Treasure Trove: David Matlow remembers a courageous Jewish educator from Berlin

Paula Furst (1894-1942) was a German educator who trained in the Montessori method and opened the first Montessori class in Berlin in 1926. When the Nazis seized power in 1933, Montessori education was banned as it was considered incompatible with Nazi ideology, in part because of its focus on the individualism of the child.

Furst was asked to head the Theodor Herzl School, a Zionist-oriented private school in Berlin, whose enrollment swelled from 200 to 600 students as Jewish students were harassed in the general schools. As the situation of the Jews of Germany worsened, and all Jewish private schools were banned, Furst assumed ever increasing responsibility to educate Jewish students.

In August 1939, Furst led a children’s transport to England. Although her friends and colleagues implored her to stay in England, she returned because she thought her life would be meaningless if she abandoned the people entrusted to her care. She continued as best she could to maintain a school operation until she was deported from Berlin in June 1942. She is believed to have been murdered shortly thereafter.

This is the 1937 report card of Grade 9 student Harry Rewitsch, which was signed by Paula Furst as principal of the Herzl school. In her memory, three schools are named after Paula Furst in Germany today.