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English Detective # 115 Stories of Little-known Real-life Heroes
October 02, 2018

#115 Stories of Little-known Real-life Heroes

The links this week are to stories about ordinary people who have done some extraordinary things. There are two accounts about Polish doctors who saved many lives during World War II by tricking German authorities. (Both are amazing stories of intelligence and courage. I would love to recommend the second account, but it’s VERY long. Read the first unless you have quite a bit of free time. If you do, the second is as exciting as a great spy novel…)

There are also shorter stories in a blog post and a podcast about common people who saw a need and did what needed doing. They showed different kinds of courage, from risking their lives as those doctors did, to defying social norms, to just patiently doing what they believed to be important, whether anyone noticed or not.

There’s also a review of some medical and war-time vocabulary used in the first two articles.

If you only have time for one article today, read about Eugene Lazowski. He and another Polish doctor saved hundreds of Polish villagers during World War II from slave labor or death by fooling the Germans into thinking there was a typhus epidemic there.

Typhus was a terrible disease that could easily become an epidemic in unsanitary wartime conditions. The Germans who controlled Poland feared it greatly. They required local doctors to immediately send them blood samples of any patients who showed symptoms.

The doctors had discovered that they could make a healthy person appear to have typhus. When they sent his blood in for testing, the Germans quarantined the area so outsiders would not be exposed. They also avoided going too near themselves.

I first read Dr. Lazowski’s story in a fascinating longer article on Mental Floss. When I discovered it was about 8,000 words long, I realized I could not make it one of my main reading recommendations.

However, if you have some extra time, it’s as well-written and exciting as a detective thriller—and true! (It will also reinforce your medical and historical English vocabulary…)

If you only read the first article above, you might have time for one or two of the stories of unsung heroes in a University of Richmond blog on the subject.

It has several brief stories about real-life heroes like Chen Si, who lives near a Chinese bridge that attracts suicidal people. He felt he had to try to keep them from jumping—and he has saved many. (It’s the 2nd article on the page.)

The next story on that blog is about Daryl Davis, a black man who has discovered that he can change the attitudes of even men in the Ku Klux Klan by meeting them and talking person to person. (That’s showing courage!)

There are other stories in that blog post, all short. (The last one is about a daring British colonial doctor who was only discovered to be a woman after she had died.)

If you would like some short listening practice, there’s also a 12.5 minute NPR podcast on the “everyday courage” of a Montana woman. She figured out that her town had been contaminated with minerals that were causing illness and death.

No one wanted to believe her (they felt “If it was that dangerous, our doctors would have told us”), but she wouldn’t give up. Her persistence finally led researchers to investigate. It led to a major clean-up and a clinic that is still treating people for the problem. (Push the blue “listen” button to get the podcast. Below that is a 14.5-minute TED talk on the same subject.)

Related Vocabulary

The vocabulary practice for this issue comes from the most-used words of the two articles about Eugene Lazowski. See Medical Vocabulary (especially “Types & Causes of Disease”) if you want to learn or review the meanings of diagnosis, disease, epidemic, infect, infection, infectious, inject & injection, physician, treat & treatment.

To deport means for a government to expel people from a country—to make them leave.

Fake means not real; something that is designed to deceive people and to appear to be something it is not.

Occupy has several meanings, but in these articles, it means to move in and take over a country. So Germany occupied Poland during World War II. That period was called the German occupation.

When people test ‘positive’ for typhus or another illness, the test shows that they have typhus.

To quarantine sick people is to make them stay at home or in a particular place away from the public so they will not expose other people to their illness.

A rash is an allergic skin response. It’s a red, often uneven (and itchy) area of skin.

The next issue will probably be about attention and how to focus better so you (or your children or students) won’t miss what you need to learn.

Warmly, Catherine Simonton,

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