In Memoriam: George Tarjan, MD, From the Holocaust to Honoring International Medical Graduates


A late eulogy for George Tarjan, MD…

George Tarjan, MD


Our eulogies of psychiatrists over the years have followed an unwritten guideline of covering those I came to know who passed away within the prior year. Why not, however, eulogize some psychiatrists who have died before we started the series, especially when they are particularly relevant to current social psychiatric challenges? For an example, take George Tarjan, MD.

Dr Tarjan was born in Hungary in 1912, received his medical training there, and immigrated to the United States in 1939. He parents were murdered in the Holocaust. There seems to be limited published information about his Jewish background and its relevance to his later life, but this came out regarding his son, Robert Tarjan, and the awards his son won. For example, in 1982, Robert was the Jewish Recipient of the Abacus Model in computer science. As part of his identification, it was written that his father George “was raised in an intellectual, liberal Jewish family” in Hungary.

From the worst anti-Semitism in history, with the genocidal actions of the Nazis, Dr Tarjan settled in America, where after the war anti-Semitism seemed a thing of the past. It was not, as not long after his death, it started to rise once again.

Dr Tarjan become well-known as a child psychiatrist, and around the same time his son received his award, George was elected President of the American Psychiatric Association from 1983-1984, exhibiting the Jewish value of Tikkun Olam, to try to heal the world. He was the first international medical graduate (IMG) to be elected to that position. He died in 1991, and in 1992 the George Tarjan Award was established to highlight a physician who made significant contributions to the integration of IMGs into American psychiatry. The contributions of IMGs have been numerous: in research, editing, the workforce (especially in the public sector) and 4 prior APA Presidents, with a fifth being our President-Elect.

This year, Rama Rao Gogineni has been chosen, and will deliver his award lecture on Saturday afternoon, May 4th. His topic is gratitude—gratitude that the IMGs have for their acceptance in the United States, and for what they have given to psychiatry.

Rama Rao himself is known for his collegiality and personal “goodness.” Although I did not personally know Dr Tarjan, I have worked with Rama Rao on many projects, most recently on a series of edited books on psychiatry and religions for Springer. In the Anti-Semitism and Psychiatry volume, we both were coauthors of a chapter on Hinduism and anti-Semitism, where we made a case that Hindu individuals were a rarity in their lack of anti-Semitism.

As a model for cross-cultural and interfaith relationships, the George Tarjan Award and this year’s awardee, Rama Rao Gogineni, could not be more serendipitously timely. As I was putting the finishing touches on this column very early in the morning, the police were entering the pro-Palestinian protest camp at UCLA and making arrests of the campers and beginning to tear down the camp. I have not noticed or heard of any involvement of student mental health there.

The war in the Mideast has also contributed to the fraying of relationships among psychiatrists of different religions and cultural backgrounds. Instead of animosity, we need gratitude for how we psychiatrists can supplement each other in our diversity. Drs Tarjan, Gogineni, and IMGs have provided such a model.

Dr Moffic is an award-winning psychiatrist who specialized in the cultural and ethical aspects of psychiatry and is now in retirement and retirement as a private pro bono community psychiatrist. A prolific writer and speaker, he has done a weekday column titled “Psychiatric Views on the Daily News” and a weekly video, “Psychiatry & Society,” since the COVID-19 pandemic emerged. He was chosen to receive the 2024 Abraham Halpern Humanitarian Award from the American Association for Social Psychiatry. Previously, he received the Administrative Award in 2016 from the American Psychiatric Association, the one-time designation of being a Hero of Public Psychiatry from the Speaker of the Assembly of the APA in 2002, and the Exemplary Psychiatrist Award from the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill in 1991. He is an advocate and activist for mental health issues related to climate instability, physician burnout, and xenophobia. He is now editing the final book in a 4-volume series on religions and psychiatry for Springer: Islamophobia, anti-Semitism, Christianity, and now The Eastern Religions, and Spirituality. He serves on the Editorial Board of Psychiatric Times.

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