Monday, December 1, 2014

No Dead Ends

Several years ago when I was writing Bacteria and Viruses for Lerner, I came across a small mention of a doctor who fooled the Nazis with a fake typhus epidemic.  I filed that slip of paper away and when I was finished with the book, I looked for more information. I found the doctor's name - Eugene Lazowski, and where the event took place -- Rozwadow, Poland, and that the man had died three years before.  Dead end? No.

Lazowski had written a book -- Private War -- I located a copy at a Chicago bookstore that specialized in Polish culture. The book was written in Polish, but I bought it anyway. At least I could look at the pictures. Dead end? No.

Using Babel Fish and other online translating sites I managed to decipher a few key bits, enough to know that I wanted to pursue this story. But I needed a better way to translate it. Luckily for me, Buffalo is filled with people of Polish ancestry.  However, professional translators cost a lot, and worried about copyright issues.

I tried a different approach. I located his daughter and gave her a call. Did she know of an English translation?  Would she answer a few questions?  No. She was guarded and mentioned that she was talking to someone about a movie deal.  That felt like a big dead end.

So, I let Eugene sit while I pursued another project that had a contract attached to it.  But I never forgot about Rozwadow and the fake epidemic.

Then recently after finishing the revisions on my Thomas Jefferson book, and needing something completely different to focus on, I again Googled Eugene. Maybe with the movie deal an English translation had been written.  Through WorldCat, the largest online library catalog, I found that  an English translation had appeared. There was a single copy written by the daughter and housed at the University of Chicago.  But it was in special collections marked "non-circulating," and I had no pending plans to be in the Windy City any time soon.  Dead end?  No.

I called the director of special collections and explained my needs. With the stipulation that I use the book at the local library, I could get the book for one month. Hurray! I confused the staff at my little local public library with the interloan request, but they managed to get the book to me within two weeks.  Over several days, I sat in the corner and poured over the neatly typed manuscript bound in a flimsy black plastic.  

Although each bump in the road delayed me from pursuing the story earlier, I didn't let potential dead ends stop me entirely. I don't know what form this story will take, but I do know I have a lot more information to find, and probably more dead ends to push pass.


  1. Fascinating post. Thanks for sharing this here.

  2. Now that's an inspiring post! I'm working on a bio that you critiqued and an hour-long interview exists in CA and I was told I'd have to visit in person. After reading your post, Peggy, I'm going to try to see if an inter-loan is possible. Great Post, can't wait to read the book! :0)

  3. Excellent. I hope you can get it. Perhaps they have a transcript. Keep at it!