JewishGen Discussion Group #JewishGen Re: insane asylums in 19th century Poland #general
In the United States in the 1800s States began to establish large
centralized geographically isolated institutions for the "humane"
treatment of the mentally ill. Treatment was primative, and limited to
things that today we would regard as ineffective or even barbaric. In
Poland during most of the 1800's I think there was very little in the
way of any treatment of mentally ill persons at all, and public
conception of such people was quite "primitive". In Poland in the late
19th and early 20th century there was development of a limited number of
relatively large public hospitals for mentally ill people. They were
usually located in very small towns or in Villages away >from population
centers. Many of the people who were hospitalized in these places in
Poland and elsewhere at that time we now know did not suffer >from what
we would identify as mental illness today. Most mentally ill people were
either cared for as best as they could by families. . . many were
abused, or lived on the margins of society living and surviving not that
differently as some homeless mentally ill people do today in America's
cities. In the Shtetl the mentally ill person if they were not violent
and did not pose a threat might live on the margins largely on charity.
But there was nothing at all I would call treatment. People did not get
sent away to psychiatric asylums. I think this did not happen until the
late 19 and early 20th century and even then it was limited, and
involved mostly the most severe cases and most dysfunctional people.
Many of them may not even have had what we would call a mental illness
today. Many were probably more what we would regard as mentally
retarded, developmentally disabled, or had mental or neurological
problems secondary to medical conditions that at that time were not
Also I would say that in Poland through at least much of the 1800's
among most of the public there really was not any concept of "mental
illness" . It was not conceptualized in these terms. Your talking about
a society that was overwhelmingly illiterate, and a peasantry that was
so steeped in superstition and traditional religion. In Jewish society
too there were these beliefs that we now regard as superstitious, silly,
or sometimes even offensive.
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