Saturday, November 5, 2016

One doctor's ingenious fake epidemic

When the Nazis moved into Poland in 1939, Eugene Lazowski had just finished medical school. He was made an officer in the Polish army and stationed in the town of Rozwadow where he worked for the Red Cross. The fence which marked the border of the town's Jewish ghetto was right behind his house.

Dr. Lazowski had heard of recent discoveries by fellow Pole Dr. Stanislaw Matulewicz. It seems that a certain strain of the typhus bacteria, when killed and injected, will allow the patient to test positive for the deadly epidemic disease while remaining symptom-free. Dr. Lazowski tried it, and sent the patient's blood sample to a German lab for testing. 

The response was a red telegram - the patient has epidemic typhus and must be quarantined.

The patient was not ill.  

So Dr. Lazoswki came up with a plan. Whenever a patient came to him, be it a villager or a Jew from the ghetto (who he was forbidden to treat but did so anyway), he injected them with the bacteria. Blood samples left the village, red telegrams returned.

Soon the village and the ghetto seemed to be a hotbed of epidemic typhus. Nazis avoided the area - Germany had not had an outbreak of typhus in a generation, and officials worried about their soldiers' vulnerability. When a medical inspection team was sent to check on the epidemic's status, Dr. Lazowski planted ragged, dirty villagers in the hospital. The nervous doctors took one look and left quickly. The village quarantine was official.

The Nazis stayed away from Rozwadow for the duration of the war. Over 8,000 villagers and ghetto residents were spared the fate of other Polish villages, all because of one doctor's kind heart and his ingenuity.

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