Wilma Papst

*July 14, 1907 (Berlin, Germany)
†March 21, 1973 (Paris, France)

Wilma Papst, the daughter of the engineer Heinrich Papst and Rosi Papst, née Gelber, was born on July 14, 1907 in Berlin. She first visited the Hohenzollernlyzeum in Wilmersdorf and later the Westend-Oberrealschule in Berlin, where she passed her examination at Easter 1926. On 25 October, 1929 she passed a supplementary examination in Latin and thus obtained her permission for the matriculation at university. In the summer semester of 1926, she began her study in mathematics, chemistry and physics at Heidelberg University. For the winter semester she moved to Berlin (1926/27) where she studied philosophy, especially philosophy of natural sciences. In the summer term 1928, she studied at the Sorbonne in Paris and returned to Berlin in the winter term 1928/29. Papst received her doctorate with a work on Gottlob Frege, titled Gottlob Frege als Philosoph. The referees were Max Dessoir (Dessauer) and Wolfgang Köhler. The doctoral examination took place at July 24, 1930. Philosophy was the main subject, mathematics and physics the minor subjects. Wilma Papst received her doctorate degree on October 7, 1932. Papst’s dissertation consists of three main parts. The first two part deal with Frege’s writings of the first and second period, the third part is about Frege’s position in logic. Frege’s criticism of psychologism, empiricism and formalism is presented in detail. The author comes to the conclusion that Frege’s rejection of the traditional formalism is only conditionally applicable to Hilbert’s modern formalism. After her marriage to Ewald Fritsch and her move to Paris, Wilma Papst published several books and translations as an independent publicist and author, now under the name “Vilma Fritsch.” She died on March 21, 1973 in Paris.

  • Further Biography by Michele Vagnetti

    Wilma (Ruth Stefanie) Papst was born in Berlin on July 14, 1907. She was the daughter of Heinrich Papst, an engineer, and his wife, Rosi Papst, née Gelber. From the age of 6 she attended the Hohenzollernlyzeum in Wilmersdorf, then the Westend-Oberrealschule in Berlin, where she passed her examination at Easter 1926. On October 25, 1929, she passed a supplementary examination in Latin at the Provinzialschulkollegium (P.S.K.) and received her gymnasium diploma. In the summer semester of 1926, Wilma Papst began studying mathematics, chemistry, and physics in Heidelberg. In the winter semester (1926/27) she moved to Berlin, where she studied philosophy, especially the philosophy of science. There she met Peter Huchel and his wife Dora. Her circle of friends also included Alfred Kantorowicz, Hans Arno Joachim, Horst Lange, Fritz Sternberg, Elisabeth Langgässer, and Oda Schaefer. Wilma Papst spent the winter semester of 1927/28 and the summer semester of 1928 with part of the group at the University of Paris-Sorbonne, where she met the Chinese revolutionary Cheng Tscheng. After returning to the University of Berlin in 1931/32, he shared an apartment near Bülowplatz in the artists’ colony with the Huchels, Joachim Kantorowicz, and Huchel’s schoolmate in Potsdam, Ewald Fritsch, whom she later married.[1] Nothing has yet been discovered about her personal relationships with the Berlin Society for Scientific Philosophy (Hans Reichenbach, Kurt Grelling, Walter Dubislav and others). In her curriculum vitae she thanks her teachers Hans Reichenbach, Wolfgang Köhler, Eduard Spranger, Kurt Lewin and Max Dessoir. She does not mention her examiners in the minor subjects of physics (Arthur Wehnelt) and mathematics (Ludwig Bieberbach).

    Wilma Papst applied for admission to the doctoral examination on June 3, 1930, enclosing the dissertation Gottlob Frege als Philosoph. Philosophy was the main subject for the oral examination, while mathematics and physics were the secondary subjects. According to a letter from Wilma Papst dated June 6, 1930, to the Dean’s Office of the Faculty of Philosophy at the University of Berlin, Wolfgang Köhler’s oral examination in philosophy was to take place on June 15, 1930, as he was to leave for a trip to South America on June 16, 1930. Köhler examined the following topics: “Schlick’s theory of knowledge; the implicit definition; the classical definition; theories of judgment; physics and human experience—the so-called incomparability of phenomenal and physical facts; earth history and physical methodology; Ehrenfels’ criteria; the rule of association and natural science; strong and weak figures; the so-called measurement of the will; Hypothesis of constancy in psychology.”

    Arthur Wehnelt opened the oral examination on July 24, 1930, with the secondary subject, physics, on the following topics: “Coulomb’s law, measuring instruments, influence, lines of force and field strength, construction of the human eye, determination of the focal length of lenses, methods of determining specific heat, law of induction.” The result of the examination was “sufficient”.

    This was followed by the philosophy exam with Max Dessoir with the grade “quite good”: “The treatment of pre-Socratic philosophy in Plato’s Cratylus; the development of psychology up to Plato; interpretations of Parmenides; Locke’s philosophy of language; Berkeley’s nominalism as a further development of Locke’s doctrine; Hume: relation between the Enquiry and the Treatise; causal theories in Hume, Kant and the present; finally the question ‘Was Schopenhauer a Kantian?’”.

