From Germany to Palestine

Social Work in Germany and the Emergence of Modern Welfare Systems for Jews in Palestine 1890 – 1948

by Franz-Michael Konrad (Author)
©2022 Monographs 344 Pages


The book deals with a historically unique case of international transfer of professional
knowledge and techniques in social care and social work.
Principles of modern social work were introduced to the Jewish Jishuv (pre-state
community) in Palestine largely by German-Jewish welfare experts who immigrated
in the 1930s. These social workers, mostly women and trained at the schools for social
work in Weimar Germany, used the experiences they had gained in Germany and
modified them according to the conditions in Palestine.
This book outlines the steps that have led to the establishment of a modern system of
social welfare (social policy, social work, social pedagogy) in Germany, in the Jewish
community in Germany and finally in Jewish Palestine. The beginning of this process
can be traced back to the late nineteenth century and extends to the late 1940s.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Table of Contents
  • Acknowledgements
  • Introduction
  • 1 On the Way to Modern Social Work: Some Aspects of the Reform of Poor Relief in Germany from the End of the 19th century up to 1933
  • 1.1 Social Policy, State Intervention, Economisation, Centralisation and Planning in Poor Relief
  • 1.1.1 Fighting for Social Policy
  • 1.1.2 Social Policy and Poor Relief
  • 1.1.3 In Favour of State Involvement in Poor Relief
  • 1.1.4 Economisation and Centralisation
  • 1.2 Qualifying for Social Work
  • 1.2.1 The Bourgois Women’s Movement and Poor Relief
  • 1.2.2 Institutions of Professionalisation: The Schools for Social Work
  • The Girls’ and Women’s Social Relief Work Groups
  • The School for Social Work
  • The Problem of Scientificity
  • The male Social Worker
  • 1.2.3 The System of Further Education
  • 1.2.4 The Standardisation of Training and the Establishment of the Educational Perspective
  • 1.3 Professionalisation and the Discussion on Methods
  • 1.3.1 The Key Word of “Individualisation”
  • 1.3.2 The Reception of Individual Psychology and Social Medicine
  • 1.3.3 The Social Case Work Approach
  • 2 From Rahmanuth to Zedakah: The Reform of Jewish Poor Relief in Germany from the end of the 19th century to 1933
  • 2.1 The Background
  • 2.1.1 Anti-Semitism, a new Jewish Group Consciousness, and Zionism
  • 2.1.2 The “Eastern European Jewish Issue”
  • 2.1.3 Integration into the General System of Welfare Work
  • 2.2 Centralisation, Planning and Economisation: the Founding of the Central Welfare Agency of the German Jews
  • 2.2.1 The Founding of the Central Welfare Agency of the German Jews as an Act of Centralisation
  • 2.2.2 Support for the Eastern European Jews
  • 2.3 Professionalisation and Qualification
  • 2.3.1 The Jewish Women’s Movement and Social Work
  • 2.3.2 The Dispute over Occupational Development and Qualification
  • 2.3.3 The Infrastructure of Qualification
  • 2.3.4 The “Social Rabbi”
  • 2.3.5 The Reception of Jewish Liberal Theology
  • 2.3.6 The Adoption of the Method
  • 2.4 The Jewish Youth Movement and Social Work
  • 2.4.1 The National Committee of Jewish Youth Associations
  • 2.4.2 The Jewish Youth Movement and Social Work
  • 2.4.3 The Example of Wolzig
  • 3 The Development of a Modern System of Social Welfare in the Jewish Community of Palestine (1917-1948)
  • 3.1 Poverty and Social Support in the Old Yishuv
  • 3.1.1 The Economic and Social Situation of the Jewish Population in Palestine prior to World War I
  • 3.1.2 Poor Relief in the Old Yishuv
  • European Philanthropy in the Old Yishuv
  • 3.2 Early Zionist Immigration and the Development of a Leading Social Ideology (1882 – 1918)
  • 3.3 The New Yishuv and the Development of a Modern System of Welfare (1917-1948)
  • 3.3.1 The Socio-Political Foundations
  • The British Mandate for Palestine
  • The Political System of Mandatory Palestine
  • Jewish Immigration and British Immigration Policies from 1920 to 1925
  • The System of Basic Socio-Political Security (1): the Kibbutz
  • The Economic Development of the Yishuv: Industrialisation
  • Radical Social Structural Changes in the Yishuv
  • The System of Basic Socio-Political Security (2): The Histadrut
  • The Economic Development of the Yishuv: The Crises of 1923 and 1926 et seq.
  • British Immigration Policy 1925 to 1930
  • Summary: Social Policy within the Yishuv and its Borders
  • 3.4 The Development of the System of Public Welfare
  • 3.4.1 Reasons for the Development
  • 3.4.2 The Jewish Women’s Movement in Palestine
  • 3.4.3 Planning, Organisation, Centralisation: The Development of the “Centre”
  • 3.4.4 The External Addition to the “National Centre”
  • 3.4.5 The Problem of Securing Resources
  • 3.4.6 Organisational Work
  • 3.4.7 The German Aliya
  • 3.4.8 The Development of Youth Welfare
  • 3.4.9 Summary: The Role of Social Welfare and its Institutions in the “New” Yishuv
  • 3.5 Training for the Job: the School for Social Work in Jerusalem
  • 3.5.1 The Lack of Trained Social Workers
  • 3.5.2 The School for Social Work in Jerusalem
  • 3.5.3 The Academic Environment of the School – Institutions of Social Work Research
  • 3.5.4 The System of Continuing Education
  • 3.6 Professionalisation and the Social Case Work Method
  • 3.6.1 The Method in Palestine
  • The Method in Practice
  • 3.6.2 Outlook
  • Summary and Conclusion
  • Appendix
  • Abbreviations
  • Archival Sources
  • Bibliography
  • Before 1948
  • After 1948
  • Web References
  • Index

