‘The Perils of Peace: The Public Health Crisis in Occupied Germany’ is now Open Access

Jessica Reinisch’s The Perils of Peace has just been published as an Open Access monograph. You can download the full pdf from the OUP catalogue for free, here: http://ukcatalogue.oup.com/product/9780199660797.do


In The Perils of Peace Jessica Reinisch considers how the four occupiers – Britain, France, the Soviet Union, and the United States – attempted to keep their own troops and the ex-enemy population alive. While the war was still being fought, German public health was a secondary consideration for them: an unaffordable and undeserved luxury. But once fighting ceased and the occupation began, it rapidly turned into an urgent priority. Public health was then recognized as an indispensable component of creating order, keeping the population governable, and facilitating the reconstruction of German society.

But they faced a number of problems in the process. Which Germans could be trusted to work with the occupiers and how were they to be identified? Who could be tolerated because of a lack of alternatives? How, if at all, could former Nazis be reformed and reintegrated into German society? What was the purpose of the occupation in the first place?

This is the first carefully researched comparison of the four occupation zones which looks at the occupation through the prism of public health, an essential service fundamentally shaped by political and economic criteria, and which in turn was to determine the success or failure of the occupation.

Hidden Persuaders: Histories of Brainwashing and the Psy-disciplines during the Cold War at Birkbeck, University of London

The Hidden Persuaders research group at Birkbeck, University of London headed by Daniel Pick have recently launched their website, blog and a series of events.



On the 3-4th of July they will host a conference, ‘Brainwash: History, Cinema and the Psy Professions':

“Early cinema had frequently explored the hypnotic processes it was accused of inducing. But the intersecting fears of mind control at the movies and in the consulting room seemingly entered a new stage of complexity with the Cold War. New theoretical and visual languages of ‘brainwashing’ emerged, and the ideas of Pavlov and of Freud were often placed side by side. In the decades after 1950 (the year in which the word ‘brainwashing’ was coined), film further explored subliminal interference. Roles for ‘psy’ experts working for shadowy organisations were to feature, and the dangers of psychological experiment returned again and again.

Visions of ‘conditioning’ and ‘programming’ resonated on both sides of the Iron Curtain. Work such as Shivers (1981) by the Polish filmmaker Marczewski explored the communist indoctrination of young people. In the West, films such as The Mind Benders (1963), The Ipcress File (1965), A Clockwork Orange (1971) and The Parallax View (1974) played upon conjoined political and psychological terrors of brainwashing.  Most famous, ironic, and perhaps most imitated of all works in this tradition was The Manchurian Candidate (1962). Meanwhile, many specialist commentators in the human sciences explored the vulnerability of the ‘captive mind’, considered the psychic effects of ‘totalitarianism’, the nature of induced desires and manufactured anxieties, advertising, not to mention extreme sensory experiences (and deprivation) in shaping behaviour and thought. The limits of an individual—or a group’s—capacity to remember, to will, to know, and to organize were probed; and terms such as ‘regression’ and ‘automatism’ gained a substantial new purchase.

In this workshop we ask whether the Cold War obsession with brainwashing was a break with past narratives and anxieties over mental manipulation and suggestion. We consider how far cinema, television and video have been caught up in this history of hidden or coercive persuasion, and how far they have changed the terms of debate. What forms of human experimentation inspired interest in brainwashing, and vice versa?  And how and why did depictions of automatism on screen so often connect to fears of the ‘psy’ professions?”

Tickets are abailable here: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/brainwash-history-cinema-and-the-psy-professions-tickets-16380168525

Albert Maysles 1955 documentary “Psychiatry in Russia”

American documentary film-maker Albert Maysles died this week, after a long and auspicious career. Although perhaps best known for his films of the counterculture era made with his brother David – and in particular Gimme Shelter (1970) which followed the Rolling Stones during their US concerts in the late ’60s – Maysles first documentary from 1955 was made after a visit to Soviet ‘mental hospitals’. It remains one of the few films to document clinical practice and training in Soviet psychiatry of the era, including footage of Pavlovian ‘electro-sleep therapy’.

