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Report of a Poor-Relief Doctor in Berlin (c. 1890)

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This usually struck people without unfavorable backgrounds: men and women who were healthy to begin with, but had fallen victim to the effects of factory dust, flats without light and air, and insufficient diet, or who had been infected through cohabitation with other sick persons. We had to watch them die and see the families go to ruin. If we occasionally managed to get a patient admitted to one of the few existing institutions at the time, this was almost always just a short reprieve – the patient had to go back to work, of course, and the voracious creature in his lungs triumphed over him. Third on the list was the enormous number of artificially induced miscarriages for which I had to provide follow-up treatment; these "miscarriages" were perpetrated in dirty corners by even dirtier women who conned their victims out of their last penny and often brought them lasting infirmity or even death. And then, of course, there was the army of venereal diseases, prostitution of all different shades, ranging from the elegant mistress of several men all the way down to the completely degenerated whore on the street. Even today, all of humanity’s misery grips me when I recall the wretchedness that passed before me like a grotesque movie.

Source: Franz Oppenheimer, Erlebtes, Erstrebtes, Erreichtes. Lebenserinnerungen [Experiences, Aspirations, and Achievements: Memories of a Life]. Düsseldorf, 1964, pp. 100ff.

Original German text reprinted in Gerhard A. Ritter and Jürgen Kocka, eds., Deutsche Sozialgeschichte 1870-1914. Dokumente und Skizzen [German Social History 1870-1914. Documents and Sketches], 3rd ed. Munich: C.H. Beck, 1982, pp. 248-50.

Translation: Erwin Fink

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