Ernst Papanek, Jewish Refugee Children during WWII, and the Transatlantic Dispute about “Children’s Homes”


  • Frank Jacob


Ernst Papanek, OSE, Jewish Refugee Children, child transports, pedagogical transnationalism, translation of pedagogical concepts


Ernst Papanek (1900–1973) was an Austrian pedagogue who, between 1938 and 1940, was responsible for children’s homes in France he directed for the OSE (Œuvre de secours aux en-fants). In these children’s homes at Montmorency, close to Paris, Papanek tried to treat the traumatized children who had lost their homes, their parents, and those who struggled with their own identities that had been called into question by ideological propaganda and personal experiences alike. Papanek decided to give their souls a new home and not only intended to keep them physically alive but also to use a new form of therapy that was supposed to treat the children as a group.

In 1940, Papanek had to escape from France, via Spain and Portugal, to the United States, and he tried to rescue the children by bringing them across the Atlantic as well. However, when he advocated for the idea to continue their treatment as a group in a children’s home like the ones he had run in France, he met with resistance, as such approaches were uncommon in the United States, where social workers sought to separate the children and have them adopted into different foster families nationwide. This paper describes this transatlantic “struggle of ideas” when it comes to the role of group therapy for traumatized children and the positive impact of such children living collectively in homes.