Conference Agenda

6E: Faith, Medicine and the Cold War
Thursday, 09/Sept/2021:
10:45am - 12:00pm

Session Chair: Prof. Heiner Fangerau, U of Düsseldorf, Germany


Faith in Older People: The Role of Mercy in Late Soviet Society

Grant, Susan

Liverpool John Moores University, United Kingdom

When the Bolsheviks came to power in 1917 they were intent on banishing religion and placed the focus squarely on science. In the socialist world the two – religion and science – were considered wholly incompatible. But the binary between the two were not so clear cut. In this paper I focus on the late Soviet period to assess the links between religion and medicine in the context of ageing. Older people can act as a prism through which to view wider societal shifts. This is particularly the case when looking at the mercy or ‘miloserdiya’ movement in the late 1980s.

Although we might associate the late 1980s in the Soviet Union with the unravelling of Soviet power, faith, hope and belief in socialist values and in human kindness and compassion drove campaigns to help society’s older people. As those who had given so much to the socialist cause and made such great sacrifices during the Second World War, ordinary people mobilized to help the aged heroes. The rallying calls were ‘mercy’ and ‘care’. Providing older people with medicines, food, and clothing became the modus operandi of civil society’s quest to help old people. In this paper I trace the origins and actions of the ‘Mercy’ movement and what it tells us about Soviet society’s relationship with older people and belief systems more generally.

Commemorative practices during the Cold War: Janusz Korczak’s presentation as a martyr in Eastern and Western Germany

Oommen-Halbach, Anne

Heinrich-Heine-University Duesseldorf, Germany

Janusz Korczak (1878-1942) was a Polish-Jewish paediatrician and pedagogue, who became an emblematic representative of the fight for children’s rights and health. As a trained physician he took over the leadership of an orphanage in Warsaw, which has been described recently as an “educational clinic”, pointing out Korczak's closeness to pedagogy and childhood research respectively (Schierbaum 2018). Korczak was killed by the Nazis in 1942, when he accompanied more than 200 Jewish orphans to their death at the Treblinka extermination camp.

The memory of Korczak was widely dominated by the depiction of the end of his life and his presentation as a martyr. It has substantially been shaped by national Korczak memory societies, which existed since the end of the 1970s in East and West Germany against different political backgrounds.

Based on two separate archival holdings of partial estates of both organisations (Karl Dedecius Archive, Słubice, Poland/ Korczak Collection, Düsseldorf, Germany) this paper examines to what extent a religious or political appropriation of Korczak can be determined in the memory in culture in both German states in the context of the debate on guilt, historical responsibility and the Holocaust.

Eastern and western commemorations of Korczak’s life, death and work introduced the metaphor of martyrdom in order to give sense to his brutal death. Obviously, this framing of remembrance connected Korczak to religious images well known to the Christian communities in Germany, which is especially remarkable for East Germany, where religion was banned by the state at that time.

Bless the Abstinent. Global Catholicism and Asia’s Cold War Population Bomb

Dupont, Wannes

Yale-NUS College, Singapore

In the wake of World War 2, the newly created United Nations (correctly) projected a doubling of the global population by 1990. This massive population boom would be heavily concentrated in the developing nations of coastal Asia. Fearing that widespread famine and overpopulation would hamper development and drive the region into the arms of communism, the West proposed active programmes of birth and population control. The most formidable resistance to such programmes was organised by the Roman Catholic Church, which successfully stalled them at the level of the UN and WHO throughout the 1950s. After the Catholic dam burst in the 1960s, the Church would nevertheless remain the world's most ardent and ineluctable opponent of population control. Even so, we remain extremely poorly informed about how this Catholic resistance was organised.

This paper examines this resistance in two ways: first, by zooming in on Church lobbying at the global level of the United Nations, and second, by exploring how its opposition was organised at the national and regional level in the Asian countries who were the primary focus of population politics, including India, Malaya/Malaysia/Singapore, Indonesia, the Philippines, Japan and China. Catholic physicians and medical scientists played a key role in this process. I argue that the encyclical Humanae Vitae of 1968 was to a large extent, perhaps even primarily so, a response to global health and population control efforts.