The Transnational History of Social Work between Germany and Israel in the 1930s and 1940s


Project duration: 01/01/2017 - 31/12/2019 (since 01/09/2018 at ASH Berlin)

Principal investigator: Prof. Gal John (HUJI), Prof. Dr. Stefan Köngeter (FHS St. Gallen), Prof. Dr. Sabine Toppe (ASH Berlin)

Project staff: Dayana Lau (University of Trier, until 05/2018), Carina Huestegge (since 01/10/2018), Berthold Stadler-Ebenau (ASH), Anne-Kathrin Schmitz (University of Trier, until 31/08/2018), Dr. Yehudit Avnir (HUJI), Ayana Halpern (HUJI), Nofar Mazursky (HUJI)


The emergence of social work as a global profession in the first half of the 20th century was accompanied by a transnational translation of ideas. An interesting case is what happened between Germany and the Jewish community in Mandate Palestine in the 1930s and 1940s. The immigration of a number of Jewish social workers from Germany to Palestine, then still under the British mandate, had a notable influence on the development of social work in that region. The women trained in social work schools in the Weimar Republic, some of whom have held leadership positions in social care and social education (such as Siddy Wronsky), brought formative ideas to Palestine.

The few research projects dealing with the influence of German Jews on social work in Palestine focus on the biographies of Jewish migrants forced to leave Germany after 1933. These approaches have contributed much to our knowledge, but they do not adequately reflect the process of translating knowledge and ideas into a new social context. In Palestine at that time, we find a very different understanding of social welfare between different groups within the Jewish community. In this respect, the development of social work should also be analyzed as part of a highly controversial process of nation-building in the pre-state era. In addition, this case study can contribute to the emerging discourse on transnational exchange of ideas in social work.

The study is divided into four areas: 1) the emergence and coalitions of a group of experts and specialists; 2) the discourse within the profession, as reflected in its institutions and in central publications; 3) the structuring of social services during this period, and how they were translated and transformed; and 4) professional practices in the emerging field of social work. The study relies on primary sources from official archives in Berlin - mainly the Alice Salomon Archive -, Jerusalem and New York, private archives, publications and secondary sources.

Funding: German-Israeli Foundation of Scientific Research and Development (G.I.F.)

27.-28/05/2019 - Final Conference at Hebrew University Jerusalem

Keywords: Social Welfare, Social Work, Transnational History, Germany, Israel