Jewish–German–Polish: histories and traditions in medical culture(s)

15th International Conference of the German-Polish Society for the History of Medicine 9–11 September 2015, Jewish Historical Institute, Warsaw, Poland

Wide towarzystwo historii medycyny

Jewish culture is an integral part of European culture as present in the history of both Eastern and Western Europe. For a vast number of contingent, historical reasons, it has had special connections to Polish and German culture. This is true with respect to tolerance, assimilation, and acculturation, as well as regarding the history of segregation and persecution, which culminated in the mass-murder and genocide in the 20thcentury, and continued after the World War II leading to new waves of Jewish migration, having great impact on science.

Jewish culture is as much a common link in the history of Poland and Germany respectively, as it is a link connecting both national cultures. When in medieval times Jews migrated from Germany (Ashkenaz) to Poland, their German dialect evolved into Yiddish as a fusion language of German, Hebrew, and Slavic components. Jewish communities developed in different regional neighborhoods of Austrian, Belarusian, Prussian, Lithuanian, Polish, Ukrainian, etc. origin. Jews thus had been cross-border mediators right since medieval times. On the other hand, Jewish culture and communities also differed in German and Polish historical contexts. While in German territories the Jewish part of the population had been comparatively small, in Warsaw until the German invasion in 1939 it spanned about one third of the population. The East European “Shtetl” is a Jewish community of its own, one not paralleled by a comparable phenomenon in German history.

Even though there is no isolated history of Jewish medical culture(s), the context of medicine and health provides a starting focal point to re-consider the impact of Jews and Jewish culture on Polish, German and Central European history, and vice versa. Learned Jews played an eminent role within the vast process of transformation from the ancient Mediterranean to the medieval medicine of transalpine Europe. Since the Middle Ages disintegration of Jews had been leading to the formation of special Jewish communities that had to develop their own institutional framework of health care services, complying to their religious beliefs and practices. Therefore, there have been strong relations between religion, medicine and health care, while welfare was very much contingent on the social structure of communities practicing it as a common challenge. Since the 19th century academic training promising professional career as a physician or medical scientist had been a major factor of Jewish acculturation. At the same time, since the medieval discourse on the “limpieza de sangre” up to the 20th century discourses on racial hygiene and eugenics, medicine had been engaged in defining and deprecating the Jewish body as the foreign and dangerous object, thus fuelling anti-Judaic and racist social practices. The latter had a multifaceted impact on medical history, among others legally, through bioethical considerations influencing science, and socially, through emigration of Jewish medical scientists from the German Reich.

Jewish history as a part of Polish and German history and vice versa is thus to be considered as a matter of “longue durée” – including the problem of essential change regarding intra-cultural coherence as well as the inter-cultural relatedness of German, Polish, Jewish, and medical history.

Organization Committee (in alphabetical order)

Dr. Ute Caumanns (Treasurer of the German-Polish Society for the History of Medicine Heinrich Heine Universität Düsseldorf)

Doc. Fritz Dross (Vice-President of the German-Polish Society for the History of Medicine, Friedrich-Alexander-Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg)

Dr. hab. Ruth Leiserowitz (Vice-Director of the German Historical Institute, Warsaw)

Dr. Joanna Lusek (Upper Silesia Museum, Bytom) 

Prof. dr. hab. Anita Magowska (Head of the Chair of the History of Medical Sciences, Poznan University of Medical Sciences)

Dr. Marcin Moskalewicz (President of the German-Polish Society for the History of Medicine, Poznan University of Medical Sciences) 

Prof. dr. hab. Paweł Śpiewak (Director of Jewish Historical Institute, Warsaw)

Conference office

Zuzanna Lewandowska (Poznan University of Medical Sciences)


Poznan University of Medical Sciences

In co-operation with:

Friedrich-Alexander-Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg

German Historical Institute, Warsaw

Jewish Historical Institute, Warsaw

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