In a movie, rescuing refugees from some oppressive regime usually involves dodging bullets and leading stormtroopers on high-speed chases. In real life, the stories are just as exciting, but usually involve more ingenuity and fewer explosions. Totalitarian regimes are all about brute force, after all -- that's the sort of shit they're good at. So beating them means, well, getting creative ...
5 Dr. Eugene Lazowski Faked an Epidemic to Save Thousands From the Nazis
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Our first story of heroically defying oppression involves the Nazis, who turn up as the bad guy in a lot of our history-themed articles (to be honest, we feel like they brought that on themselves).
Hulton Archive/Hulton Archive/Getty Images
"Can everyone who's a dick please raise their hand?"
As a physician in Rozwadow, Poland, during World War II, Dr. Eugene Lazowski knew of the terrible fate that awaited Jews in his city. He also knew his terrible fate if caught treating them. But since the Hippocratic Oath didn't let Lazowski turn Action Doctor and shoot bad guys to bits, he needed another way to save the day.
The Badass Plan:
He faked an epidemic and scared away every Hitler sycophant around. Because on second thought, this is war and fuck the Hippocratic Oath.
Darrin Klimek/Digital Vision/Getty Images
"It also says med school should be free, and we saw how well that worked out."
He and his colleague, Dr. Stanislaw Matulewicz, knew the big bad Nazi soldiers lived in fear of epidemic typhus, which is when you catch regular typhus but thoughtfully brought enough to share with the whole class. The Nazis refused to arrest anybody with the virus, because God forbid somebody with a deadly disease infect everybody else at the death camp.
If they ran into a situation where too many people had it in one area, they Germans would just quarantine the whole place and leave everybody to get sick and die in peace. Lazowski and Matulewicz decided to exploit this, but knew it wouldn't be enough to simply scream "typhus!" any time an Indiana Jones antagonist wandered into the neighborhood. No, faking an epidemic would mean injecting everyone with freaking typhus.
"Surprisingly, this is covered by your HMO."
They actually crafted a vaccine made out of dead typhoid cells, as they had discovered that patients injected with the vaccine would test positive for epidemic typhus, though they wouldn't actually have the disease. So they did what any responsible doctor might -- they jabbed over 8,000 Jews with phony vaccines, sent the positive results back to the German occupiers, sat back, and watched the fun. Sure enough, the Nazis reacted to the "epidemic" by setting a quarantine line, wishing the city luck, and running away as fast as they could.
Weeks later, some Nazis braved the area again -- since nobody was dying, they were suspicious that the plague might actually be bullschnitzel. Luckily, Dr. Lazowski had a plan -- he wined and dined the senior officials until they found absolutely no reason to do boring shit like "investigate medical fraud." Instead, they sent the rookie guards to do so in their stead. Being young and dumb, these Nazis were extra-petrified of typhoid. They stuck around just long enough to collect a few blood samples (which naturally tested positive) and ran back to safety.
German Federal Archives
The Nazis eventually figured it out, but the doctors (and probably most of the quarantined) had already fled the country. Besides, they were far too busy losing the war to plan any sort of revenge. The "epidemic" had worked perfectly -- 8,000-plus people owe their lives to Lazowski and Matulewicz's chicanery.
4 Buang-Ly's Amazing Hail Mary Landing on a Moving Aircraft Carrier
When Saigon fell in 1975, Vietnamese Air Force Major Buang-Ly found himself in deep shit. He needed to escape, but missed the organized helicopter evacuations. In desperation, he stuffed his wife and five kids into a dinky two-seat airplane and took off. His plane was dangerously over its weight limit, Communist troops were shooting at him, and he had no idea where the fuck he was going. He took off anyway, because even if he landed on an island full of flying venomous spiders, it would be better than hanging around Saigon in 1975.
But unfortunately, he didn't have enough fuel to get to Australia.
Eventually, Ly found the aircraft carrier USS Midway. Unfortunately, it was already filled with choppers from Saigon. Plus, his plane didn't have a "tailhook" -- a feature on carrier-worthy aircraft that slows them down quickly so they don't hilariously skid off the other end of the landing strip and plop into the water. And he had never landed on any carrier before, much less a moving one. And he was almost out of fuel. And it was raining. And (worst of all) he had no radio to communicate with the crew down on the chaotic deck about what exactly he was trying to do.
The Badass Plan:
He quickly scribbled this note, attached it to his gun, and chucked to the carrier deck below:
US Navy via Midway Sailor
"If you are unwilling to allow us to land, please return the gun to me."
For those of you not fluent in broken English scribbled furiously on scrap paper by a panicked pilot, the note reads, "Can you move the Helicopter to the other side, I can land on your runway, I can fly 1 hour more, we have enough time to mouve. Please rescue me. Major Buang, wife and 5 child."
We're assuming it would have been incredibly easy to miss the object on the flight deck -- in the middle of a frantic refugee evacuation, it's not like you're always keeping an eye out for light aircraft pooping sticky notes. Luckily, the Midway's commander, Larry Chambers, actually read the note, realized there were kids on board, and ordered the deck cleared for what was still sure to be a disastrous landing. This involved pushing millions of dollars worth of aircraft overboard, and the deck prepped with emergency gear.
Bung responded by landing perfectly, rendering all that preparation and loss completely unnecessary:
Keep in mind that landing perfectly on a moving carrier is considered an awesome feat when people trained for it pull it off in good conditions. Buang did it with no training, terrible equipment, and in terrible conditions that included high winds whipping across the deck. That shit would be hard to pull off in a video game, let alone with the added pressure of knowing that you and your entire family will die horribly if your throttle hand twitches at the wrong moment.
His plane is currently enshrined in the National Naval Aviation Museum, and it would be truly astonishing if there isn't at least one faded poop stain in there.
National Naval Aviation Museum
"The smell has been preserved for posterity."