Short Portrait: Sigrid Westphal-Hellbusch

Sigrid Westphal-Hellbusch
Sigrid Westphal-Hellbusch

Sigrid Westphal-Hellbusch was born in Rendsburg in 1915. She spent her early years in Berlin, where she finished school in 1934. Classified as “politically unreliable” by the Nazi regime, she briefly had to take up fatigue duty.

Westphal-Hellbusch began her studies of Ethnology, Anthropology, Geography and Psychology in Berlin in 1935/36. Richard Thurnwald, Diedrich Westermann and Eugen Fischer were among her teachers. Especially Thurnwald and his theories had a lasting impact on Westphal-Hellbusch.

In 1940 Westphal-Hellbusch graduated with a Ph D thesis on the meaning of hunting for Native Australians. The same year she took up a position at the Ethnological Museum (formerly: Staatliches Museum für Völkerkunde), initially as a volunteer and subsequently as a scientific assistant at the Department for the Southern Pacific region.

Due to the turmoil of World War II Westphal-Hellbusch had to take over a wide range of tasks at the museum and furthermore began to work on her habilitation thesis. During the last period of the war she had to secure many objects of the museums collections from bombing. After her contract with the museum ran out in early 1945 Westphal-Hellbusch moved to her parents in Oldenburg, Northern Germany. One year later she returned to Berlin.

Westphal-Hellbusch completed her habilitation thesis on totemism in Australia in 1946. The following year she began lecturing at the now renamed Humboldt-University in East Berlin. In 1951 she took up a professorship and chaired the newly founded Institute for Ethnology at the Humboldt-University from 1952 onward. Previously Thurnwald had moved to the western part of Berlin, where he eventually founded the Institute of Socio-Psychology and Ethnology (now: Institute of Social and Cultural Anthropology) at the Free University.

Westphal-Hellbusch decided to leave the Humboldt-University in 1953 and took up an assistant position at Thurnwalds institute. Moreover, she lectured at the Faculty for Philosophy of the Free University. After the death of Richard Thurnwald in 1954 Westphal-Hellbusch became interim head of the institute. She held a position as private lecturer since 1957, became an associate professor in 1957 and finally was announced full professor for Ethnology in 1964.

Accompanied by her husband Heinz Westphal, Westphal-Hellbusch did several field researches since the mid-fifties, namely among the Ma`dan in Southern Iraq and the Jat in Pakistan. Moreover, Westphal-Hellbusch did researches in countries such as Turkey (1958, 1966, 1971), Morocco (1959) and Iran (1972) as well as in Afghanistan, India and Egypt. Through her versatile work, the Institute of Social and Cultural Anthropology regionally focused on the Middle and Near East.

Due to the conflicts arising with the 68-student movement Westphal-Hellbusch decided to leave the institute and took up a position at the Ethnological Museum (formerly: Staatliches Museum für Völkerkunde) in 1970. There she chaired the newly founded Department for Western and Middle Asia. During the following years she mainly focused on cataloguing some of the museum collections (e.g., the Buchara collection).

In 1976 Sigrid Westphal-Hellbusch retired. The last years of her life she spent with her husband in Oldenburg, where she died in 1984.

Wstphal-Hellbusch is mentioned in
(Text written by Vincenz Kokot in July 2012, based on an obituary by Dombrowski, Gisela, 1986, ZfE, ed. 111, pp. 4 - 10; photo source: Obituary by Kurt Krieger, Baessler-Archiv, Neue Folge, Band XXXII (1984))