Roots of Polish psychiatry (2022)

by Federico Soldani – 8th Apr 2022

In a 2012 article in the journal History of Psychiatry the origins of Polish psychiatry were explored as well as their strong relationship with the Polish movement for national independence.

In the abstract of ‘Freemasonry and psychiatry in Poland’, the authors Nasierowski and Britmann explained (emphasis and links added in subsequent quotes as well): “The history of Freemasonry in Poland is linked with the national independence movement. Masonic organizations supported its ideas, even though they were not always compliant with Masonic ethics. Polish Freemasonry was reborn in 1920, with an important role played by three psychiatrists: Rafał Radziwiłłowicz, Witold Łuniewski and Jan Mazurkiewicz, who were Grand Masters of the Grand National Lodge of Poland.

Some of the ethical problems discussed at the lodge sessions were later reflected in their academic and social work. Mazurkiewicz’s work was most crucial to the development of Polish psychiatry. His presentation of the clinical picture of schizophrenia, formulated in the 1930s, was identical with the concept proposed by Andreasen and Crow in the 1980s.”


The roots of Freemasonry” – the article started – “one of the most important cultural and social phenomena of modern times, are clearly European, but the origins of this fraternal organization are as obscure as they are legendary. Historic facts and myth are inextricably woven here into a story which is open to various interpretations, reaching far beyond the horizon of incontestable facts. There has been very little or no research so far into the impact of the Masonic ideas of tolerance, freedom, equality and brotherhood on the development of psychiatry. The degree of this influence was certainly different from one country to another, but in Poland it was especially important because of the country’s specific historic circumstances, marked by 123 years of slavery, and the struggle for independence [note: What these 123 years of slavery meant to Poland was very well conveyed by Joseph Conrad (Józef Konrad Korzeniowski) in his essay The Crime of Partition (1919).]

Freemasonry was brought into Poland at the beginning of the eighteenth century by foreigners, particularly officers serving under King August II, and they helped to form the Grand National Orient in Warsaw in 1784. Masons actively participated in the historic changes that took place under the rule of King Stanislaw August Poniatowski, and in the following decades they helped to spread the ideas of liberalism and independence. During the time of the Four-Year Parliament there was a decrease in lodge activity because the local Masons, following the examples of their leaders – King Stanislaw August; Kazimierz Nestor Sapieha, the Second Marshall of the Parliament; Ignacy Potocki the Chairman of the Elementary Books Society and his brother Stanislaw Kostka Potocki, Julian Ursyn Niemcewicz and Scipione Piatiolliegi – were very involved in the work of the Parliament.

Many Poles in Napoleon’s army, with Prince Józef Poniatowski [in the portrait below, ed.] leading the way, were Freemasons, and Dąbrowski’s legions which marched ‘from Italy to Poland had the Masonic emblem on their banners (calipers and bevel)’. Poland’s National Freemasonry, founded on 5 May 1819 by Walerian Łukasiński, and made up exclusively of officers, set itself the goal of working towards national independence, and restoring Poland within its historic borders. […]

Portrait by Josef Grassi, ca. 1810, oil on canvas. Józef Poniatowski – Wikipedia

At the beginning of November 1909, seven well known members of the Warsaw intelligentsia were initiated in the Parisian lodge ‘Les Rénovateurs’, among them a psychiatrist Rafał Radziwiłłowicz (1860–1929). This led to the establishment of a Masonic lodge in Warsaw, on 10 June 1910. The lodge, named ‘Wyzwolenie’ (Liberation), was subordinate to the Grand Orient of  France. Radziwiłłowicz, who had been appointed a Master in the ‘Les Rénovateurs’ lodge on 8 Jan. 1910, became the chairman of the ‘Wyzwolenie’ lodge.”


