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Profile of the Day: Rudolf Weigl

On this day in 1883, Polish biologist Rudolf Weigl was born. Weigl is remembered for producing the first effective vaccine for epidemic typhus and saving thousands of Jewish lives during World War II.

Image: Rudolf Weigl / Narodowe Archiwum Cyfrowe

Weigl was born on September 2, 1883 in the city of Prerau in what was then part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. When he was a child, his father died in a bicycle accident. His mother remarried and the family moved to Poland. He studied biology at Lwów University and later received a doctorate in zoology, comparative anatomy, and histology.

At the outbreak of World War I, Weigl was drafted into the medical service of the Austro-Hungarian army. He began researching a vaccine for typhus, which had ravaged Eastern Europe. After it was discovered that lice carried the typhus-infecting bacteria, he developed a technique to use lice to propagate the bacteria in order to develop a vaccine. After years of research, development, and refinement, Weigl was able to successfully inoculate his first patient in 1936.

During the Nazis occupation of Poland in World War II, Weigl’s research attracted the attention of the Nazis. He was ordered to set up a plant at his institution to produce the typhus vaccine. Weigl hired several of his friends and colleagues who were at risk of persecution to work at the plant, which offered them some protection from the new regime. He employed about 2,000 people, including Polish intellectuals, Jews, and members of the Polish underground. His vaccines were smuggled into ghettos in Lwów and Warsaw and various concentration camps. It is estimated that Weigl was able to save around 5,000 lives during this time.

Explore Rudolf Weigl’s family tree on Geni and discover you’re connection to the Polish biologist.

View Rudolf Weigl’s Geni Profile

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The post Profile of the Day: Rudolf Weigl first appeared on The Geni Blog.


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