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This book could not have been written without the support of many people, to whom the author is indebted.

The first version of this book, which was published in German in 1993, was written in consultation with Ludwig Liegle and Ulrich Herrmann, both Professors of Educational Science at the University of Tübingen (Germany) at that time. Even after many years, the author is grateful for the patience with which they accompanied his research decades ago and for the advice they gave him.

The revised and updated version now newly published in English would never have become reality without the support of Christina Schlereth (translation), Elisabeth Mossburger (technical support) and Lorena Harfold (research assistance) of the Catholic University of Eichstätt-Ingolstadt (Germany), where the author has been teaching since 1998. Thanks also to the staff of the Eichstätt-Ingolstadt University Library, who carried out all of the research and inter-library loan orders very quickly and reliably, and to the Archives, the author has repeatedly visited since the late 1980s to prepare this book. Special thanks also to John Gal for his valuable comments on the revised manuscript and to Hermann Ühlein (Senior Commissioning Editor; Peter Lang) for his kind support of the project. Finally, the author thanks his wife Elisabeth Konrad-Huck, who patiently advised and supported him on all computer problems.

An Israeli-German research group led by John Gal (Hebrew University Jerusalem) and Stefan Köngeter (University of Trier and University of St. Gallen/Switzerland), who have conducted research on the subject of this book in recent years, provided the impetus to publish this book. More about this in the following chapter – „Introduction“.

←10 | 11→


This book focuses on the historical, systematic and in some areas comparative description of important stages in the establishment of a modern system of social support and social work in Germany and the Jewish communities of Germany and Palestine, the latter being known as the “Yishuv”. The development in Germany covers the period from the end of the 19th century to the seizure of power by the National Socialist Party in 1933. The development in the Yishuv will be analysed from the end of the Ottoman rule (1917/18) up to the founding of the state of Israel in 1948. The focus, however, will be on the 1920‘s and the first half of the 1930‘s, “the formative period of Israel’s journey to statehood.”1

The first chapter describes a phased approach to the process of modernisation of traditional poor relief in Germany. It is not possible to give a detailed account of all of the key development steps, and certainly not of the complex socio-historical circumstances that led to the implementation of a modern welfare system. To this effect, it is not intended to give a complete account, nor would this even be possible. The aim is much more to summarise the main reasons for the restructuring of traditional poor relief and the move towards modern social work-paradigms, to combine them using newly-defined, validated guiding concepts and to exemplify and refine them by means of an institutional example: the Archive for Public Welfare [Archiv für Wohlfahrspflege] in the German Empires’ capital Berlin. The Archive for Public Welfare was a creation of the German Society for Ethical Culture [Deutsche Gesellschaft für ethische Kultur] and was founded in 1893 as the Information Centre of the Association for Private Poor Relief [Auskunftsstelle der Zentrale für Private Fürsorge]. The German Society for Ethical Culture, founded in 1892, was one of the numerous bourgeois initiatives to help solve the social problems caused by the Industrial Revolution. In 1906 the Information Centre of the Association for Private Poor Relief was renamed in the Archive for Public Welfare.

