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  • Cited by 2
  • Print publication year: 1997
  • Online publication date: January 2013

6 - Rationalizing the Therapeutic Arsenal: German Neuropsychiatry in World War I


The doctors hold the sieve into which male humanity is poured, in order to separate out the fit from the unfit. The netting of this sieve is getting wider and wider. Eventually so wide that almost nothing will be left above. Everything falls through into the bins which have to be kept full for the ravenous war.

Alfred Polgar, 1917

The worst thing is not that many hysterics who remain uncured must be compensated with high pensions, but that they are lost to the army in our hour of greatest need, and what's more, that these people mostly young, physically healthy individuals become worthless parasites on human society, self-pitying hypochondriacs and spineless weaklings.

Dr. Robert Gaupp, Tübingen, May 1917

As the celebrations of the beginning of World War I faded and the belligerent armies dug trenches across the western front, a puzzling epidemic that would debilitate as many as several hundred thousand German soldiers began to appear. The most common symptoms included sleeplessness, uncontrollable shaking, and disorders of speech, sight, hearing, or gait, all without detectable organic basis. Soon the individuals who came to be called “war neurotics” began to fill up army hospitals; their symptoms often deemed incurable, many were discharged with pensions or sent to their hometowns for treatment.