Skip to main content Accesibility Help

The Soviet-German Syphilis Expedition to Buriat Mongolia, 1928: Scientific Research on National Minorities

  • Susan Gross Solomon (a1)

In April 1928 a team of eight Soviet and eight German medical researchers set out for the remote area of Kul'skoe in the Buriat—Mongolian Autonomous Republic of the USSR to examine endemic syphilis and the impact of the anti—syphilis drug, Salvarsan, on the course of the disease. This three—month expedition was negotiated by some of the leading political and scientific figures on both sides and was launched with considerable fanfare, although it was not—nor was it intended to be—a scientific milestone in the field of venereology.

Hide All

Research on this paper was supported by a grant from the Hannah Institute for the History of Medicine. The author is grateful to Dr. Jochen Richter and Professor Daniel Todes for providing valuable leads to the German and Soviet archival holdings; to Dr. Ruth Lidz for sharing the diary kept by her late father, Professor Karl Wilmanns, on his trip to Russia in 1926; and to Professor Mark Adams for incisive comments on the final draft. Professors Laura Engelstein, Lynne Viola and Barbara Engel made helpful suggestions as did Janet Hyer and Todd Foglesong.

1. The Buriat—Mongolian Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic became part of the Soviet Union in 1923. Prior to 1917, it was a region of the Irkutsk and Transbaikal gubernii. The republic was enormous (by one count 358,800 square kilometers), thinly populated (in 1927, 522,100 inhabitants) and largely rural (in 1927, only 9.9% of the population lived in urban settlements). For an article on the creation of national homelands, see Lee Schwartz, “Regional Population Redistribution and National Homelands in the USSR,” in Soviet Nationality Policies: Ruling Ethnic Groups in the USSR, ed. Henry R. Huttenbach (New York: Mansel, 1990), 122-61.

2. The expedition was publicized in both countries. For example, see V.M. Bronner, “Sovetsko-germanskaia nauchnaia ekspeditsiia v Buriato-Mongolii,” Pravda, no. 157 (8 July 1928): 5; “Rückkehr der Deutsch-Russischen Syphilis-Expedition,” Das Neue Russland 5, nos. 9-10 (1928): 74.

3. The important discoveries relating to the cause, the diagnosis and the treatment of syphilis had been made two decades earlier. In 1905 the zoologist Fritz Schaudinn and the dermatologist Erich Hoffman discovered the syphilis pathogen; in 1907 the serologist August von Wasserman pioneered his serological test for syphilis and in the same year Paul Ehrlich discovered the anti-syphilis drug that was marketed under the trade name Salvarsan. See McDonagh, J.E.R., Venereal Diseases: Their Clinical Aspect and Treatment (London: Heinemann, 1920), 5 .

4. For a discussion of that policy and its impact upon research on Russia, see Burleigh, Michael, Germany Turns Eastward (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1988).

5. Letter dated August 1927 from Schmidt-Ott to the Foreign Office (Bundesarchiv Abteilung Potsdam, Bestand Deutsche Botschaft Moskau [hereafter BAP 09.02.] no. 400, 201rs-203).

6. I owe this term to Paul Weindling, “German-Soviet Cooperation in Science: The Case of the Laboratory for Racial Research,” Nuncius 1 (1986): 103-9.

7. For the borrowing of structures, see Loren R. Graham, “The Formation of Soviet Research Institutes: A Combination of Revolutionary Innovation and International Borrowing,” Social Studies of Science 5, no.3 (August 1975): 303-29. For an instance of the adaptation of research agendas, see Adams, Mark B., “Eugenics in Russia,” in The Well-Born Science: Eugenics in Germany, France, Brazil and Russia, ed. Adams, Mark B. (New York: Oxford University Press, 1990), 169ff .

8. In the quest for reflected status, Soviet scientists in a variety of fields often turned their back on their own scientific roots. For an example of this tendency, see Solomon, Susan Gross, “Social Hygiene and Soviet Public Health, 1921-1930,” in Health and Society in Revolutionary Russia, eds. Solomon, Susan Gross and Hutchinson, John F. (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1990), 175–99.

9. For a discussion of the way in which illness is socially constructed, see Wright, Peter and Treacher, Andrew, eds., The Problem of Medical Knowledge: Examining the Social Construction of Medicine (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1982 ).

10. This point is made in the chapter on syphilis and sexuality in Vaughan, Megan, Curing Their Ills: Colonial Power and African Illness (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1991), 129–54.

