Typhus in Buchenwald: Can the Story Be Told?

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Ilana Löwy


Ludwik Fleck is known today primarily as pioneer in the social study of scientific knowledge. However, during World War II he was a prisoner in Buchenwald, where he and other prisoners produced a typhus vaccine for the Nazis, and where he witnessed murderous experiments on human beings. After WW2, Fleck was accused by one of the prisoners who had participated in the vaccine production at Buchenwald of collaborating, either deliberately or due to lack of imagination, with the Nazi experiments. This article critically examines this accusation and its well-documented rebuttal by Fleck. It argues that while sometimes, especially when dealing with emotionally fraught issues, it may be difficult to establish what precisely took place at a given time and site, it is important to restore the original complexity and messiness of past events – in order to open spaces for understanding, reflexivity and compassion.


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Löwy, I. (2020). Typhus in Buchenwald: Can the Story Be Told?. ETHICS IN PROGRESS, 11(1), 4-19. https://doi.org/10.14746/eip.2020.1.1
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Author Biography

Ilana Löwy, CERMES

Ilana Löwy - biologist, historian of biomedical sciences and a feminist, and senior researcher at an interdisciplinary and cross-institutional research unit CERMES-3 (Centre de recherche médecine, sciences, santé, santé mentale, société, Inserm-CNRS-EHESS), Paris, France. She is also affiliated with other institutions, Department of Global Health and Social Medicine at King’s College London, and the Department of the History of Science at Harvard University and is an associated researcher of Casa Oswaldo Cruz, Fiocruz, Rio de Janeiro. Ilana Löwy holds a BSc and MSc degrees in microbiology and biochemistry from Tel Aviv University, and a doctorate in immunology from Paris VII University. She had studied Ludwik Fleck’s epistemology, history of bacteriology, immunology tropical medicine and cancer, women’s reproductive health, and more recently, congenital disorders and prenatal diagnosis.


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