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Papers of Siegfried Bernfeld

Identifier: RG 6

Scope and Contents

This collection contains the papers of Siegfried Bernfeld, covering the period from 1904 to 1925. Materials are in German, with a few documents in Hebrew. Much of the material in the collection is directly related to institutions and publications which he founded and headed. Bernfeld was himself committed to archival preservation and, throughout his involvement with the youth movement, created repositories for the documents of the organizations with which he was affiliated. This documentation was collected first for Bernfeld's Archiv für Jugendkultur (Archive for Youth Culture) and later, when his focus shifted to the Jewish Zionist youth movement, in the archives of the Jüdische Institut für Jugendforschung und Erziehung (Jewish institute for Youth Research and Education) which he also founded and directed. As head of the Zentralverband Jüdischer Jugendgruppen (Central Alliance of Jewish Youth Groups), Bernfeld was able to gather significant documentation of Jewish youth groups throughout central Europe for the Institut. The collection contains a great number of original manuscripts of short articles, autobiographical statements, and papers. While most of these were written by students and members of youth groups, a significant number are the work of youth leaders including Gerhard Fuchs, Gustav Wyneken, and Bernfeld himself. Most of the manuscripts were collected by the editorial offices of the publications with which Bernfeld was associated. These writings, along with the correspondence and other documents of the various organizations and publications, provide a comprehensive view of the Jewish Zionist youth movement in Austria and Germany, both from the perspective of its leaders, administrators, and financiers, and from the perspective of its adherents.

The Zentralverband oversaw the publication of two periodicals which gathered material from the affiliated groups. The first of these was the Blätter aus dem Jüdischen Jugendbewegung (Pages from the Jewish Youth Movement) also called Jüdische Jugendblätter (Jewish Youth Pages) which was edited by Bernfeld and served as a newsletter to inform the member youth groups of events within the movement and to provide a means for sharing views and ideas among groups. The second periodical, Jerubbaal, was more a magazine than a newsletter and endeavored to collect and publish the most important articles concerning the youth movement and the building of Palestine. Siegfried Bernfeld is listed as Herausgeber (Publisher) on some of the stationery of Jerubbaal and much of the correspondence is addressed to him, since both Jerubbaal and the Jugendblätter were run through the Zentralverband. Since both periodicals were supervised by Bernfeld, it would have been easy for them to share material, which they seem to have done. Correspondence from the two publications often appears together in the archive and no effort was made to separate the correspondence and documents of the editorial offices.

For Bernfeld's archival project, the Zentralverband provided the ideal collecting network for documents from the Jewish Youth Movement, and for his academic study of youth psychology and of educational principles, and his position as director provided the ideal vantage point from which to view the developing culture of youth. Both of these factors led Bernfeld to found the Jüdische Institut für Jugendforschung und Erziehung (Jewish Institute for Youth Research and Education) in 1920. Within the Institut, Bernfeld set up a new archive to take the place of his former Archiv für Jugendkultur. Page numbers on the documents, and archival envelopes attached to some of them, seem to indicate that Bernfeld brought relevant material from the Archiv für Jugendkultur to the new archive at the Institut. In addition to the archival project, the Institut sponsored academic projects related to the study of youth and of the educational system and offered courses for teachers.

While overseeing the Institut für Jugendforschung und Erziehung, Bernfeld was also in charge of Kinderheim Baumgarten (Children's Home at Baumgarten) which he founded in the 1919-1920 school year with his partner from the Institut, Gerhard Fuchs, and with financial assistance from the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee. In the Kinderheim, Bernfeld had an opportunity to put his educational philosophy into practice. Among the documents from the Kinderheim are a large number of disciplinary records of individual children reflecting an interesting aspect of Bernfeld's educational philosophy. For the most part, these records follow a simple formula, including the name of the accused child, name of the party bringing the accusation, and names of witnesses, followed by a brief note on the hearing. In 1920, Bernfeld completed a book about the Kinderheim, which was published by the Jüdischen Verlag G.M.B.H. (Jewish Publishing Company, Ltd.) in Vienna.

Bernfeld continued to collect documents, articles and correspondence through 1926. The exact fate of this material is unclear from the information in the collection, but it is certain that Bernfeld's archive came into the possession of Max Weinreich and became a part of the archives of the YIVO in the summer of 1934, possibly after the Jüdische Institut für Jugendforschung und Erziehung was disbanded.


  • 1904-1925
  • Majority of material found within 1912-1922


Language of Materials

The collection is in German, with occasional materials in Hebrew.

Conditions Governing Access

The collection has been digitized and is available online without restrictions. The physical collection is closed.

Conditions Governing Use

The images, documents, film footage, audio materials, and texts displayed in any portion of this web site may be copyrighted. Permission to use this web site is given on condition that the user agrees to follow U.S. copyright laws. The user agrees that she or he assumes liability for any copyright violations resulting from unauthorized use of items appearing on this web site and to hold YIVO harmless from any action involving copyright infringement. It is the responsibility of the user to carry out a due diligence search under U.S. copyright laws to determine the copyright status of items displayed on this web site.

Biographical / Historical

Siegfried Bernfeld was born in Lemberg (now Lviv, Ukraine) in 1892. He studied at the University of Freiburg and later at the University of Vienna, where he was a pupil of Sigmund Freud. While a student, Bernfeld was profoundly influenced by the educational philosophy and pedagogical methods of the German educator and school reformer Gustav Wyneken, embodied in the Freie Schulgemeinde (Free School Community) in Wickersdorf, which Wyneken founded. Wyneken's principles, which centered around encouraging young people to take an active role in developing educational and cultural institutions, became tremendously popular among the secondary school and university students of Germany, Austria, and Switzerland. Student committees for school reform were established in many of the university towns, and young people in the German-speaking countries were increasingly encouraged to assert their own ideas as alternatives to the traditional rigidity of the school system and the established cultural institutions, Quick to assume leadership positions, Siegfried Bernfeld rapidly became one of the most prominent advocates of school reform and of the legitimacy of what he saw as the distinct culture of youth.

The earliest documentation collected by Bernfeld relates to the Schulgemeinde in Wickersdorf in which he took an active interest, and to the so called Zielgemeinde (goal community) which was created in in early attempt to provide a forum for organized youth culture. Bernfeld's own name first appears in the collection on the documents of the Akademische Comite für Schulreforrn (Academic Committee for School Reform) in Vienna, in the school year of 1912-1913. While involved with this organization, Bernfeld coordinated the Akademische Arbeiter Unterrichtskurse (Academic Courses of Instruction for Workers) which consisted of discussions and lecture series for school-aged youth. In the same year, Bernfeld became the co-editor of the youth publication Anfang (Beginning), created by Gustav Wyneken and jointly run by Georg Barbizon in Berlin and Bernfeld in Vienna. Anfang was committed to allowing free expression for the ideas of young people of all persuasions. Its editorial office gathered papers and articles for publication from the leaders and mentors of the youth movement including Gustav Wyneken, and from young members of youth groups and organizations. As a result, the section of the archive pertaining to Anfang contains a remarkable variety of articles on subjects ranging from the political goals of the movement to the role of recreational bathing in youth group activities.

As co-editor of Anfang and leader of the Schulreform, Bernfeld began to collect great material related to the youth movement. He developed the opinion that a cultural movement ought to have a repository for its documents and writings, and so in 1913 set out to establish the Archiv fuer Jugendkultur (Archive for Youth Culture), with the help of the Comite fuer Schulreform, and endeavored to create collecting stations for material through his connections in the leadership of the youth movement. Throughout the war years, Bernfeld continued to gather material from whatever youth groups remained active, and to contribute his own ideas to such organizations as the Gesellschaft fuer Erziehungswesen (Society for Education).

Both the renewed strength of the Zionist cause and the increasing antisemitism in the non-Jewish German and Austrian youth organizations following the first World War are likely reasons for Bernfeld's post-war focus on the Zionist youth movement. Though his basic philosophy with respect to youth remained the same, Bernfeld now incorporated into it the principles of Zionism and of the Jewish culture. In 1917 he helped to establish the Studiengruppe fuer juedische Erziehung (Study Group for Jewish Education) with the support of the Zionist Central Committee of Vienna. This new society and its subgroup, the Arbeitskreis fuer Juedische Erziehung (Working Circle for Jewish Education), addressed itself to the problems and needs of Jewish education. The members of the Arbeitskreis examined Jewish schools and courses of religious instruction for Jews in non-Jewish schools and attempted to lay the groundwork for a new Juedisches Schulwerk (Jewish School System) to include everything from kindergarten programs to production cooperatives of older youths.

In the schoolyears of 1917-1918, 1918-1919, and 1919-1920, Bernfeld directed a program of Juedisch-Paedagogische Kurse (Jewish Pedagogical Courses), reconstituted as the Juedisches Paedagogium (Jewish Pedagogical Institute) in the 1919-1920 year. The courses offered in this program were designed to prepare teachers for work in the new Jewish school system at all levels and included seminars on Hebrew language instruction and classes on Talmudic law. In the same period, an attempt was made to unite the various youth groups in the German speaking countries through the establishment of a Zentralstelle Juedischer Jugendgruppen (Central Office of Jewish Youth Groups), also known as the Zentralverband (Central Union). Bernfeld was chosen to direct this institution, whose offices in the Juedisches Jugendheim (Jewish Youth House) at Obere Donaustrasse 91 in Vienna became the nucleus of the Jewish youth movement in Central Europe. The Zentralverband collected documents from Jewish youth groups, student societies, and athletic institutions and endeavored to unite these organizations through publications and through events such as the great Jugendtag (Youth Conference), organized in 1918, at which many important speeches concerning the goals and achievements of the youth movement were delivered.