11. See the entry on “vymiranie narodov” in Bol'shaia Sovetskaia entsiklopediia (1929), 13: 738-41. In response to the perceived threat of extinction, in 1924 the Council of People's Commissars issued a directive to the Commissariat of Health which in turn gave a mandate to the State Institute of Social Hygiene to conduct sanitary expeditions in order to study the nature of disease and devise measures to improve health conditions in the outlying areas. In the second half of the 1920s alone, large-scale medicalsanitary expeditions went out to Dagestan, to the Kalmyk region, and to Svanetiia. See Mol'kov, A.V., ed., Kalmyki (Leningrad: Gosudarstvennoe izdatel'stvo, 1928 ); Mol'kov, A.V., ed., Dargintsy (Moscow-Leningrad: Gosudarstvennoe meditsinskoe izdatel'stvo, 1930 ); “Svanetiia,” Sotsial'naia gigiena, nos. 3-4 (1929): 125-157.

12. For German-Soviet scientific relations in the interwar years, see Notzold, Jurgen, “Die deutsch-sowjetischen Wissenschaftsbeziehungen,” in Forschung im Spannungsfeld von Politik und Gesellschaft: Geschichte und Struktur der KaiserWilhelm/Max Planck Gesellschaft, eds. Vierhaus, Rudolph and Brocke, Bernhard von (Stuttgart: Deutsche Verlags Anstalt, 1990), 778800 .

13. The Russians felt the exclusion keenly. Reporting on the International Congress on Social Hygiene held in Paris in May 1923, the sanitarian A.N. Sysin said, “According to the custom established after the war, Germany and Austria were not represented. Officially, Russia also did not participate; its delegates were present, but as private individuals” ( Sysin, A. N., “Mezhdunarodnyi Kongress po sotsial'noi gigieneGigiena i epidemiologiia, no. 1 [1923]: 138 ). The fate of internationalism in science in this period is discussed in Brigitte Schroeder-Gudehus, “Pas de Locarno pour la science,” Relations Internationales, no. 46 (1986): 173-94.

14. See Archiv Humboldt-Universitat zu Berlin, Nachlass Zeiss, no. 3, 14-15.

15. See Maxjessner, , “Die deutsch-russische Syphilis-Expedition, 1928,” Medizinische Klinik 25, no. 34 (23 August): 1341. The original headquarters of the expedition was to be Domno-Eraminsk; because the planned headquarters turned out to be too remote, the site was moved to Kul'skoe (BAP 09.02. no. 417, 257).

16. BAP 09.02. no. 397, 147-49.

17. Biographical material on Gorbunov can be found in Joravsky, David, The Lysenko Affair (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1970). For material on Ol'denburg, see Graham, Loren R., The Soviet Academy of Sciences and the Communist Party 1927-1932 (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1967 ). For a study of Lunacharskii in this period, see Fitzpatrick, Sheila, The Commissariat of Enlightenment: Soviet Organization of Education and the Arts under Lunacharsky, October 1917-1921 (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1970 ).

18. Auswartiges Amt Politisches Archiv (Bonn) R 64856.

19. BAP 09.02. no. 396, 131-36. “Unterhaltung zwischen Excellenz Schmidt-Ott und Herrn Gorbunoff, Direktor der Verwaltung des Rats der Minister der Vereinigten Sowjet-Republik, in Gegenwart von O. Vogt am 1. Oktober 1925 in Berlin, Schloss.” Gorbunov reported a forthcoming expedition to the Tannu-Tuva Republic (Ibid., 132). This meeting is mentioned in a letter of early April 1926 from Gorbunov to SchmidtOtt (Arkhiv Rossiiskoi Akademii Nauk [hereafter ARAN], f.2, op. 1-1928, d.58, 25).

20. “Niederschrift iiber die Besprechung der Teilnehmer an der Russlandfahrt am 19. Oktober 1925 im Automobilklub,” BAP 09.02. no. 396, 139-41. Among those present at the meeting were Schmidt-Ott and Oskar Vogt, the Berlin neuro-psychiatrist who had attended Lenin during his final illness. The Academy of Sciences began to sponsor research expeditions to outlying areas as early as the first quarter of the eighteenth century. For a brief history of the expeditions led by the Academy in the eighteenth century, see Fersman, A. E., Ekspeditsionnaia deiatel'nost’ Akademii Nauk SSSR i ee zadachi (Leningrad: Izdatel'stvo Akademii Nauk, 1929 ). The bolshevik revolution led to a brief three-year hiatus after which the Academy resumed its expeditions to the periphery ( Vittenberg, P. V., “Ekspeditsii Akademii NaukNauchnyi rabotnik 1 [1925]: 26 ). In the mid-1920s, Mongolia became the object of considerable scientific interest. In 1925, a commission for multifaceted ( “kompleksnyi ” ) research on Mongolia was established under the aegis of Sovnarkom USSR “with the participation of the Academy of Sciences ” ; its mandate was the study of natural productive forces in the region. In mid-January of 1927, when the Academy assumed direct control over the commission, a decision was made to broaden the inquiry to include the Buriat-Mongolian Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic. In this period, similar expeditions were launched to the Chuvash, Bashkir, Kazakh, Kirghiz, and Iakut republics ( Fersman, , Ekspeditsionnaia deiatel'nost', 12, 20 ).

