The 5 Craziest Ways People Defeated Terrifying Regimes
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 ...
Dr. Eugene Lazowski Faked an Epidemic to Save Thousands From the Nazis
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).
"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.
"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.
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.
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:
"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.
"The smell has been preserved for posterity."
A POW Saves Himself -- and Everyone Else -- by Playing Stupid
In April 1967, U.S. Navy sailor Douglas Hegdahl was Noisy Cricketed by his own ship's gun blasts, and knocked overboard three miles off the coast of Vietnam. Unfortunately for him, this was North Vietnam. The mean one.
"How can we be mean? Our motto is 'Independence, freedom, happiness' after all."
After being "rescued" by the enemy, Hegdahl's new Communist overlords threw him into the brutal "Hanoi Hilton" prison camp to rot. Brutal beatings, starvation, and endless torture are no way to go through life, so Hegdahl needed to do something, fast.
The Badass Plan:
In order to convince his captors that he wasn't a spy or a Rambo prequel, he acted like a complete and utter imbecile, cranking his natural South Dakota accent up to a full-blown Hee-Haw brogue. He acted the part too, skipping around his cell like an over-caffeinated Baby Huey, and insisting he couldn't read or write. When asked by the guards what he wanted most in this world, he derped and duhhed until finally responding "Why, I'd like a pillow, Sir."
Gomer Pyle, POW never quite caught on as well as its predecessor.
Hegdahl's captors, instead of killing him for wasting their time, bought the act 100 percent. They lovingly nicknamed him "the Incredibly Stupid One," refused to torture him, taught him their language, and allowed him to roam freely around the prison. Big mistake -- Hegdahl had an almost superhuman memory, listening in on guards while ambling around camp like a senile Forrest Gump. He memorized the names of all 256 of his fellow POWs, what cellblocks they were being held in, the horrible shit being done to them, and even the coordinates of the goddamn prison.
Of course, such information was worthless inside the prison. He had to get out and let his country know exactly what was happening in enemy territory. His chance came in August of 1969 when North Vietnam elected to release a handful of healthy(ish) prisoners to convince a skeptical world that their prisoners weren't being tortured, but instead lived like kings. Since Hegdahl was in good shape and (they figured) too dumb to complain, they offered to send him home early.
"He's nice and all, but he keeps confusing our beds for the toilet. Poor guy."
Except he didn't want to go. To him, early release meant he'd be abandoning his fellow soldiers, which was borderline traitorous. He only relented after his cellmate (who outranked him) ordered him to go and use his information to save some damned lives. Once back home, Hegdahl immediately dropped the Cletus bullshit and told the world everything he knew. This included singing every single POW's name to the tune of "Old MacDonald Had a Farm" (not just for the fun of it -- that was the mnemonic device he'd used to memorize them).
Hegdahl's detailed narratives convinced the world that Vietnam was violating just about every letter of the Geneva Convention, actually forcing them to back off on their harsh treatment of captives. In addition, his EIEIOs ensured that no POWs would conveniently "disappear" like socks in the dryer.
"Sorry, POW is in the mail!"
And while we're on the subject of escaping communism ...
Harry Deterling Drives a Train Through the Berlin Wall and Into Freedom
Despite East German communists insisting otherwise, their country was the drizzling shits in the early 1960s, and virtually nobody wanted to live there. Defections to the West, where democracy and bratwurst replaced oppression and moldy, month-old bratwurst, happened so often the Commies had to build a goddamn wall to, erm, entice people to stay.
In December of 1961, East German train conductor Harry Deterling got word that one of the last border crossing stations, Staaken, was to be sealed up and replaced with bricks, barbed wire, and bayonets. If he didn't act right the fuck now, he'd be dooming himself and his family to a life of poverty, starvation, and absolutely nothing to look forward to but the increased likelihood of suicide.
But what could he do? They had an army and a makeshift barricade, all he had was a-
Oh, right. He had a train.
If only "Blizzard of Ozz" had reached East Germany 20 years earlier.
The Badass Plan:
Deterling decided to launch what he called the "Last Train to Freedom" -- powering his own damn train straight through the damn Berlin Wall. Hey, there's a time for clever scheming and a time for scripting your very own action movie. This was clearly the latter.
