Kühn, Othmar

Othmar Kühn


5 November 1892 Vienna – 26 March 1969 Vienna

After completing secondary school in Vienna-Ottakring, Othmar Kühn worked in the brewery in Hallein, returned to Vienna in 1914 and enrolled to study natural sciences, specializing in botany, at the University of Vienna. He qualified as a secondary school teacher in 1916 before being enlisted into the army. He was severely wounded at the Second Battle of the Piave River in 1918. The following year he obtained his doctorate in botany, with palaeontology as a subsidiary subject, at the University of Vienna. He worked afterwards as a secondary school teacher in Vienna and as an intern in the geopalaeontological department of the Naturhistorisches Museum (NHM). According to his application for readmission into the NSDAP in May 1938 and an undated CV, he was already a National Socialist in 1919 and co‑founder of the NSDAP in Austria, author of several flyers and brochures, keynote speaker at two Party conferences and speaker at rallies in Czechoslovakia. In 1925 he left the Party as a result of internal disputes and joined the gewerkschaftliche Vereinigung der Mittelschullehrer (Trade Union Association of Secondary School Teachers), later described in Nazi sources as a "red combat unit", remaining in it until it was disbanded in 1934 under the Austrofascist regime. The political assessments of Kühn during the Nazi era were therefore sceptical or negative. In April 1940 he was readmitted to the NSDAP after he had joined the Nationalsozialistische Volkswohlfahrt (National Socialist People's Welfare) and Nationalsozialistischer Lehrerbund (National Socialist Teachers League). In May 1940 he was conscripted into the Wehrmacht, serving as a military geologist on the Eastern front and in France, before he was discharged in 1943 as being unfit for service on account of his First World War wound. The Reichsministerium für Wissenschaft, Erziehung und Volksbildung (Reich Ministry of Science, Education and Culture) proposed him as head of the geology and mineralogy section of the Institut für Deutsche Ostarbeit (Institute for German Work in the East – a research institute) on the premises of the closed University of Kraków. Instead, however, he took over the position of Julius Pia (1887–1943) as head of the geopalaeontological department at the NHM, where he was promoted to Kustos I. Klasse (curator 1st class) on 1 May 1944.

In July 1945 he had himself registered as a National Socialist and was classed as a lesser offender. His application to be removed from the register of National Socialists and to be part of the reconstituted staff of the NHM was granted in 1948, and in 1949 he was appointed department head. He became an ordinary professor of palaeontology at the University of Vienna in 1951, was appointed dean of the Philosophy Faculty in 1956/57 and then rector and chairman of the österreichische Rektorenkonferenz (Austrian Conference of University Rectors) in 1960/61. After his retirement in 1964 he returned to his former position at the NHM and published diverse academic works. He was to receive the Goldene Ehrenmedaille der Stadt Wien (Golden Medal of Honour of the City of Vienna) on 11 March 1969 but was unable to accept it in person for health reasons. He died two weeks later. He became an object of systematic provenance research because while a military geologist in the Second World War he had brought thin sections of algae from occupied Ukraine to the NHM. The lack of documentation made it impossible, however, to determine further details of their acquisition.

Author Info
Publications about the person / institution

Friedrich Bachmayer/Helmuth Zapfe, Univ.-Prof. Dr. Dr. h. c. mult. O. Kühn, in: Annalen des Naturhistorischen Museums Wien 74 (1970), 671–672.

Hermann Häusler, Die Wehrgeologie im Rahmen der Deutschen Wehrmacht und Kriegswirtschaft. Teil 1: Entwicklung und Organisation (= Informationen des Militärischen Geo-Dienstes 47), Wien 1995.
Hermann Häusler, Die Wehrgeologie im Rahmen der Deutschen Wehrmacht und Kriegswirtschaft. Teil 2: Verzeichnis der Wehrgeologen (= Informationen des Militärischen Geo-Dienstes 48), Wien 1995.

Katharina Kniefacz, Othmar Kühn (Kuehn), Prof. Dr., in: 650 Plus - Geschichte der Universität Wien, URL: geschichte.univie.ac.at/de/personen/othmar-kuhn-kuehn-prof-dr (3.12.2020).

Stefan Lehr, Institut für Deutsche Ostarbeit, Krakau, in: Online-Lexikon zur Kultur und Geschichte der Deutschen im östlichen Europa, 2012, URL: ome-lexikon.uni-oldenburg.de/begriffe/institut-fuer-deutsche-ostarbeit-krakau (3.12.2020).

Fritz Steininger, Othmar Kühn, in: Mitteilungen der Geologischen Gesellschaft in Wien 62 (1969), 175–184.

Publications by the person / institution

Othmar Kühn, Das Problem der Periodizität vom Standpunkt der Vererbungslehre, in: Verhandlungen der Zoologisch-Botanischen Gesellschaft in Wien 67 (1917), 187–189.
Othmar Kühn, Variationsuntersuchungen an rezenten Korallen und ihre Anwendbarkeit auf die Fossilien, in: Verhandlungen der Zoologisch-Botanischen Gesellschaft in Wien 74-75 (1925), 129–134.
Othmar Kühn, Die Echinodermen der Gosauformation, in: Annalen des Naturhistorischen Museums in Wien 39 (1925), 177–189.
Othmar Kühn, Die Dänische Stufe in den Alpen und Karpaten, in: Anzeiger der Österreichischen Akademie der Wissenschaften, mathematisch-naturwissenschaftliche Klasse 67 (1930), 34–37.
Othmar Kühn, Militärgeologische Untersuchungen vom Flugzeug aus. Grenzen und Möglichkeiten, in: Militärwissenschaftliche Mitteilungen 70 (1939), 798–803.
Othmar Kühn, Zur Stratigraphie und Tektonik der Gosauschichten, in: Sitzungsberichte der Österreichischen Akademie der Wissenschaften, mathematisch-naturwissenschaftliche Klasse 156 (1947), 181–200.
Othmar Kühn, Das Alter der Prominaschichten und der innereozänen Gebirgsbildung, in: Jahrbuch der Geologischen Bundesanstalt 91 (1948), 49–95.
Othmar Kühn, Korallen aus dem Lavanttaler Miozän, in: Karinthin 21 (1953), 218–219.
Othmar Kühn, Das Paläontologische Institut der Universität Wien, in: Universum, Natur & Technik 9 (1954), 442–444.
Othmar Kühn, Rudisten als ökologische und stratigraphische Indikatoren, in: Geologische Rundschau 56 (1967), 186–189.
Othmar Kühn, Korallen des österreichischen Eozäns, in: Sitzungsberichte der Österreichischen Akademie der Wissenschaften, mathematisch-naturwissenschaftliche Klasse 177 (1967), 1–39.

Othmar Kühn/Josef Stiny, Notwendigkeit und Aufgaben einer Wehrgeologie in Österreich, in: Militärwissenschaftliche Mitteilungen 68 (1937), 905–908.


BArch Berlin, R 52-IV, IDO, 149, Sektion Geologie.
BArch Berlin, R 9361-V-7397, Othmar Kühn, BDC, RKK.

NHM, Archiv für Wissenschaftsgeschichte, Generaldirektionsakten.
NHM, Geologisch-Paläontologische Abteilung, Einlauf-Journal V.

OeStA/AdR, UWK, BMU, Personalakt, Sign. 10, Othmar Kühn.

WStLA, Gauakten, A1, Personalakten des Gaues Wien, Othmar Kühn.
WStLA, M.Abt. 119, A42, NS-Registrierung Othmar Kühn.