Conference Report: Psychiatry in Europe after WWII

Over 30-31 October, Heidelberg University’s Cluster of Excellence: Asia and Europe in a Global Context played host to conference that brought together historians and clinical practitioners from across the world to discuss psychiatry in the post-WWII context.  Held at the Karl Jaspers Centre, Psychiatry in Europe after World War II (Psychiatrie in Europa nach dem Zweiten Weltkreig) grappled with a simple but important question: was WWII a turning point for the development of psychiatry?  If so, what about the war shifted European psychiatry into a new direction? What were the primary changes brought about and were these changes reflected across Europe?

The meeting was introduced by Maike Rotzoll, herself a psychiatrist and historian, who presciently highlighted some further questions that were addressed by most of the presenters.  How and how much did the East-West conflict affect psychiatric development?  What role did supranational entities like the WHO play in shaping mental healthcare?  What hallmarks, if any, mark “postwar psychiatry?”  She placed much stress on the need for historians to consider issues of continuity and discontinuity when assessing mental healthcare after 1945.


Nearly twenty countries were touched upon by participants, with CEE-related papers given on the GDR (Gerrit Hohendorf, Deitmar Schulze, Ekkehardt Kumbier, Christof Beyer), Estonia (Ken Kalling and Erki Tammiksaar), Czechoslovakia (Michal Simunek and Milan Novak), Poland (Darius Myszka), Yugoslavia (Mat Savelli), and Russia (Frank Gruner).  The global nature of the conference (extending beyond Europe to include presentations by scholars working on Japan (Akihito Suzuki), the United States (Marion Schmidt), and Israel (Rakefet Zalashik)) highlighted the need to approach psychiatric history transnationally.  For example, the presentation on Yugoslavia linked up closely to Duncan Double’s work on the UK-based Maxwell Jones and John Foot’s research on Italy’s Franco Basaglia.  Postwar Japanese psychiatry, on the other hand, cannot be understood separately from American and German developments.

Recurring topics across papers included the importance of studying the prewar (and in some cases, postwar) eugenics movement, the brutal mistreatment of the mentally ill in Nazi Germany and occupied territories, and psychiatry’s desire to establish itself as a material science in the postwar period.


Moving forward, the papers made clear the central importance of the social psychiatry movement to postwar developments in mental healthcare, despite its relatively low historiographical profile.  It also became apparent that far more work must be done on the transmission and reception of ideas linked to critical psychiatry and anti-psychiatry; these movements were received (and unfolded) very differently depending on context.

The conference concluded with a guided tour of Heidelberg’s famous Prinzhorn collection – paintings, sculptures, and other art created by individuals diagnosed with mental illness – which was originally given to the university by psychiatrist and art historian Hans Prinzhorn.  Many thanks to the chief organizers (Maike Rotzoll and Frank Gruner) for a wonderful meeting.

(Images take from the Prinzhorn Collection: www.



Conference Report: The History of Health and Disease in Central and Eastern Europe since 1945

Over the course of two days (14-15 October), the Institute of National Memory and the Institute of History of the Polish Academy of Sciences sponsored a conference entitled “The History of Health and Disease in Central and Eastern Europe since 1945.” Although a substantial portion of participants hailed from various research centres and history departments across Poland, a sizeable contingent of foreign scholars were also present (including the CEEHM network’s own Sarah Marks, Agata Ignaciuk, Dora Vargha, and Mat Savelli). Held at the “History Stop” in Central Warsaw, participants discussed and debated the key trends (and interpretation of these trends) that marked health and healthcare across the former Marxist-Leninist world.

After some introductory remarks from one of the chief organizers, Evelina Szpak, the conference began with what proved to be a highly controversial and emotionally charged panel on birth control, abortion, and childcare. With the exception of Donald Filtzer’s work on Soviet infant mortality, the panel was largely concerned with contraception and abortion practices in post-WWII Poland. Agata Ignaciuk, Sylwia Kuzma-Markowska, and Katarzyna Jarkiewicz gave papers from differing perspectives, with each prompting substantial debate from the audience. Some audience members had trouble restraining their emotions, with one individual loudly cursing the “black devil of gender” for apparently misguiding research in the subject. The participants all did remarkably well under difficult circumstances to not respond to provocation and address questions seriously. Subsequent panels, while still producing debate, discussion, and direct criticism, were conducted in a calmer climate.

