Bruno Saurbier

Dates unknown

Bruno Saurbier, signature, University of Breslau, 1931

At the Institut für Leibesübungen (Institute for physical education) at the University of Breslau, full intellectual potential was seen as being intrinsically linked to physical potential: ‘a healthy mind in a healthy body’. For anyone who knows anything about National Socialist doctrine, however, it is easy to conclude that nationalism would soon be added to this dogma over the period explored here. It was introduced in the form of ‘patriotic gymnastics’ (Vaterländisches Turnen), for example.

Institut für Leibesübungen, Breslau 1930

Bruno Saubier, whose signature we can see on some of my father’s documents, wrote that mastery of physical exercise involved ‘a way of life and intellectual attitude at which you arrive beginning with the body, travelling down the path of the living, breathing individual’ (Dagmar Reese on Saubier’s Geschichte der Leibesübungen; Saurbier’s book was reprinted over a number of years and still used widely as late as its last print run in 1979).

Bruno Saurbier, University of Breslau, 1930

Saubier ran the sports institute at Breslau from 1925; by 1929 he had gained his PhD. Give his leadership of the sports institute, and given the politics of the era, Saurbier would have been promoted fast. In the university handbook for 1931 there is only one entry for Saurbier; by the 1935-1936 handbook, there are four, including ‘Consultations’ Mondays to Fridays, from 12pm to 1pm; there are also ‘Physical education classes’ with Saurbier and a team of staff, and ‘Physical education and physical activities’. Finally, the handbook for this year shows that Saurbier gave classes in Basic physical Education I (Philosophy-History-Politics introduction in the stadium for physical education), for two hours; and as a ‘Teacher – basic principle of instruction – two hours’.

Bruno Saurbier, address, University of Breslau 1935-1936
Auen Straße, Breslau, 1931

The sports regime here included javelin, shot put, long jump, pole vaulting, horse riding, running, balance exercises on gymnastic equipment, rowing, fencing and wrestling, for example. The exercises were entered into competitively, including at organized events and competitions.

Institut für Leibesübungen, University of Breslau, 1932; Werner Weissenberg
On the form above, and on others like it in Werner Weissenberg's papers from Breslau, the stamp of Martin Hahn can be seen in purple ink. I haven't been able to find out anything about Hahn yet, save that his PhD dissertation seems to have been titled 'Die Leibesübungen im mittelalterlichen Volksleben' (Body exercises in Medieval folk life), 1929. Of course, it could be the stamp of Otto Hahn, who was also at Breslau at this time, but as he was a physicist it seems less likely in this context.

Until the National Socialists came to power, physical education classes were not mandatory. In summer 1932, for example, less than half the students took sports exercises (313 people, including six women, from around 650 students). In  winter 1932/33 the number of active students decreased to 307 (including six women). The most popular activities were summer athletics and winter gymnastics using equipment. In 1932/1933, the institute offered training in 17 disciplines, which included ‘walks’. Participation in sports resulted in the awarding of a certificate (see above).

‘Walks – a healthy mind in a healthy body’: Annual physics institute outing to Zobten – 26 July 1931

In the context of this history, with the passing of anti-Semitic National Socialist legislation from 1933 onwards, Jewish students were no longer allowed to be members of the elite sports clubs at Breslau.


The narrative presented here of Saubier’s time at Breslau was drawn in part from the ‘history’ section of the website of Wrocław polytechnic – with thanks, and with apologies for any mistakes arising from my attempt at (Google) translation.


All black and white extracts on this page are from the 'Vorlesungs und Personal Verzeichnis der Schlesischen Friedrich Wilhelms Universität zu Breslau Winter Semester 1930/1931', and the equivalent handbook for 1935-1936, available online at the University of Wrocław.

The map extract is from the excellent fotopolska.eu.