February 27 – Happy Birthday, Bertha Pappenheim

Posted on February 27, 2018

Today's famous birthday is someone whose face once graced a German stamp in a series called "Benefactors of Mankind" (but in German, of course: Helfer der Menschheit).

Perhaps it should have been called "Benefactor of Womankind"!

Bertha Pappenheim (who was born in Vienna, Austria, on this date in 1859). Her family had roots in Orthodox Judaism. When she was 29 years old, Pappenheim moved from Austria to Frankfurt, Germany, and there she got involved in art, science, and charitable works. She also wrote poems, novellas, children's stories, and a play. Many of her writings were published, some under a male pseudonym (common for women writers at the time).

So...why did I say Pappenheim was a benefactor of womankind?

  • She worked on issues of human trafficking of women.
  • She worked with, and served as president of, the League of Jewish Women, striving for education for girls and job equality for women.
  • She founded and helped to found kindergartens, community homes, and schools.
  • She founded an orphanage for Jewish girls.
  • She translated Mary Wollstonecraft's paper in defense of women's rights (English to German).
  • She translated the "Women's Talmud" and the Women's Bible (Yiddish to German).

You may wonder how this Jewish woman living in Germany dealt with the Nazi threat. Actually, when the Nazis came to power in 1933, Pappenheim was already pretty old. She took a group of orphaned Jewish children to safety in Great Britain in 1934 - but the next year she discovered she had cancer. She died in 1936 - before Kristallnacht and the concentration camps and all the most horrific stuff.

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