Józef Stein (26 March 1904, Warsaw–1943, Warsaw) – physician, member of a team of doctors studying the effects of hunger disease in the Warsaw Ghetto
Józef Stein was born on 26 March 1904 in Warsaw, to the family of Ludwik and Maria Balbina, née Grycendler. In 1921, he graduated from the Zamoyski Gymnasium in Warsaw[1.1]. During his studies, together with Dr Czesław Hoppe, he originated the first Medical Christmas Comedy Show. As Dr Stefan Wesołowski recalled, the two authors both performed and wrote the script. “Hidden behind a screen, they parodied the voices of professors while a caricature of a particular lecturer was projected onto the screen by an episcope. (…) Some of the texts that were ultimately printed in Życie Medyczne give us an insight into the effortless writing style, caustic wit, sense of humour and perceptiveness that these early medical humourists had[1.2].
After receiving his degree from the Faculty of Medicine at the University of Warsaw in 1927, he began working as a full-time assistant in the prosectorium of the Holy Spirit Hospital, where he had already performed autopsies while still a student[1.3]. Dr Stein was also a graduate of the Biological Section of the Faculty of Natural Sciences and Mathematics at the University of Warsaw (1932). In the years 1929–1930, he completed one year of military service at the School of Sanitary Cadets in Warsaw. It was also there that he reportedly co-authored a Christmas comedy show for the School of Sanitary Cadets[1.4].
Dr Stein was also a member of several associations, such as the Warsaw Medical Society, the Polish Anatomical and Zoological Society and the Polish Biological Society. He received a grant from the Foundation of Count Jakub Potocki for cancer research, he gave talks on the radio popularizing medical knowledge and lectured at the Nursing School at the Jewish Hospital in Warsaw[1.5]. He cultured liver cells of chicken embryos together with Associate Professor Juliusz Zweibaum in his laboratory.
In 1937, he was recognized for his scientific work by the Warsaw Medical Society[1.6]. He had numerous other interests beyond issues related to pathological anatomy. It is known that he translated Theodoor Hendrick Van de Velde’s Die Erotik in der Ehe – Ihre ausschlaggebende Bedeutung from German. In the preface, he wrote that “in order to become thoroughly acquainted with the material contained in it, it is not enough to skim through the book or to read it in a cursory manner; rather, it calls for a profound exploration of the issues it raises”[1.7].
In February 1931, he married Anna Weller (born 1905), and in April 1937, their daughter, Ludwika, was born. Before the war, the Steins lived in a tenement house on Marszałkowska Street. Their lives changed completely with the outbreak of war. In the first days of September 1939, the director of the Czyste Jewish Hospital, Dr Henryk Stabholz, left Warsaw. Dr Adam Zamenhof, an ophthalmologist, initially took his post and served as director until the day of his arrest on 1 October 1939. He was then replaced by Dr Julian Rotstadt, a neurologist and head of the physiotherapy ward. He, too, was arrested in mid-December 1939. In the end, the Germans appointed Dr Józef Stein as the hospital director, who remained in this position until the outbreak of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. Some said that the only reason for him being promoted was because he was Lutheran and surrounded himself with Jewish-born converts. His appointment was also frowned upon because he replaced a well-liked and respected Dr Adam Zamenhof, who, shortly after his arrest on 1 October 1939, was executed in the forest of Palmiry.
Dr Stanisław Waller wrote the following about Stein:
“Dr Józef Stein was of Jewish descent, however, he was a convert. (…) When the hospital was relocated from the Czyste district to Leszno Street, Dr Stein surrounded himself right from the start with an entourage of Jewish doctors who had converted to Christianity. Work in a Jewish hospital was highly valued and sought after at the time, as many mistakenly believed that it protected physicians and nursing staff from extermination. Thus, among the numerous people willing to work in the hospital, Dr Stein selected those who best suited him; frequently, these were Jews who had converted and who had also been forced to move to the ghetto. In fairness, however, I must point out that the baptized Jews (mostly professionals and with higher education even among the administrative staff) were generally honest people, who did not steal and who were overall morally upright”[1.8].
Despite the difficult circumstances of his promotion, Dr Stein was widely respected as an excellent anatomical pathologist. Specimens prepared by him could be found in quite a few German medical museums, while German anatomical pathologists would come to the ghetto to study the findings of his research on changes in the brain in the course of typhus fever[1.9]. In the first weeks of January 1940, the Steins took up residence on the grounds of the hospital at 17 Dworska Street, which the Germans renamed the Czyste Hospital for Infectious Diseases. Dr Stein’s wife, Anna, an ambitious and energetic woman, assisted him in the day-to-day administration of the hospital.
The director’s efforts, however, were not limited to managing the hospital. He remained in charge of the Department of Pathological Anatomy, where his duties included post-mortem examinations. He was assisted by a young medical practitioner, Dr Henryk Fenigstein (Fenigsztein) and a German deportee, Dr Siegfried Gilde. Together, they conducted research on the cerebral effects of typhus fever and hunger disease in adults. Dissections of deceased adults were initially performed in a building on Dworska Street and later at 8 Stawki Street. In total, they performed more than 3,000 autopsies, including nearly 500, as part of hunger disease research.
In the summer of 1941 – in view of the dire epidemic situation, the Judenrat (Jewish Council) founded the Central Health Council affiliated with the Judenrat’s Health Department to fight an uneven battle against infectious diseases in the ghetto[1.10]. The Council ran several sections responsible for the following tasks: distributing sanitary information, financial information, bathing protocols and notices regarding houses with reported cases of infectious diseases. The Central Health Council included representatives of district health councils at the Health Centres and representatives of Jewish institutions: Col. Dr Mieczysław Kon, Dr Paweł Wortman, Dr Józef Stein, Dr Anna Braude-Heller, Dr Owsiej Bieleńki, Dr Tadeusz Ganc, Dr Izrael Milejkowski, Szymon Wyszewiański and Abram Icchok Chain on behalf of the Committee to Aid Jews as well as hospital curators Wacław Brokman and Michał Friedberg[1.11]
Find out more about research on hunger disease in the Warsaw Ghetto
A prominent serologist, Prof. Ludwik Hirszfeld, also offered his help. Unfortunately, as Mojżesz Tursz recalled: “Not much improvement in the health of the typhus-stricken ghetto resulted from the aforementioned council. The disease ran its course according to the basic biological laws governing all epidemics: after a phase of great intensification, a gradual decline in the number of new cases followed. While some people who got sick developed active immunity, others – who had been vaccinated – had passive immunity or contracted a milder form of the disease”[1.12].
Nearly all sanitation activities were brought to an end by the massive deportation drive that began on 22 July 1942. At that time, two hospitals, the adult hospital and the children’s hospital, were merged by the decision of the German authorities. Dr Stein became the director of the Czyste Hospital created after the merger, and Dr Anna Braude-Heller was his deputy[1.13]. The hospital staff members also fell victim to deportations, although many had been spared until the September roundup on Miła Street. The director, Dr Stein, was put in charge of making sure that all staff turned up for the selection process. He had the tragic duty of handing out the so-called tickets to live to the selected staff members[1.14].
Dr Stanisław Waller recalled:
When Dr Stein appeared in the courtyard, he was immediately besieged by hundreds of people. He was among those put in charge of compiling a list of people who were to receive tickets to live. I got to him among throngs of people and asked if I would get the tickets for myself and my family (wife and son). He said that I would not get them. I fell into despair, grabbed him frantically by the lapels of his jacket, ripping them open, and began to list my merits to the hospital. I managed to get him to promise to give me those tickets. Others weren’t as ‘lucky’. I met Dr Markusfeld and Dr Rotstadt in the courtyard on Dzika Street. They were devastated – they had no hope of receiving tickets to live because of their advanced age. They reasoned that I should get the tickets because I was young. Yet they had no hope for themselves. Dr Stein believed that there was no point for seniors to scramble to live on[1.15].
For the survivors, life after the September roundup went on “under the constant threat of deportation to the afterlife, with no more faith left whatsoever in humanity and benevolence”[1.16]. The medical and nursing staff were initially transferred to a building at 10 Pawia Street and later to a tenement building at 6/8 Gęsia Street. A makeshift hospital was established there, where staff and patients survived until the outbreak of the ghetto uprising.
Director Stein guided the hospital through all stages of its operation in the ghetto while also taking part in clandestine medical courses and research on hunger disease. Dr Makower summarized his work and conduct in the ghetto as dignified and decent, especially since Dr Stein would regularly cross over to the Aryan side, where his daughter Ludwika was hiding with her mother. He was reportedly planning to join them, but when he finally decided to do so, it was too late[1.17].
According to the account of Stanisław Wulman, Dr Stein and his wife were deported to the Nazi German death camp at Treblinka[1.18].
Maria Ciesielska, MD, PhD
- J. Stein (co-authored with Dr Henryk Fenigstein), “Anatomia patologiczna choroby głodowej”, in: E. Apfelbaum (ed.), Choroba głodowa. Badania kliniczne nad głodem wykonane w getcie warszawskim w 1942 roku, Warszawa, 1946.
- J. Stein, “O guzach rzekomogruźliczych otrzewny”, Warszawskie Czasopismo Lekarskie, Yr. 5, no. 27–28, 1928, pp. 609–610.
- J. Stein, “Xanthomata (twory żółciakowe)”, Warszawskie Czasopismo Lekarskie, no. 11, 1929, pp. 251–255 and no. 12, pp. 280–282.
- J. Stein et al., Szopka Szkoły Podchorążych Sanitarnych Rezerwy, Warszawa, 1930.
- J. Stein, “O rzekomej grzybicy śledziony”, Warszawskie Czasopismo Lekarskie, no. 41, 1930, pp. 944–946 and no. 42, pp. 967–969 and no. 43, pp. 1004–1007.
- J. Stein, “O chloromacie”, Nowotwory, no. 2, 1931, pp. 80–97 and no. 3–4, pp. 159–173.
- J. Stein, “Anatomia patologiczna gruźlicy w świetle nowych badań”, Warszawskie Czasopismo Lekarskie, no. 21, 1931, pp. 485–488, and no. 22, pp. 509–511, and no. 23, pp. 535–536, and no. 24, pp. 558–561, and no. 25, pp. 583–587, and no. 26, pp. 605–608.
- J. Stein, “O wielkości absolutnej potworów podwójnych u ludzi”, Folia Morphologica, nos. 1–2, 1934, pp. 1–30.
- A. Irlicht, J. Stein, “Z kazuistyki akromegalii”, Lekarz Wojskowy, no. 1, 1934, pp. 20–36, and no. 2, pp. 86–98.
- J. Stein, “Trwały odczyn histochemiczny na bilirubinę”, Medycyna, no. 14, 1935, pp. 474–476.
- J. Stein, “Rozwój poglądów na wytwarzanie barwnika żółci oraz na powstawanie żółtaczek”, Warszawskie Czasopismo Lekarskie, no. 37, 1935, pp. 689–692, and no. 38, pp. 716–719, and no. 39, pp. 730–734, and no. 40, pp. 758–762, and no. 46, pp. 878–880, and no. 47, pp. 896–898.
- J. Stein, “Rozwój poglądów na wytwarzanie barwnika żółci oraz na powstawanie żółtaczek”, Warszawskie Czasopismo Lekarskie, no. 2, 1936, pp. 29–31, and no. 3, pp. 50–53, and no. 4, pp. 69–71.
- J. Stein, “O tworzeniu biliwerdyny w hodowlach tkankowych wątroby zarodków kurzych”, Warszawskie Czasopismo Lekarskie, no. 37, 1936, pp. 611–612.
- J. Stein, “Ś.p. Dr. Med. Jerzy Michałowicz. Wspomnienie pośmiertne”, Warszawskie Czasopismo Lekarskie, no. 42, 1936, pp. 705–706.
- J. Stein, “W sprawie raków heterologicznych kolczystokomórkowych i mieszanych woreczka żółciowego”, Medycyna, no. 15, 1936, pp. 459–464 and no. 16, pp. 495–501.
- J. Stein, “Anatomia patologiczna nowotworów nerek”, Medycyna, no. 7, 1937, pp. 229–233.
- J. Stein, “Przypadek ogromnego przerzutu raka do śledziony”, Medycyna, no. 3, 1938, pp. 107.
- J. Stein, “Dotychczasowe wyniki badań nad tworzeniem barwników żółciowych z hemoglobiny w hodowlach tkankowych wątroby”, Medycyna, no. 10, 1938, p. 403.
- Z. Czyżewska, J. Stein, “Przypadek posocznicy odzębowej”, Medycyna, no. 13, 1938, p. 545.
- J. Stein, “A propos du probléme des épithéliomas hétéroligiques – spinocellulaires et mixtes de la vésicule biliaire”, Archives Internationales de Médicine Expérimentale, no. 2, 1938, pp. 239–272.
- J. Stein, “O wpływie odpornościowych surowic cytotoksycznych oraz normalnych surowic obcogatunkowych na hodowle tkanek in vitro”, Nowotwory, nos. 3–4, 1938, pp. 343–383.
- J. Stein, “W sprawie histogenezy oraz istoty guzów brodawczakowatych wsierdzia”, Nowotwory, nos. 3–4, 1938, pp. 405–448.
- [1.1] J. B. Gliński, Słownik biograficzny lekarzy i farmaceutów ofiar drugiej wojny światowej, vol. 2, Warszawa 1999, p. 432.
- [1.2] S. Wesołowski, Od kabaretu do skalpela i lazaretu, Warszawa 2006, p. 257.
- [1.3] Józef Stein. Personal record file kept by the Warsaw-Bialystok Medical Chamber deposited in the collection of the Special Collections Department of the Main Medical Library in Warsaw.
- [1.4] S. Łoza (ed.), Czy wiesz kto to jest? Uzupełnienia i sprostowania, Warszawa 1939, p. 291.
- [1.5] Józef Stein. Personal record file of members of the Warsaw-Bialystok Medical Chamber kept in the collection of the Special Collections Department of the Main Medical Library in Warsaw.
- [1.6] S. Łoza (ed.), Czy wiesz kto to jest? Uzupełnienia i sprostowania, Warszawa 1939, p. 291; H. Bojczuk, “Towarzystwo Lekarskie Warszawskie w roku 1939”, Pamiętnik Towarzystwa Lekarskiego Warszawskiego” 2017, no. 21, pp. 289−319.
- [1.7] T. Van de Velde, Erotyzm w małżeństwie i jego zasadnicze znaczenie, Warszawa, 1935, p. 9.
- [1.8] An account by Stanisław (Shmul) Waller (Walewski), AYV O.3/2358.
- [1.9] L. Wulman, J. Tenenbaum, The Martyrdom of the Jewish Physicians in Poland, New York 1963, p. 461.
- [1.10] Gazeta Żydowska 1941, no. 60, p. 5.
- [1.11] H. Kroszczor, “Szpital dla Dzieci im. Bersohnów i Baumanów (1939−1942). Szpital w czasie wojny”, Biuletyn Żydowskiego Instytutu Historycznego 1970, no. 4, pp. 39−40.
- [1.12] An account by Mojżesz Mieczysław Tursz (Thursz), Jak kształtował się sanitariat w ghetcie warszawskim, AYV O.3/438, Yad Vashem [online]; Gazeta Żydowska, 1941, no. 42, p. 3.
- [1.13] An account by Judyta Braude, AYV O.3/2360. M. Lensky, A Physician Inside the Warsaw Ghetto, Jerusalem 2009, p. 125.
- [1.14] An account by Adolf Polisiuk, “Pamiętnik w kolekcji Abrahama Adolfa Bermana”, GFH ref. no. 3182, Czworobok.
- [1.15] An account by Stanisław (Shmul) Waller (Walewski), AYV O.3/2358. [online].
- [1.16] An account by Adolf Polisiuk, “Ostatnia blokada”, Pamiętnik w kolekcji Abrahama Adolfa Bermana, GFH ref no. 3182.
- [1.17] An account by Sabina Gurfinkiel-Glocer, Szpital na Czystem i ja, AYV O.3/396.
- [1.18] L. Wulman, J. Tenenbaum, The Martyrdom of the Jewish Physicians in Poland, New York 1963, p. 461.