Academic journal article Nursing History Review

The Third Reich in the Pages of the American Journal of Nursing, 1932-1950

Academic journal article Nursing History Review

The Third Reich in the Pages of the American Journal of Nursing, 1932-1950

Article excerpt

Until the early 1990s, there had been little research in the United States on nursings involvement in the Third Reich and the Holocaust. German historian Hilde Steppe's work, for example, was first published in the United States in 1992.' Recent studies have yielded stories of complicity and murder juxtaposed with stories of heroism, resistance, and courage.2 In order for nursing to better understand its evolving identity in society, it is essential that nursing incorporate these complex and often disturbing findings into its collective memory, as a pan of its "source of identity, [its] cultural DNA."3

It is not clear whether nursing has forgotten or simply never addressed the relevancy of the Third Reich for the profession. We know that the United States as a whole responded inadequately to European Jews' needs for asylum; the nursing profession must also ask itself whether it could have intervened on behalf of Jewish nurses in Europe and other victims of the Holocaust or in response to criminal behavior of nurses under the Third Reich. As Deborah Lipstadt showed in her analysis of the American press from 1933 to 1945, printed media of the time of the Third Reich were "part of the historical process" by virtue of their power to shape reactions to events.4 One can similarly turn to media by and for nursing in the United States to better understand the profession's reactions to the Third Reich and the Holocaust.

To address these issues, this paper explores the extent, timing, and manner in which nurses reading the American Journal of Nursing (AJN) from 1932 to 1950 could have learned about the relevance for nursing of the Third Reich and what would become known as the Holocaust. AJN was chosen because of its broad readership, its status as a publication of the American Nurses Association (and, initially, the National League of Nursing Education), its status as the longestrunning nursing journal in the United States, and its broad coverage of international nursing during the period. The Journal began publishing on 1 October 1900, with the stated purpose of keeping members of the nursing profession in the United States "educated and informed of nursing issues and procedures and that the gospel of unselfish devotion to the care of the sick might be spread, with propaganda for securing to the profession a status whereby its usefulness should be increased."5 It was "the first journal in the United States for and by nurses," portrayed by its editors in 1946 as being "to the public the magazine [that] represents you and all the other members of the organization for which the Journal is the official organ."6 Mary M. Roberts was editor-in-chief from 1923 to 1949, all but the last two years of the period studied. At the beginning of her tenure, subscriptions were at 20,000; by the end, they had risen to 100,000. Throughout this period, subscriptions were $3.00 a year. Roberts's background in the military during World War I, her extensive travels abroad, and her energetic service with the International Council of Nurses (ICN) undoubtedly influenced the international emphasis and coverage of military nursing in the Journal during these years. Nell V. Beeley, Roberts's successor, brought to the position her experience as correspondent for the U.S. War Department in 1945 and her interests in international aspects of nursing.7 The AJN has been, furthermore, self-described as a record of nursing history.8 It not only has reflected the profession and practice of nursing in the United States, but has played a part in the construction and maintenance of its collective memory.

Collective Memory

The approach to nursing's collective memory used in this paper is based on die Durkheimian tradition of collective representation.9 Collective memory is shaped by contemporaneous media coverage and commentary and by subsequent historical texts and the ans. Historical events enter and are maintained in collective memory through discursive reproduction and representation. …

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