Ernst Papananek (pseudonym: Ernst Pek) was born in Vienna in 1900. He studied medicine, psychology and education at the University of Vienna.
From 1919 he has been active in the Verband der Sozialistischen Arbeiterjugend Deutschösterreichs (SAJDÖ) and in 1934 he became Austria's representative in the executive committee of the Socialist Youth International (SYI).
From 1932 to 1934 he was also member of the City Council of Vienna.
In 1934 Papanek fled to Czechoslovakia, from where he supported the illegal Austrian Revolutionäre Sozialistische Jugend (RSJ).
In 1936 he became editor of the International Pedagogical Information (IPI). 1937 Adler spoke to him before a lecture the University of London telling him to leave for the United States. Two years later he had to flee to France, where he started to work
for the Organisation de Santé et de l'Education (OSE), which was founded by Russian Jews and smuggled children out of Germany, housing them in castles in France 1938-1940.
In 1940 Papanek fled to the United States. Here he worked for the Children's Aid Society. He was also active in various Austrian emigrant organizations and from 1941 he was a member of the American Socialist Party.
In 1945 Papanek became director of the Child and Youth Project Department of the Unitarian Service Committee (USC) and later he became director of American Youth for World Youth (AYWY).
In 1947 he was appointed as head of the Brooklyn Training School for Girls and from 1949 he was head of the Wiltwyck School for Boys in New York.
From 1959 to 1971 Papanek was professor of education at Queens College in New York.
He died in Vienna in 1973.