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Mourning the loss of human rights activist and fairy tale researcher Ines Köhler-Zülch

She had a big heart (Press Release)

She had a big heart: Mourning the loss of human rights activist and fairy tale researcher Ines Köhler-Zülch. Photo: Kurt Weber.

She was smart and dedicated, and her house was always open to everyone. She had countless guests from all over the world. Sometimes, she and her husband Tilman Zülch were surprised to have several guests at the same time – and those who wanted to or had to stay longer were given their own keys: Kurds or Assyrian-Aramaic Christians from the Middle East, Sinti and Roma, indigenous representatives from South and North America, Aeta from the Philippines, war refugees from Bosnia, and many more. In addition to food and drink, they were offered a place to sleep, and they could be sure to find an open ear for their reports about torture, persecution, and expulsion. Now, only a few weeks before her 78th birthday, the human rights activist and fairy tale researcher Ines Köhler-Zülch passed away in Göttingen after a long period of illness, during which her loving husband took care of her.

With Ines Köhler-Zülch, the Society for Threatened Peoples (STP) has lost the "woman of the first hour". She always backed her husband Tilman Zülch, who founded the human rights organization more than 50 years ago and served as its director until the spring of 2017. As a strong companion, she supported his goals critically but unconditionally, with all her might, while remaining in the background. In the early years, she made sure that the couple got along financially, until the STP had grown into a human rights organization of nationwide and then international renown.

Ines Köhler-Zülch, who was born in Magdeburg in 1941, studied Slavic, German, and Romance studies in Marburg and Hamburg. After completing her doctoral studies, she moved to Göttingen in 1974 in order to conduct research on language barriers and continents for the fairytale-encyclopedia "Enzyklopädie des Märchens". There, she also founded the first regional group of the STP, gathering fellow campaigners who aimed to enforce the rights of ethnic and religious minorities. Her efforts were so successful that her husband was able to rely on a sustainable network when he left Hamburg for the university town in southern Lower Saxony.

It is only thanks to the extraordinary dedication of volunteers such as Ines Köhler-Zülch that, in the early years of the human rights organization, the STP was able to organize lecture tours for a large delegation of representatives of Indian ethnic groups from all parts of America – throughout Germany. The delegates reported about unbearable discrimination and serious human rights violations, and they were met with overwhelming support. Ines Köhler-Zülch also contributed significantly to organizing the third World Roma Congress in the Stadthalle Göttingen (municipal hall) in 1981. Her commitment – whether it was for the genocide survivors of Bangladesh, East Timor, or Guatemala, for poison gas refugees from Iraq, or for victims of evictions from Bosnia – was unbroken until she fell seriously ill in 2017. She was involved in focused strategy discussions as well as in heated debates, and was able to give valuable input to important human rights initiatives for threatened minorities and nationalities.

For 32 years, she served as a member of the editorial board of the fairytale encyclopedia "Enzyklopädie des Märchens", a project of the Göttingen-based Akademie der Wissenschaften. Within the field of historical-comparative international fairytale research, her focus was on Southeastern Europe, on ancient and modern legends and fairy tales. Together with a colleague, she published the book "Schneewittchen hat viele Schwestern" ("Snow White has many sisters"), and she wrote numerous scientific papers and book contributions. Her historical-critical research on Walpurgis Night was met with widespread acclaim, and her lecture tours took her to other European countries, to India, the United States, and the Middle East.

The scientific commitment of Ines Köhler-Zülch was so important for the fairy tale encyclopedia, that she felt unable to leave this project after her well-deserved retirement. Rather, she kept up her voluntary work for the internationally known manual on historical and comparative narrative research – and she served as co-editor for the 15 volumes that appeared 1975 to 2015.

If she allowed herself to spend some "leisure time", she and her husband mostly devoted themselves to taking care of their garden in Göttingen, went on hikes to the Harz Mountains, the Teufelsmauer or the Hexentanzplatz, or enjoyed the sea air on the North Sea island of Amrum. Header Photo: Klaus Weber