By Dorothy Degenhardt, RSGS Collection Team 


My interest in this town plan of Osnabrück began when I volunteered with the collections team at RSGS and discovered the signature of my uncle in the RSGS Visitors Book, signed in October 1932, with his home address at that time being Osnabrück. This discovery led me to research why and how there was this connection between a family member and myself more than 90 years later. This town plan of Osnabruck, 2nd Edition Geographical Section, General Staff, No. 4480, was published by the War Office in Britain in 1944 during World War Two. The style and specification were typical of maps produced by the War Office at that time. This was a time of conflict and Britain was keen to be knowledgeable about the "enemy" territory. 

My uncle, Heinrich, was born in 1910 in Osnabrück to my German grandfather and Scottish grandmother from Blair Atholl, Perth and Edinburgh. My grandparents had met in France as trainee teachers studying French. They married in Perth in 1903 and moved to Osnabrück, where my grandfather was a high school teacher. My uncle was my father's elder brother, and they were both arrested while at Marburg University in 1933 for leafleting against Hitler's rise to power and his National Socialist policies. My father was a political prisoner for one year in Hamlyn prison, and then he found himself excluded from German universities. He came to Edinburgh to continue his medical studies. My uncle was imprisoned, also as a political prisoner for three years, including two concentration camps before being bought out by relatives from South Africa in 1936. He lived and worked as an interpreter and teacher in South Africa until 1962, when he and his wife and son moved to England. I grew up not knowing much about my father and uncle's political activities and subsequent arrests and it is only after their deaths and recent researching have I learnt more about their lives.
I consulted a variety of sources, including family records, online archives, and academic articles. I reviewed family memoirs to learn more about my uncle's life and his connection to Osnabrück. This provided me with a basic understanding of his background. I conducted research on the town of Osnabrück during the early 20th century, including its political and social context. This helped me to understand the environment in which my uncle grew up and the factors that led him to become politically active. I read a number of  academic articles and books to learn more about the history of Germany, including the rise of Hitler, to help me contextualise my uncle's experiences as a political prisoner and to understand the broader historical context of his activism. A close examination of the town plan of Osnabrück 1944 provided me with insights into the layout of the town and the surrounding area. This research has deepened my appreciation for the value of how investigation into a map can enrich our understanding of personal and family histories.
I was naturally intrigued as to why my uncle had visited RSGS in 1932 ; at that time the headquarters was based in Edinburgh. Only now, after researching his life, have I found that he wrote and edited six text books, describing world political parties and maritime policies, and that he contributed notes to Thor Heyerdahl's account of the Kon Tiki expedition. While archiving this family material, I found that my German grandfather had studied and taught Geography as well as languages. I could now understand perhaps my interest in studying Geography. I certainly had not realised there had been family members teaching and writing about Geography! I cannot as yet find a reason for my uncle's visit to the headquarters of RSGS though I know the family visited Scotland several times to see Scottish relatives and for walking in the Highlands. I will continue my investigation and plan to visit his home address in Osnabrück.