Radziwiłłowicz was born on 20 Dec. 1860 in St Petersburg. He graduated from the 4th Warsaw Gymnasium in 1879, and went on to the Medical Faculty of Dopart University to continue his studies, which he completed in 1886. In 1887 he became a Doctor of Medical Science, having defended his thesis Nachweis und Wirkung des Cytisins (1887), having done the research in the pharmacological laboratory headed by Professor [Rudolf] Kobert, and in the psychiatric clinic of Professor Emil Kraepelin. On 1 Nov. 1889, Radziwiłłowicz became an Assistant in the Saint Nicholas the Wonderworker’s Hospital in St Petersburg. The hospital had been headed since 1881 by a Pole, Professor Otton Czeczot. On 3 July 1889, with the death of Victor Kandinsky, the position of Senior Assistant became vacant; the Municipal Hospital Committee changed it to Assistant, and the post was subsequently taken by Radziwiłłowicz. […]

Among his most important publications are: Psychiatria sądowa (Forensic Psychiatry, 1917), Myśli o myśleniu (Thoughts about Thinking, 1921) and Podstawy psychologii (Foundations of Psychology, 1926). […]

During his time at the St Nicholas Hospital, Radziwiłłowicz also worked voluntarily in the psychiatric clinic of the Tsar’s Medical Military Academy in St Petersburg, headed by a Polish psychiatrist, Professor Jan Mierzejewski. In St Petersburg, Radziwiłłowicz was part of a large circle of Polish psychiatrists, with Assistant Professor Alfons Erlicki being his direct supervisor at the clinic. […]

Neither the political police (Ochrana) nor the Tsar’s gendarmerie managed to penetrate the ranks of the Polish Masons or identify a member during their operations, which ended in 1915. Because of the possibility of conspiracy, and because of the growing number of Brothers, it was decided that another lodge was needed in Warsaw; this was called ‘Odrodzenie’ (Rebirth). […]

On 28–30 June 1917, the International Masonic Congress of Allied and Neutral Nations took place, at which the rebuilding of Poland was proposed as one of the principal conditions for peace. At this Congress, André Lebey, the secretary of the Council of the Grand Orient of France, said: ‘Rebuilding an independent Poland, with all its lands reunited, is a necessity; it is one of the cornerstones of the foundations, upon which the most lasting pillars of peace will stand in the future’. […]

The Grand Orient of Italy was eventually chosen, and on 19 Mar. 1920 a new lodge called ‘Kopernik’ (Copernicus), based on Scottish rite, was founded in Warsaw, with Radziwiłłowicz as its Chairman. On 24 Apr. 1920 the lodge received its foundation document from the Grand Lodge of Italy, thus becoming a regular lodge that could be a mother lodge for new lodges founded in the future. Seven brothers were needed to create a lodge and choose a chairman. […]

As a psychiatrist, he helped various people who were arrested by the Tsar’s police; for example, in 1900 he helped Józef Piłsudski to fake mental illness and assisted the organizers of Piłsudski’s hideout in Saint Nicholas the Wonderworker’s Hospital in St Petersburg, thus helping the future leader of independent Poland to avoid another deportation to Siberia.

Czesław Świrski, who in 1918 was Piłsudski’s assistant, was in a much more difficult situation. He was sentenced to the death penalty for the robbery of the Tsar’s train on 26 Sep. 1908, and he was only saved by pretending to be mentally ill, helped by Radziwiłłowicz and others. 

Death sentences for people who were ‘suspected’ of being mentally unstable triggered international protests, especially in Masonic circles where the human rights movement first originated. […]

The Polish Social Medicine Association was started, with Radziwiłłowicz as its first President, and Witold Chodźko as Deputy President. Radziwiłłowicz, in his capacity as Head of the Polish Social Medicine Association, organized the First Congress of Military Medicine which took place in Warsaw on 1–2 Feb. 1917. […] On behalf of the Association, Radziwiłłowicz spoke in public about the improvement of mental healthcare and about introducing proper legal regulations concerning mental illness (mental health acts).”  


The contribution of Freemason psychiatrists to the development of Polish psychiatry.

Three psychiatrists attained the highest positions in the restored Polish Freemasonry. Radziwiłłowicz was the Grand Master in 1920–1. During the session of the National Grand Lodge held on 16 Nov. 1928, Jan Mazurkiewicz (1871–1947) was elected the Grand Master for 1929–1931. Witold Łuniewski (1881–1943) held the office in 1925–6 and 1935–7.

