The Fantastic Laboratory of Dr. Weigl

May 22, 2014
BY Marc Shapiro

052314_mishmash-bookBy Arthur Allen
W.W. Norton & Company, 400 pages

While it can be hard to find positive stories from World War II, Arthur Allen tells a gem of a tale.

While uprisings such as the one that took place in the Warsaw Ghetto in 1943 are well documented, resistance in scientific labs is not as commonly spoken of in the Holocaust narrative.

The books tells the tale of Rudolf Weigl, a Christian, and Ludwik Fleck, his assistant and Jewish immunologist, who were tasked to come up with a typhus vaccine for the Nazis. They feared the disease, which was transmitted by body lice, equating the louse with “parasitic” Jews.

Weigl and Fleck used their cover to protect Jewish doctors, mathematicians, writers and others, turning their lab into a center of resistance at great risk. They sent high doses of the vaccine to Polish ghettos, while sending weakened vaccines to the German troops. Fleck would later vaccinate prisoners at Buchenwald when he was forced to re-create the vaccine there.

While some parts of the book may be better suited for the scientific minded, the book’s telling of two scientists who stood by their morals in the face of dangerous pressure is a fine addition to the Holocaust story.

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