Speaker to discuss life of Jewish refugee from Vienna who graduated from Western Reserve

Barbara Reiterer, a doctoral candidate at the University of Minnesota, will speak about her research into the life and work of Elsa Leichter, a Jewish refugee from Vienna who came to the United States on the eve of World War II, receiving a degree in social work in 1949 from what would become Case Western Reserve University. The talk will be held Feb. 8 at 4:30 p.m. in the Mandel School of Applied Social Sciences, Room 320 A, B and C.

American social work provided a professional refuge for Jewish women exiles during World War II. Reiterer’s exploration of Leichter’s experience expands our understanding of refugee resettlement and gender. Interruptions complicated her life: After 12 years as a social worker for the Vienna city municipality, she had to start over upon arriving in the United States, as her Austrian training and experience was non-transferrable. Cleveland was her “big second chance,” as she repeatedly said.

After receiving her degree, Leichter worked for Jewish Family Services in New York City, where she earned distinction in the field of family therapy. Beginning in the 1970s, she traveled to Europe to give lectures and workshops, contributing to the transatlantic circulation of knowledge in the applied social sciences.

Reiterer’s talk will trace the complex, often difficult but ultimately successful professional trajectory of an Austrian refugee social worker in the United States, for which her time at Western Reserve University played a central role. Leichter’s story informs the larger history of Austrian and American social work in the mid-20th century, and it deepens the understanding of the experience of Jewish women exiles in the United States.

The event is co-sponsored by the Max Kade Center for German Studies and the Mandel School of Applied Social Sciences. For more information, contact kenneth.ledford@cwru.edu.