Google Doodle honors Rudolf Weigl, inventor of vaccine that saved Jews from Nazis

Dr Rudolf Weigl developed the first effective typhus vaccine and, along the way, saved thousands of Jews from execution.

Google

Dr. Rudolf Weigl’s work on a typhus vaccine during World War II saved countless lives, but his rescue skills exceeded the limits of the disease.

Weigl was a Polish biologist, physician and inventor best known for creating the first effective vaccine against typhus, a disease that is spread by body lice and has been responsible for millions of deaths throughout history. Along the way, he also provided shelter for Jews threatened with execution during the Holocaust.

To honor his feat, Google is dedicating its Doodle to the doctor on Thursday on the occasion of his 138th birthday.

Born in 1883 in what is now the Czech Republic, Weigl received a degree in biological sciences from the Polish University of Lwów in 1907 before obtaining a doctorate in zoology, comparative anatomy and histology – the study of the microscopic anatomy of biological tissues.

As typhus ravaged Eastern Europe during World War I, Weigl was determined to stop it. After discovering that the bacteria infecting typhus were spread by lice, Weigl grew infected lice in his lab and harvested their stomachs to mash them into a vaccine.

Weigl perfected his technique over the years and began large-scale testing of the vaccine in 1933. It was around this time that he himself contracted the disease but recovered.

During the German occupation of Poland in World War II, his work attracted the attention of the Nazis, who ordered Weigl to set up a factory to produce typhus vaccines. For the factory staff, Weigl hired Jewish friends and colleagues, preventing them from being deported to the Nazi death camps.

Thousands of doses of Weigl’s vaccine were also smuggled into Jewish ghettos, concentration camps and Gestapo prisons. It is estimated that Weigl saved around 5,000 Jews from the Nazis.

He was nominated twice for the Nobel Prize for his invention of the typhus vaccine, but was blocked both times due to war and politics.

Weigl died in 1957 at the age of 74. Almost half a century later, he was honored in 2003 by Israel as Righteous Among the Nations.

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