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Dan Snow's History Hit

The Psychiatric Hospital that Fought the Nazis

Dan Snow's History Hit
Dan Snow's History Hit

There are descriptions of suffering early in this episode that some listeners may find distressing.

As hospitals and institutions across the European frontline were taken over to serve the war effort in the 1940s, what happened to psychiatric hospitals, housing some of the continent's most vulnerable in often prison-like conditions? Well, approximately 45,000 psychiatric patients died of starvation and disease in France alone. One psychiatrist described the scenes he witnessed during that time as being as bad as the concentration camps. But there was one hospital that, not only defied this fate but thrived during the war. Saint-Alban-sur-Limagnole, in Southern France, had a death rate of less than 10 per cent – and no deaths from malnutrition. Not only did staff and patients stay alive through pooling skills to create food, foraging in the local area and keeping livestock, it actually became a hub of the French Resistance - storing ammunition, and acting as a safe house for Jewish refugees and freedom fighters. The hospital not only fought fascism but also provided a more community-focused treatment that proved to have a revolutionary effect on patients.

Joining Dan on the podcast to tell this extraordinary story is Ben Platts-Mills, a writer who has worked in the mental health sector for 16 years. He came across it when he was looking into the work of French painter Jean Debuffet and saw that much of the artwork he’d collected was done by inpatients at Saint Alban during the war.

You can read more about Saint Alban-sur-Limagnole and Ben's other work here: https://www.benplatts-mills.com/

Produced by Mariana Des Forges and edited by Dougal Patmore.

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Dan Snow's History Hit
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