Friedrich Wolf was born on December 23, 1888, in Neuwied on the Rhine, the son of a Jewish merchant. After completing elementary school, he continued his education in 1899 at the Königliche Gymnasium, a preparatory school in Neuwied. His lasting interests included the outdoors, sports, and later the youth movement Wandervogel. In 1903, he ran away from home, traveling to Holland as a cabin boy on board a barge on the Rhine. His family succeeded, however, in persuading him to complete his high school education. Wolf was graduated in 1907, then briefly served in the military in Heidelberg. He then began to study painting in Munich but changed majors and continued to study philosophy and medicine at the universities of Tübingen, Bonn, and Berlin. His main interests were psychiatry, methods of natural healing, and public health policies. In 1912, Wolf completed his preliminary examinations and then wrote his dissertation on multiple sclerosis in children. He then spent a year practicing medicine in Meissen and in Jena. In 1913, he obtained his state license to practice medicine and became an assistant physician, at first at a hospital in Dresden, then in Bonn. In 1914, he became a naval doctor on an ocean liner with the Canada line of the Norddeutscher Lloyd. His earliest drama dates back to this time.
When World War I broke out, Wolf was drafted as a battalion medical officer on the western and eastern fronts. Having experienced the brutality of war and a number of personal hardships, he became a pacifist, although he was obligated to continue his service as a medical officer. In 1917, while trapped in the fierce combat in the trenches in Flanders, Wolf began to write his first significant dramatic work. In 1918, he became chief physician at a military hospital near Dresden; at this time, he joined the revolutionary workers’ movement. During the November revolution in Germany that helped to bring World War I to an end, Wolf was a member of the Central Workers and Soldiers Council in Saxony. He also became a member of the Independent Socialist Party of Germany (USPD) and of the Socialist Group of Intellectual Workers in Dresden. In 1919, one of Wolf’s plays was first produced on the stage.
In 1920, Wolf accepted the position of municipal medical official in Remscheid. His duties included—besides matters of public health and medical family practice—social work and family counseling and brought him into closer contact with the working class and the revolutionary labor leaders. When the reactionary “Kapp” uprising broke out, Wolf again became active in the workers’ movement. In 1921, he joined the communal estate Barkenhoff, which was owned by the well-known artist and socialist Heinrich Vogeler and was located in Worpswede near Bremen; Vogeler had opened his estate to jobless workers and their families for communal settling and experimental living. Wolf served there as a physician and peat cutter. A more conventional situation was needed, however, for the care of his wife, daughter, and son, so he opened a private medical practice in the small Swabian town of Hechingen. Soon, however, his first marriage was dissolved by mutual agreement, and he married Else Dreibholz of Hechingen. Two sons resulted from this second marriage, Markus and Konrad; the latter was to become as famous as his father. A renowned filmmaker, Konrad Wolf served for many years as the president of the Academy of Arts of the German Democratic Republic; he died in 1982.
The medical practice did not keep Friedrich Wolf from his political activism. He had already been studying...
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