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Hans Martin Sutermeister

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Kleiner Walzer

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Hans Martin Sutermeister (29 September 1907 – 4 May 1977 pen name: Hans Moehrlen) was a Swiss physician and medical writer, politician, and activist against miscarriages of justice.
Hans Martin was born to Freidrich Sutermeister (1873-1934) and Maria Hunziker (1875-1947). His brothers include the writer Peter and composer Heinrich. His grandfather was the folklorist Otto Sutermeister. A minister's son, Hans Martin studied theology in Germany, changing to medicine at University of Basel just before completing his degree. After his promotion with his uncle Hans Hunziker in 1941, Sutermeister published, under the pseudonym “Hans Moehrlen” (following the surname of his great-grandfather Christophe Moehrlen), an autobiographical novella about his life as a bachelor. The novella describes his philosophical change of direction towards a monist view of love and happiness, inspired by natural science; remarkably is its heartedness in times of war. In the following years, Sutermeister published a series on neopositivist medical thought. He was especially interested in psychosomatic medicine and music psychology. For example, according to him, “swing music is restful” because
the brain becomes fatigued when it is worked too hard, as in acquiring knowledge of new facts. Both students and business men can benefit by such music … the best way to rest the brain after such fatigue is to “regress” to more basic or primitive forms of thought and feeling.
During World War II, he worked for the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration in Germany, Poland and Czechoslovakia, as well as a physician at the Swiss border. After the war he wrote for medical journals and was an instructor in psychophysiology at the Volkshochschule (Folk high school) in Bern. In 1945, he opened his first a family medical practice in Bern.
In order to get a venia legendi in History of Medicine and Medical Psychology (Psychosomatics), Sutermeister successively deposited, at the beginning of the 1950s, three post-doctoral theses at the Medical Faculty of the University of Berne:
Sutermeister was in contact with the medical historian Erich Hintzsche particularly because of his work Schiller as physician, and he participated in a seminar on medical history 1953 in Lugano. In a letter to Hintzsche, Henry E. Sigerist described Sutermeister's review, published in 1955 as Volume 13 of the Berne contributions to the history of medicine and natural sciences, as “a very nice work … that is interesting even to literary historians.” The assessor Jakob Klaesi recommended to the Dean of the Faculty Bernhard Walthard to allow Sutermeister's habilitation allow for the government to issue Sutermeister's habilitation as a lecturer in Medicine history and Psychosomatic medicine. Hintzsche, however, who decided jointly, rejected his habilitation.
He joined the Ring of Independents political party and began his political career in the legislature of the Canton of Bern. From 1967 to 1971 he served as a member of the municipal executive, as well as director of the city's schools. As school director, he promoted comprehensive schools. Although he had a reputation as a progressive within his party, he also stirred some concern both inside and outside the party by fiercely criticizing The Little Red Schoolbook, an educational manifesto deriving from the 1968 student protest movement that urged students to reject societal norms. Der Spiegel quoted his warning to all educators:
We will not permit our youth, who are today still healthy, and our freedom-based Western culture, to be undermined by such softening-up tactics, which are clearly controlled from the East, and made 'Ready for conquest' by Communism.
and added that some schools banned the book; Radio Bern canceled a broadcast on it; and bookstores canceled orders; the city authorities determined that the book was not seditious, but with police assurance that they had the power to do so, banned it as posing a danger to minors. His actions revealed latent attitudinal and generational divisions within the party, and he was not re-elected in 1971.
In 1972, he opened his new family medical practice in Basel.
In the 1960s, Sutermeister became interested in forensic pathology, and began to involve himself in investigating and attempting to right miscarriages of justice. He traveled widely and wrote analyses on false recognition, intimidation by prison inmates, uncritical acceptance of expert testimony, suggestibility and emotionalism in jurors and psychological errors by judges. His book Summa Iniuria, which treats hundreds of cases, is one of the most thorough German-language works in the field. He concerned himself particularly with the case of Pierre Jaccoud, whom he was convinced had been wrongly convicted of murdering Charles Zumbach based on faulty forensic work. At one point Pierre Hegg, the head of the police criminological laboratory, sued him for defamation. His efforts on behalf of Jaccoud made him a prominent and effective opponent of courtroom injustice, and he went so far as to assemble the funds to hire Horace Mastronardi and other lawyers to appeal Jaccoud's conviction. Despite his efforts, the case was never reopened.
The criminal law expert Karl Peters puts Sutermeister's Summa iniuria in the context of the earlier works of Erich Sello, Max Alsberg, Albert Hellwig, Max Hirschberg and Heinrich Jagusch and considers him as a "committed fighters for a constitutionally protected Criminal Justice".
The bibliography of Hans Martin Sutermeister includes a fictional novel and around 150 scientific articles, essays and books, some of them Investigative journalism written by the Swiss writer Hans Martin Sutermeister, pen name Hans Moehrlen (1907–1977). Sutermeister was a prolific writer on topics related to psychosomatic medicine, music psychology and history of medicine as well as contemporary Swiss society and cultural criticism, whom Karl Peters in 2008 declared "a fierce fighter for justice."
Sutermeister is best remembered for his contradictory political as a both-left-and-rightwing libertarian-authoritarian presence in local media. Every line of work that he has written since 1942 seeming, directly or indirectly, in favour of a monist worldview. To that end, Sutermeister used his scientific writing to defend his political convictions, as shown in several book reviews. He first achieved acclaim with his non–fictional books from Psychologie und Weltanschauung (1944) to Schiller als Arzt (1955) and cemented his place in local history as one of the greatest Swiss pamphletists with the publication of Summa Iniuria: Ein Pitaval der Justizirrtümer shortly before his death.
Sutermeister wrote non-fiction—including book reviews, editorials, and investigative journalism—for a variety of Swiss periodicals, mainly medical journals. He particularly wrote a book-length investigation of comprehensive schools in Switzerland and another of miscarriages of justice in the form of Summa Iniuria: Ein Pitaval der Justizirrtümer, a retrospective of criminal justice mainly in Switzerland and Germany.
No attempts have been made until now to comprehensively collect the entirety of his miscellany.
Sutermeister composed one novel, Zwischen zwei Welten, which is autobiographical; it was inspired by his period working as a student during wartime; it records his experiences living and tramping in a town where he later finished his medical studies; the names are partially fictionalized:
Among his Non-fiction books are the writings of his Neopositivist period (1942–1945) which culminates in his article Der Neopositivismus als neue Einheitsweltanschauung (1945; see below):
Doctoral dissertation:
At the University of Berne, Sutermeister presented subsequently three Habilitation theses, which were all rejected:
Sutermeister wrote dozens of essays and book reviews. His insights into history of medicine, literature, and politics (defending in particular anti-fascist, liberal socialist, freethought and somehow anti-communist ideas) during the following years. Since his death, many essays have disappeared, with the first attempt at a comprehensive collection being this list. Some of his essays, mainly during his time as member of the Ring of Independents political party, took the form of pamphlets and were published and distributed (by himself) independently.
The following list contains the articles which are both registered in PubMed and can be considered as outstanding because of their scope, theme range or length:
Volume 40, Issue 6, 8 February 1951, Pages 121-122. ISSN 0369-8394 PMID 14827825
As a member of the so–called bernese nonconformists, Sutermeister spoke in the Junkere 37 (sometimes called Speakers' Corner of Bern). Some fragments of these manifestations are traceable in the Nonkonformismus Archiv Fredi Lerch.
While Sutermeister was not known for his aesthetic work, he did compose two “little waltz” and a poem:
Hans Martin married Ingeborg Marie Schulzke, with whom he had three daughters.