Dr. Benno Wolf was born on 26 September 1871 in Dresden. He came from an upper middle class family of doctors with Jewish origins and was christened a Protestant. After completing his Abitur school-leaving diploma, he studied law in Freiburg, Munich and Berlin. In 1895 he not only graduated with his first state examinations but also gained a doctorate from the University of Leipzig. Following his legal clerkship and several years’ service as a probationary judge, Benno Wolf became a judge at the regional court in Elberfeld in the Bergisches Land. In 1912 he left to work at the regional court Landgericht II in Berlin, where he specialized in tenancy law. Alongside his practical work, he regularly wrote and published legal articles.
A passionate hiker who had been interested in the study of nature since his youth, Dr. Benno Wolf also worked on a voluntary basis as a legal adviser to the office of natural monument preservation in Berlin. The first Prussian Nature Conservation Act, passed in 1920, bore his fingerprint.
In addition, Dr. Benno Wolf was an internationally recognized cave explorer. He founded, or co-founded, various cave research associations, such as the Hauptverband Deutscher Höhlenforscher and the Gesellschaft für Höhlenforschung und Höhlenkunde in Berlin. He also published many articles on his explorations and took over editorship of the renowned German-language speleological magazine Mitteilungen über Höhlen- und Karstforchung in 1924.
As soon as the Nazis came to power, a time of persecution began for Dr. Benno Wolf because of his Jewish origins. In 1933 he was forced to give up his work as a judge and legal adviser. With his income thus substantially reduced, he had to give up his apartment in Kreuzberg’s Großbeerenstraße and move to a cheaper one at Hornstraße 6, also in Kreuzberg. Henceforth, he concentrated on cave research. With the help of his friend and patron Julius Riemer, a factory-owner and natural history collector, Benno Wolf continued working for speleological associations and publishing articles on cave research. Riemer saw it to that Dr. Wolf always had some sources of income, however small. But he could not prevent his deportation. On 8 July 1942, aged 70, Dr. Benno Wolf was deported to Theresienstadt. He died there on 6 January 1943, probably due to the inhumane conditions in the camp. His extensive private speleological library was confiscated by the SS Ahnenerbe institute of “Aryan” archaeological and cultural research and exploited for armament purposes.