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Haakon Sæthre

Born  1891
Died  1945

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Norwegian psychiatrist, born October 20, 1891, Fana; died February 8, 1945, Oslo.

Biography of Haakon Sæthre

Haakon Sæthre was a prominent Norwegian neuropsychiatrist. His successful career was abruptly terminated in 1945 when he was murdered in Nazi reprisals. He was born in Fana near Bergen on the west coast of Norway on October 20, 1891. During the years 1914 to 1917 he was a candidate in various hospitals and in 1917 came to Rikshospitalet, Norway's then only research hospital. He graduated in medicine in 1918.

In 1920 he studied for six weeks with Robert Bárány (1876-1936) in Uppsala, and the following year he spent five months in Copenhagen and Paris on a scholarship. He trained in neurology and psychiatry at the Rikshospitalet and in 1933 he became chief physician at the psychiatric department – "sjette avdeling" – at Ullevål sykehus. From 1922 he also had a private practice in Oslo.

Sæthre also served as medical consultant to the Oslo City Child Committee, where he made proposals for the establishment of special child psychiatry clinics, and he also maintained a large private practice.

Sæthre was an outstanding clinician and administrator and he quickly made an impact in his field. He represented Norway at several international meetings, and for several years he was honorary president of the Norwegian Society of Mental Hygiene.

In the early stages of his career Sæthre investigated clinical problems, including craniostenosis, multiple sclerosis and tabes dorsalis. In particular, his studies of the cerebrospinal fluid in neurosyphilis which revealed correlations with defined regimes of treatment, attracted international interest. Later he focused on chronic alcoholism and the psychiatric effects of head injury.

On April 9, 1940, Nazi Germany occupied Norway. Sæthre joined the resistance movement, aiding Jews to escape to Sweden and sometimes concealing them by admission as patients to the hospital wards. In February 1945, 3 months before liberation, a German-appointed senior police officer was assassinated in Oslo by the Norwegian resistance force. As a reprisal, the Germans rounded up several prominent Norwegian civilians, including Sæthre, who was arrested at his hospital. On the following morning, February 8, he was shot at Akershus, the medieval fortress in the centre of Oslo, and his body immediately cremated.

In Bergen, Håkon Sæthres veg is named in his honour.


  • Encephalitis lethargica. En ny sygdom.
    Tidsskrift for Den norske lægeforening, 1919, 39: 705-718 and 763-764.
  • Poliomyelitbehandlingen i og utenfor kliniken.
    Norsk Magazin for Lægevidenskaben, 1921, 82: 122-134.
  • Tre kliniske iagttagelser til belysning av abdominalrefleksernes centripetale bane. With Georg Herman Monrad krohn, 1884-1964.
    Norsk Magazin for Lægevidenskaben, 1921, 82: 135-140.
  • Latent blikdeviation under lukkede øielok.
    Tidsskrift for Den norske lægeforening, 1922, 42: 605-606.
  • Om betydningen av spinalvæskeundersøkelsen med særlig henblik paa Wassermanns reeaktion.
    Tidsskrift for Den norske lægeforening, 1923, 43: 943-955 og 1197-1204.
  • Vismutbehandling av nervesyfilis.
    Norsk magasin for Lægevidenskaben, 1924, 85: 126-134.
  • Poliomyelitis anterior acuta (?) med polyartrit og spontane smerter persisterende 7 maaneder efter sygdommens opstaaen.
    Norsk Magazin for Lægevidenskaben, 1925, 86: 966-973.
  • Röntgenbehandling av hjernsvulster.
    Written with René Raymond Jørgensen, 1899-1929.
    Norsk Magazin for Lægevidenskapen, 1926, 87: 425-458.
  • Etagepunktur av spinalkanalen.
    Norsk Magazin for Lægevidenskapen, 1926, 87: 551-558.
  • Vismutbehandlingen av neurosyfilis.
    Norsk Magazin for Lægevidenskapen, 1926, 87: 773-793.
  • Wassermanns reaktion-lumbalpunktion.
    Tidsskrift for Den norske lægeforening, 1924, 44: 79-80.
  • Mentalhygiene. Written with Ørnulf Ødegaard og Alex Brinchmann (1888-1978).
    Oslo, Gyldendal, 1941. 308 pages. Second edition, 1947.
  • Øivind Larsen, editor:
    Norges leger. Den norske lægeforening. Oslo, 1996.
  • Peter Beighton (1934-) & Gretha Beighton:
    The Person Behind the Syndrome. Springer-Verlag London Limited, 1997.

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