The conference took a very broad approach to health, with presentations on subjects ranging from specific diseases (cancer and polio were both discussed in multiple papers) to the broader determinants of health, including the economy and environment (air pollution, degradation of waterways, etc.). A number of other papers concentrated on the structure and organization of healthcare services, with special attention to issues of professional training and autonomy which covered Poland, Yugoslavia, Czechoslovakia, and the Soviet Union.

Despite concentrating on central and eastern Europe, many of the presenters incorporated global and transnational elements into their work. Anna Geltzer, for instance, discussed differences between American and Soviet ways of forming knowledge about anti-cancer drugs. Papers by Pavel Jaworski and Sylwia Szyc, meanwhile, made respective connections to Swedish aid agencies and orphans from North Korea.

The conference did a fine job illustrating the diversity of experience within the formerly Marxist-Leninist world. The papers demonstrated that the similarities in historical experience were, by and large, minimal and fairly superficial. It would be a stretch to describe “Communist health care” in any meaningful, transnational way. Instead, the work of the presenters underscored the need for historians to continue delving deeper into the divergences between East European countries and their connections with countries beyond the region.

The organizers should be thanked for putting on such a narrowly focused event as it allowed for discussions to dig deeper into key questions about medicine and health in this period. At typical meetings of medical historians, historians of central and east European medicine are often shoehorned into somewhat ill-fitting panels or left having to use most of their presentation explaining the context of the Communist world. While an understandable necessity, this conference nonetheless represented a welcome break from that experience. Finally, it is worth mentioning that the conference was simultaneously translated (quite adeptly) in Polish and English which allowed for participants (including the public) to engage in an equal level of speaking comfort.

CfP: The Many Faces of Late Socialism: The Individual in the “Eastern Bloc,” 1953-1988

CFP: The Many Faces of Late Socialism: The Individual in the “Eastern Bloc,” 1953-1988 (May 26-28, 2016, University of Cologne, Germany) – Research Workshop

How did individuals who grew up under state socialism experience and, in turn, influence what we now call ‘Late Socialism’? Individuals figure prominently in narratives about state socialism’s repressive character and passive or open resistance to “the system.” At the time, persecuted dissidents such as Alexander Solzhenitsyn, Adam Michnik, and Václav Havel represented the ideal of the unfaltering, independent mind. Today people like Jan Palach and the almost 10 million individuals who had joined Solidarność by 1981 remain firmly integrated into the narrative of Central Eastern Europe’s return to the fold of the “free world.” However, even though people participated in events that challenged socialist state power, the different versions of state socialism in Eastern Europe remained quiet stable between 1953 and 1988. And despite the whirlwind developments of perestroika, the eventual disintegration of state socialism took most people by surprise.

The purpose of this workshop is to gain a better understanding of both the stabilizing and the disruptive forces at work during Late Socialism by reexamining individuals’ views, milieus, everyday practices, and self-understandings. Continue reading

Cow Horn Cupping in Croatia

Healing spas have a long tradition in Central and Eastern Europe, being used to alleviate a range of conditions from tuberculosis to infertility to depression. Although they fell somewhat out of vogue during parts of the twentieth century, the renaissance of what our biomedical culture calls “complementary and alternative medicine” has hastened the revival of many old spa towns. With the proliferation of discount flights from Western Europe, many small towns across the region are banking on medical tourism to help bolster otherwise flailing regional economies.

About 50 km from Zagreb in the region of Zagorje (perhaps best known as the county that gave birth to Tito), lies the village of Krapinske Toplice. Reputedly known as Aquae Vivae during the Roman era, the village’s thermal springs prompted the construction of its first bath in the mid-17th century. The first recorded account of the local waters being used medically stems from the early 18th century when a Viennese physician by the name of Stockhammer visited.   Within the Habsburg scientific and medical community the region’s reputation began to grow, prompting Baron Heinrich Johann Nepomuk von Cranz (a botanist and physician obsessed with mineral waters) to conduct chemical analyses of the springs.