The New York Times published Maysles’ obituary this morning.

Call for Papers: The history of health and disease in Central and Eastern Europe since 1945

 Institute of National Remembrance and Institute of History of the Polish Academy of Sciences invite you to participate in the international conference “The history of health and disease in Central and Eastern Europe since 1945″, which will take place in Warsaw, 14-15 October 2015.

The material destruction, difficult sanitary conditions, poverty, as well as infectious disease epidemics collecting a heavy toll are important phenomena, often overlooked in the historiography, describing the post-war reality of Eastern Europe.

A new political order, introduced in this part of the continent, also covers the issue of health care. Some of the basic questions to be discussed during the scheduled conference are: to what extent, however, was the theme of universal, free access to health care put into practice in the second half of the twentieth century, what problems were encountered while implementing the reforms of the health care system by the end of the 80s, and how they were perceived by ordinary people.

The history of health and disease constitutes a relatively new field of historical research and it focuses, inter alia, on issues such as health policy of the state (the idea of public health), living conditions, and public health awareness. Issues related to health and disease refer to the particularly delicate sphere between the private and the public life. Therefore, research on the historical circumstances refers to a number of significant problems both in the field of social policy as well as within the scope of everyday life and mentality.

How in the postwar period (but also before the war) the concepts of health, disease, cleanliness, and dirt were defined in the culturally diverse European societies, and to what extent they have undergone transformations in the second half of the twentieth century; what influenced the directions and pace / dynamics of cultural as well as awareness and mental changes, – these are additional questions and problems we would like to focus in the discussions planned.

Other issues to be discussed during the conference include:

  • Health policy of communist states
  • Sanitation and quality of life
  • Awareness and health education
  • The health status of the citizens of the people’s democracy countries
  • The health care institutions and their activities in practice
  • Excluded groups? War invalids, mentally ill, the disabled
  • Aging of the population
  • The phenomena of medicalization
  • Transformation of civilization and health issues
  • Occupational diseases, occupational medicine and OHS in socialist factories
  • Problems of in-patient and out-patient health care
  • Adaptation practices and health habits
  • The social position of doctors and medical / hospital staff
  • Patient and the total institution
  • Health – a public or a private sphere
  • Non-medical treatment

We are also open to other suggestions regarding the discussion of problems of the post-war history of health and disease in Eastern Europe. We invite both historians and cultural theorists, sociologists, anthropologists, and all researchers dealing in their work with issues falling within the framework of the planned program of the conference.

The conference will be held in Polish and English (with simultaneous translation). The organizers will cover the authors’ of the papers costs of stay (accommodation, meals) and the travel expenses will be reimbursed.

Please send the applications form to the address: european.healthhistory@gmail.com

The deadline is 30 April 2015.

Please enclose the abstract of the paper (up to 300 words in Polish or English), a short CV of the author and a fragment of one of the previous publications (articles). The organizing committee will make the selection and notify authors by the end of May 2015. We plan to publish the conference papers.

The Cold War legacies of vaccination

Reposted from the original blog post on The Reluctant Internationalists:

Academic life, as I have learned, makes you painfully aware of the many different regimes of immunization across the globe. Moving between fellowships and jobs, our first son got his vaccines in four different countries – that means four distinct healthcare systems, vaccination schedules, payment structures and vaccination records in three different languages. I think it is safe to say that he has become a reluctant internationalist in his own way. As for us, parents, we pretty much did what we usually do in our working life. We spent hours after each vaccination appointment to analyze the microcosm of public health systems: the doctor-patient encounter. We have been fascinated by the carefully crafted pro-vaccination speech prepared by our American paediatrician, the kind, but firm approach of the German doctors, the inescapable abundance of posters and leaflets on vaccination in the British surgery, and the lack of any kind of publicity and a matter-of-fact discourse in the district paediatrician office in Hungary.

This personal experience has also made me particularly interested in the way childhood immunisation is conceptualised and the points when it is contested or even seems to break down, such as the current ‘anti-vaxx’ controversy prompted by the Disneyland measles outbreak. As I am currently finishing a chapter on debates surrounding the Salk vaccine in Eastern Europe in the 1950s, I started thinking about how communist public health officials would have made sense of debates like this.