21. BAP 09.0 no. 417, 266. Letter from Schmidt-Ott to Brockdorf Rantzau, 23 January 1926. The same meeting is described in a letter from Gorbunov to SchmidtOtt dated 17 April 1926 (ARAN, f.2, op.1-1928, d.58, 24-25). According to Bronner, the question of the expedition was discussed again during a visit he made to Dr. Friedrich Kraus's Clinic in Charité in February 1926 to deliver a report on the Soviet fight against venereal disease (Bronner, “Sovetsko-germanskaia nauchnaia ekspeditsiia ” ).

22. Bronner presented his excuses when Wilmanns and Stühmer arrived in Moscow. See Karl Wilmanns, “Reise durch Russland in die Burjätische Republic im Sommer 1926,” unpublished manuscript, 7.

23. Wilmanns's diary contains several indications of his low opinion of some of the Russian physicians (Ibid., 58, 115-16). The litany of Russian complaints suggests that he did not hide his criticisms. See the letter from Zeiss to the German Embassy dated 28 April 1927, BAP 09.02. no. 416, 212-212rs. Wilmanns apparently informed Ol'denburg of his negative evaluation (ARAN, f.2, op.1-1928, d.58, 20).

24. BAP 09.02. no. 416, 216-20.

25. By May 1927, the misunderstandings had been cleared up. But at some sacrifice of scientific autonomy: Wilmanns declared that he would not go on the main expedition. This compromise was detailed in a letter from Wilmanns to Hilger (BAP 09.02, no. 416, 210, 212).

26. See the letter from Schmidt-Ott to Heilbron, the ministerial director, dated 22 June 1926 (Auswärtiges Amt Politisches Archiv R. 64880).

27. Wilmanns, “Reise durch Russland,” 140. Some German medical researchers— notably, Dr. Heinz Zeiss, who had his own agenda for German-Soviet medical relations— were eager to clear up the misunderstandings that had occurred in 1926. For the role of Zeiss in German-Soviet medical relations, see Paul Weindling, “German-Soviet Medical Co-operation and the Institute for Racial Research, 1927-C.1935,” German History 10, no. 2 (June 1992): 177-206.

28. ARAN, f.2, op.1-1928, d.58, 64.

29. The first budget drawn up in 1926/1927 projected the outlay for the venture at 24,740 rubles, of which the Soviets were to bear 15,000 and the Germans 9,740 (ARAN, f.2, op. 1-1928, d.58, 16-17). By early August 1926 Ol'denburg had apparently told the Germans that they would have to bear most of the costs of the expedition (ARAN, f.2, op. 1-1928, d.58, 20-21). The final agreement on cost sharing was worked out by Kalinin, Gorbunov and Schmidt-Ott. See the memorandum of 19January 1928 from Narkomzdrav to the Division of Scientific Institutions of Sovnarkom (ARAN, f.2, op. 1-1928, d.58, p. 68-68 ob.).

30. BAP 09.02. no. 417, 264. At the last minute, the Germans also had difficulty raising the 34,000 marks needed for their transport. In a letter dated 22 March 1928, Schmidt-Ott wrote to Krestinskii, the Russian Ambassador in Berlin, saying it would be a shame if the joint venture foundered on account of the travel costs (Geheimes Staatsarchiv Merseburg, Rep. 92, no. D 14, 309-10).

31. See the 27 March 1927 letter from Ol'denburg to Schmidt-Ott, BAP 09.02. no. 417, 263. Bronner, head of Narkomzdrav's Division of Social Diseases, requested the Division of Scientific Institutions of Sovnarkom to secure from the Commissariat of Transport free transportation for the researchers ( “V otdele nauchnykh uchrezhdenii Soveta narodnykh komissarov,” ARAN, f.2, op. 1-1928, d.58, 68-69 ob.).

32. The anthropologists were K.V. Viatkina, head of the scientific workers of KIPS, and Staritskaia, A.B., a studentpraktikant at Moscow University (ARAN, f.135, op. 1-1928, d.58, 78). The money for their maintenance and travel came out of the allocation for the Mongolian Commission of the Academy (ARAN, f.2, op.1-1928, d.58, 69). Further detail can be found in the report of the 23 February 1928 meeting of KIPS, ARAN (f.135, op. 1, d. 19, 52-52 ob.).

33. Trudy 1-ogo vserossiiskogo s “ezda po bor'be s venericheshimi bolezniami 6-10 iiunia 1923 g. v Moskve (Moscow, 1924). The proceedings of the conference were carried in full in Venerologiia i dermatologiia, nos. 2, 3, 4 (1924). For Ivanov's comment, see ibid., no. 2: 17.

