Professor Ludwik Hirszfeld - microbiologist

Updated: Apr 22, 2020

At a time when the eyes of the world are on the scientists who are working on a vaccine for Covid19, we would like to recall an important person for medicine.

Ludwik Hirszfeld discovered the inheritance and established the nomenclature of blood groups 0, A, B, AB and opened the field of human population genetics.

His numerous studies on infection deseases have been used to produce vaccines.

Resume of Professor Hirszfeld is a ready-made script for a movie.

Professor Ludwik Hirszfeld

Ludwik Hirszfeld had already before WW1 significant scientific achievements at German and Swiss universities. One of the most important achievements was the work on blood groups in the years 1907-1911. He then discovered the inheritance and established the nomenclature of blood groups 0, A, B, AB (initially for the purpose of establishing paternity), later adopted worldwide.

He also determined the Rh factor and discovered the causes of serological conflict, thus saving the lives of many newborns.

After Poland regained its independence, Professor Hirszfeld rejected offers of work at western universities and returned to his homeland. The Hirszfeld family (Jewish bankers from Berlin) settled in Warsaw in 18c and polonized. The funds of Ludwik’s uncle supported secret Polish schools in the Russian partition. Ludwik, like many members of his family, believed that he should devote his talent and work to his homeland.

Professor Hirszfeld played a key role in the development of research on infectious diseases and vaccination. He conducted research on various species of pathogenic microorganisms isolated during the epidemic. He conducted research on the spread of diphtheria and other infectious diseases in children. His contribution to saving the population of Poles in twenties of 20C from further epidemics was invaluable.

During the German occupation in 1941, he was sent to the ghetto. He witnessed the nightmares taking place there. He then wrote in his memoirs:

‘A five-year-old boy is standing in front of my eyes, holding the hand of a three-year-old brother. He stood with him when the shots were fired and calmed his brother down with the words: Don't worry, it doesn't hurt much and won't last long. I saw him smearing tears on his cheeks, I saw those tears mixing with his blood a few minutes later. Forgive me, child, my helplessness. . . ‘

Ghetto Warsaw

But Professor Hirszfeld wasn't quite helpless. He organized a laboratory, gave lectures to young medics. The Nazis did everything they could to spread the typhus epidemic in the crowded, hungry and without proper hygiene measures in the ghetto.

Hirszfeld smuggled vaccines given by Professor Rudolf Weigel from Lviv and treated patients.

In July 1942, when the deportation of Jews to death camps began, Ludwik Hirszfeld and his family were smuggled to the ‘Aryan side’ in Warsaw. He spent the rest of the war hiding. In January 1943 Maria, the professor's beloved daughter, died.

The scientist then decided to start writing down his memoirs - The Story of One Life (first published in 1946).


After the end of the war he became the first dean of the Faculty of Medicine of the University of Wrocław. He organized the Institute of Immunology and Experimental Therapy of the Polish Academy of Sciences.

In 1950 he was nominated for the Nobel Prize in Medicine for explaining the mystery of the serological conflict between mother and fetus.

Died March 7, 1954 in Wrocław.

Grave of Hirszfeld

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