On December 5, Deterling and his fireman (the guy who shoveled coal into the train's furnace to make it chuga-chuga faster) selected 24 friends and family members for the daring plunge into a mystical world where half your day wasn't spent waiting in line for a roll of toilet paper. Their journey started as scheduled, with Deterling making all his regular stops. But once he hit Staaken -- normally his final destination of the day -- they sped up, straight for the checkpoint. His coal shoveler started working like he was hopped up on speedballs, allowing the train to reach speeds of up to 50 mph (considering coal trains today typically run 20 to 30 mph, hitting 50 half a century ago is positively Flash-esque).
Sadly, it wasn't fast enough to get Comrade Marty back to 1985.
They crashed through the gap in the wall, the station's low-bid Cold War setup proving no match for cold steel, raging speed, and liberty boners. The guards -- wisely realizing they weren't about to win a game of Chicken with an actual runaway train -- largely shat themselves and dove out of the way. A few symbolic bullets were fired (presumably so the guards could plead their case for less torturous punishment because at least they tried), but like most things symbolic, it ultimately meant nothing. Deterling's train made it over the border with everybody intact. The next day, the East Germans ripped up the tracks so no one else could try it:
Fifty feet of untracked ground should be enough to stop a barreling locomotive.
Astonishingly, a handful of passengers got off and immediately John Candied their way back east because a life without cheap imitation everything is a life not worth living. The vast majority, however, embraced not being shot for their thoughts and stayed in their new home, eagerly awaiting the day when David Hasselhoff would be invented and magically sing away the rest of that accursed wall.
The Entire Nation of Denmark Helped 8,000 Jews Escape the Nazis
Ah, shit. The Nazis again. Why don't we ever focus on their good side?
"Nobody ever talks about my brushstrokes."
Anyway, in 1940, Adolf Hitler and his band of merry monsters invaded Denmark. The local government attempted to play nice with their new German overlords, and were actually allowed to remain a fully functioning puppet regime as a result. This arrangement fell apart by August 1943, when the Nazis demanded the Danes quit running resistance operations alongside the Allies. The government chose to disband instead.
This only added to the problem though, as Hitler decided no more Mr. Nice Tyrant and ordered Denmark's Final Solution: arrest 7,800 Danish Jews and dispense of them in a barbaric, torturous manner. You know, Nazi stuff.
"Oh, sure, bring that up again."
The Badass Plan:
Since the Danish government was no longer governing, they had plenty of time in their day. They decided to spend it by turning their entire goddamn country into an underground movement. Creatively named the Danish Underground, they had one goal: save every single Jewish life they possibly could.
The Nazis planned to carry out their mass roundup on October 1. Unfortunately for them, two days prior, a German diplomat named Georg Duckwitz had somehow retained enough of his soul to snitch to the Danes. Organizing fast, the Underground spent the next two weeks smuggling the Jews out of their country, onto ferry boats, and into neighboring Sweden, which boasted a "we'll take them all" approach to Jews threatened by the Holocaust. Just about all of Denmark went underground -- regular citizens, doctors, preachers, shop owners, hospital workers, and schoolteachers either gave Jews shelter or snuck them ever closer to the Sweden-bound ferries. Even the police, specifically tasked with helping the Nazis do their thing, pitched in.
"Seriously, how can anyone eat that much goddamn sausage?"
Once the Jews got to the coast (typically arriving via ambulance to further ward off suspicion), the Danes simply needed to bribe the ferrymen to ship damn near 8,000 people overseas (acts of basic human decency don't run cheap, apparently). But every cent was worth it, since virtually every Danish Jew was now free from German destruction. Once the Nazis gave up the hunt on October 12, they had nabbed fewer than 500 people.
And even those unlucky few were in good hands -- the Germans, looking to save face after Denmark made them look like fools, agreed to spare all Danish Jews from death camps. Most were released unharmed once the war ended, with only 51 taking the hand of the Reaper.
That's how you know you're dealing with the Nazis, by the way -- when you're totally justified using the word "only" when discussing 51 murders.
For more awesome rebels, check out The 8 Most Ridiculously Badass Protesters Ever Photographed. And then check out 19 Laws You've Probably Broken Without Realizing It.
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