An excellent analysis by Jennifer Reich, published in Gender& Society has brought up an important point that would surely have sparked the interest of the communist vaccinators. In this study Reich is speaking to a debate that, in broad brushstrokes, posits crazy and irresponsible people (mainly women) against rational and responsible parents, physicians and public health experts. Reich is arguing that the ‘anti-vaxxers’ are far from being ‘crazy’: in fact, they base their decision on time-consuming research and their choice reflects their social and economic privilege. Not only is this analysis important in understanding current American anti-vaccination movements and their consequences, it also makes clear that behind this potential public health crisis is the primary role of the patient-consumer and an interpretation of personalised medicine. According to Reich’s study, mothers who decided not to vaccinate their children were unconvinced by arguments that they should be participating in public health and expressed that their responsibility was to their own children, not others’. This is along the lines of what popular satirical outlets, such as The Onion have picked up on.

Responsibility for health was exactly the thing in the crux of Cold War attitudes towards public health. Eastern European party dignitaries and public health officials were always happy to boast that countries like Czechoslovakia and Hungary triumphed over polio years before the West and about a decade before the United States did. Their Western colleagues acknowledged the feat, and explained this with totalitarian state organisation – effective epidemic management tends to be authoritarian. The Eastern Europeans had a different explanation, however: the socialist model of organising public health, where prevention is seen as key to the health of the population, healthcare is available to all, vaccines are free, and the paternal state takes responsibility over children’s health. They pointed to the ‘backwardness’ of America for sacrificing the health of children to selfish and market-driven agendas.

Article detailing the Sabin vaccine campaign of December, 1959. Népszava, December 12, 1959. p. 1

With the end of the Cold War, we could dismiss this as a moderately interesting episode in history, but, as most things in the Cold War, such sentiments, experiences and ideologies have long-term effects. Traces of the Iron Curtain linger in vaccination coverage: measles, for instance, tends to appear in Western Europe much more than in the East. In 2011 of all measles cases in Europe, over 83% was reported from Western Europe, while Central and Eastern Europe accounted for less than 14% of them. According to data from 2013 by the WHO, inPoland, Slovakia, the Czech Republic, and Hungary the vaccine coverage for measles has been 98-99%, while in the US it is 91%, UK (after a dip to 81% in 2004) rising to 95%, France 89%.

Vaccine coverage of course is a marker of superiority only in Cold War rhetoric. It does not reveal much about the quality of healthcare, access to it, or the overall health of a population. Coverage rates can also quickly change due to political unrest and/or economic problems, like in Ukraine, where vaccination has hit critically low rates in the past decade. However, when comparing politically and economically stable countries in the Global North, this difference between East and West does reveal Cold War legacies and attitudes towards the responsibilities of citizens. In much of Eastern Europe, the state expects physicians and parents to comply with vaccination policies without much debate or contestation, and parents expect the state to provide free vaccine and to guarantee its safety. The ‘social’ in medicine is very much still present and high vaccination rates are still a point of pride for Eastern European governments.

Vaccine resistance is also not a phenomenon. Since there had been vaccines, there has been resistance to it – revealing a wide variety of reasons, usually connected with a much larger issues regarding power relations, distrust, religious integrity, etc. In some societies, like Britain, vaccine resistance has a long history, since the introduction of Jenner’s vaccine.But resistance to vaccines is not even something particularly Western, even if we limit our view to the Global North, although it is slightly more difficult to spot on the Eastern side of the Iron Curtain in the Cold War era. Archival sources give a glimpse of resistance to the Salk vaccine in Hungary, which had to do mostly with opinions that the state was not fulfilling its public health provider role adequately, either by following the ‘wrong’ method of injection, or supplying vaccine lacking in quality and quantity.


