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Jewish Bodies and Jewish Doctors During the Cholera Years of the Polish Kingdom

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Part of the Religion, Spirituality and Health: A Social Scientific Approach book series (RELSPHE,volume 3)

Abstract

Epidemics challenge the social, ethnic, cultural or national cohesion of a society. When cholera reached the Polish Kingdom in 1892 medical debate about the disease produced a specific understanding of Jewishness. The category was not only considered to be a religious one but a socio-economic one as well. Furthermore, first ideas about a different Jewish biology emerged. However, medical ‘othering’ during the cholera epidemic concerned unprivileged Jews only. Jewish doctors, for instance, were not considered to be members of a ‘different’ group. The paper will trace this tension between Jewish ‘othering’ and religious/national/ethnic indifference. It will show that in the beginning of the twentieth century this indifference became more and more contested. It ended when Jewish members were excluded from Warsaw’s Medical Society in 1907.

Keywords

  • Cholera
  • Jewishness
  • Othering
  • National indifference

This contribution is based on my article “Grenzen ziehen und überschreiten. Ärzte und das Jüdische im Königreich Polen während der Choleraepidemie 1892/93”. Zeitschrift für Ostmitteleuropa-Forschung 64 (2015), 330–355.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    I am grateful to Mikołaj Golubiewski for providing a first draft of an English translation of the text.

  2. 2.

    In 1884 on an expedition to Egypt and India Robert Koch had identified the causative agent of cholera and the “comma bacillus” became a broadly recognized “scientific fact”. The role of the microorganism in the course of the disease, the way it spread as well as its relationship to climatic-geographical conditions or individual constitution remained open to debate, however (cf. Harrison 1996; Worboys 2007).

  3. 3.

    Regarding the difference between an open but powerless hygiene and specific yet strong bacteriology, see Latour 1988, Ch. 1.

  4. 4.

    Eastern European Jews had been regarded to play a special if nuanced role already in the cholera epidemic of 1830/1831 (Wolff 2000).

  5. 5.

    One of the outstanding advocates of positivism was the author of Kroniki and the famous novel Lalka, Bolesław Prus, who repeatedly made individual and public health the subject of discussion. The same was true for Adolf Dygasiński, renowned for his Nowe tajemnice Warszawy (cf. Gawin 2003, 58).

  6. 6.

    In Russia itself, zemstva were actively engaged in this field (Hutchinson 1990; Strobel 2013).

  7. 7.

    The broader medical debate about hygienic modernization also saw the poor, sick, and unhygienic Polish Christians as a group who had to familiarize itself with the ideal of modern Polish hygiene. In the cholera accounts, however, the Christian population did not play a prominent role.

  8. 8.

    In the time period examined in this paper medical studies were accessible to women only in Zürich between 1872 and 1882. From 1891 onwards women could study medicine in St. Petersburg. Jewish female students, however, received a limited admission quota in St. Petersburg only in 1897.

  9. 9.

    The lists are available in each yearbook of the Pamiętnik Towarzystwa Lekarskiego Warszawskiego. For this article, I have examined all the names suggesting a Jewish background in biographical reference works for Polish doctors. Religion is never explicitly mentioned there. Whenever there was a hint about the Jewish faith of a doctor (such as his activity in a Jewish hospital, involvement in the Jewish community, or a burial on a Jewish cemetery), I have assumed a Jewish background.

  10. 10.

    For the concept of the thought collective in medicine and its proximity to ideas of a cultural or tribal community, see Fleck 1980, 54–65.

  11. 11.

    Scholars usually assume those doctors to be ‘Polish’ who are listed in the biographical reference works by Franciszek Giedroyć and Stanisław Kośmiński or in the medical bibliography of the nineteenth century by Stanisław Konopka. ‘Abroad’ also encompasses universities within the realms of the empires the Polish partitions belonged to themselves.

  12. 12.

    Ruth Leiserowitz is conducting a research project about the transnationality of Warsaw students: http://www.dhi.waw.pl/de/forschung/forschungsprogramm/nationale-identitaet-und-transnationale-verflechtung.html#c223 (17.11.2016). On the transnational biographies of Polish scientists and their meaning for Poland in the interwar period, see the works of Katrin Steffen: Steffen 2008, 2013.

  13. 13.

    The idea that traditional Jewry already encompassed key elements of modern medicine and hygiene was also conveyed by the Galician social hygienist and Zionist Alfred Nossig (Hart 1995).

  14. 14.

    The extent to which the TLW excluded women is especially telling in the 1878 case of Anna Romaszewicz-Dobrska who held a medical degree from the University of Zurich and whose membership application to the TLW was rejected (Caumanns 2006, 381). The first female TLW member was Elżbieta Downarowicz who appears on the yearbook’s membership list as late as 1896.

  15. 15.

    This is by no means a plea to regard the sciences as an objective and universal space which would automatically unite diverse groups. Sciences are always laden with cultural, social, political etc. interest. At the end of the nineteenth Century in Central Eastern Europe they were closely intertwined with projects of nationalization (Ash, Surman 2012).

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Kreuder-Sonnen, K. (2019). Jewish Bodies and Jewish Doctors During the Cholera Years of the Polish Kingdom. In: Moskalewicz, M., Caumanns, U., Dross, F. (eds) Jewish Medicine and Healthcare in Central Eastern Europe. Religion, Spirituality and Health: A Social Scientific Approach, vol 3. Springer, Cham. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-92480-9_6

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