It was not until the mid-19th century, however, that word of Krapinske Toplice truly began to spread. Much of the credit for this is owed to a man called Jakob Badl, himself a beneficiary of the famous waters which seemed to have cured his sciatica. In response, Badl bought the local pools, set up a hotel and restaurant (the Bellavue), and built the area’s first hospital, a building capable of housing 75 patient-clients at a time. From this point forward, the village’s famous waters became known as something of a top health destination, appearing in European tourist literature of the time. Beyond the Austro-Hungarian elite, a substantial number of people travelled from France and Italy in the hopes of solving their ailments.

Although foreign medical tourism declined during most parts of the twentieth century, the Socialist-era government attempted to prop it up by building the “Rudarskom” hotel (with indoor thermal pools) and opening the Special Hospital for Medical Rehabilitation. The clinic employed a number of social workers, psychologists, and “defectologists” (specialists in the study and treatment of physical and mental disability in children – a field perhaps most commonly associated with the Soviet psychologist Lev Vygotsky), becoming something of a centre for mental and emotional wellbeing.

The village is still best known for its spas and Jakob Badl’s pioneering work in medical tourism has not been forgotten; he is held in such high esteem that the village now celebrates Badlfest (yes, for real) and modern tourists can even visit his mausoleum.

These undated (20th c.) photos are from the Wellcome Collection. They are described as being from the village’s “peasant spa” and some feature the practice of cupping through the use of cow horns.

Laza Lazarevic Psychiatric Hospital

This is a short (and somewhat underwhelming) clip from an exceptional documentary entitled “Eho.” It traces the experiences of recollections of inpatients at Laza Lazarevic hospital, one of the most important psychiatric establishments in Serbia (and the former Yugoslavia). While the trailer doesn’t quite demonstrate it, the film does a fantastic job linking political and social developments in 20th and early 21st century Serbia with the ongoings of the hospital.

CfP: The Life Sciences After WWII

May 16-17, 2014 

University of Pittsburgh (Pittsburgh, PA, USA)

 This conference, the second in a series of conferences on world-historical views of the history of science, addresses the theoretical and empirical work of researchers in the life sciences, from 1945 to 2000, in the context of changing scientific institutions, shifting socio-political regimes, and advancing knowledge.  The scope of life sciences, for our purposes, includes disciplines ranging from medicine and biology to psychology and public health, and we hope to explore the ramifications of these disciplines in other fields. For both historians of the life sciences and world historians, the post-WWII period remains relatively underexamined.  We seek interventions in interpretation of these fields from scholars based in history, history of science and medicine, social sciences and natural sciences.   In particular, we are seeking papers that address any aspect of the life sciences from a global/world history perspective. 

  Key questions of interest include:

– In what way did new international institutions shape scientific development?

– What did the impact of these large global institutions look like on the ground?

– How did the science policies of nation-states play out in the global arena?

– To what extent were local scientific actors impacted by alterations in the global scientific landscape?

– How did international commercial forces contribute to these changes?

– What can varied disciplinary approaches tell us about the globalization of science in the post-WWII period?

– What new insights can world historians obtain from the study of recent scientific history?

Papers will be peer-reviewed and selected on the basis of individual strength and thematic coherence.  In addition to presentation at the conference, papers will be considered for inclusion in a conference volume to be published by the University of Pittsburgh Press (the conference and publication are supported by a grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to the University of Pittsburgh).  Papers not included in the volume may feature in a special issue on international connections in the life sciences in a journal dedicated to global history.

 Proposals (ranging from 500 to 1000 words) should include some indication of research methods, temporal organization, and reference to any links between the proposal and the wider global, disciplinary, and historical questions identified in the Call for Papers.  Proposals which incorporate interdisciplinary approaches are particularly welcomed. 

 Proposals are due December 1, 2013 and should be sent to  Those accepted will be notified by January 20, 2014.   The conference will be held at the University of Pittsburgh and we have secured funding to assist with travel and accommodation expenses.

 For more information, see

Advertising in Central and East European Medical Journals

The following advertisements are taken from  the journals Psychiatrie, Neurologie und medizinische PsychologieCasopis Lekaru Ceskych, and Neuropsihijatrija during the 1960s and 1970s.  Meant exclusively for physician audiences, they cover products ranging from medical instruments and sleeping pills to anticonvulsants and beauty creams.  They demonstrate the international nature of these markets, with both West and East European producers seeking to expand their consumer base.


