The Weapon of Intelligence

Meet the Hero: Eugene Lazowski

His was an incredible ruse that took immense intellect and bravery. He created the illusion of an epidemic of a deadly disease, playing on the deep fears of the Nazis. And his trickery saved 8,000 Polish Jews at the height of the Holocaust.

Born in 1913, Eugene Lazowski had just finished medical school when the Nazis invaded Poland in 1939. Typhus was spreading across the country, killing an average of 750 people a day, and in an attempt to contain the disease, the Nazis increased their isolation and execution of Jews. Eugene joined the Polish Red Cross but was forbidden by the Nazis from treating Jewish patients. He did so anyways, sneaking into the Jewish ghetto under the cover of night.

One day, a Polish solider on leave begged Eugene and his colleague to help him avoid returning to the warfront.  In an attempt to help the young solider fake a life-threatening illness, the doctors discovered that a dead strain of the Proteus OX19 bacteria in typhus would still lead to a positive test for the disease. Eugene realized that this could be used as a defense against the Nazis.

He began distributing the phony vaccine widely. Within two months, so many new (fake) cases were confirmed that Eugene successful convinced his Nazi supervisors a typhus epidemic had broken out. In response, the Nazis began quarantining areas with suspected typhus cases, including those with Jewish inhabitants. In 12 other villages, Eugene created safe havens for Jews through these quarantines. His work deluding the Nazis would eventually save 8,000 Jewish lives.

I was not able to fight with a gun or sword, but I found a way to scare the Germans. - Dr. Eugene Lazowski

When the war ended, Eugene continued to practice medicine in Poland until he was forced to flee with his family to the U.S. They settled in Chicago, where Eugene earned a medical degree from the University of Illinois. He finally returned to Poland decades later, welcomed as a hero for saving those in desperate need of salvation through his unyielding love for humanity.

Students Natalie Brodine and Jeremy Wells in LMC Fellow Susan Sittenauer’s Seaman High School history class won second place in the 2016 Discovery Award competition for their documentary on Eugene Lazowski.