Chicago’s Schindler

When Eugene Lazowski died in 2006, many Chicagoans remembered him as a physician and faculty member at the University of Illinois Medical Center.  But before he arrived here, he’d already been a hero in his native Poland.

In 1942 World War II was on. Poland had been conquered and occupied by Nazi Germany. The Gestapo was rounding up Poles to work as slave labor—or if the Poles were Jews, to be sent to death camps.


Lazowski was a young doctor in the village of Rozwadow. Now another doctor told Lazowski about an amazing discovery. If a person were injected with a certain form of typhus, that person would test positive for the disease, but not be harmed.

That gave Lazowski the idea of creating a fake epidemic. The two doctors began inoculating everyone in Rozwadow and other nearby villages with this tame typhus.  Then they sent the infected blood samples to the Gestapo-controlled labs.

Sure enough, the plan worked. Typhus was highly contagious, and the Nazis were terrified of having the disease spread. They quarantined the area around Rozwadow. Nobody was allowed to leave.  More importantly, nobody was allowed to come in.

After about a year, the Gestapo realized that no one seemed to be dying from the Rozwadow epidemic. They sent a team of their own doctors to the scene.  Lazowski and his colleagues plied them with food and vodka. Afraid of contracting the disease themselves, the Nazi doctors left after only a cursory inspection.

Still, the Nazis were becoming suspicious of Lazowski. In the last weeks of the war, a friendly German soldier tipped off the doctor that the Gestapo was on its way to arrest him.

Without waiting, Lazowski gathered up his wife and daughter. They ran out through the backyard and climbed over the fence.   When the doctor looked back, he saw Gestapo agents approaching his front door.

Lazowski and his family arrived in the United States in 1958. After settling in Chicago, he had to undergo additional medical training to meet American license requirements. In 1976 he became Professor of Pediatrics at the university. He retired in 1988.

In 2000, the 87-year-old Lazowski returned to Rozwadow for the first time since the war. People from all over Europe came to the town to greet him in a three-day-long celebration.   The best guess is that “Chicago’s Schindler” had saved 8,000 Jews from death.

Eugene Lazowski wrote about his wartime experiences in a privately-printed book titled Private War: Memoirs of a Doctor Soldier.


2 Responses to “Chicago’s Schindler”

  1. 1 Melvin February 18, 2016 at 5:10 pm

    That could make a great movie.

    • 2 J.R. Schmidt February 18, 2016 at 5:29 pm

      I agree—I wish I were a screen writer. I understand that a short documentary film was made some years ago, but that it got very little play.

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