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

A transnational circulation of ideas on social reform and social policy facilitated the emergence of social work as a global profession in the first half of the 20th Century. An intriguing case of the transnational movement of social work ideas is that which occurred between Germany and the Jewish community in Mandatory Palestine during the 1930s and 1940s. The immigration of a small number of Jewish social workers from Germany to Palestine during this period had a remarkable impact on the development of the social work profession in this country that continued long after the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948. These social workers, who were educated at schools of social work in Weimar Germany and who, in some cases, held leadership roles within the social welfare services and social work education system, brought to Palestine distinctive ideas that were prevalent in German social work at the time.

All of the limited number of existing research projects devoted to the impact of German Jews on social work in Palestine have focused on the biographies of Jewish migrants forced to leave Germany after 1933 and the transfer of ideas in the form of social work education. These approaches have contributed much to our knowledge, but they do not sufficiently reflect the understanding that knowledge and ideas are inevitably translated into a new social context. This translation process took place in Palestine in the 1930s and 1940s where we find highly diverse understandings of social welfare among various groups within the Jewish community. As such, the establishment of social work and social welfare institutions were part of a highly contested nation building process in the pre-state era.

The goal of the proposed study is to better understand the translation of ideas from Germany to Palestine and, in particular, to examine the process by which these ideas impacted upon the establishment and the legitimization of professional social welfare institutions in pre-state Jewish Palestine and, later, in Israel. A better understanding of this is of importance not only for social work as a profession, but also because it will shed light on the establishment of social welfare institutions which were a significant component in the establishment of Jewish, crypto-state institutions in Palestine. More broadly, this largely unexplored case study can contribute to the burgeoning discourse on the transnational exchange of ideas.


Prof. Dr. John Gal (Hebrew University)

Prof. Dr. Stefan Köngeter (Universität Trier)


01/2017 - 12/2019

gefördert durch:

German-Israeli Foundation for Scientific Research and Development