Not all heroes wear capes. Some wear stethoscopes.
Eugene Lazowski, born in Czestochowa, Poland, was a medical doctor who did what many people in his position would never have done for fear of death. After a friend of his, Dr. Stanislaw Matulewicz, made a profound discovery, he decided to risk his life and save as many Jews from slaughter as possible.
Epidemic typhus, a form of typhus that lives up to its namesake, is a bacterial-borne disease that’s transmitted by flea, tick, and mite bites. During World War II, the treatment for typhus wasn’t as effective, nor were the conditions of those affected very sanitary.
The way that the Germans handled epidemic typhus at the time was, as you’d probably expect, draconian when it came to any Jews affected by the disease. The patients were executed and their homes burned. Non-Jews, however, were quarantined until the disease had passed.
If there were a population of non-Jews with Typhus large enough, the Germans would quarantine the area even if there was a sizeable Jewish population within the community. Nazis were perfectly fine ignoring the affected Jews if it meant epidemic typhus wouldn’t spread.
That’s exactly what Lazowski decided to exploit.
There was a simple test for typhus at the time: medical professionals would mix a sample of a person’s blood mixed with a strain of the Proteus bacteria known as OX-19, rendered harmless, and if the mixture became cloudy, the patient had typhus.
Matulewicz discovered that by injecting healthy people with a dead Ptoteus OX-19, they could trick the test into a false positive. Someone would test positive for typhus without actually having typhus.
With that knowledge in hand, Lazowski decided to take blood samples of the Jews and non-Jews of the village of Rozwadów and send them to the Germans for review. When they tested that blood and discovered an outbreak of typhus, they decided to quarantine the town. Rozwadow was off-limits for Nazi-operatives. No Nazis meant safe Jews.
Lazowski was successfully able to “infect” enough healthy people to save 8,000 people from 12 ghettos.
In 1958, Lazowski emigrated to the United States and became a professor of pediatrics at the University of Illinois at Chicago. He died in 2006 in Eugene, Oregon.
While he may not have been a “monster” himself, Lazowski certainly fooled some of history’s greatest monsters and saved the lives of thousands.