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Willy Tonn Collection

Identifier: AR 7259

Scope and Content Note

This collection is comprised of personal papers of Willy Tonn, including correspondence (also with Martin Buber), material on the Franz Steiner Co. - a pharmaceutical company which Tonn worked for, and brochures and correspondence concerning the Asian, American, and Israel Seminaries and the establishment of the People's University of Israel.

Collection also contains numerous typescripts and various publications from Shanghai, including The China Digest, The China Journal, and The Gelbe Post.

The extensive typescripts in the collection contain material dealing with Tonn's time in Shanghai. In addition to describing various aspects of Chinese culture, there are typescripts which address culture in India, Burma (Myanmar), Thailand and Japan, Jewish culture and religion, Greek history, and relations between Far Eastern countries and the West. Specific topics include: Chinese philosopy, including Taoism and Buddhism, Chinese art, folklore, and customs, Jews in North Africa, sports in Judaism, World War II, and Jews in the Far East. Tonn's manuscripts also include translations of several Chinese philosophical texts, including a work on the philosopher Lao-Tse.

The collection is in German, English, Chinese, Hebrew, Dutch, and French.


  • 1901-1988
  • Majority of material found within 1920-1957

Language of Materials

This collection is in German, English, Hebrew, Chinese, Dutch, and French.

Access Restrictions

Open to researchers.

Use Restrictions

For publication pertaining to the correspondence between Willy Tonn and Martin Buber, permission has to be obtained from Jewish National and University Library, Jerusalem. For more information, contact

Leo Baeck Institute, Center for Jewish History, 15 West 16th Street, New York, NY 10011


Biographical Note

Willy Tonn was born Jan 28, 1902 in Berlin. After graduating from the "Askanisches Gymnasium" in Berlin in 1920, he studied at Friedrich Wilhelm University Berlin. In his first year he studied Philosophy and Medicin but already in his second year he shifted his interest to languages: Chinese, Manchu, Vedic, Sanscrit, Pracrit, Pali, Tibetian. In 1924 he made his Ph. D. (Seminary for Oriental languages). In 1939 he emigrated to Shanghai (Hangchou) where he worked as a professor for literature at the Tung Te University and a lector for "Shanghai Jewish Club" until 1943. 1943 he started to teach Chinese Linguistics and Comparative Philology at Tsinan State- University, Shanghai. He also worked as lector for the "Society of Friends" (Quakers). He was director of the "Asia Seminar", "American Seminary" and "Israeli Seminary". 1949 Tonn emigrated to Israel where he worked for the Museum Bezalel, Jerusalem (1949), Museum Tel Aviv (1950, 1953), Museum Wilfr. Israel, Hazorea (1952). During his career he wrote many articles, which were published in magazines and newspapers. Sometimes he used the pseudonym Wolf Torno. 1951 Tonn published the book: Lao Tse. Tao Te King (Zuerich). He died in a Swiss sanatorium on Nov 15, 1957.

In 1902 Georg Tonn owned "D. Franz Steiner & Co." (founded 1889), which was a firm dealing with chemical, pharmaceutical and cosmetical specialties. Some of their products were "Orientalische Kraftpillen" and "Orpuvil". The company had depots in Berlin, Vienna, Budapest, Teplitz, Amsterdam, Kopenhagen, Zuerich, Saloniki, Johannesburg and Semarang. The firm was inherited by Dora Tonn (nee Dienemann) and Willy Tonn worked there as "Geschaeftsfuehrer" from 1924 until 1938.


1.75 Linear Feet


The papers of this collection document Willy Tonn's life, and a large amount of the collection focuses on his time spent in Shanghai. Documents include personal and business papers, correspondence, numerous typescripts, and newspaper clippings. Many of the typescripts discuss topics related to Far Eastern culture; others discuss Jewish culture or religion, Indian culture, and Greek history. The collection also includes publications containing articles by Tonn.


The collection is arranged in the following five series:

  1. Series I: Personal Papers, 1917-1957
  2. Series II: Correspondence, Manuscripts, Publications, and Clippings, 1901-1988
  3. Series III: Journals, 1939-1942
  4. Series IV: Addenda, 1938-1949
  5. Series V: Oversized Material, 1939-1946
Guide to the Papers of Willy Tonn 1901-1988, (bulk) 1920-1957 AR 7259
Reprocessed by Andrea Strauss
© December 2001.
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note
Description is in English.
Edition statement
This version was derived from WillyTonn02.xml

Revision Statements

  • 2010-03-23 : encoding of linking to digital objects from finding aid was changed from <extref> to <dao> through dao_conv.xsl
  • December 2004.: Converted to ead 2002. Revised as WillyTonn02.xml by Dianne Ritchey Oummia. Removed deprecated elements and attributes, updated repository codes, added language codes, changed doctype declaration, etc.
  • January 2006.: Entities removed from EAD finding aid.

Repository Details

Part of the Leo Baeck Institute Repository

15 West 16th Street
New York NY 10011 United States