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  • Dictionary-Making in the Third Reich:The Case of Trübners Deutsches Wörterbuch
  • Henry A. Lea

Trübners Deutsches Wörterbuch is an eight-volume dictionary that began to appear in installments in 1936 (Maurer and Stroh 3: 309). The first volume was published in 1939. The first four volumes, from A to N, appeared between 1939 and 1943. Publication was suspended in March 1943 after the appearance of volume 4, owing to the pressures of the continuing war. The dictionary was not completed until 1957. The remaining four volumes, from O to Z, appeared from 1954 to 1957. Alfred Götze (1876–1946) was the editor of volumes 1–4; Walther Mitzka (1888–1976) edited volumes 5–8. Götze and Mitzka were assisted by a large staff of collaborators, who are listed, with the words assigned to them, in volumes two and three only; a list of contributors to volumes 4–8 appears at the end of volume 8 without their word assignments.

The purpose of this article is to acquaint the reader with a politically tainted dictionary. After reviewing the scholarship on this work it will examine in detail the origin and genesis of the dictionary, which emerged from the irredentist ambience in Straßburg in 1918. Its analysis of the content will provide examples of compromised word articles and comment on them – not only on those in the first four volumes, but also on the considerable Nazi remnants in the last four volumes, which were completed after the war. Finally it will compare Trübner with a few other politically slanted dictionaries. The article's thesis is that this dictionary, while extreme, is yet another exhibit in the pervasive nationalism that has marked Germanistik and that its exposure is a necessary corrective action.

With one major exception – Wenke Mückel's book – Trübners Deutsches Wörterbuch has not received the scrutiny that a baldly politicized reference work of this magnitude calls for. Among the many works in German philology published since World War II one finds only brief references to Trübner. There may be two reasons for this. Dictionaries do not often receive close critical attention. They are rarely reviewed, perhaps because many scholars lack lexicographical expertise. And dictionaries carry a certain authority that nonreference works do not possess. Though their introductions offer some clues, such as the phrase "im deutschen Straßburg" (preface to vol. 1, v), their scope and range tend to deter potential reviewers – all the more so in this case, because this dictionary is a rare example of a major Nazi work that was not revised after the war. It is plainly a [End Page 369] scholarly embarrassment. This is a second reason for its relative neglect. "Die Wörterbücher der nationalsozialistischen Zeit waren noch selten Gegenstand der Untersuchung" (Haß-Zumkehr 203).

Though there are numerous studies of the Nazi vocabulary, there appear to be only four brief discussions of this dictionary. The earliest of these appears in Sprachwandel im Dritten Reich (1961), by Eugen Seidel and Ingeborg Seidel-Slotty (131–34). The authors point out that contrary to the dictionary's aim to present the then-current status of the German language, some of its contributors (they mention Wolfgang Stammler, Max Gottschald, and Günther Hahn) chose mainly Nazi texts for their modern literary citations. The authors note that knowledgeable philologists considered these inferior texts to be representative of modern literary German. They further observe that such citations for a word are presented as the customary meaning of that word, not as the "Jargon einer politischen Clique" (131). And they find that the word articles that cite Nazi texts are themselves corrupted by Nazi ideas. They close their brief account with a list of twenty-six words from Trübner that exemplify Nazi content in their definitions and citations.

Coming from a joint Czech-GDR background, this account can be expected to be more alert to the political content of Trübner. Much more time had to elapse, a fuller understanding of the past had to grow, and a new generation of scholars had to emerge before this dictionary could engage German scholars. In a wide-ranging...


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