On September 1, 1939, Nazi leader Adolf Hitler ordered the invasion of Poland, and Poland under German rule was full of unimaginable suffering. Two men, however, risked their lives to lessen this suffering using the best of their abilities – as doctors. Stanislaw Matulewicz and Eugene Lazowski joined the Polish resistance and learned how to make perfectly healthy people test positive for the fatal disease typhus. In short, these WWII Polish doctors effectively created a fake typhus epidemic in order to save lives.
Through their scientific ingenuity, Matulewicz and Lazowski saved an estimated 8,000 people from extermination. Their story is one of bravery, discovery, and the ability to keep amassive ecret – even from those they were "treating."
In 1941, when Stanislaw Matulewicz was approached by a man on leave from a German work camp desperate to find a way out of being forced to return, he knew exactly what to do – kind of. Matulewicz injected the man with a mysterious substance and basically crossed his fingers that it wouldn't exterminate him. He told the man to go home and come back in a few days. When the man came back, Matulewicz took a blood sample and sent it to the German authorities. When the results of the blood test Matulewicz had to send in to the Germans returned as positive for typhus, the doctor knew he was on to something life-changing, and life-saving.
Matulwicz had figured out how to create a false positive for the Weil-Felix reaction, the universal test for typhus, by using a bacteria strain that clouded in the same way that typhus did when tested from his own backyard. When he realized he had found a way to trick the Germans into believing in a fake typhus epidemic, he recruited his friend Eugene Lazowski, already a part of the Polish resistance, to join him in his scientific revolt.
Eugene Lazowski joined the Polish resistance in 1941, and he began secretly treating Jews through a hole in a fence in his backyard that connected his village to the separate Jewish ghetto. Doctors were prohibited from treating Jews, but Lazowski was determined to fight any way he could. He was personally captured by them but managed to escape after only two brief hours by scaling a 10-foot wall. Lazowski continued to defy the Germans despite the impending threat of torment – he carried a cyanide pill with him the entire duration of WWII, so he could take his own life before the Germans could get him.
The Germans were ruthless, but there was one thing that deeply frightened them: typhus. The Germans were especially afraid of the disease because typhus was notoriously difficult to control in a war environment; the Germans knew this firsthand from their experiences with the disease in WWI. The Germans were so afraid of typhus that they refused to deport anyone diagnosed with the disease, preferring to quarantine them in their homes.
Matulewicz and Lazowski were able to brilliantly save Jews by only infecting non-Jewish Poles, knowing that any Jew found testing positive for typhus would be offed immediately. The doctors faked an epidemic in various villages, and the Germans were so paranoid they refused to go near the Jewish ghettos in those villages. The doctors faked epidemics in nearly a dozen villages, saving not only Jews but also other innocent Polish people from the brutality.