Continuities and New Beginnings after National Socialism: The Ministry of Health of the GDR
Completed Research Project
Funded by Bundesministerium für Gesundheit
Health policy is one of the key areas of the modern welfare state. The GDR recognized it as a core part of its policy. Using the GDR Ministry of Health as an example, this project investigated different factors that shaped health policy measures under Socialism between 1950 and 1970. One focus was the question of continuity and discontinuities with regard to the period of National Socialism. For example, the consequences of politically burdened biographies were analysed on the basis of the career paths of leading employees of the Ministry. The study examined the extent to which these employees had previously belonged to National Socialist organizations and/or whether they had supported the Nazi state in their previous jobs – for example by participating in forced sterilization and "euthanasia" or by providing insufficient medical care to prisoners of war. Furthermore, the importance of cadre-political priorities in the GDR, which arose from the socialist ideology and had an impact on personnel policy, was outlined.
In addition, the policy of the Ministry of Health and the peculiarities of its administrative implementation were examined. In both German post-war states, the health system had to reorient itself after the racist exclusions and medical crimes of the Nazi dictatorship. Which traditional strands of health policy were broken off, changed or continued after 1945? Which alternative models were considered? What new practices were established by the Ministry and what consequences did this have for the health policy and administrative practices of the SED regime? In this context, the priorities were set by the GDR are investigated – in view of acute problems such as epidemics or the health consequences of war, but also in general with regard to the propagated goal of "health for all". The study also examined the extent to which the dictatorial character of the GDR facilitated the government's ordering of preventive measures, but at the same time paved the way for discrimination against social groups. Since the competition between West and East increasingly shifted to the field of social policy, the project also discussed how the GDR's health system acted in this context.
The project contributed to the history of the ministerial authorities and their "continuity problem" after 1945 as well as to the history of the GDR's health policy between modernization, dictatorial control and East-West competition in the context of the Cold War.
The project, funded by the Federal Ministry of Health, was accompanied by a parallel project at the Institute for Contemporary History in Munich-Berlin (IfZ) which researches - since 2019 - the history of the Federal Ministry of Health.
Book: Jutta Braun, Politische Medizin. Das Ministerium für Gesundheitswesen der DDR 1950 bis 1970, Wallstein Verlag, Göttingen 2023.
Dr. Jutta Braun
Leibniz Centre for Contemporary History Potsdam
Am Neuen Markt 1
Office: Am Neuen Markt 1, room 0.17b
Email: braun [at] zzf-potsdam.de