Anna Essinger

* 15.09.1879 (Ulm) 30.05.1960 (Otterden, England) Germany
Fields of activity: reform pedagogist, civil courage activist, pacifist
Author: Erla Spatz-Zöllner

Anna Essinger

Activities: Progressive education, courage, pacifism

Quote: “Give children your hand, give them a chance.” (Anna Essinger)


Why do I think the woman is important?

Anna Essinger has opposed the Nazi-regime and she has saved many people with courage and farsightedness. She was a teacher with new ideas. She encouraged children to reflect and to try new activities. She taught knowledge and practice, tolerance and behavior.



Youth in Ulm
Anna Essinger was the first child of Leopold and Fanny Essinger who did not live their Jewish confession. Anna had fife sisters and two brothers. She left the school when she was fourteen because she had to support her mother and look after her younger sisters and brothers.


Twenty years in the United States
In 1899 Anna was invited to see her aunt Regina who lived in Nashville Tennessee. She visited a Teacher’s College and studied German at the University in Madison, Wisconsin. With her master’s degree she started teaching German and she guided the student residence.
During this time she became friends with the Quakers. Their world-view influenced her importantly. Though she didn’t practice the Jewish confession she denied being an atheist.


Return to Germany
Anna returned to Germany in 1919. The Quakers wanted her to organize help for children. The governments of Baden, Wurttemberg and Bavaria provided spaces where food and clothing for poor children could be received. In 1923 she started courses in further education for female workers on behalf of the authorities in Stuttgart. But what interested her most was helping the children.


Rural School in Herrlingen
With her siblings’ help Anna founded a private school around Easter 1926. She was the headmistress. The lessons were influenced by the educational ideas of the Italian reformer Maria Montessori. The lessons had to be denominational free and coeducational. The motto of teaching was: boys and girls ask questions, they are eager to learn, they are independent persons and know how to find out what is important, critical thinking is encouraged. The main objectives of education were: sports, practical work, religious tolerance, hygiene, foreign languages, music and drama. There was no grading, copying was dishonorable. The pupils didn’t get a school report, only the parents were informed.
The meals were served either to “French” or “English” tables where the language was accordingly and obligatory.
The school had two sections: the primary school and the high school. One third of the 60 children were Jewish. In 1933 the first students were about to do the a-level. But meanwhile Hitler was on power and the young people were not allowed to pass the exam.
Anna Essinger was denounced because she had not hoisted the flag as prescribed, but was gone on excursion with the students. The school should have a State compliant director. Anna wisely planning, had found a new residence for her school in England. Years later she said: “I have been aware that Germany could no longer be a place where children might be educated in freedom and honesty.”


New Herrlingen in Bunce Court
Again the Quakers helped to establish the school “New Herrlingen” in Bunce Court, Kent South England, in October 1933.The transmission had been supposed to be going to a summer camp.
The teaching followed the rules which had been practiced in Germany. The staff was half English, half German. Hebrew was a new subject. It might be helpful for a possible emigration. With the time more Jewish Parents in Germany sent their children to Anna’s in England.
In 1938 Anna Essinger was asked to organize Dovercourt Camp where ten thousand children would arrive from Germany. Some of them were to be welcomed in English families others went to Bunce Court. Until 1943 five hundred children had found a new home in Anna’s school.
As in 1940 the army claimed Bunce Court, the school had to move to Trench Hall in Shropshire. Anna’s situation became rather difficult, but in the end she was able to manage the new challenge.
After the war one hundred students returned to Bunce Court. The children who had been freed from concentration camps joined in. These destitute young people demanded a special educational task.
When Anna Essinger was about seventy years old and almost blind, she closed the school in 1948, but she continued living in Bunce Court until she died. Ever since 1926 Anna had been teaching and caring for altogether nine hundred children.
Anna Essinger kept in close contact with former students. For many of these Bunce Court had not only been their school but also the home of their childhood and their family.
Anna’s work had always been supported by her belief in the humanitarian progress. So at her cremation, Leslie Brent could say: “She saw herself not being able to accept the dogma of any religion.”



In 1959 at Anna’s eightieth birthday, former students planted 241 trees for a coppice in Israel that bears her name.
The School center Oberer Kuhberg in Ulm is called “Anna Essinger Schulzentrum”.
Since 2004 Anna Essinger is honored in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.


Author: Erla Spatz-Zöllner
Translation: Erdmute Dietmann-Beckert


Bibliography and links

  • Kaltenbach, Claudia, S. Giebeler, A. Holtz, P.Wilhelm, A.Schmidt, S. Trachsler-Lehmann. 125 Jahre Anna Essinger, in Jubiläumsschrift der Anna Essinger Schulen Ulm o.J.
  • Profile jüdischer Pädagoginnen und Pädagogen. Heft 3, ed. Haus unter dem Regenbogen, Ulm 2000.
  • Trachsler-Lehmann, Susanne. “Ich bin gesund und kann gut rechnen“ Briefe einer Schülerin aus dem Landschulheim Anna Essinger. o.J.
  • Heft 5, ed. Haus unterm Regenbogen, Ulm 2001.
  • Trott, Uta-Elizabeth. Anna Essinger (1879-1960), educationist. Oxford University Press 2004-13.