If private donors wanted to support an institution or organisation of poor relief, then they could contact the Archive for Public Welfare, in order to combat mismanagement and unorganised, uncontrolled action. With regard to the care providers, the Archive for Public Welfare promoted itself through detailed knowledge of the field, rationality and professionalism in assessment and consultation. ←11 | 12→Finally the Archive for Public Welfare also offered advice on public poor relief, for example to municipal administrations, and the relevant authorities, to improve the welfare system.2 So the Archive for Public Welfare was important as a focal point for those interested in reform (see chapter one of this book). Through contact with the Archive for Public Welfare and their involvement in its activities, the reformers developed an idea of how reform and development processes could be implemented, which – and this is the subject of the second and third chapter of this book – they were then able to transfer to other contexts, in order to adapt the contextual social reality to the reform model conveyed by the Archive for Public Welfare. This was true, not least of all, for the first and long-standing general manager of the Archive for Public Welfare, Siddy Wronsky, who also played a leading role in Jewish welfare work in Germany in the 1920’s, and in the same way became a significant key figure in the development of a modern system of social work in the Jewish community in Palestine after her emigration in 1933.

Siddy (Sidonie) Neufeld (after her marriage: Wronsky)3 was born in Berlin in 1883 and grew up in a well-established Jewish middle-class family. Alongside her occupation as a teacher, she became involved in voluntary social work. From 1908 onwards, when she succeeded Albert Levy as the managing director of the Archive for Public Welfare, she worked full-time in the field of social work and was greatly involved in all initiatives connected with the Archive for Public Welfare.

In addition to her position at the Archive for Public Welfare, Wronsky was conferred her first senior office in social welfare work by election to the executive board of the Berlin branch of the National Women’s Service [Nationaler Frauendienst] in 1914. Further offices were to follow: for example in 1919, election to the central committee of the German Association for Poor Relief and Charity [Deutscher Verein für Armenpflege und Wohltätigkeit] and chair of the Association of Welfare in Berlin [Berliner Wohlfahrtsvereinigung]. In 1924, she was involved in the foundation of the Central Consortium of Public and Private Welfare Work in Berlin [Zentralarbeitsgemeinschaft der Öffentlichen und Freien Wohlfahrtspflege in Berlin]. From 1925 onwards, she was co-editor of the German Journal for Social Welfare [Deutsche Zeitschrift für Wohlfahrtspflege]. In the second half of the 1920’s, Wronsky focused her interest more and more on social work methods and worked together with Alice Salomon to implement the American Social Case Work approach in Germany. At the same time Wronsky occupied leading positions in Jewish community politics, the Jewish Women’s Movement and in ←12 | 13→Jewish social work. From the late 1920‘s, she regularly participated as a delegate at the Women’s International Zionist Organisation-World Conferences.

In 1933, Wronsky lost all of her positions in German welfare work. In the autumn of that year she emigrated to Palestine, where she quickly became one of the most important figures in the development of a modern system of social work. Wronsky’s concepts and institutional foundations remained formative and of great importance for the Jewish community in Palestine long after her death in 1947.

The publications and practical contributions made by Siddy Wronsky to the development of a modern system of social work in Germany and Palestine will provide a common theme in the following analysis, without attempting to present a biographical study in the strictest sense.

While the beginning of the period under discussion can only be defined in approximate terms, the year 1948, the year when the State of Israel was founded, provides an exact end point. The analysis of the German development will, in contrast, end earlier – in 1933. Jewish social workers who, until then, had been involved in the general discussions and the implementation of a modern system of social welfare, lost their positions and influence in the general welfare system. They either withdrew completely from social work or turned to Jewish social work or emigrated. Most of those who did not emigrate became victims of the Shoah. Insofar as they emigrated to Palestine and participated in the development of a modern system of social work within the Jewish community, they are of focal importance in this study.

In the second chapter of this book, it will be shown how the arguments for reform were transferred to Jewish welfare work and how they were able to have an impact on the perceptions and actions of the experts in social work in this context. In other words, the experiences and viewpoints arising from the general debate and practice also shaped those in the Jewish context. Again, Siddy Wronsky played an important role here.