    Ludwig Bieberbach completed the oral examination with mathematics as a secondary subject on the following topics: “Cantor’s fundamental series; convergence of infinite series; Cauchy’s convergence criterion; cardinality; continuum; Schröder–Bernstein theorem; rational numbers; antinomies; axiom; group concept; transcendental numbers; squaring the circle; angles trisection.” Papst received “satisfactory” as grade from Bieberbach.[2]

    After the deadline for printing the dissertation was postponed twice, perhaps because of difficulties in finding a publisher or for financial reasons, Wilma Papst received her doctorate on October 7, 1932. In her letters from this period, her address is “Burgstrasse 1” in Leipzig. Between 1933 and 1935, Wilma Papst, now married to Fritsch, emigrated to Paris. There she lived and worked as author, journalist, and science writer. In addition to essays and smaller contributions to, among others, Die neue Rundschau and Die Weltbühne, she wrote independent monographs, including Galilée ou l’avenir de la science (1971) and Links und Rechts in Wissenschaft und Leben (1964). The latter, translated by Vilma Fritsch into French (1967) and English (1968), is an original contribution to the scientific theory of handedness and symmetry. A favorable review of her book appeared in 1971 in Annales. Histoire, Sciences Sociales in 1971 by the famous physicist and historian of physics Jacques Nicolle, who had written a book on symmetry and its applications in 1950.[3] Not to be forgotten are Vilma Fritsch’s translations, including Agnes Arber’s Sehen und Denken in der biologischen Forschung (1963), James Watson’s Die Doppel-Helix (1963), Jean Rostand’s Die Wissenschaft vom Leben (1966), Konrad Lorenz’s L’Agression. Une histoire naturelle du mal (1969), and posthumously published the translation of Erik Erikson’s psychoanalytically oriented biography La Vérité de Gandhi. Les origins de la non-violence (1974). Vilma Fritsch, née Papst, died in Paris on March 21, 1973.[4]

    – Michele Vagnetti

    [1] When the Nazis came to power, the Bülowplatz artists’ colony in Berlin underwent drastic changes. In 1933, the colony was raided by SA troops. There were searches and arrests, and many emigrated abroad. Because of Wilma Papst’s connection to the Huchels at that time, a copy of her dissertation is in the Rylands Huchel Collection at Manchester University Library (see Parker, Dora Huchel’s Account).

    [2] Papst, Rigorosenakt i. Archiv der Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin Phil. Fak. Nr. 739 Bl. 59–75.

    [3] Nicolle, La symétrie et ses applications.

    [4] Translation from German of Papst’s biography contained in: Anna-Sophie Heinemann and Andrea Reichenberger (2020), „Papst und Krenz: Zur Philosophie und Arithmetik Freges,“ in Matthias Wille (Ed.) Fregesche Variationen, Paderborn: Mentis, pp. 31‒57, here pp. 31‒33.

  • Quotes

    “… Gottlob Frege, dessen Ansichten wir hier dargestellt haben, obwohl er natürlich weit entfernt von dem Standpunkt einer “alles umfassenden” Philosophie war, doch den weiten “philosophischen” Horizont hatte, der leider vielen Einzelwissenschaftlern noch fehlt.” Wilma Papst, Gottlob Frege als Philosoph, 1932, S. 44

  • Primary Sources



    Papst, Wilma (1932). Gottlob Frege als Philosoph. Phil. Diss. Friedrich – Wilhelms – Universität Berlin.

    Fritsch, Vilma (1964). Links und Rechts in Wissenschaft und Leben. Kohlhammer: Leipzig.

    Fritsch, Wilma (1971). Galilée ou l’avenir de la science. Seglers: Paris.




    Amadou, Robert (1957). Vom Okkultismus zur Parapsychologie. Würdigung und Kritik der internationalen Forschung. Hg. von G. F. Hartlaub. Übers. v. Vilma Fritsch.

    Erikson, Erik H. (1974). La Vérité de Gandhi. Les origines de la non-violence. Traduit de l’américain par Vilma Fritsch. Paris: Flammarion.

    Lorenz, Konrad (1969). L’Agression. Une histoire naturelle du mal. Trad. de l’allemand par Vilma Fritsch. Flammarion: Paris.

    Fritsch, Vilma (1967). La gauche et la droite. Trad. de l’allemand par Vilma Fritsch. Flammarion: Paris.

    Fritsch, Vilma (1968). Left and Right in Science and Life. Translated from the German by Vilma Fritsch. Barrie & Rockliff: London.

    Rostand, Jean (1966). Die Wissenschaft vom Leben: In: Der Wandel der Problemlage der Biologie in den letzten Jahrzehnten, Bd. III, hg. von E. Ungerer, übers. v. Vilma Fritsch. Freiburg: Alber.

    Watson, James D. (1973). Die Doppel-Helix. Ein persönlicher Bericht über die Entdeckung der DNS-Struktur. Deutsch v. Vilma Fritsch. Aus d. Engl. übertr. v. Vilma Fritsch, mit einer Einführung von Albrecht Fölsing. Reinbek: Rowohlt.

    [note: numerous other translations and smaller essays in newspapers and magazines, among others: Die neue Rundschau and Die Weltbühne]

  • Secondary Sources


    Further Readings

    Anna-Sophie Heinemann and Andrea Reichenberger (2020), „Papst und Krenz: Zur Philosophie und Arithmetik Freges,“ in Matthias Wille (Ed.) Fregesche Variationen, Paderborn: Mentis, pp. 31‒57.



    Archival Records

    Archiv der Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin: Rigorosenakt Wilma Papst, Phil. Fak. Nr. 739 Bl. 59–75.

Back to top  

You cannot copy content of this page