Note: A new article is due to appear in the volume Addressing Diversity: Inclusive Histories of Egyptology (Investigatio Orientis series).
Herta Mohr was an Austrian Egyptologist who studied the tomb chapel of Hetepherakhty at the National Museum of Antiquities in Leiden during the 1930s. Her work was published as The Mastaba of Hetep-Her-Akhti: Study on an Egyptian tomb chapel in the Museum of Antiquities Leiden in 1943.
Herta Theresa Mohr was born in Vienna on 24 April 1914 to Adolf Israel Mohr and Gabriele Kaufmann. Her father was a physician who had been merited by the Red Cross for his work during the First World War. The family lived at Winckelmannstraße 2 in Vienna.
Mohr initially started studying medicine like her father, but eventually enrolled at the Faculty of Philosophy and took courses in Oriental Studies. In documents from Vienna University, her religion is listed as “mosaisch” (Jewish) and it seems she was eventually expelled for this reason. Her courses included:
Summer semester of 1937:
– Einführung in die altägyptische Sprache
– Die Laute und ihr Sinn
– Übungen im Somali
– Lektüre des Papyrus “Vom beredten Bauern”
– Staat und Gesellschaft zur Zeit der Pyramidenbauer
– Übungen und Referate zu den Urkunden und Denkmälern der altägyptischen Feudalherren
Winter semester of 1937/1938:
– Lektüre klassisch-ägyptischer Texte
– “Sprechen” und “Sprache” im Lichte von Ägyptologie und Afrikanistik
– Einführung in die altägyptische Vorstellungswelt von den Kräften in Gottheit und Menschheit
– Die Sprache der Schilh-Berber
– Die Großstadt im Pharaonenreich
– Das Relief in der ägyptischen Kunst
– Proben altägyptischer Poesie
– Die großen Systeme nach Kant
We can then trace her steps to Leiden. In September 1938 she gave a lecture about the tomb chapel of Hetepherakhty at the 20th International Congress of Orientalists in Brussels. It was titled “Einige Bemerkungen zur Leidener Mastaba” and was accompanied by “light projections”. At the time, Herta Mohr was living at Hogewoerd 113 in Leiden.
A first draft of her study on the tomb chapel can be found in the archives of the National Museum of Antiquities. It is typewritten in German and dated to 1938. Her file furthermore contains about one hundred photographs of details of the tomb’s decoration.
Mohr became a member of the Catholic student association Augustinus and was baptized as a Catholic on 13 July 1939. She continued working on the mastaba chapel of Hetepherakhty until it became inaccessible in September 1939.
According to the Gedenkboek of the Catholic academic society, she had a permit to travel to America, which she didn’t get the opportunity to use. In 1940 she moved to Eindhoven, where she apparently lived with the Van Dam family at Prins Hendrikstraat 35.
In the preface to her work, written in the summer of 1942 in Eindhoven, Mohr carefully avoids any mention of the war. She presents the book as the result of her studies between 1937 and 1940, “as circumstances allow”. Her final manuscript was worked over by Jozef Janssen and Adriaan de Buck, and edited by B.A. van Proosdij before it was published in 1943. By that time, she was already in camp Westerbork.
Shortly after having written the preface to Hetep-her-Akhti, the Eindhoven police issued Mohr’s arrest. According to the Gedenkboek, she was about to go into hiding when she was arrested early in the morning of 2 August 1942. Together with other Catholic Jews she was brought to the Westerbork Transit and Assembly Camp, and on 4 August she was interned in barrack 48.
At Westerbork, Mohr was granted deferral of transport (“Sperre”) because she worked as a translator. A highly unfortunate incident with a camp official, involving a letter containing allegations of corruption, finally caused her transport to Auschwitz on 25 January 1944. Her parents had been sent to Theresienstadt a few days earlier, but were sent on to Auschwitz at the end of October, where they were killed on arrival.
In January 1945, Auschwitz was being evacuated, due to advancing Russian forces. Part of the inmates were sent westwards via Gross-Rosen. In the hospital of Gross-Rosen, Herta Mohr was seen by someone with the same family name, but who was unrelated to her.
The place and date of Mohr’s death have been thoroughly researched, but could not be unequivocally established. Probably they were established later by a judge. According to the official records, Herta Mohr died in Bergen-Belsen on 15 April 1945, aged 30.
The tomb chapel of Hetepherakhty is currently undergoing a new study using digital recording methods, and will be published by Dr. René van Walsem and myself. It will be dedicated to the memory of Herta Theresa Mohr.
- Actes du XXe Congrès international des orientalistes: Bruxelles, 5-10 Septembre 1938 (1940), 95-97.
- Beek, N. van de, Herta Mohr and the Mastaba of Hetepherakhty, in: Imaging and Imagining the Memphite Necropolis: Liber Amicorum René van Walsem (2017), 233-238.
- Mohr, H.Th., The Mastaba of Hetep-Her-Akhti: Study on an Egyptian Tomb Chapel in the Museum of Antiquities Leiden (1943).
- Federn, W., Book review in Bibliotheca Orientalis 3 (1946), 57-9.
- Gedenkboek 1940-1945 van de Katholieke academische gemeenschap (1947), 91-92.
- Giltay Veth, D. and Leeuw, A.J. van der, Rapport door het Rijksinstituut voor Oorlogsdocumentatie uitgebracht aan de minister van Justitie inzake de activiteiten van drs. F. Weinreb gedurende de jaren 1940-1945, in het licht van nadere gegevens bezien (1976), 1310-1315.