Research ArticleSOCIAL SCIENCES

Extraordinary curtailment of massive typhus epidemic in the Warsaw Ghetto

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Science Advances  24 Jul 2020:
Vol. 6, no. 30, eabc0927
DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.abc0927

Abstract

The highly dependent interplay of disease, famine, war, and society is examined based on an extreme period during World War II. Using mathematical modeling, we reassess events during the Holocaust that led to the liquidation of the Warsaw Ghetto (1941–1942), with the eventual goal of deliberately killing ~450,000, mostly Jewish residents, many through widespread starvation and a large-scale typhus epidemic. The Nazis justified genocide supposedly to control the spread of disease. This exemplifies humanity’s ability to turn upon itself, based on racially guided epidemiological principles, merely because of the appearance of a bacterium. Deadly disease and starvation dynamics are explored using modeling and the maths of food ration cards. Strangely, the epidemic was curtailed and was brought to a sudden halt before winter, when typhus normally accelerates. A far more massive epidemic outbreak was prevented through the antiepidemic efforts by the often considered incompetent and corrupt ghetto leadership and the Herculean efforts of ghetto doctors.

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