As the evil of the Holocaust raged across Europe, heroes of all ethnicities rose to the challenge to protect their Jewish neighbors, using increasingly creative methods. One quick-thinking Polish doctor named Dr. Eugene Lazowski who was quietly practicing medicine in the small Polish town of Rozwadow. Rozwadow had a large Jewish population living under strict German occupation. Since Lazowski could not openly help them, he was forced to do so in secret. He worked under cover of night, sneaking into the ghetto to assist those in need. But it was not enough. The ominous threat of labor camps hung over the Polish Jews so Lazowski and his partner Dr. Sanislaw Matlewicz hatched a plan to protect them.
Matlewicz had been experimenting with the typhus virus and had discovered that by injecting a dead version of typhus into a patient would cause a false positive for typhus. Playing on the Germans’ fear of infection and disease, Lazowski put his plan into place. He began injecting sympathetic Polish men and women with the dead virus in a careful pattern, mimicking the spread of a typhus outbreak. He was careful to not inject any Jewish patients, however for a typhus diagnosis would mean a swift execution. Soon the Nazis were sufficiently convinced of an outbreak and quarantined the entire town, ghetto and all.
Soon the Nazis became suspicious of this “epidemic” that had taken no lives. But when they came to investigate, Lazowski plied them with food and much alcohol. Once they were drunk, he took them to visit his patients. Lazowski had arranged his sickest-looking patients for their viewing. A quick visual inspection and a few blood samples were all it took to convince the Nazi doctors that the epidemic was real. Satisfied, they returned to Germany. From 1939-1942, Lazowski saved an estimated 8,000 Jews from deportation in Rozwadow and the dozen surrounding towns. In the 1950s Lazowski and his family immigrated to Chicago, where he became a pediatrics professor. He was silent about his wartime contribution until 1980, when he broke his silence with a book entitled: My Private War, a bestseller in his native Poland. When he returned to his homeland in 2000 for the filming of a documentary, the Polish people held a three-day celebration for the man who saved so many lives with a deadly virus.
Written by Kimberly Kuntz