Holocaust historian Stephan Lenstaedt from Touro College in Berlin assessed the team’s modelling in relation to archival material.
It tallied with primary sources including respected historian, Israel Gutman, who wrote “while almost 100,000 ghetto residents died mostly from starvation and disease in the period up until July 1942, a similar or greater number were saved thanks to the dedicated relief workers and self-help relief agencies operating”.
“The tragedy, of course,” says Stone, “is that almost all of those lives saved through these sacrifices, discipline and community programs would soon end in extermination at the Nazi death camps.”
Typhus – a bacterial disease spread by lice – had pandemic status in Europe. It is less contagious but deadlier than COVID-19. While the two diseases spread and behave differently, the team says there are still parallels and lessons to be learnt.
“Today, more than ever, society needs to grasp how the damage caused by a tiny virus or bacteria can create utter havoc, dragging humankind to the terminal point of evil as witnessed over the Holocaust,” Stone says.
“As those in the Warsaw Ghetto demonstrated, however,” Artzy-Randrup explains, “the actions of individuals in practicing hygiene, social distancing and self-isolating when sick, can make a huge difference within the community to reduce the spread.”
“It is the cooperation and active recruitment of communities that beat epidemics and pandemics, not government regulations alone.”
“Only recently have we witnessed at close view how essential community engagement has been in containing and defeating the deadly and horrifying spread of Ebola outbreaks across African countries.”
“This study is a unique instance where quantitative and qualitative methods could be used for revealing hidden historical processes at the interface of infectious diseases and society, that are directly relevant to the present COVID-19 crisis.”
“Unquestionably, there are invaluable lessons for us to learn from the past,” says Lehnstaedt.
The study ‘Extraordinary curtailment of massive typhus epidemic in the Warsaw Ghetto’ is published in Science Advances (DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.abc0927).
Story: Michael Quin