There are, of course, new aspects of today’s vaccine resistance in the Global North. Parents have easy access to information online and can establish ties with each other over social media. These ties and the flow of information does not stop at borders, making vaccine resisters at once national agents – in that they respond to a particularly local set of problems of state, public health and culture – and internationalists who participate in shared networks across the globe. Over 25 years after the fall of the Berlin wall, the wind of change might finally reach public health organisation and vaccination in Eastern Europe. In Hungary, where vaccination is compulsory and free, the voice of vaccine critics seems to be growing steadily, drawing mostly on social media, supported by arguments based on translations from English language materials. With a healthcare system that perpetually seems to be on the verge of breakdown – another Cold War legacy -, questions of responsibility for health keep bubbling up to the surface. But for now, the legacy of a previous century is imprinted on my child’s body, who has moved with ease back and forth between East and West, unknowingly becoming a vaccine cosmopolitan.

UCL/BPS Seminar, 6pm 23rd February

Originally posted on uchpd:

Sarah Marks ‘Communist Psychiatries? Neurasthenia and Modernization in Czechoslovakia and East Germany’


The question of whether there was such a thing as a ‘Communist Psychiatry’ is still an unanswered historical question. In the Soviet satellites of Central Europe there were cases where psychiatric research and practice appeared untouched by ideology, such as the psychoanalytic LSD psychotherapy projects in Prague, or Karl Leonhard’s development of a genetic aetiologies of mental disorder in East Berlin. Yet there are other cases in which psychiatrists attempted to create an approach to mental health that accorded with the philosophies and priorities of the regime. This paper will examine one of the most coherent ‘Communist’ approaches to psychiatry in the region.

From the end of the 1950s a plethora of publications came out on the subject of neurosis and its prevention within medical research journals, as well as popular pamphlets and ‘lifestyle magazines’. Many actively continued…

View original 277 more words

Medicine and Public Health in the USSR and the Eastern Bloc 1945-1991 – Conference Report

(Reposted from The Reluctant Internationalists Blog)

Researchers from all over the world, from Australia through Bulgaria came together in Paris for a two-day workshop titled ‘Medicine and Public Health in the USSR and the Eastern Bloc 1945-1991‘ on January 23-24, 2015.  Convened by Grégory Dufaud (l’EHESS, LabEx TEPSIS, France) and Susan Gross Solomon (University of Toronto, Canada), the workshop’s aim was to explore the intersection between Soviet medicine and public health and that of the Socialist Bloc in Eastern Europe after World War II. The papers focused on knowledge circulation, the transfer and local adaptation of public health practices and scientific interaction. Many participants addressed these issues through a comparative perspective, either between the Soviet Union and individual Eastern European countries, East and West or among the members of the Socialist Bloc.


Setting up the theme of the workshop, Lion Murard (Cermes3, France) gave an overview of the “Story Before the Story” and demonstrated the significance of Eastern European public health practitioners and experiences in shaping international public health in the Interwar era. Alain Blum (l’EHESS, Cercec, France) followed with an analysis of the methods of Soviet demographers and the accessibility of demographic data for contemporary and historical researchers.

Focusing on the emphasis of PREVENTION in Soviet and Eastern European public health policy, Donald Filtzer (University of East London, UK) revealed a fascinating story of factory medicine in the Soviet Union during and after the war. He highlighted how the Soviet health system attempted to counter lost work time due to starvation and illness, the prominence of skin infections due to lack of access to hygiene and the long term consequences of the home front experience on both the health of workers and the organization of medical practice. Chris Burton (University of Lethbridge, Canada) argued that the particular direction of Soviet medicine may have been a result of practical solution and intended as temporary, as much as it was based on ideology. For instance, the synthesis of preventive and clinical work, promoted from the beginning of the Soviet regime, stemmed from an insufficient number of doctors in the Civil War. In her talk titled ‘Personal hygiene and public health care in the Polish countryside after 1945 – confrontation of propaganda and reality’, Ewelina Szpak (Institute of History, Academy of Sciences, Poland) argued that the end of the 1950s and 60s was a time of crucial social changes and attitudes toward hygiene in Poland. This was especially the case in Polish villages that were seen as a bastion of backwardness, and therefore became the focus of an experimental top-down program of village hygienisation. Tricia Starks (University of Arkansas, US) investigated what addiction means and how that meaning affects the image of the addict. Looking at cigarette addiction and alcoholism, she contended that throughought the 20th century, Russian addiction therapies remained rooted in the mind and the will, not the brain and body. Starks’s presentation was guided by the question that if will is based upon Enlightenment concepts of freedom, how is this will in addiction conceptualized in the USSR.

