August 31, 2017

How two Polish doctors outsmarted the Nazis by engineering a fake typhus outbreak


The International Raoul Wallenberg Foundation is searching for survivors or their relatives to document this incredible story

During the Nazi occupation of Poland, two physicians, Dr. Eugene Lazowski and Dr. Stanisław Matulewicz, managed to save 8,000 people from forced labor camps by fooling the Nazis into believing an outbreak of typhus was spreading across the city of Rozwadow.

The plot was hatched after Dr. Lazoski discovered that by injecting a healthy person with a dead strain of the typhus bacteria, that person would test positive for typhus without suffering from any of the symptoms of the disease. Knowing that the Nazis were terrified of a typhus outbreak, which would halt production at their labor camps and contaminate their own men, the two Polish doctors set out to concoct a fake epidemic.

Working in close cooperation with the Polish resistance, the doctors began inoculating people with Proteous OX-19, an innocuous dead strain of bacteria, which caused the immune system to create antibodies that would indicate a typhus infection.

After patients tested “positive” for typhus, the entire area was quarantined, and its inhabitants were saved from being sent to forced labor interment camps. The doctors did not administer the inoculation to Jews, as they knew that they would be immediately killed if they were thought to have contracted typhus.

However, because of the “outbreak,” the area became a safe haven for Jews, as the Nazis steered clear of the fleckfieber zone to avoid contamination by the deadly disease. Dr. Lazowski, who lived next to the Jewish ghetto, was also known for secretly treating Jewish patients, although the Nazi occupiers outlawed it.

The scheme was almost revealed when it became clear that very few people had died as a result of the disease. Nazi inspectors then sent a team of physicians to investigate. Dr. Lazowski greeted the doctors with a banquet of Polish delicacies and drinks before introducing them to a group of sick-looking patients in a dirty room, convincing the occupiers that the outbreak was real.

The International Raoul Wallenberg Foundation, a non-governmental organization, which conducts research on the Holocaust, hopes to acquire the testimony of those who may know more about the actions of Dr. Lazowski and Dr. Matulewicz.

Dr. Lazowski moved to the United States after the war and died there in 2006, after a successful medical career as a professor of pediatrics at the University of Illinois at Chicago. He wrote a memoir entitled Prywatna wojna (My Private War). The International Raoul Wallenberg Foundation is not aware of what happened to his colleague, Dr. Matulewicz.

“Any person who managed to survived thanks to their help, as well as living relatives from the survivors, are prompted to contact our NGO. We shall be delighted to collect your valuable testimony. Please address your responses, preferably via email to: The International Raoul Wallenberg Foundation at,” wrote Eduardo Eurnekian and Baruch Tenembaum, Chairman and Founder of the foundation, in a press release.