The third chapter of this book describes the development of a modern system of social work in the Jewish community in Palestine. Here it will be demonstrated that, to a great extent, the German-Jewish social workers and welfare experts were able to seamlessly apply the experiences and viewpoints they had gathered whilst in Germany. Most of those who were in influential positions and involved in setting up a system of social work in the Yishuv after 1933, had already helped to initiate reform in Germany in the 1920’s, at least in the context of Jewish welfare work, and had designed corresponding processes. The institutional and content-related solutions developed in Germany became the “blue print” for the development work within the Jewish community in Palestine, particularly with regard to the chronological phases of the development of the ←13 | 14→fundamental structure. Therefore, the study presented here is concerned with an historically unique transfer process of professional knowledge and guiding operative models and a contribution to transfer research.


A Latin author once wrote: “Habent sua fata libelli” or “books have their fate”. Certain topics of research also have their “fate”. Before the author published the first version of this book (in German)4 in 1993, the situation with reference to the topic discussed here was simple and manageable. There were some autobiographical contributions, namely valuable memoirs of social workers and welfare experts who emigrated to Palestine in the 1920‘s and 1930‘s and had received their training in Weimar Germany before their immigration to Palestine.5 However, there was no systematic examination of the professional ideas these immigrants brought with them from Germany and no systematic research on the transfer of ideas in the field of social work to the Jewish community in Palestine, except some remarks in an unpublished doctoral dissertation in Hebrew.6 Frank Loewenberg mentioned “German social work theories”, but did not examine these theories in more detail7 Jona Rosenfeld and Aliya Kedem spoke of “the tradition of social work in Germany” and “trained professionals who immigrated to Palestine during the 1930s”8, without giving any further explanation.

On the contrary, the influence of American Jewish women’s organisations on the emerging system of health care, modern welfare, social work and social pedagogy in the Yishuv was already well-researched and is still well-researched today. This had and has to do with the fact that the key person in this process of establishing a modern system of welfare, Henrietta Szold, was American. The very important (and in some concern much more important) German influence, however, remained completely unexplored, and the scholarly interest in the 1993 book was modest, at least in Israel.9 In 2004 an international conference ←14 | 15→of German and Israeli historians was held in Jerusalem devoted to the role of German Jews in the Yishuv and in Israel without, however, addressing the many German-Jewish social workers with even one word.10 2019, in Margalit Shilo’s essay on “Professional women in the Yishuv”, only Szold is mentioned under the keyword “social work” – no one else.11 Finally: As the book published in 1993 was also intended as a contribution to the study of the history of women in the Yishuv, Hannah Safran’s statement made with reference to the Yishuv in 2008 (!) remained valid: “The role of women in the creation of Jewish society and in public endeavour was forgotten.”12 This is a shortcoming because we believe that we can demonstrate that the foundations of the Yishuv social system, as well as those of the Israeli welfare state, were laid by women, women‘s organisations, and other institutions inspired by women.

In the last two decades this has changed. In general, interest in the history of social work in the Yishuv in Israel itself appears to have been awakened.13 Recently an Israeli-German research group was set up in this broader context to investigate the transfer of reform-ideas in the field of social work from Germany to the Jewish community of Palestine. A number of publications14 have emerged from this research project (“The transnational history of social work and social welfare between Germany and Palestine in the 1930‘s and 1940‘s”) that have contributed new insights. While the study presented here is limited to a hand full of protagonists – especially to Siddy Wronsky – due to the aforementioned research project we now know more relevant names.15

The book presented here deals with networks that first gathered in the 1920s around the Central Welfare Agency of the German Jews [Zentralwohlfahrtsstelle ←15 | 16→der deutschen Juden] and related institutions and then reunited in Palestine.16 What we are dealing with here are less “border-crossing processes”17, but rather border-crossing professionals, a network of border-crossing professionals, so to speak, who have enabled the transfer of ideas. While the ideas transferred to Palestine initiated the establishment of a modern system of social welfare there, all the reforms had been reversed in Germany, where the reform ideas were no longer being implemented and got lost under the pressure of the National Socialists. The Yishuv became a refuge for modern social work!

In order to be able to participate in this discussion and convey the results of his research to an interested scientific public better than before, the author of this book has decided to present a revised and, in part, rewritten English version of his book published in 1993, supplemented of course by the secondary studies that have since been published. The author is grateful for the discussions he was able to have with members of the Israeli-German research group, which gave him the feeling that his own research can provide an interesting complement to his colleagues’ findings. In this respect, the new book is understood as a supplement, not as a competitor.