34. Haustein, Hans, “Sexuelle Hygiene—eine VolksangelegenheitDas Neue Russland 2, nos. 5-6 (1925): 50ff .

35. Pinkus, F., “Reise zum II. Allrussischen Kongress zur Bekampfung der GeschlechtskrankheitenMedizinische Klinik, no. 27 (3 July 1925): 1030-32; J. Jadassohn, “Von meiner Reise zum II. Allrussischen Kongress zur Bekampfung der Geschlechtskrankheiten in Charkow (Mai 1925),” Deutsche Medizinische Wochenschrift, no. 32 (7 August 1925): 1329-30; no. 33 (14 August 1925): 1374-75; no. 34 (21 August 1925): 1413-14.

36. Haustein, “Sexuelle Hygiene,” 51.

37. BAP 09.02. no. 395, 261-65.

38. Wilmanns, Karl, “Lues, Paralyse, TabesKlinische Wochenschrift 4, no. 23 (4 June 1925): 1097-1101; idem, no. 24 (11 June 1925): 1146-50. Wilmanns, Karl, “Syphilis, Tabes, ParalyseMiinchener Medizinische Wochenschrift, no. 12 (1925): 496-97. See also the address Wilmanns delivered in September 1925 to the German Society for Psychiatry ( Wilmanns, Karl and Steiner, Gabriel, “Syphilis und MetasyphilisZeitschriftfur die gesamte Neurologie und Psychiatrie 101 [1926]: 875-94).

39. Wilmanns described arriving at the Domno-Eraminsk hospital to find hundreds of men, women and children awaiting the arrival of the German physicians. He and his team succeeded in examining some fifty Buriats before darkness fell (Wilmanns, “Reise,” 91-2).

40. Ibid., 79.

41. Wilmanns, Karl, “Die Wandlung der SyphilisZentralblatt für Haulund Geschlechtskrankheiten 22, nos. 1-2 (1926): 1-15.

42. For the change in the spirochaeta pallida from a dermatrope to a neurotrope, see ibid., 14. Wilmanns claimed that this transformation was not “obligatory” in all instances. In 1925, he had made a stronger statement about the change (Wilmanns, “Lues, Paralyse, Tabes,” 1150).

43. BAP 09.02. no. 417, 266.

44. Dr. Beringer, “Die Art der durchzuführenden Untersuchungen,” BAP 09.02. no. 417, 272-73; Kurt Beringer, “Die Erforschung der Syphilis unter besondern Berücksichtigung neurologischer und psychiatrischer Gesichtspunkte,” ibid., 274-76; Dr. Patzig, “Plan für die wissenschaftlichen Untersuchungen des innern Arztes (Roentgenologen) bei der geplanten deutsch-russischen Syphilis-Expedition,” ibid., 270-71; Prof. Dr. Jessner, “Plan über die bei der deutsch-russischen Syphilis-Expedition 1928 vorzunehmenden wissenschaftlichen Untersuchungen,” ibid., 277-81.

45. For a description of the V.M. Bronner State Venereological Institute, founded in 1921, see “Struktura i deiatel'nost’ Gosudarstvennogo venerologicheksogo instituta imeni V.M. Bronnera (GVI),” Vestnik sovremennoi meditsiny, no. 20 (1927): 1315-16. The support of the Buriat-Mongolian government was reported in a letter from Dr. Vol'f Bronner to the Division of Scientific Institutions of Sovnarkom dated 19January 1928 (ARAN, f. 2, op.1-1928, d.58, 68-68 ob).

46. This list of Russians comes from Beringer, “Die syphilidogenen Erkrankungen des Nervensystems bei den Burjato-Mongolen,” Archiv für Psychiatrie und Neruenkrankheiten 103 (1935): 363. Dr. Iudelevich's last minute inclusion is suggested by the fact that his name was absent from an earlier list (BAP 09.02. no. 417, 262).

47. Rossiianskii, N. L., “Sovremennye tendentsii v razvitii sifilisa na sele i voprosy standartnogo ego lecheniiaVenerologiia i dermatologiia, no. 7 (1927): 60-65.

48. Chlenov, M. A., “Ubyvaet li sifilis i meniaet li on svoiu fizionomiiu?Venerologiia i dermatologiia, no. 1 (1928): 98119 .

49. For example, Kulesha, G. S., “K kazuistike i etiologii sal'varsanovykh otravleniiProftlakticheskaia meditsina, nos. 7-8 (1923): 34-50.

50. To monitor the preparation of Salvarsan, a commission was set up under the aegis of the State Venereological Institute and its director, Efron. See Bronner, V. M., “K piatiletiiu Gosudarstvennogo venerologicheskogo institutaVenerologiia i dermatologiia, no. 1 (1927): v-vi. Even at the end of the decade, the Soviets admitted that their Salvarsan was of poorer quality than the German-produced drug (V. Bronner, “Itogi Tret'ego Vsesoiuznogo S” ezda po bor'be s venericheskimi bolezniami,” Sotsialisticheskoe zdravookhranenie, nos. 7-8 [1929]: 9).