The second large theme explored in the workshop was PRO-NATALISM AND REPRODUCTIVE POLICIES. Paula Michaels (Monash University, Australia) presented a comparative research project jointly conducted with Ema Hresanova (University of West Bohemia, Czech Republic) on Pain and Paternalism in Soviet and Czechoslovak Maternity Care. The paper explored the circulation and adaptation of psycho-prophylaxis in the respective medical and social contexts and demonstrated a heterogeneous pattern of practices that do not map on to the concept of Sovietization. Muriel Blaive (Charles University in Prague, Czech Republic) shifted the temporal focus of the birthing experience to post-communist Czech Republic and placed it in comparison with North American feminist and patient’s rights movements, hospital practices and power structures in maternity care.  Sylwia Kuzma-Markowska (University of Warsaw, Poland) examined contraception and abortion law and practice in postwar Poland as situated between East and West. She showed that Polish legislation followed a Soviet type of abortion culture, and at the same time professional contacts with the West were facilitated by the International Family Planning Organization, which Poland joined as the first Eastern European country in 1959. In the case of Bulgaria, Anelia Kassabova (Sofia University, Bulgaria) pointed out that the legalization of abortion was based on the civil rights of the socialist woman, that is the right to take independent decisions on the matter of motherhood according to her own conscience. The gradual tightening of the law towards prohibition did not reduce the number of total abortions significantly, but raised the proportions of medically justified ones – with the lack of access to contraceptive technologies, abortion remained the main method of family planning.

The second day brought the workshops focus to clinical trials, treatment and international collaboration in public health and medicine. Grégory Dufaud’s paper analyzed the ways in which Soviet psychiatrists reconsidered psychiatry and its therapeutic ambitions in the context of the competition between clinical and experimental models after World War II. In her paper, Galina Orlova (The Russian Presidential Academy of National Economy and Public Administration) looked at the discursive practices and shifts of nuclear physicists on the subject of the health risks of radiation.  Pascal Grosse (Charité, Germany) presented a paper on clinical trials conducted in East Germany by Western pharmaceutical companies in the 1970s and 80s. Grosse argued that the trials were part of the GDR’s trade with the West, in this case the expertise of clinical staff and the bodies of patients were the commodity provided by the state in exchange for hard currency. The clinical trials were situated in a complex network of state bureaucracies and became sites of power struggles among their different factions. Jessica Reinisch (Birkbeck, University of London, UK) focused on the interactions of local German policymakers and their Soviet counterparts in the Soviet Occupation Zone after World War II. She argued that the public health policies heralded by the Soviet military and public health experts found fertile ground in Germany, since its core ideas were considered to be inherently German by the local experts. Finally, Dora Vargha (Birkbeck, University of London, UK) gave an overview of Sabin vaccination trials conducted in Eastern Europe and investigated how ideas about socialist public health and Cold War politics in general propelled the region to a prominent place in polio prevention and eradication.

In her concluding comments, Susan Gross Solomon called to attention the importance of the prewar legacy in public health and medicine and to examine what was carried forward to the postwar era and by whom, what was resisted or scrubbed, and who debated what was to be kept. She invited the researchers of Soviet and Eastern European health and medicine to investigate the assumptions that influence research through archival research and in order to critically approach the concept of Sovietisation and to see what the dynamics was in acceptance, pseudo-acceptance, adaptation, resistance, etc. of Soviet ideas. Solomon also pointed out that many papers addressed collaboration and interaction between East and West, the existence and intensity of which seemed to depend on the scientific field, the presence of intermediators, the number of players and changed over time, e.g. intensified as the Iron Curtain wore out and became more porous.