Offer M. (2019) Coping with the Impossible: The Developmental Roots of the Jewish Medical System in the Ghettos. 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
This chapter examines the coping patterns used by the Jewish medical staff to deal with the spread of epidemics through the ghettos as a result of the German decrees. In most of the ghettos, the Jews, as persecuted victims, independently established medical systems drawing on modern, professional perceptions, in subhuman conditions, seen only in cases of genocide and mass atrocities. In the ghettos, the Jewish physicians and leaders fought to maintain the health and save the lives of the inmates by rapidly establishing extensive medical systems, notwithstanding the limitations. During the Holocaust itself, the ghetto physicians and leaders recognized the phenomenon as unique and memorialized it as such in their writings. The chapter addresses the characteristics of the medical system and its developmental roots. The central claim is that the medical system was not created out of a void, but was possible because of processes that had occurred in the Jewish society prior to the Holocaust, including modernization and secularization, on the one hand, and anti-Semitism, on the other. Alongside the Jewish cultural tradition of the sanctification and the saving of life and longstanding nurturing of the medical profession, the Jewish society adopted the principles of modern medicine, including a public health perception and the cultivation of social medicine and preventive medicine. The escalation in anti-Semitism during the interwar period intensified the need for wide-scale national ethnic Jewish medical systems, which offered advanced, professional medical services for the millions of Jews, particularly in Poland (which had the largest Jewish population) and in other European countries generally. A study of this background is a prerequisite to understanding the Jewish reaction pattern during the Holocaust in general, and the Jewish medical reaction pattern in the ghettos, in particular.