Catastrophic Times: Trauma, Jewish Identity, and Mental Hygiene after the First World War
University of Münster, Germany
In Eastern Europe, the end of the First World War did not end the fighting. Ukraine was ravaged by the German occupation, the Russian revolution, and the ensuing civil war. From the end of 1918 to August 1920, Kyiv changed hands sixteen times as different factions in the civil war struggled for supremacy. The Jewish community was particularly affected by the violence, as more than 1,200 pogroms, most of the committed by the White army and Ukrainian nationalists, devasted Jewish homes, businesses, and places of worship. Many Jewish children, often wounded, traumatised, and orphaned, flocked to Kyiv.
One place where these children received care and medical treatment was the clinic of the pedagogic institute of the University of Kyiv, led by Fischl Schneersohn (1887–1958), a physician, psychologist, and descendant of an eminent dynasty of Chassidic rebbes. Schneersohn developed a treatment programme that also included an extensive psychological examination – using an innovative methodology that relied on games, narrations, and art. For Schneersohn, his experiences and observations became a point of departure for broader reflections about new forms of ‘social and mental hygiene’ to rebuild Jewish communities and to foster resilience and a shared identity.
The aim of this paper is to explore Schneersohn’s pedagogical treatment and psychological examination of his child patients in the aftermath of the First World War, and to situate his understanding of trauma, resilience, and Jewish identity in the historical and intellectual context of the early inter-war period.
“Felo de se”: Religious beliefs and medical discourses οn suicide
University of Athens, Greece
Traditional (positivist) historical narratives tend to see suicide’s historical course as a sign of progress, moving from the theological condemnation of the person who committed suicide as a “sinner” to the scientific explanation and treatment of the “suicidal person”. Indeed, given that, in medieval and early modern Europe, suicide was considered as a deadly sin, there has been noted a significant rupture in late-eighteenth and nineteenth century. Within the context of the emergence of biopolitical societies, scientific medicine and psychiatry constituted suicide as a “disease” and the suicidal person as a “patient”; a process still in the making, culminating in the so-called “Suicidal Behavior Disorder” in DSM-5, with suicide being both a symptom of several psychiatric disorders and a psychiatric disorder per se. Despite this obvious rupture, however, the dominant attitudes and prejudices toward suicide and the latter’s ethical condemnation remained rather intact, with biomedicine taking the reins and emerging as a new form of religion. From this perspective, instead of a strictly conflictual relation between religion and medicine, one can actually detect a rather complementary one, as the dichotomy “legal/illegal” according to the Divine Law is supplemented by the dichotomy “normal/pathological” according to the biomedical Norm. Based upon our recently published book, the aim of our paper is to illustrate suicide’s historical course from its theological condemnation to its psychiatrization, in order to delineate the (explicit and implicit) interaction between the medical and the religious discourse regarding suicide within Western societies.