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Dr. Eugene Lazowski was a physician from Poland who saved 8,000 Holocaust prisoners from execution during World War II. He convinced Nazi officials that the prisoners suffered from a typhus epidemic with the help of Dr. Stanislaw Matulewicz, so they would not be taken to concentration camps and killed. Dr. Lazowski did not reveal his heroic deed until almost 50 years after the war.

Lazowski Before the War

Dr. Eugene Lazowski was born Eugene Slawomir Lazowski in Czestochowa, Poland in 1913. He attended high school at the Gymnasium A. Mickiewicz in Warsaw, Poland with Jan Nowak-Jeziorański. He graduated and immediately enrolled at the University of Józef Pilsudski’s Medical School also located in Warsaw.[1]

The Outbreak of World War II

In 1939, Nazi Germany officially invaded Poland.[2] Dr. Eugene Lazowski graduated medical school not long before the German invasion and joined the Polish Army.[3] He also worked for the Polish Red Cross as a military physician.[4] Dr. Lazowski performed his medical duties on a designated, moving train and cared for the many Polish soldiers wounded while fighting off the Germans.

Dr. Eugene Lazowski fearlessly cared for all his patients regardless of their religion or country of origin.

While serving in the Red Cross, Dr. Lazowski frequently risked death. He always left the train when it stopped to find food and other necessary supplies for the injured soldiers. Sometimes this took place in the middle of enemy territory. On one of these occasions, Dr. Lazowski left the train for his search and, in his absence, the Germans recognized the train as a Polish Red Cross. The German soldiers then used the signifying red crosses painted on the side of the train as bomb targets. They killed all of the soldiers and physicians inside.

Dr. Lazowski found himself in a German prisoner of war (POW) camp not long after this incident. He decided breaking out would be the only solution. A nine foot (three meters) high cement wall topped with barbed wire surrounded the POW camp. Dr. Lazowski noticed a gap in the barbed wire one day. He took a “thieves leap” by running as fast as he could before jumping and running two steps up the large wall and up and over the other side.

A guard witnessed his escape and hurried after him. Dr. Lazowski reached the other side and, rather than running away and drawing attention to himself, he stood by a horse-drawn cart whose owner walked away momentarily. He petted the horse and pretended to be the owner when the POW camp guard came chasing after him. Dr. Lazowski gave nothing away, smiled at the guard, said a calm, friendly word and continued to pet the horse. The guard believed him and did not pursue him any longer.[5]

Caring for Jewish Prisoners

The Polish Red Cross eventually sent Dr. Eugene Lazowski to work in the small village of Rozwadów, Poland, now a part of modern Stalowa Wola. Behind his home in Rozwadów stood the village’s Jewish ghetto. Dr. Lazowski was expressly forbidden from assisting any Jews by the Nazi Germans occupying Poland.[6] He refused to ignore his medical oath and did not allow the rampant prejudices to prevent him from serving any person in need of assistance regardless of their gender, religion, or race.[7]

Dr. Lazowski formulated a plan to serve his Jewish neighbors, despite the risk of death. He secretly arranged an alert system with the Jewish ghetto residents. If anyone in the ghetto needed medical assistance, someone would tie a piece of white cloth onto Dr. Lazowski’s back fence. The white cloth appeared almost every night and Dr. Lazowski treated his many neighbors in need. They trusted him not to tell and he never broke that trust.[8]

Fake Typhus Epidemic

Dr. Eugene Lazowski wanted to do more to save the victims of the Holocaust. He spoke with another Polish physician, Dr. Stanislaw Matulewicz, about the situation and Dr. Matulewicz informed Dr. Lazowski of a recent medical discovery. The former discovered that injecting a certain kind of bacterial strain, basically a vaccine, into a human then caused them to test positive for typhus without actually suffering from the disease. [9]

The two began injecting Jewish residents in the area with the vaccine a few people at a time. The Germans greatly feared typhus due to high susceptibility and transmission rate. They would not transfer any Jewish detainees who tested positive for the disease. This prevented them from being moved from the Rozwadów ghetto to a concentration or labor camp and almost guaranteed fewer Germans from entering the area.

The two doctors continued to “infect” Jewish patients until the disease reached an epidemic scale and the Nazi officials quarantined the entire area. The Nazis sent in a medical team of several physicians and armed soldiers to investigate the outbreak. Dr. Lazowski met them outside the city with a hot meal where he entertained the head physician.

The lead doctor sent two younger, more inexperienced physicians into the quarantine zone instead of going himself. They feared for their own safety, so they simply drew blood samples to test for typhus rather than performing full physicals. The medical team left and confirmed the epidemic and the quarantine. This resulted in 8,000 people being saved from inevitable death had they been able to be transferred to a concentration camp.[10]

Later Life and Death

Near the end of World War II, the German Nazis discovered Dr. Lazowski and Dr. Matulewicz’s scheme.

Dr. Eugene Lazowski did not speak of his heroic efforts to save Jews in Poland for many years in fear of repercussions.

One of the German soldiers that Dr. Lazowski helped a few months prior warned him about the Nazis and their new plan to kill him. He immediately fled Rozwadów with his wife and their young daughter. As they left, Dr. Lazowski witnessed the same soldier who warned him about the Nazis killing Jewish children in the ghetto.[11]

Dr. Lazowski continued practicing medicine in Poland after World War II and the Holocaust ended, but he did not tell anyone about the fake epidemic. He feared for his safety and the safety of his family. In 1958, Dr. Lazowski relocated to the United States with his family. They settled in Chicago, Illinois, where he received further training to qualify as a physician in the U.S. He started teaching at the University of Illinois in 1976 as a pediatrics professor. He published over 100 research papers in both English and Polish.

In the later 1980s, Dr. Lazowski retired.[12] Dr. Lazowski joined Dr. Matulewicz to share their story in the book A Private War, published in 1993.[13] Maria, his wife, died in 1996 without ever knowing the truth about her husband. In 2000, the film based off A Private War debuted. Dr. Eugene Lazowski died in Eugene, Oregon, on December 16, 2006.[14]



Jensen, T. (2006, December 22). Dr. Eugene Lazowski: 1913 - 2006. Chicago Tribune.[1]

Jewish Virtual Library. (2017). Dr. Eugene Lazowski (1913-2006). Jewish Virtual Library.[2]

Pencak Schwartz, T. (2009, March). Fake Epidemic Saves a Village from Nazis. Holocaust Forgotten.[3]

Stalowa Wola Museum. (n.d.). NASI W AMERYCE - EUGENIUSZ SŁAWOMIR ŁAZOWSKI. Stalowa Wola Museum.[4]


  1. Stalowa Wola Museum, n.d.
  2. Jensen, 2006
  3. Stalowa Wola Museum, n.d.
  4. Jewish Virtual Library, 2017
  5. Pencak Schwartz, 2009
  6. Jensen, 2006
  7. Jewish Virtual Library, 2017
  8. Pencak Schwartz, 2009
  9. Jensen, 2006
  10. Pencak Schwartz, 2009
  11. Pencak Schwartz, 2009
  12. Jewish Virtual Library, 2017
  13. Jensen, 2006
  14. Jewish Virtual Library, 2017

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