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Of Medicine and Men

Biographies and Ideas in European Social Medicine between the World Wars

Iris Borowy and Anne Hardy

Social medicine was one of the key health paradigms of the early twentieth century. It perceived public health as a function of social conditions and aimed at improving it through comprehensive, horizontal strategies. Yet, it was no homogeneous or static phenomenon. Depending on time, place and circumstances, it took different, sometimes ideologically contradictory forms. This volume portrays leading medical experts from seven European countries. Their juxtaposition reveals a network of international interaction and shows how different people coped with the crises of the time in different ways, sometimes as part of the scientific mainstream, sometimes as opposition under attack, sometimes in exile. Their biographies reflect an ambivalent interplay of biomedicine, politics and social theory.


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Beta Johan (1889-1983) and Public Health in Inter-war Hungary (Erik lngebrigtsen)


45 Beta Johan (1 889-1983) and Public Health in Inter-war Hungary Erik lngebrigtsen A noisy event taking place in an otherwise quiet Budapest street on 23 June 2006, put - at least temporarily - the end to a lasting controversy regarding in­ ter-war Hungary's most influential public health administrator. With a pneu­ matic drill, workers effectively demolished the stone base that since 1 989 had held the bust of Bela Johan ( 1 889- 1983) outside the institute he led in the inter­ war years. 1 A number of decisions during the preceding months led up to this symbolic act: in February 2006 the Hungarian Parliament revoked a decision from April 2003 of naming a ten-year program for health-improvement after Johan. In the following month the Minister of Health announced that the Na­ tional Epidemiological Centre also would cease to carry Johan' s name. Opposi­ tion to the symbolic use of Johan as public health-icon was mainly based on his actions and inaction during the Second World War. Critics have argued that as state secretary in the Ministry of Interior until October 1 944, Johan shared re­ sponsibil ity for the deportation and murder of several hundred thousand Hungar­ ian Jews during May and June 1 944. The Hungarian Holocaust was imple­ mented under the direction of representatives from the Ministry in which Johan held a leading post. This crucial information was omitted from a biographical sketch presented to Parliament along with the proposal to dedicate the ten-year public health program...

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