Wolfgang Steinitz

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Wolfgang Steinitz
Bundesarchiv Bild 183-K0929-501, Moskau, deutsche Delegation auf Bootstour.jpg
May 1949 German delegation on a boat tour in Moscow - Steinitz in front center.
Born 28 February 1905
Breslau, Germany (now Poland)
Died 21 April 1967 (1967-04-22) (aged 62)
Berlin, Germany
Nationality German
Occupation Ethnologist, linguist
Known for Der große Steinitz – Deutsche Volkslieder demokratischen Charakters aus sechs Jahrhunderten

Wolfgang Steinitz (28 February 1905 – 21 April 1967) was a German linguist and folklorist. Through his rediscovery of hidden social commentary in traditional folk songs, he was an important pioneer of the German folk-revival in both East and West Germany. He researched the language and culture of the Ugric people of West Siberia, including the songs that form an important part of the tradition of this endangered ethnic group. Steinitz also left extensive work in other areas of linguistic studies.


Steinitz was born on 28 February 1905 in Breslau, the son of a wealthy Jewish lawyer. From 1923 to 1928 he studied Finno-Ugric linguistics and ethnology at the universities of Breslau and Berlin. He joined the Communist Party in 1927, and traveled to Finland, Estonia and the Soviet Union.[1] In 1933 Steinitz was fired from the Friedrich Wilhelm University in Berlin because he was a member of the communist party.[2] He took his family to the Soviet Union in 1934, and taught for several years in Leningrad at the Institute of Northern Peoples, a training center for members of the indigenous peoples of the Russian North and Siberia. He fell out with his colleagues over the way the state treated ethnic minorities, leading to problems with the authorities. He left Russia and from 1938 until the end of World War II he and his family lived in Stockholm, Sweden.[3] From 1943 he was an assistant at the Stockholm University.

Steinitz returned to Berlin in 1946, and became professor of Finno-Ugrian languages at Humboldt University.[3] Steinitz held many different scientific and political positions in East Germany, including heading the Finno-Ugric Institute of East Berlin's Humboldt University.[citation needed] He may have arranged the 1951 visit to the institute by the distinguished Russian ethnographer Sergei Aleksandrovich Tokarev.[3] For a while he was one of the most prominent political scientists in the GDR. From 1954 to 1958 he was a member of the Central Committee of the Socialist Unity Party, and from 1954 to 1963 Vice President of the GDR's German Academy of Sciences. Steinitz died in Berlin, East Germany in 1967 from the effects of a stroke.


Finno-Ugric people[edit]

Steinitz investigated the Finno-Ugric peoples during his time in Leningrad, particularly the languages and cultures of the Ugric Khanty people. During his research, he stayed in a Khanty settlement on the middle Ob River for six months, and he also interviewed Khanty people who were studying in the Herzen University. After he had left the Soviet Union in 1938, he published his seminal research work in Tartu, Estonia in 1939 with the title Ostjakologische Arbeiten.

Music Research[edit]

Another focus of Steinitz's work was the collection of German folk songs that were directed against war, oppression and misery, from the songs of the Silesian weavers to soldier songs of the Thirty Years' War, peasant complaints, songs about desertion or about contemporary events such as the revolution of 1848. He soon came in contact with little-known folk song traditions on the theme of the misery of the Silesian weavers. Steinitz's German folk songs of a Democratic Character from Six Centuries appeared in 1954 and 1962 in East Berlin. The full collection of 180 songs was published after Steinitz's sudden death in 1967.

The rediscovered "democratic people's songs" were the most influential works of the German folk revival of the 1970s. Artists like Peter Rohland, Hein & Oss Kröher, Liederjan, Zupfgeigenhansel, Hannes Wader and many others made use of Steinitz's collection, as the work revealed afresh that "folk" songs traditionally are against war, oppression and terror. In East Germany, Steinitz's work was an important source for the folk movement. In particular, anti-military songs like "King of Prussia, great potentate / we are so tired of your rule" were in conflict with the ruling party line.

Other work[edit]

Steinitz wrote an easy-to-use textbook of the Russian language, and was founder and co-editor of a dictionary of the German language. Steinitz founded the Marx-Engels-dictionary in 1952, which was published in 1963 as a sample issue.


  • Wolfgang Steinitz: German Folk Songs democratic character of six centuries . Volume 1, Oxford University Press, Berlin 1954
  • Wolfgang Steinitz: German Folk Songs democratic character of six centuries . Volume 2, Akademie-Verlag, Berlin 1962
  • Wolfgang Steinitz - German folk songs democratic character of six centuries . Reprint in one volume, Zweitausendeins, Frankfurt 1983, ISBN 3-88436-101-5 .
  • Wolfgang Steinitz: Ostjakologische work. Contributions to linguistics and ethnography . Edited by Gert Sauer and Renate Steinitz. Volume I - IV, Akademiai Kiado and Oxford University Press, Budapest and Berlin 1980
  • Wolfgang Steinitz: Russian textbook. 10th durchges. Ed people and knowledge, Berlin 1961st



  1. ^ The Uralic languages by Daniel Mario Abondolo (1998)
  2. ^ Sárkány, Hann & Skalník 2005, p. 28.
  3. ^ a b c Sárkány, Hann & Skalník 2005, p. 29.


Further reading[edit]

  • Zweimal Stockholm - Berlin 1946. Briefe nach der Rückkehr. Jürgen Peters und Wolfgang Steinitz. Mit Nach-Fragen an Robert Rompe und Jürgen Kuczynski. Hrsg. von Jürgen Peters. Leipzig 1989
  • Peter Nötzoldt: Wolfgang Steinitz und die Deutsche Akademie der Wissenschaften zu Berlin. Zur politischen Geschichte der Institution (1945-1968). Phil. Diss. Humboldt Universität Berlin 1998
  • Annette Leo: Leben als Balance-Akt: Wolfgang Steinitz. Kommunist, Jude, Wissenschaftler. Metropol, Berlin 2005, ISBN 3-936411-49-2.
  • Klaus Steinitz, Wolfgang Kaschuba (Hg.): Wolfgang Steinitz – Ich hatte unwahrscheinliches Glück. Ein Leben zwischen Wissenschaft und Politik. Karl Dietz-Verlag, Berlin 2006, ISBN 3320029053.
  • Wolfgang Steinitz und die westsibirischen Völker der Chanty und Mansi, Sonderheft der Zeitschrift Lomonossow (online).
  • Ewald Lang: Wolfgang Steinitz (1905-1967) : Vom Rand der Philologie in die Mitte der Wissenschaftspolitik, in: Gegenworte (Zeitschrift der BBAW), 14, Herbst 2004.
  • Deutsche demokratische Volkslieder. Ehrliche, schlichte Songs voll rührender Klarheit. Steinitz als Wegbereiter der deutsch-deutschen Folkszene. In: Folker!, 4/2005 (online).
  • Michael K. Scholz:Skandinavische Erfahrungen erwünscht?. Franz-Steiner-Verlag, Stuttgart 2000. ISBN 978-3515076517. auf Google Books
  • Thomas Kuczynski: Die Marx-Engels-Forschung an der Deutschen Akademie der Wissenschaften. Skizzen zu einem unbearbeiteten Forschungsfeld. In: Beiträge zur Marx-Engels-Forschung. Neue Folge. Sonderband 5. Die Marx-Engels-Werkausgaben in der UdSSR und DDR (1945–1968). Argument Verlag, Hamburg 2006, S. 418-421 ISBN 3-88619-691-7