Finally, the book is important to its author in a very personal way. He started his academic career with the German version, his doctoral thesis. With this revised and enlarged version in English, he finishes his academic career and changes his status to professor emeritus.

1 Berg (2006). Zionist Women of the 1920s, p.313.

2 Bodin (1968). 75 Jahre Deutsches Zentralinstitut; Fünfundsiebzig Jahre... [1968].

3 Cf. Konrad (1987). Paradigmen sozialpädagogischer Reform; Heitz (1988). Siddy Wronsky.

4 Konrad (1993). Wurzeln jüdischer Sozialarbeit.

5 See for example Rosenblueth (1978). Mi Berlin ad Ginegar.

6 Deutsch (1970). Hitpatchut Haavoda Hasozialit.

7 Loewenberg (1991). Voluntary Organizations in Developing Countries, p.423.

8 Rosenfeld & Kedem (1998). Betwixt and Between the “Generation of the Desert” and the “Children of the Dream“, p.80.

9 Three exceptions in English: Loewenberg (1995). Bookreview; Wieler (1995). Destination Social Work, pp.271-2; Spiro, Sherer, Korin-Langer & Weiss (1998). The Professionalization of Israeli Social Work, p.31.

10 Zimmermann & Hotam (Eds.) (2005). Zweimal Heimat.

11 Shilo (2019). Professional Women in the Yishuv in Mandatory Palestine.

12 Safran (2008). International Struggle, Local Victory, p.219.

13 It started with Loewenberg (1998). Meeting the Challenges. – An example from the recent past and focussing on the Yishuv: Gal & Holler (2019). Lo Zedakah ela Zedek.

14 A selection: Gal & Köngeter (2016). Exploring the Transnational; Halpern & Köngeter (2017). Jewish Social Work between Germany and Mandatory Palestine; Halpern (2017). Jüdisch-deutsche Sozialarbeiterinnen; Halpern (2018). Between Universal and National Social Therapy; Mazursky & Lau (2020). The Emergence of Social Work Research between Professionalisation and Nation-Building.

15 A list of names including biographical remarks is online: www.jigsaw-navi.net/person-list (However, the list also contains women who never lived in Germany and had no contact with German social work!).

16 In contrast to the book presented here, the members of the aforementioned research group interpret their findings more strongly from a theoretical gender perspective (see for example Halpern & Lau (2019). Social Work Between Germany and Mandatory Palestine).

17 Köngeter (2010). Transnationalism, p.180.

←16 | 17→

1 On the Way to Modern Social Work: Some Aspects of the Reform of Poor Relief in Germany from the End of the 19th century up to 1933

The creation of modern social work and social pedagogy in Germany in the first third of the 20th century was largely expedited, amongst a variety of other factors, by the three following interdependent triggers:

- The beginnings are to be seen within the debate advocating “social policy” to counteract the effects of industrialisation. Advocates of social policy believed that traditional poor relief should be complemented by social policy and both had become essential to a modern system of social welfare. Within this context the uneconomical, disorganised out-of-date system of poor relief also became the subject of criticism and a new paradigm was applied, which was bound by the demand for state intervention, economisation and centralisation (1.1).

- Based on the fight for economic rationalism and supported by the bourgeois women’s movement, the demand soon arose for a formal qualification for the “caring trade”. This struggle was successful, as can be seen in the creation of a dedicated educational infrastructure and the content-related organisation of the qualification for a new profession: the social worker. This process was concluded in the 1920’s with decrees defining guidelines for schools for social work first in Prussia, and then in the other German federal states (1.2).

- The professionalisation of social work is demonstrated by the aforementioned guidelines, but much more by the development of science based methods specific to the profession, whose content-related focus can be described with the key word “educationalisation”, or rather, the introduction of pedagogy, psychology and psychotherapy into the carer-client-relationship within the framework of the “case work approach”, which has been developed in the United States and was successfully taken up in the German professional debates in the 1920’s (1.3).


ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2022 (July)
Berlin, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Warszawa, Wien, 2022. 344 pp.

Biographical notes

Franz-Michael Konrad (Author)

Franz-Michael Konrad is Professor Emeritus at the Catholic University of Eichstätt- Ingolstadt (Germany). His areas of specialisation are history of education, social work and social pedagogy in Germany and German-Jewish History.


Title: From Germany to Palestine
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346 pages