Dr. Benno Wolf


Dr. Benno Wolf.

Dr. Benno Wolf was an early German speleologist, and honorary member of the British Speleological Association. He was murdered by the Nazis during World War II, and subsequently almost forgotten. Some years ago the German caving award of the Verband der deutschen Höhlen und Karstforscher (VdHK), the national German caving organization, was named after Dr. Benno Wolf. It is awarded to cavers who showed a continuous and extraordinary effort for many years.

Benno Wolf started caving in 1898, while he studied law. Soon he became rather famous for his speleological work. However, a huge part of his importance for caving is based on the huge amount of people he knew. He had what we call today a network, he knew the who's who of German speaking cavers, founded various caving organizations, found sponsors for speleology and published a speleological journal. He studied law, worked as a lawyer, and later became judge in Berlin. In this position he worked on the first environmental law of Germany.

With the rise of the Nazi regime, he was aware of the danger he lived in, being the descendant of Jews. He quit his position, to avoid being thrown out. He reduced his public work, and finally gave the position of the editor of the German speleological journal to a friend. Financed by friends, he wrote his most important books, three volumes about cave animals, in the years before the war. The British Speleological Association made him a honorary member because of his continuing work in the field of speleology.

The end was tragic, one of his most important works, the German national cave registry was confiscated by the regime. They used the information to build bunkers, underground factories and concentration camps. Finally he was arrested on 06-JUL-1942 by the Gestapo, and deported on the 17. Alterstransport (17th Elderly Transport) to the concentration camp Theresienstadt. Here he died a few months later, 71 years old.

A particularly unpleasant aspect of the story is the fact that Wolf was not only denounced by another speleologist because he wanted his extensive collection, but also that this speleologist was highly regarded in his home community until the end of the 20th century and even a street was named after him. This was Hans Brand a speleologist form the bavarian town Pottenstein and SS-Standartenführer. He had not only stolen Wolf's property, but also about 1000 books, drawings and photos from the library of the Speleological Institute of Postojna in Slovenia, as well as a comparable amount of books from the property of the Speleological Institute of Vienna. Brand was head of the Karst and Cave Research Centre of the SS organisation "Ahnenerbe". While the property of the speleological institutes was returned by the allied art experts, only a small part of Wolf's collection was handed over to the caving organisation NHG in Nürnberg, the rest disappeared.


26-SEP-1871 born in Dresden.
1898 started caving.
1912 became judge in Berlin-Charlottenburg.
1922 vice president of the newly founded Hauptverband österreichischer und deutscher Höhlenforscher (Main Society of the Austrian and German Cave Researchers).
1923 upon his initiative Gesellschaft für Höhlenforschung und Höhlenkunde (Society for Cave Research and Cave Knowledge) founded in Berlin.
1933 quits his position to anticipate his dismissal.
1936 became Honorary Member of the BSA.
06-JUL-1942 arrested by the Gestapo.
1943 murdered by the Nazi regime because of its Jewish ancestors.