51. Bronner, “Die Bekämpfung der Geschlechtskrankheiten in Sowjetrussland,” Mitteilungen der Deutschen Gesellschaft zur Bekampfung der Geschlechtskrankheiten 24, no. 2 (1926): 15.

52. Rossianskii, N. L., Dispanserizatsiia v bor'be s venericheskimi bolezniami (Moscow: Narkomzdrav, 1928), 3.

53. Beringer, “Die syphilodogenen Erkrankungen.” j

54. “Fragebogen,” BAP 09.02. no. 417, 285-87. j

55. Beringer, “Die syphilodogenen Erkrankungen,” 359-65.

56. Ibid., 378.

57. I. M. Okun', “K metodike i praktike raboty nauchnykh venotriadov sredi malykh narodnostei,” Verierologiia i dermatologiia, no. 3 (1930): 97-104.

58. I. M. Okun', “K kharakteristike sovremennogo sifilisa sredi vostochnykh buriat,” Venerologiia i dermatologiia, no. 12 (1930): 75.

59. Ibid., 79. About 1.6% of the cases seen were instances of neurosyphilis.

60. Ibid. See also Okun', “K kharakteristike,” 74-103.

61. Okun', “K metodike,” 103. Beringer later revealed that there was no single translator fluent in Russian, Mongolian and German and that therefore any interactions between the German team and the Buriats had to pass through two translators (Beringer, “Die syphilodogenen Erkrankungen,” 376).

62. Okun', “K metodike,” 99.

63. The fullest description of the process of research by a German physician was Beringer, “Die syphilodogenen Erkrankungen.” For the presentation of the results in the immediate aftermath of the venture, see Jessner and Rossiianskii, “Die Ergebnisse der deutsch-russischen Syphilis-Expedition 1928,” Archiv für Dermatologie und Syphilis 160 (1928): 224-25.

64. For the correspondence on the German efforts 1929-1934 to persuade the Russians to deliver their chapters, see Bundesarchiv Koblenz R073, 1-8; 10-11; 13-36; 37-104; 107. For subsequent problems with the joint work, see Schmidtott, Friedrich, Erlebtes und Erstrebtes (Wiesbaden: Steiner, 1952), 226.

65. For the German meetings, see Verhandlungen der Berliner medizinischen Gesellschaft aus dem Gesellschaftsjahre 1927, 58 (1928): 40-41; Jessner, “Die deutschrussische Syphilis-Expedition, 1928,” 1340-42; and the record of the German Dermatological Association meeting of 7 August 1929 in Archiv für Dermatologie und Syphilis, 160. Kongressbericht (Berlin, 1930): 224-25. In Russia, Rossiianskii reviewed the expedition in a report to the State Venereological Institute on 16 November 1930 (N.L. Rossianskii, “Otchet o nauchnoi komandirovke za granitsu,” Venerologiia i dermatologiia, no. 10 (1930): 79-81).

66. See Okun', “K metodike,” and idem., “K kharakteristike.” In addition to these reports by venereologists, there was a fascinating report by three gynecologists: M.F. Elistratova, M.A. Kubantseva and D.I. Bunimovich, “Klinicheskie proiavleniia gonorei i besplodie sredi vostochnykh buriatok,” Ginekologiia i akusherstvo no. 6 (1931): 483-500.

67. For the meeting, see Jessner, “Die deutsch-russische Syphilis-Expedition 1928,” 1341-42. For the brief notice that seemed to close the debate, see “Verlauf und Form der Syphilis in unbehandelten Ländern,” Die Medizinische Welt 2 (14 September 1929).

68. Kurt Beringer, “Die deutsch-russische Syphilisexpedition in der Burjato-Mongolei und ihre Bedeutung für die Frage der Metaluespathogenese,” Der Nervenarzt 7, no. 5 (15 May 1934): 217-25; Beringer, “Die syphilidogenen Erkrankungen. ”

69. Beringer, “Die deutsch-russische Syphilisexpedition in der Burjato-Mongolei. ”

70. Beringer, “Die syphilidogenen Erkrankungen,” 440.

71. Rossiianskii, Dispanserizatsiia, chap. 1.

72. Over the course of the 1920s, the network of dispensaries expanded significantly. In 1923, there were 29 in the Russian republic including the autonomous oblasts; in 1928, there were 165 (S. Gal'perin, “Venericheskie bolezni,” Bol'shaia meditsinskaia entsiklopediia [1928], 4: 670). Other portions of the large entry on venereal diseases in the encyclopedia were written by other authors.

73. Rossianskii, , Dispanserizatsiia, 168 .

74. The German venereologists attending the II All-Russian Congress in Kharkov in 1925 were taken on inspection tours which they described in their travel reports. See footnote 35. In 1926, during his stop in Moscow before setting off for Domno-Eraminsk, Wilmanns was taken on similar inspection tours. See Wilmanns, “Reise,” 5-37.

