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Famous Ukrainian Jews Commemorated on Postage Stamps
Dr. Waldemar Mordechai Haffkine (1860 - 1930)
aka Vladimir Aronovich Khavkin)
Read about other commemoratives here.
March 15, 1860, Odessa, Russia.
Died: October 20, 1930, Lausanne, Geneva.
Vladimir Khavkin (the name he was known by in Russia) was a son of a Jewish schoolmaster, Aron Khavkin. He was
born in the prosperous Black Sea port of Odessa, but received most
of his early education in Berdiansk. He graduated from local Gymnasium
(classic high school) in 1879. After the school he enrolled to the
Department of Natural Sciences in Odessa Malorossiysky University
and studied physics, mathematics and zoology. While in the University,
Haffkine came under the influence of Elie Metchnikoff, the microbiologist
and future Nobel Prize winner. At the same time in an effort to combat
open anti-Semitism he became active in the Odessa Jewish self-defense
league. As a result he was arrested by the Russian authorities, but
was released after Metchnikoff’s
Haffkine completed his studies in 1883 with a degree in Natural Sciences
and joined the staff of the Zoological Museum in Odessa. Despite
his early scientific accomplishments, he was denied a teaching position,
for refusing to be baptized. He left for Switzerland in 1888 and
worked as an assistant at the Geneva medical school for a year.
In 1889 he moved to Paris and started working in Pasteur's world famous laboratory where already worked Elia Metchnikoff. His initial work on producing a cholera inoculation was successful. He produced an attenuated form of the bacterium by exposing it to blasts of hot air. A series of animal trials confirmed the efficacy of the inoculation.
In July 1892, Haffkine performed his first human test: on himself! During the Indian cholera epidemic of 1893, he traveled to Calcutta and introduced his new prophylactic inoculation. After initial criticism by the local medical bodies, it was widely accepted.
the outbreak of the plague epidemic in Bombay in October 1896,
Haffkine was summoned to the city. He improvised a laboratory in
the Grant Medical College and set to work on preventive and curative
measures. A curative serum was tested in four months, but was not
found to be reliable. Emphasis moved to a preventive vaccine using
dead bacteria. A form useful enough for human trials was ready by
January 1897, and tested on volunteers at the Byculla jail the next
month. Use of the vaccine in the field started immediately.
may see the title and first lines of Haffkine manuscript “What
to do against the plague in India” on Israeli stamp issued
to honor the scientist in 1994. Recognition
followed quickly. The Aga Khan provided a building to house
Haffkine's "Plague Research Laboratory" and other
prominent citizens of Bombay supported his researches.
can see the research center that in 1925 was named Haffkine
Institute on the cachet of Indian FDC below. However, the medical
community was not very sympathetic towards him. In 1902 the
vaccine apparently caused nineteen cases of tetanus. An inquiry
commission indicted Haffkine, who was relieved of the position
of the Director of the Plague Laboratory. A review of this
commission's report by the Lister Institute in England overturned
this decision, put the blame squarely on the doctor who administered
the injections, and exonerated Haffkine. Since the Bombay post
was already occupied, Haffkine moved to Calcutta, where he
worked until his retirement in 1914. Then he returned to France
and settled in Boulogne-sur-Seine, and occasionally wrote for
In 1925, when the Plague Laboratory in Bombay was renamed the "Haffkine
Institute", he wrote that "...the work at Bombay absorbed the
best years of my life... ". He revisited Odessa in 1927, but could
not adapt to the tremendous changes after the revolution. He moved to
Lausanne in 1928 and remained there for the last two years of his life.
Aga Khan of Bombay approached sultan Abdul Hamid of the Ottoman Empire
In 1898, with "an elaborate plan for colonization." The
plan was based upon Aga Khan's Zionist friend Professor Haffkine's
masterpiece scheme for the establishment of a Jewish settlement "that
could be progressively undertaken in the Holy Land." Dr. Haffkine
had suggested before Aga Khan, "the land would be obtained by
purchase from the Sultan's subjects" whereas "the capital
was to be provided by wealthier members of the Jewish community." However
the plan wasn’t accepted.
was an observant Jews most of his life and in 1929, shortly before
his death, he created Haffkine Foundation in Lausanne, settling aside
much of his amassed wealth to foster Jewish education in Eastern