The Mysterious Career Change of Hugo Klajn


Hugo Klajn – psychoanalyst, theatre director, lecturer, and literary scholar – is one of the more intriguing characters in Yugoslav medical history.  Born to a Jewish merchant family in Vukovar at the end of the nineteenth century, Klajn went on to study medicine with some of the most famous figures in recent medical history including Julius Wagner-Jauregg and Emil Kraepelin.[1]   Despite the biological approach to mental illness favoured by his instructors, Klajn was seduced by the ideas of psychoanalysis and entrenched himself in the growing Viennese psychoanalytic circle.  While there, he studied under Freud and underwent supervision with Paul Schilder and Victor Tausk.  Eventually, he returned to Yugoslavia and undertook efforts to popularize psychoanalysis in Belgrade, giving public lectures, translating some of Freud’s key works, and applying Freud’s theories in various clinical settings.

In addition to his medical work, Klajn was keenly interested in the cultural application of psychoanalysis. Already an accomplished left-wing theatre critic by the mid-1930s, Klajn soon took on a beautiful young patient named Stana Djuric.   Djuric was a brilliant concert pianist, a budding music reviewer, and was well-known within Belgrade’s cultural circles. The relationship eventually transgressed the boundaries between physician and patient and the two fell in love.


In a matter of years, the war came to Yugoslavia and, to escape the Germans, Klajn hid in a house belonging to a friend of his new bride’s.  To avoid detection, he began using the pseudonym Uros Kljajic whenever he left the home.  When the violence eventually died down, the new government put him to work at Kovin Hospital where be studied the mystifying psychiatric symptoms exhibited by partisans returning from battle.

Shortly thereafter, however, his career as an active psychiatrist came to an end as he took up a position at the National Theatre.  The exact reasons for this abrupt career change, however, are somewhat shrouded in controversy. 

On the one hand, Klajn may have recognised that his romantic involvement with Djuric was unethical – relationships between analysts and their patients were severely frowned upon – and it’s possible that he simply opted to leave the medical world behind.

 An alternative explanation states that Milovan Djilas (at that time still a member of Tito’s inner circle) approached Klajn with the offer of a position at the National Theatre.  Although keen on the position, he was reluctant to give up his clinical work and Djilas relented by allowing him to split his time between the positions.   Although Klajn continued his work at Kovin hospital, colleagues soon began to complain that he was not fulfilling his clinical duties. Forced to choose between his two passions, he opted for the theatre.

One final possibility concerns the nature of the relationship between Klajn and Stana Djuric. Djuric was actually Djuric-Ribnikar, the wife of Vladislav Slobodan Ribnikar, a member of the famous Ribnikar family and chief director of the newspaper Politika.  Ribnikar has been friendly with the Communists since the 1920s and Tito may have even used his house in a Belgrade suburb for secret meetings. In the post-war period, Ribnikar also filled various important roles in the new government. Although the verity of this event is uncertain, a play about the love affair between Klajn and Djuric posits that Klajn’s medical license was suspended (for “abuse of a patient”) by the Serbian Medical Academy under pressure from Ribnikar.[2]


When asked directly about the reasons for his career change by a fellow psychiatrist who visited his home in 1961, “with a soft grin on his face, he answered that it simply had to be (like that).”[3]

Klajn went on to enjoy an immense career as a theatre director, poet, musician, lecturer, and expert on Shakespeare. Despite his post-war fame in dramatic circles, Klajn remained dedicated to the ideas and theories of psychoanalysis. He continued to publish translations of Freud as well as psychoanalytic interpretations of Shakespeare, the poet Miroslav Krleza, and novels such as Crime and Punishment.  His wife, meanwhile, would become one of the country’s most eminent musicologists.  

Klajn never returned to medicine in any substantive sense although he did occasionally continue attend meetings of psychoanalytically-minded practitioners. His achievements and contributions to Yugoslav psychiatry, psychotherapy, and psychoanalysis were eventually recognised with honorary membership in both the Assembly of Croatian Doctors and Association of Yugoslav Psychotherapists.

[1] Wagner-Jauregg was awarded a Nobel Prize in 1927 for his discovery of malarial fever treatment while Kraepelin was instrumental in developing the modern conception of schizophrenia. 

[2] Tajna Mansarde by the playwright Jelena Popadic.

[3] Klain, E. “Posljedni Susret S Hugom Klajnom.” Psihoterapija 11(2) 1981 11, no. 2 (1981), p. 121.