75. Gal'perin, “Venericheskie bolezni,” 672. At best, the venpunkt was staffed by a specialist who also had done some social service; not infrequently, however, it was the district physician who assumed responsibility for the venpunkt ( Federovskii, A. N., “K voprosu o bor'be s venerizmom na seleProfilakticheshaia meditsina, nos. 3-4 (1923): 97).

76. Rossiianskii, , Dispanserizatsiia, 230 .

77. For the duties of the detachments, see ibid., 232. In 1924, there were 19 otriady; five years later there were 84. See Okun', “K metodike,” 97.

78. For Semashko's opening address, see the stenographic report of the Congress carried in the supplement to Venerologiia i dermatologiia, no. 2 (1924): 1-48.

79. This statement by Rossianskii was reported in a review of his book Dispanserizatsiia carried in Russko-nemetskii meditsinskii zhurnal, no. 3 (1928): 143.

80. See Laura Engelstein, “Syphilis, Historical and Actual: Cultural Geography of a Disease,” Review of Infectious Diseases 8, no. 6 (1986): 1036-48. See also Engelstein, Laura, The Keys to Happiness (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1993), 164211 . My discussion of the way in which syphilis was constructed in prerevolutionary Russia draws heavily on Engelstein's work.

81. Engelstein, “Syphilis, Historical and Actual. ”

82. Ibid., 1038. But the contention that Russia suffered primarily from endemic non-venereal syphilis was conventional wisdom beyond the borders of the country. The great German venereologist Alfred Blaschko wrote that Russia suffered primarily from endemic syphilis. See Blaschko, A., Hygiene der Geschlechtskrankheiten (Leipzig: J.A. Barth, 1920), 310. Engelstein has suggested that for Europeans the identification of syphilis in Russia as “endemic” may have mirrored cultural expectations about this vast unknown land.

83. N.L. Rossiianskii, “Sotsial'nye prichiny polovogo raspostraneniia venericheskikh boleznei,” Venerologiia i dermatologiia, no. 11 (1928): 1444. Using data collected by the State Venereological Institute from hospitals and dispensaries, he submitted that, whereas in 1914 56.9% of those registered as having syphilis were found to have been infected by prostitutes, by 1924 that percentage was 40%; in 1925 it had fallen to 24.9%. See also L.S. Tuchinskii, “K kharakteristike zabolevaemosti gorodskogo naseleniia venericheskimi bolezniami,” Venerologiia i dermatologiia, no. 12 (1929): 62-68.

84. For some of the leading studies, see Kozhevnikova, M. I., “K voprosu o polovoi zhizni i istochnikakh zarazheniia venericheskikh bol'nykh,” Sotsial'naiagigiena 6 (1926): 111–23; B.B. Geft, “Materialy k izucheniiu polovoi zhizni sovremennoi molodezhi,” Venerologiia i dermatologiia, no. 8 (1927): 748-58; M.S. Shamina, “Nekotorye cherty iz polovoi zhizni uchashcheisia zhenshchiny,” Venerologiia i dermatologiia, no. 3 (1930): 82-94.

85. The leading Russian proponent of this view was Gal'perin. See S.E. Gal'perin, “K kharakteristike sifilisa sovremennoi derevni,” Vestnik sovremennoi meditsiny, no. 4 (1926): 20-22; S. Gal'perin “Bytovoi sifilis,” Biulleten'Narkomzdrava RSFSR, no. 20 (1927): 49-54; Gal'perin, S., “Sifilis v russkoi derevne,” Gigiena i epidemiologiia, no. 1 (1928): 3741 . For the most authoritative foreign statement of this view, see the article “Endemische Syphilis” in Handbuch der Haut-und Geschlechtskrankheiten 23 (1931): 307-11. Jadassohn, who wrote the article, listed parts of Russia and Siberia as classic locations of endemic family syphilis (Ibid., 307). He made particular mention of Buriat Mongolia.

86. For example, see V.I. Fel'dman and Ia.O. Gubianskii, “K kazuistike vnepolovogo sifilisa,” Venerologiia i dermatologiia, no. 2 (1924): 91-94; Ia. M. Koval'skii, “K kazuistike semeinykh epidemii sifilisa,” Moskovskii meditsinskii zhurnal, no. 1 (1925): 53-55.

87. For the pervasiveness of the nurturist assumptions, see Adams, Mark B., “The Soviet Nature-Nurture Debate,” in Science and the Soviet Social Order, ed. Graham, Loren R. (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1990), 94138 . For the use of class analysis in research by Soviet social hygienists on alcoholism, see Susan Gross Solomon, “David and Goliath: The Rivalry of Social Hygienists and Psychiatrists over the Bytovoi Alcoholic,” Soviet Studies 41, no. 2 (1989): 254-75.

88. See Gal'perin, S.E., “K voprosu ob organizatsii bor'by s bytovym sifilisom v RSFSR,” in Sbornik, posviashchennyi dvadtsatipiatiletiiu nauchnoi i obshchestvennoi deiatel'nosti Prof. V. M. Bronnera (Moscow: Glavnauka, 1926), 11 .

