Patrick Lemoine

Right of Sanctuaries Publication date : January 1, 1998

During World War II, 50,000 mentally ill patients died of hunger, cold and neglect in French psychiatric hospitals, to a backdrop of general indifference. Among the victims was Sylvain Fusco, a painter of genius, who was hospitalised on 9 April 1930 and died (of beriberi according to medical reports) on 29 December 1940. He was, in actual fact, the first patient to die of hunger at the Asile du Vinatier, a psychiatric institution near Lyon. Based on hospital archives and accounts by contemporary witnesses (guards, nurses, doctors, patients, and administrators), Patrick Lemoine has recounted in dramatised form the history of the Asile du Vinatier, where Sylvain Fusco--probably out of friendship for his doctor, André Requet--painted works of art which are now housed in Lausanne's Musée de l'Art Brut. This book is a detailed reconstruction of daily life at Vinatier from 1937 to 1945, a period marked by the earliest institutional attempts to treat mental illness. It was also the time when the blindness of administrative rules, the meanness of politicians, and the indifference of society at large resulted in a collective drama: the gradual extermination of mental patients.

Patrick Lemoine is a psychiatrist and department head at the Hôpital du Vinatier in Lyon. He is the author of Le Mystère du placebo, published by Editions Odile Jacob (1995).