During World War II, the German military faced a threat worse than the Allies: typhus. The disease was killing soldiers and weakening the German forces on the Eastern front as they faced the Soviet Army. They scrambled to develop a typhus vaccine in hurry. Joachim Mrugowsky, head of the SS Hygiene Institute, set up a research lab at Buchenwald concentration camp, thinking it would be safe from Allied bombing.
Dr. Erwin Ding-Schuler, an ambitious but callow Nazi officer and Mrugowsky’s deputy, was chosen to lead production, and began assembling captive scientists with the help of his new clerk, an imprisoned German intellectual named Eugen Kogon. Among those drafted was a gentle Jewish biologist named Ludwik Fleck, who was a former assistant of Dr. Weigl whom Weigl had protected during the Nazi occupation of Lviv.
Thus began one of the most effective but least-known deceptions of World War II, one that is wondrously thick with irony: For 16 months, working under the noses of his clueless Nazi overseers—in particular Ding-Schuler, whom Fleck described as a “dummkopf”—a Jewish doctor managed to send fake typhus vaccine to the Nazi soldiers at the front, even as he provided the real thing to inoculate his fellow condemned Jews in a concentration camp.
The project started off on the wrong foot, with Nazi doctors who had no experience in immunology, overseeing camp inmates who lied about being doctors, using a translated French pamphlet as a how-to guide, to do an extremely complex procedure under horrid conditions. That was before Dr. Fleck came along, and the group finally had someone who knew what he was doing. It’s a fascinating story overall, with a Nuremberg climax fit for Hollywood, at Politico magazine. -via Digg
(Image credit: Archiv fur Zeitgeschichte, Zurich)