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Persons >> Dr. Siegfried Lehmann
1892–1958

Dr. Siegfried Lehmann
1892–1958

Dr. Siegfried Lehmann was the founder and first director of Ben Shemen Youth Village.

Dr. Lehmann was born in Berlin, capital of imperial Germany, to a secular and assimilated Jewish family. After finishing high school, he went to medical school together with Albert Einstein and served as a physician in the German Army in World War I. The impact of the war on the Jews’ lives inspired him to join two movements: the Zionist and the Socialist.

His activity with the Zionist Movement focused on his belief that a return to Jewish roots and the creation of a common culture with East European Jewry were needed. In 1916, he established the Jüdische Volksheim, a Jewish community center in Berlin, and after the war he moved to Kovno (Kaunas), Lithuania, where he set up a Jewish orphanage (Kinderhaus). His educational philosophy included a return to the soil and nature, a connection with the Jewish land and heritage, and the aspiration to a society based on equality and cooperation.

In 1927, Lehmann immigrated to Eretz Israel with 11 pupils and was given possession of the lands of Ben Shemen, where he established the eponymous youth village. Once up and running, the village became a home to World War I orphans from Europe, children from impoverished neighborhoods around the country, and other youngsters. When Recha Freier’s activity with Youth Aliyah began, Lehmann arranged immigration visas for the newcomers and accommodated them at his facility. A disciple of Martin Buber, a passionate Zionist, and an educator through and through, Lehmann became the father of Israel’s youth villages. The model on which many such villages were patterned was largely his creation.

Lehmann directed Ben Shemen Youth Village from 1927 to 1957 and received the 1957 Israel Prize in Education for doing so.

In 1940, he was sentenced and imprisoned by the British Mandate authorities after arms depots were found at the village (the “Ben Shemen trial”).

Siegfried Lehmann died in 1958. In 1962, a collection of his memoirs from Berlin, Kaunas, and Ben Shemen appeared in the book Ra’ayon ve-hagshama (Idea and fulfillment).
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