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Conditions of life and death of psychiatric patients in France during World War II: euthanasia or collateral casualties?

  • Patrick Lemoine (a1) and Stephen M. Stahl (a2)
Abstract

Between 1940 and 1944, an estimated 48,588 patients resident in French psychiatric hospitals died of starvation. Standard prisons, while facing similar problems, did not experience the same number of deaths by starvation, partly due to their ability to develop a black market for food and rations. Patients in psychiatric hospitals, on the other hand, were completely at the mercy of their doctors and the personnel in charge. At Hôpital du Vinatier, a psychiatric facility in Lyon, the mortality rate increased sharply from 1940 to 1944. In 1942, the worst year, 42% of patients died of hunger and exposure. In the end, more than 2,000 patients died at Vinatier. Was this due to a supposed lack of rations, or was it something more sinister? In Germany at the same time, tens of thousands of psychiatric patients died of purposeful starvation in psychiatric hospitals as part of the Nazi program of psychiatric euthanasia. Was the same thing occurring in Lyon?

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Corresponding author
*Address for correspondence: Patrick Lemoine, Department of Psychiatry, Clinique Lyon Lumière, 33 Rue du 8 Mai 1945, 69330 Meyzieu, Lyon, France. (Email: patrick.lemoine99@free.fr)
References
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1. Burleigh, M. Death and Deliverance: Euthanasia in Germany 1900–1945. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press; 1994.
2. Friedlander, H. The Origins of Nazi Genocide: From Euthanasia to the Final Solution. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press; 1995.
3. Lafont, M. L’extermination douce [The gentle extermination] [in French]. Doctoral dissertation. Lyon: Université de Médecine Claude Bernard; 1981.
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7. Von Bueitzingslowen, I. L’Hécatombe des fous: La Famine dans les Hôpitaux Psychiatriques français sous l’Occupation [Sacrifice of the Insane: Famine in the French Psychiatric Hospitals under the Occupation] [in French]. Paris: Aubier; 2007.
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9. Anonymous. La Raison [Paris newspaper]. 1952; 35: 37, 38.
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CNS Spectrums
  • ISSN: 1092-8529
  • EISSN: 2165-6509
  • URL: /core/journals/cns-spectrums
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