Another Freemason psychiatrist, who played a significant role in the social and political life of the newly independent Poland, was Witold Chodźko (1875–1954), a member of the ‘Kopernik’ lodge, and of ‘Wolność Przywrócona’ in 1928–38. […]

Chodźko was born in 1875 in Piotrków Trybunalski. He graduated from the 4th Gymnasium in Warsaw in 1894, and went on to study medicine at the Medical Faculty of Warsaw University in 1899. In 1900 he continued his studies in Parisian hospitals with Professor Józef Babiński [assistant to Jean-Martin Charcot, where Sigmund Freud studied as well, ed.] and Professor Alexis Joffroy, and in Graz with Professor G. Anton. […]

In 1927 Chodźko was confirmed by the Grand Orient of France as a ‘Guarantor of Friendship’, and he remained in this role until 1938. Chodźko was a delegate of the Grand National Lodge of Poland to the Convent of the Association Maçonnique Internationale, 27–29 Dec. 1927. In April 1918, Chodźko became the Minister of Health and organized the National Health Service in the now independent Poland, together with Radziwiłłowicz and Mazurkiewicz, who were also working for the ministry at the time and who dealt mostly with mental health issues. Chodźko remained in his ministerial position in the next few governments. From 1922 he was on many occasions Poland’s delegate to the General Assembly of the League of Nations. He represented Poland on several committees of the League of Nations and was, for example, the President of the Opium Committee in 1936–7. […]

Convention of Polish Neurologists, Psychiatrists and Psychologists held on 11–13 Oct. 1909. He was a member of the Organizing Committee of the Convention as a delegate for the Polish Psychological Association (registered on 5 Mar. 1907) and he chaired the sessions of the psychological section. The second convention took place on 20–23 Dec. 1912 in Krakow, with a focus on Sigmund Freud’s views and mental health care. […]

Freemason psychiatrists headed the Polish Psychiatric Association throughout the entire inter-war period: Chodźko in 1920–23 and 1928–30, and Mazurkiewicz in 1923–28 and 1930–47

Radziwiłłowicz was the General Secretary of the Association between 1920 and 1928, and he was also the founder of Rocznik Psychiatryczny (Psychiatric Annual), the journal published by the Association. […]

Radziwiłłowicz supported and popularized pragmatism in Poland, which in a sense can be defined as the US national philosophy. In fact, there are many similarities between pragmatism and Masonic philosophy, which is not surprising as Masonic organizations had a great impact on the social, political and cultural life of the USA, especially when it first became an independent State. […]

Pragmatism also inspired Radziwiłłowicz’s new outlook on psychiatry. He understood pragmatism, with its evolutionary and biological elements, as a bridge connecting neuroanatomical and psychological approaches. […]

He thought that the most important task facing psychiatrists was to define the dynamics of symptoms, through ‘thinking about them in evolutionary terms’.  […]

He based his concept of the organization of mental life on the William James’ model, in which personality is presented as a hierarchically organized arrangement of features. Radziwiłłowicz thought that ‘behaviour is a peak expression of mental activity’, as it appears last in development, and therefore is the last to be affected by illness. 

He was critical of the views of Bleuler and Kraepelin, who were associationists, and wrote: ‘I cannot follow the trend which is rather common in German and Polish psychiatry stipulating that there is only one God – Kraepelin, and Bleuler is his prophet – no matter how highly I value both as distinguished clinicists to whom I personally owe a lot’. He was, above all, critical of the extent of the concept of schizophrenia , saying that Bleuler was ‘seduced by the concept he had created and […] included all mental illnesses of non-organic origin in it’. […] [see Eugen Bleuler and the influence of the Enlightenment (2021) – PsyPolitics].

Like James, Radziwiłłowicz subscribed to pluralism, which he thought was ‘the only biologically justified view of the world’ […]

He was the first to introduce the elements of Anglo-Saxon philosophy and psychology into Polish psychiatry. He thought that ‘the one-sided tendency of our [Polish] science to yield to German influence is no good, and if it were to be consolidated with critical English empiricism, it would – without a doubt – increase the efficiency of our scientific pursuits’”


Mazurkiewicz presented his vision of man as psychophysical unity, at the same time rejecting the reflexological (behavioural) concept. He declared he was in favour of interactionist dualism. From the philosophical point of view, Mazurkiewicz’s view on the mind-body problem shifted all the way from physicalist monism to psychological interactionism. […]

He based his psychophysiological theory on two principles: the principle of energetism and the principle of evolution, which he adhered to from the very beginning of his academic career. He acknowledged the primacy of feeling over cognition, accepting memory to be the basis of all mental functions […]

