Siegfried Bernfeld

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Siegfried Bernfeld

Siegfried Bernfeld (May 7, 1892, Lemberg, Galicia, Austria-Hungary (today Ukraine) – April 2, 1953, San Francisco) was an Austrian psychologist and educator who was a native of Lemberg (now Lviv, Ukraine).[1]

In 1915 he completed his Ph.D. in philosophy at the University of Vienna, where he also studied psychoanalysis, sociology, education, and biology.[1]

Siegfried Bernfeld was of Jewish ancestry.[2] While still a student, he was involved in the psychoanalytical movement, and later became an important member of the Vienna Psychoanalytic Society.

During the First World War, when Vienna became home to over 100,000 refugees, many of them Jews from Galicia, Bernfeld became interested in developing new forms of Jewish education catering to the needs of these young Jews; in summer 1917 the Zionist organization in Vienna recruited him to lead its education and youth work.[3] From 1917 to 1921 Bernfeld was in charge of Zionistischen Zentralrat für West-Österreich (Zionist Central Council for Western-Austria), and in 1919 he headed a project called Kinderheim Baumgarten, which provided housing and education for 300 Jewish children from Poland, who were displaced during the war.

From 1922 until 1925 he practiced psychoanalysis in Vienna, and from 1925 to 1932 worked at the Berlin Psychoanalytic Institute. Subsequently he returned to Vienna, and with the threat of Nazism, went into exile in Menton on the French Riviera, where he stayed until 1936. Afterwards he emigrated to the United States, where he worked as an educator in San Francisco.

In a 1931 article published on the journal edited by Freud, Bernfeld defined psychoanalysis coining[4] the German term Spurenwissenschaft[5] ("science of traces").[4] He is also remembered for his research in providing a link between psychoanalysis and educational theory. He was interested in the role of education, and how it related to issues such as social change and social inequality. He was an early proponent of Freudo-Marxism, and developed theories regarding the correlation of psychoanalysis with socialism. He regarded educational reformer Gustav Wyneken (1875-1964) an early influence in his career, and was a member of several liberal and "youth culture" organizations.

Among his written works was an influential book on infant psychology called Psychologie des Säuglings, and a 1925 work on educational theory titled Sisyphos, in which Bernfeld advocates a non-authoritarian educational system that stresses the importance of the instinctual life and the needs of the student. He also published an important work on psychoanalytic interpretation called Der Begriff der "Deutung" in der Psychoanalyse, in which he explains the correlation of psychoanalysis to scientific principles. Later in his career, he published several articles about the early scientific work of Sigmund Freud.


  1. ^ a b Etchegoyen, R. Horacio. "Siegfried Bernfeld." International Dictionary of Psychoanalysis. Ed. Alain de Mijolla. Detroit: Macmillan Reference USA, 2005. Retrieved via Biography in Context database, 2016-10-14.
  2. ^ Siemens, Daniel (September 2009). "Explaining crime: Berlin newspapers and the construction of the criminal in Weimar Germany". Journal of European Studies. 39 (3): 337. doi:10.1177/0047244109106686. 
  3. ^ Rechter, David (February 1996). "'Bubermania': The Jewish Youth Movement in Vienna, 1917–1919". Modern Judaism. Vol. 16, No. 1. p. 25-45; here: p. 26, 28.
  4. ^ a b Occurrences on Google Books.
  5. ^ Bernfeld, Siegfried (1931). Freud, Sigmund, ed. "Die Krise der Psychologie und die Psychoanalyse". Internationale Zeitschrift für Psychoanalyse und Imago (in German). Vienna: Internationaler Psychoanalytischer Verlag. 17: 176–211. P. 194. 

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