Wolfgang Gleissberg

Refuge in Turkey

by Angelika Rieber

Dismissed because of a Jewish grandfather

Wolfgang Gleissberg, born in 1903 in Wrocław (formerly „Breslau“), showed an early interest in astrology. After secondary school, he studied mathematics, astronomy and physics in Berlin and Wrocław. He began his academic career with an assistant position at a mathematical institute. In 1927, he started working for the observatory in Wrocław.

The Nazi takeover made a deep cut in Gleissberg’s life. The responsible ministry dismissed him in 1933, because he had a Jewish grandfather, but he could continue working at the observatory until the end of the year. Gleissberg decided to emigrate to Turkey. His fiancé, Charlotte Michael, followed. The couple married in Istanbul in 1934.

New career in Istanbul

Gleissberg found a position at the Institute of Astronomy at the newly founded University of Istanbul, which was led by Erwin Freundlich, also an emigrant from Germany. In the fall of 1933, 30 of 87 professors at the university were from Germany, 8 thereof from Frankfurt.

Because Istanbul had no comparable faculty, Gleissberg and Freundlich had to introduce the entire field of astrology, establish an institute and produce a textbook in Turkish.

In 1948, Gleissberg was named professor and head of the observatory. He held this function until his return to Germany in 1958. He was very satisfied that the Istanbul observatory could continue without foreign help after his return to Germany.

Gleissberg achieved great recognition in Turkey, and in 1981 he received an honorary doctorate from the University of Istanbul. In Turkey, his family had been active in the Protestant community of Istanbul.

 

Return to Germany

Although Gleissberg was offered a chair at the University of Berlin in April 1947, he was not ready to return to Germany at that time. Willy Hartner, director of the Institute for the History of Natural Sciences, made an effort to include astronomy in the University of Frankfurt’s curriculum again.

Because Gleissberg decided to return to Germany in 1957 and also received a state salary for compensation purposes, he had the opportunity to work in Frankfurt. Gleissberg, initially teaching as an untenured professor, became head of the Astronomical Institute in 1960. Gleissberg went on temporary leave in 1965/66 to substitute a colleague in Ankara. In 1977, he retired for reasons of age and health.

Istanbul still remembers Wolfgang Gleissberg

After their return from Turkey, Charlotte and Wolfgang Gleissberg moved to Oberstedten, today incorporated into Oberursel. Wolfgang Gleissberg was active in communal politics and published articles about his experiences in Turkey in the municipal paper of Oberstedten.

Wolfgang Gleissberg died in his house in Oberursel-Oberstedten on August 23, 1986. He is buried in the local woodland cemetery.

Istanbul remembers Gleissberg to this day. His daughter, Ingrid Oppermann, attended the opening ceremony of the Wolfgang Gleissberg Room at the observatory of the University of Istanbul in 2009.

Biographical Notes

Name:

Wolfgang Gleissberg

• born in 1903 in Wrocław
• Astrophysician, assistant at the observatory in Wrocław until 1933
• 1933: dismissal due to Jewish grandfather
• 1934: emigration to Turkey, establishment of the observatory at the University of Istanbul
• 1934: marriage to fiancé Charlotte Michael in Istanbul
• 1958: return to Germany, head of the astronomical institute at the University of Frankfurt
• 1986: Wolfgang Gleissberg dies at his residence in Oberursel
• Wolfgang Gleissberg Room at the University of Istanbul commemorates him

Daughter:

Ingrid Oppermann, born 1938 in Istanbul
lives in Germany


Sources:

Wilhelm Kegel: Wolfgang Gleißberg, in: Klaus Bethge/ Horst Klein: Physiker und Astronomen in Frankfurt, Hrsg: Johann Wolfgang Goethe-Universität, Fachbereich Physik, Neuwied 1989, S. 209-216
Hessisches Hauptstaatsarchiv Wiesbaden
Informationen von Ingrid Oppermann
Angelika Rieber: Zuflucht in der Türkei: Wolfgang Gleissberg, in: Mitteilungen des Vereins für Geschichte und Heimatkunde Oberursel, Heft 53, 2014

Photos:

Ingrid Oppermann (IO)

Text:

Angelika Rieber

Translation:

Emal Ghamsharick