Mazurkiewicz thought that emotions are the basis of behavioural processes, whereas their anatomic and physiological background is in the vegetative system. […] [see, in Italian, Moruzzi: fisiologia della vita vegetativa vs. di relazione (2022) – PsyPolitics] the process of dissolution creates three different clinical pictures at three evolutionary levels; these are: neurotic, schizophrenic-prelogical and delirious-prelogical. […]

Mazurkiewicz who was the creator of the original concept of the normal and pathological functioning and neurodynamics of the central nervous system, defined in neo-Jacksonian terms.[…]

He thought that Bleuler’s introduction of the term schizophrenia (split psychosis) was the result of a misconception that the illness process ‘splits the psyche’. What Kraepelin defined as ‘basic disorders’ in dementia praecox, i.e. in schizophrenia (weakened judgement and mental activity, creativity, dulled emotionality, loss of strength to act, leading to the dissociation of internal spiritual life), Mazurkiewicz thought were negative (defective) symptoms caused directly by the illness process.”

He also dealt with authors such as “Jackson and the French neo-Jacksonians, such as Henri Ey and Julien Rouart.”


The third Grand Master, Witold Łuniewski, was, like Radziwiłłowicz, mainly involved with forensic psychiatry and ethical problems in psychiatry. […]

Witold Łuniewski was born on 18 January 1881 in Warta. He graduated from a gymnasium in Kalisz, then began his studies at the Medical Faculty of Warsaw University. In 1905, when he was finishing at university, it was closed down due to strikes, and so he was able to graduate only a year later in Kazań. As soon as he completed his studies, he started working in the Neurological and Psychiatric Clinic of the Jagiellonian University, and after a few months left for Switzerland for treatment of tuberculosis, was diagnosed in 1905. In 1906, in Zürich, he received the Diploma of Medical Doctor, returned to Poland and began working in the Mental Hospital in Kochanówka near Łódź. He nostrified his diploma in Kazań, and shortly afterwards was forced to leave for Switzerland, due to his worsening health. In Davos he worked with mentally-ill tuberculosis patients. In the middle of 1908 he became an assistant to Eugene Bleuler at the Burghölzli. Soon afterwards, he worked through a brief apprenticeship with Emil Kraepelin in Munich. […]

Freemasons were exposed to hostile attacks from many social circles and powers. They remained faithful to their ideas, in contrast to what they called ‘the collective psychosis that altered nations into armed hordes of barbarians, blindly following their commander’, and attracted hatred, becoming a testing ground of the contemporary political situation. […]

The voice of psychiatric circles was heard. The eugenic law was not passed, in spite of strong internal pressure from the Polish Eugenics Society [see also ‘Polish Psychiatrists and Eugenic Sterilization During the Interwar Period’ by Magdalena Gawin, ed.], and the external pressures expressed in a common belief – at the time considered to be a mark of modernity – that eugenics offered ways of developing medicine, and of solving social problems linked to the long-term care of chronically ill people, especially the mentally ill.”


The authors of the article stated that “Polish Masons played an important role in maintaining Polish nationality, through their involvement in the Constitution of 3 May 1791, the first European constitution [note: the first modern, written constitution in Europe and second in the world (after the US constitution of 1787), which introduced the legislative, executive and judicial separation of powers, increased the powers of the bourgeoisie and announced improvements in the condition of peasants. Its adoption changed Poland’s political system from a parliamentary to a constitutional monarchy], and then, after the partitions, in their struggle for restoring independence.”

On the relation between psychiatry and constitutional law see also Psychiatry, constitutional law, and political power in a 60s TV debate (2020) – PsyPolitics and about Russian psychiatry and its ideological background ‘Russian Psychiatry – Its Historical and Ideological Background’, Zilboorg 1942 (2021) – PsyPolitics and “What benefit does Russia derive from this Institute?” Tsar Nicholas II on the Psycho-Neurological Institute (2021) – PsyPolitics.

“The involvement of Mason psychiatrists” – the article concluded – “aimed at helping those fighting for Poland’s independence may be referred to as political psychiatry. In this case, however, it was specifically rooted in defending human rights, often saving lives.”


[In the photo at the top, Jan Mazurkiewicz (psychiatrist), circa 1933 – Wikipedia.]

Cite this article as: Federico Soldani, "Roots of Polish psychiatry (2022)," in PsyPolitics, April 8, 2022,

Last Updated on April 18, 2022 by Federico Soldani

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