89. Bronner, V., “Venericheskie bolezniBol'shaia meditsinskaia entsiklopediia (1928), 4: 640-41. For reports on the outbreak of fresh syphilis, see for example, Talalov, I. Z., “Rasprostranenie venericheskikh boleznei i polovoi byt krest'ian Vereshchaginskogo raiona, Permskogo okruga po materialam venotriadaVenerologiia i derrrmtologiia, nos. 9-10 (1928): 1257-58.

90. “Vserossiiskii s ” ezd po bor'be s venericheskimi bolezniami, 6-ogo iiunia 1923 g.,” Moskovskii meditsinskii zhurnal 4, no. 2 (1924): 220.

91. For the instructions, see Rossiianskii, , Dispanserizatsiia, 3031 .

92. According to Engelstein, once a geographical area became saturated with nonvenereal syphilis, Russian venereologists declined to consider whether sexual license might also have played a role in the spread of disease ( “Syphilis, Historical and Actual ” ).

93. Bronner, “Venericheskie bolezni,” 640-41.

94. I.M. Okun', “Opyt dispansernogo metoda raboty sredi krest'ian,” Venerologiia i dermatologiia, no. 4 (1925): 124.

95. Ibid., 128. To reinforce this conclusion, Okun’ showed that of the three settlements studied, the two most closely linked to the city showed greater evidence of the urban type of syphilis. He added somewhat wryly that “the present day countryside is not the god-forsaken place it once was” (Ibid., 131).

96. Kraskovskii, P. N., “Sifilis na sele i bor'ba s nimProfilakticheskaia meditsina, no. 2 (1926): 79ff.

97. Ibid., 132. It should be noted that the onset of sexual life was earlier in the cities than in the countryside for men only.

98. Rossiianskii, “Sotsial'nye prichiny,” 1451.

99. Okun', “Opyt dispansernogo metoda,” 125.

100. Taradin, I., “'Dosvitki’ i ikh vlianiie na polovuiu zhizn’ krest'ianskoi molodezhiProfilakticheskaia meditsina, nos. 7-8 (1926): 96-104. The evenings were combatted by the Komsomol with only limited success.

101. Ibid., 99. Taradin's work is noteworthy because it used interview data to establish the high incidence of sexual relations that occurred on these occasions. Earlier research had inferred this from a higher than average level of births that occurred nine months after the height of the gathering season. For references to the earlier research, see Stephen P. Frank, “Simple Folk, Savage Customs? Youth, Sociability and the Dynamics of Culture in Rural Russia, 1856-191 A” Journal of Social History 25, no. 4 (1992): 711-36; Engel, Barbara Alpern, “Peasant Morality and Pre-Marital Relations in Late 19th Century RussiaJournal of Social History 32, no. 4 (1990): 695-714.

102. For a discussion of the portrait of the innocence of peasant women in the pre-revolutionary period, see Engelstein, , The Keys to Happiness, 182–83.

103. See Gurewitsch, Z.A. and Woroschbit, A.J., “Das Sexualleben der Bauerin in RusslandZeitschrift für Sexualwissenschaft und Sexualpolitik 18, no. 1 (1931): 51-74; 18, no. 2 (1931): 81-110. The custom was described in the first article, 69-71. The notion of de-sexualized sexuality is examined with respect to prostitution in Elizabeth Wood, “Prostitution Unbound: Sexuality and Revolution in Russia,” unpublished paper.

104. In 1926-1927, there were 10,000 residents per medical catchment area and over 1400 residents per hospital/clinic bed (F. Plenkin, “Zdravookhranenie v Buriato-Mongolii,” Voprosy zdravookhraneniia, no. 5 [1929]: 54-57). According to a 1925 report, the average physician in Buriat Mongolia covered 3000 versts per year in the course of his work ( “Byt vracha v avtonomnykh respublikakh i oblastiakh,” Vestnik sovremennoi meditsiny, no. 7 [1925]: 39).

105. The rates of syphilis were highest in eastern Buriatiia where the nomads lived (LA. Dobreitser, “Materialy po rasprostraneniiu sifilisa v SSSR,” Sotsial'naia gigienad [1926]: 158-59).

106. D.A. Lapyshova, “O rabote otriada po bor'be s sifilisom v Buriato-Mongol'skoi respublike letom 1924 goda,” Venerologiia i dermatologiia, no. 1 (1925): 84-88. Apparently, in a fifty-day period, 1000 patients were treated.

107. S. Gal'perin, “Sifilis okrain,” Biulleten’ Narodnogo Komissariata Zdravookhraneniia, no. 3 (1926): 16-21. It is not clear whether the mission to Buriatiia was undertaken at the behest of the Commissariat of Public Health of the RSF'SR or that of the Buriat Mongolian ASSR. Zaks and Il'in credited the Buriat-Mongol republic.