Bernfeld remained committed to the movement for school reform and to the youth movement in general throughout his years at university and even after receiving his PhD, endeavoring to aid in the development of what he saw as the distinct culture of youth, and championing the right of young people to take an active part in the institutions which affected them. Although his earliest involvement with the youth movement in Austria and Germany was not with specifically Jewish organizations, Bernfeld soon focused his attention and efforts on the Jewish youth movement and the Jewish school system, maintaining the same basic principles in his approach to education and youth but adding to them the principles of Zionism and of Jewish cultural heritage. As a prominent leader and organizer of youth, and as a student of the educational system, Bernfeld assisted in the foundation and direction of many of the central organizations and publications of the youth movement and of the movement for school reform. The majority of these organizations were founded in Vienna which consequently became the hub of the Zionist youth movement in Central Europe. In addition to the activities documented in this collection, Bernfeld taught psychoanalysis in Vienna, Berlin, and later, Menton, France. He left France in 1936 for the U.S. and eventually settled in San Francisco, California where he died in 1953. He is remembered by the psychoanalytic profession for his practical applications of psychoanalytic principles in his involvement with the youth movement, for his examination of infant psychology, and for his study of Freud's own childhood.


4.5 Linear Feet


This collection contains the papers of Siegfried Bernfeld, a writer, educator, psychoanalyst, organizer of the Zionist youth movement in Austria during and after World War I, and founder of several Jewish educational institutions in Austria. These materials include correspondence, by-laws, minutes, programs, newspaper clippings, manuscripts, and financial records of Jewish educational institutions, youth organizations, student clubs, sports, tourism associations, and youth publications, mainly in Austria and Germany, which were collected through the various organizations with which Siegfried Bernfeld was associated and maintained in the Archival institutions which he established.


Arranged in eleven series, mostly according to the institutions and periodicals represented in the folders. Folders within each series are arranged according to page numbers originally stamped on them in 1934, with a few exceptions as detailed in the Processing Note.

Custodial History

Siegfried Bernfeld entrusted his papers to the YIVO through Max Weinreich in the summer of 1934. The collection was reassembled at YIVO in New York after World War II.

Related Materials

Part of the pre-World War II collections of the YIVO Institute in Vilnius, Lithuania. Included in the Edward Blank YIVO Vilna Online Collections.

Processing Information

The collection was arranged at YIVO in Vilna June 8-27, 1934 by M. Kahanovich, who inspected the materials, stamped them with YIVO page numbers, arranged them, and described the collection in a brief report. In this report, Kahanovich describes his work on the collection as cursory and provisional and recommends that a new inspection and arrangement be carried out as soon as possible. Whether a new inspection was done or not is not clear, but when the collection was reassembled and redescribed at YIVO in New York after World War II, it is evident that significant rearrangement was done and that Kahanovich's report and description were not followed. Kahanovich’s report describes boxes arranged by institution, but when Jonah Steinberg rearranged the collection in the summer of 1990, he found folders in no particular order and lacking any folder series, although the contents of the individual folders were largely in order and in many cases were arranged in files from Siegfried Bernfeld's original archives.

Jonah Steinberg paired the folder list made after World War II in New York with Kahanovich's report to form an arrangement scheme that would make the collection as accessible and orderly as possible without risking the disruption of any order which may have remained intact from Bernfeld's original arrangement. Folders were grouped together to create series corresponding to the institutions and periodicals through which the material the folders contain was collected. Both M. Kahanovich's report and the descriptive material within the collection itself indicate that this is the intended arrangement. For the most part, documents were left in the sequence indicated by the numbers stamped on them during Kahanovich’s 1934 arrangement at YIVO in Vilna. Some rearrangement on the level of the individual folders was made, but this was done only when it was unequivocally evident that the material in question belonged elsewhere in the folder or collection. Many of the folders contain thin paper files from the original archive, most bearing notations concerning their contents. Especially in these cases, the process was to assume that the documents within the files were interrelated, even if the relationship was not immediately evident, and changes were made only where clearly necessary. While within the individual folders the sequence of numbers stamped on the documents was followed wherever possible, the creation of folder series and the movement of material necessitated disruptions to this sequence which render the page numbers less useful as a reference within the collection.

The collection was put in new folders and given more precise folder titles and dates and collection description was updated in 2020.

Papers of Siegfried Bernfeld (1892-1953), 1904-1925
Arranged by Jonah Steinberg, August 1990 with assistance of a grant from the S.H. and Helen R. Scheuer Family Foundation. Materials processed, described, and prepared for digitization, and finding aid encoded by Sarah Hopley in 2020.
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Processed, conserved and digitized as part of the Edward Blank YIVO Vilna Online Collections project (2015-2022)

Repository Details

Part of the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research Repository

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New York NY 10011 United States