appearing today as a “pirated copy”, which nevertheless could be successfully made into a film, see Fechner (2010, 27). See also “Für die Kunstfreiheit ist das eine dunkle Stunde” about the ban on Maxim Biller’s novel Esra 2007 ( Thomas Bernhard’s novel Holzfällen (1984) should also be mentioned here. For all three authors, see Lindenberger 2018.

[19Ich habe versucht, für den letzten Prof. Heydrich ein gutes Wort einzulegen, worauf man mir telefonisch mitteilte, dass die Allierten [sic ! IK] schon einen Kandidaten für die Neubesetzung angemeldet hätten und zwar in Form des Herrn Lips ! Es tut mir sehr leid für Heydrich, den ich als einen ordentlichen und anständigen Menschen kennen gelernt hatte. Für mich ist Lips sehr stark belastet. Er war mir gegenüber durchaus nicht ehrlich, hat nachher scheussliche Bücher geschrieben oder durch seine Frau schreiben lassen … Ich würde gerne Material sammeln, um der Stadt ein Licht aufzustecken. ... Können wir uns mal in Köln oder Bonn treffen ? BAA, Nachlass Foy.

[20See also Pützstück (1995, 231f.). The fact that Hermann Trimborn in 1961 and Udo Oberem in 1960 held lectures at the Julius Lips Institute for Anthropology and Comparative Legal Sociology, whose director was Eva Lips (UAL, NA Lips 7/2.9), and the fact that Eva Lips in return was invited in 1964 to hold lectures in Bonn (UAL, PA 1107), does not seem to have been considered in this context. Also unconsidered is the fact that Eva Lips had already been invited in 1957 by Georg Eckert to (additional) reviews for the ZFE (UAL, PA1107). On the critical dispute about the views of Fischer and Pützstück, see Harms (1997 and 2010, 375 with footnote 1, 376 with footnote 2).

[21When they arrived in the Soviet-occupied zone Julius and Eva took on German citizenship again. UAL, PA 1107, Prof. Dr. phil. Habil. Eva Lips, “Lebenslauf”, Bl. 215.

[22Eva Lips, Can Americans Be Happy ? Michael Joseph Ltd., 26 Bloomsbury St. London, W.C.1.UAL, NA Lips 8/10 Eva Lips.

[23UAL, PA 1107.

[24Title of her PhD thesis : “Wanderungen und Wirtschaftsformen der Ojibwa-Indianer”. UAL, PA 1107, Prof. Dr. phil. habil. Eva Lips, “Lebenslauf”, Bl. 215.

[25Title of her postdoctoral thesis : “Die Reisernte der Ojibwa-Indianer. Wirtschaft und Recht eines Erntevolkes”. UAL, PA 1107, Prof. Dr. phil. Habil. Eva Lips, “Lebenslauf”, Bl. 216.

[26UAL, NA Lips 3/3. 618, Bl 2.

[27Internationally, Lips was not alone with the far-reaching goal “(to use) anthropological knowledge to reform society” (Rival 2010, 132) : the French ethnologist Paul Rivet, a friend of Lips, as well as Franz Boas and his inner circle should be mentioned here (King 2020, 128f., 409).

[28“Genauso, wie auf der Erde kein Volk ohne Feuer und kein Volk ohne … Äußerungen seines religiösen Bedürfnisses anzutreffen ist, gibt es auch kein Volk ohne Sprache. Jedes Volk aber, das eine Sprache besitzt, besitzt damit auch überlieferte, durch das gesprochene Wort überlieferte Traditionen. … Nur das Medium fehlt(e) zu einer Literatur, nicht der literarische Gehalt. Wenn ich heute von einer “Literatur der Naturvölker” rede, so verstehe ich darunter alles Gesungene, Erzählte, Überlieferte und auch Improvisierte, was von schriftlosen Völkern erfunden, erhalten und weiter ausgestaltet wurde – alles das, was wir, wenn wir es gedruckt kaufen könnten, ohne weiteres als Literatur bezeichnen würden.” Eva Lips, Die ‘Literatur’ der Naturvölker. Vortrag am 4.1.1952, Leipziger Wintervorträge. UAL, NA Lips 2/5.22. See also the published version 1951/52.

[29UAL, NA Lips 2/5.23 ; UAL, NA Lips 2/5.25.

[30AIEUL, LAL II, Schriftwechsel 1944-1956 ; UAL, NA Lips 3/2.817.

[31UAL, NA Lips 2/5.22.

[32UAL, NA Lips 3/3.41-49.

[33UAL, NA Lips 3/3.41-49.

[34Julius Lips, Farbig und Weiss in Amerika. Lecture presented at the “Gesellschaft zum Studium der Kultur der Sowjetunion” (Society for the Study of the culture of the Soviet Union). UAL, NA Lips 2/5.14.

[35“Ihr interessantes Problem (das der vergleichenden Rechtssoziologie) ist vielleicht die Antwort auf die alte Frage, ob Naturvölker denn überhaupt ein “Recht” in unserem Sinne besitzen. Es gibt heute noch Leute, die dies anzweifeln. …andere stellen zwar richtig fest, daß eines der Kriterien des Rechts seine Erzwingbarkeit sei, aber behaupten, daß bei Naturvölkern, bei denen der Polizist nicht an der Ecke steht, eine solche Erzwingbarkeit nicht vorhanden sei…. (aber) selbst in den ältesten uns bekannten Kulturen ist jene Erzwingbarkeit vorhanden. Ihr Medium ist die der öffentlichen Meinung, die sich zum Machtfaktor allerersten Ranges entwickelt hat…. Ich denke hier an die sogenannte Büffelpolizei der Prärieindianer, die beim Herannahen der gewaltigen Herden, die die Nahrung für Monate bedeuten, die Macht über Leben und Tod ausübte.” UAL, NA Lips 2/5.32

[36HUB, UA Bestand. Phil. Fak. nach 1945, Sign. 118, Institutspläne und Berichte.

[37UAL, NA Lips 3/3.244­–246.

[38UAL, NA Lips 1/4/13, Bl. 105.