108. I.G. Zaks and S.T. Il'in, “Opyt izucheniia zabolevaemosti venbolezniiami v Buriato-Mongolii,” Venerologiia i dermatologiia, no. 9 (1927): 857, 867.

109. Ibid., 874. Not surprisingly, the authors blamed the tsarist regime for having left these peoples in a state of cultural backwardness.

110. 12.9% of the cases were declared non-venereal; 27.4% were unclear; and 6.5% were congenital (ibid., 861). Another sample of 376 patients produced 25.8% sexually-transmitted; 10.9% non-sexually transmitted; unclear 48.25 and congenital 15.2% (ibid., 860).

111. Ibid., 865.

112. Gal'perin, “Sifilis okrain,” 16. He cited a 1924 study of the Khorinskii district of Buriatiia which found that of 1104 Buriats studied, 674 were ill with syphilis. Only 0.25% of the Russians living close by were found to have had syphilis.

113. See Bronner, V., “K Tret'emu Vsesoiuznomu s ” ezdu po bor'be s venericheskimi bolezniami,” Sotsialisticheskoe zdravookhranenie, no. 5 (1929): 5 .

114. Both curing and sanitary education were secondary activities for this expedition (I.M. Okun', “K metodike,” 98).

115. For the struggle to do both treatment and research, see O.N. Ostrovskii, “Doklad o 4-kh mesiachnoi deiatel'nosti Gorskogo venerologicheskogo obsledovatel'skogo otriada v Ingushetii i Osetii,” Venerologiia i dermatologiia, no. 2 (1926): 302-12; S.A. Syrkin, “Venotriad v Kalmytskoi oblasti,” Venerologiia i dermatologiia, no. 10 (1927): 907-15; “K kharakteristike epidemicheskogo sifilisa i nektorykh kozhnykh zabolevanii sredi kirgizskogo kochevogo naseleniia,” Venerologiia i dermatologiia, no. 3 (1927): 274-77.

116. Bronner, “Sovetsko-germanskaia nauchnaia ekspeditsiia. ”

117. Plan rabot sovmestnoi russko-germanskoi ekspeditsii dlia izucheniia sifilisa v Buriato-Mongolskoi ASSR, ARAN, f.2, op.1-1928, d.58, 16-17.

118. The questionnaires for women added items on pregnancy and married life.

119. Okun', “K metodike. ”

120. Bronner, V. M., “Iazyk faktovVenerologiia i dermatologiia, no. 10 (1927): 897.

121. Rossiianskii, , “Venericheskie bolezniBol'shaia meditsinskaia entsiklopediia (1928), 4: 659.

122. Okun', “K kharakteristike,” 76. According to Okun', the Buriat people knew that their sexual habits were not normal and were seeking a way to reorganize them. In speaking of the heartland, Russia, Vein had tried to say that one could call sexual life disorganized without invoking a moral judgment ( Vein, M. A., “Osnovnye faktory, vliiaiushchie na rost i rasprostranennie venericheskikh bolezneiVenerologiia i dermatologiia, no. 6 [1925]: 134).

123. See A.I. Maiants, G.A. Batkis and L.S. Gurevich, “Problema pola sredi molodezhi vostoka,” Sotsial'naia gigiena, no. 2 (1929): 28-64. In general students were a target group for Soviet sex researchers.

124. Ibid., 39.

125. Ibid., 38.

126. For physicians’ comments on the work of the Komsomol in fighting these deep-seated habits, see Okun', “K kharakteristike,” 82; Elistratova, Kubantseva and Bunimovich, “Klinicheskie proiavleniia gonorei,” 484.

127. Rossiianskii, “Otchet o nauchnoi komandirovke,” 79-80.

128. See ibid., 384-428.

129. Recently, western scholars have broadened the concept of Soviet nationality policy by examining the work of the linguists and ethnographers sent out to work among the natsmeny. See Michael Smith, “The Eurasian Imperative in Early Soviet Language Planning: Russian Linguists at the Service of Nationalities,” in Beyond Sovietology: Essays in Politics and History, ed. Susan Gross Solomon (Armonk: M.E. Sharpe, 1993), 159-91; Slezkine, Yuri, “From Savages to Citizens: The Cultural Revolution in the Soviet Far North, 1928-1938Slavic Review 51, no. 1 (1992): 52-76.

130. Mark Adams has made a similar point about Soviet health policy. See Mark B. Adams, “Eugenics as Social Medicine in Revolutionary Russia: Prophets, Patrons, and the Dialectics of Discipline-Building,” in Solomon, Susan Gross and Hutchinson, John F., eds., Health and Society in Revolutionary Russia (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1990), 200–1.

Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

Slavic Review
  • ISSN: 0037-6779
  • EISSN: 2325-7784
  • URL: /core/journals/slavic-review
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *


Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed