Haffkine, Waldemar Mordecai

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HAFFKINE, WALDEMAR MORDECAI (1860–1930), bacteriologist. Born and educated in Odessa, Haffkine studied under the Nobel prizewinner Elie *Metchnikoff. He was offered a teaching post provided he converted to the Russian Orthodox Church, which he refused to do. Invited in 1889 by Metchnikoff, then at the Pasteur Institute, Paris, to become its librarian, he was later made assistant to the director. In 1892 Haffkine developed the first effective vaccine against cholera. Lord Dufferin, British ambassador to France, formerly viceroy in India, persuaded him to substitute India for Siam as the field-test area to combat cholera. In 1893, with a groupof doctors and laboratory workers, Haffkine went through India inoculating, with excellent results, villagers who had volunteered for treatment. In 1896, when plague struck Bombay, the government sent him there to develop a vaccine against the plague. He succeeded within three months. Germany, Russia, China, and France sent scientists to study his methods and demands for his vaccine flooded his laboratory. In 1897, Queen Victoria named him Companion of the Order of the Indian Empire and in 1899 he was granted British citizenship.

In 1902 plague struck the Punjab, which received large quantities of vaccine. Nineteen of the tens of thousands inoculated contracted tetanus and died. Haffkine was charged with sending contaminated vaccine. An inquiry was launched as a result of which Haffkine was suspended and his pay forfeited. In 1904 he presented evidence in his defense at the Lister Institute, London, and the Pasteur Institute. Although Haffkine defended himself in the official inquiry and, subsequently, in scientific circles, it was only after the London Times, on July 29, 1907, published a long scientific defense of Haffkine that the government exonerated him. Haffkine returned to Calcutta with neither the promotion nor the salary increase he had been promised, to continue laboratory research until compulsory retirement at the age of 55.

Later Haffkine settled in Paris, where he participated actively in various Jewish organizations' efforts to create an independent Jewish state in Palestine. In 1919, with others, he presented a petition to the Peace Conference in Versailles, stressing minority rights for Jews in Eastern Europe.

In 1925 the Plague Research Laboratory he had founded in Bombay was renamed the Haffkine Institute in his honor. An observant Jew most of his life, in 1929 he created the Haffkine Foundation in Lausanne, bequeathing to it his fortune of $500,000, and stipulating that the interest be used to foster religious, scientific, and vocational education in yeshivot in Eastern Europe.

[Edythe Lutzker]

On August 17, 1971, V.V. Giri, president of India, unveiled a plaque at the entrance to the Petit Laboratory, Bombay, in memory of Haffkine. Another plaque in his honor was unveiled on September 21, 1972, at the Pasteur Institute in Paris.


S.A. Waksman, Brilliant and Tragic Life of W.M. Haffkine, Bacteriologist (1964), incl. bibl.; M.A. Popovsky, Fateof Dr. Haffkine (Rus. 1963); E. Lutzker, in: Actes du xie Congrès International d'Histoire des Sciences (1965), 214–9, (Eng.) incl. bib.; idem, in: Acts of the XXIst International Congress of the History of Medicine (1968); M. Einhorn, in: Harofé Haivri, 38 (1965), 362–334 (Eng.).