case western reserve university



January 18, 2012

Researcher to Present Findings on WWII Jewish Refugee

Barbara Reiterer

On February 8, a researcher from Washington, D.C., will present her findings about the life of Elsa Leichter, an MSASS alum and Austrian refugee social worker whose American social work career started in Cleveland during WWII.

Researcher Barbara Reiterer, a Doctoral Fellow in Residence at the German Historical Institute in Washington, D.C., will discuss how Leichter found refuge as a social worker. The lecture, entitled, Elsa Leichter's Second Chance: Interruptions and Continuities in a Refugee Social Worker's Transatlantic Career, will be held on February 8 at 4:30 p.m. in Room 320 at the Mandel School of Applied Social Sciences. Reiterer's talk is free and open to the public.

During World War II, American social work provided a professional refuge for Leichter, a Jewish exile from Vienna who came to the United States on the eve of World War II. Reiterer's research provides a history of Austrian and American social work in the mid-twentieth century and the experiences of Jewish women exiles in the United States.

Even though a cursory glance at Leichter’s biography may yield a neat and smooth narrative, interruptions complicated her life. After serving 12 years as a social worker for the Vienna city municipality, she had to start over when she came to the U.S. It was in Cleveland where she received her "big second chance," as she repeatedly said. Reiterer's discussion of Leichter will trace her complex, often difficult career path, for which her time at the Mandel School played a central role.

Leichter received her degree in social work from Case Western Reserve University in 1942. She went on to work for the Jewish Family Service in New York City where she earned distinction in the field of family therapy. Starting in the 1970s, she traveled to Europe to give lectures and workshops, thus contributing to the transatlantic circulation of knowledge in the applied social sciences. She died in 1997 at the age of 92.

The MSASS Connection

In developing her research, Reiterer's dissertation also includes details about several MSASS alumni and émigré social workers from Austria and Germany, which includes MSASS graduates Esther Appelberg, Hans Falck, Henry Maier and Marianne Welter. The Lillian F. & Milford J. Harris Library at MSASS will organize a display to highlight their work, so those interested may stop by to learn more.


Social workers who attend this lecture will receive 1.5 continuing education units (CEUs). The cost is $25. Pre-registration is required, so please visit the MSASS Continuing Education website to register. Or, call 216.368.2274 for more information.