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April 2000

Helena B. Fedukowicz (1900-1998)

Arch Ophthalmol. 2000;118(4):595. doi:10.1001/archopht.118.4.595

Helena B. Fedukowicz, a pioneer educator in ocular bacteriology, reminisced that her life was like a fairy tale—with a sad beginning and a happy ending.

Born in the Ukraine, she graduated from the Yekaterinoslav Medical Academy, Dnepropetrovsk, Ukraine, in 1921 and joined its faculty. Thereafter, she lectured on ocular infections at the Moscow Eye Hospital and became a professor of ophthalmology at the Kiev Medical School, where she completed a thesis on intraocular melanoma. In 1942, she became a professor of ophthalmology in Vinniza (Ukraine) and married Waclaw Fedukowicz, a geophysicist. During this time, Dr Biantovskaya met Ivan Pavlov and Vladimir Filatov and encountered Nikolai Bukharin, leader of the communist party's right wing, while mountain climbing. When Stalin rose to power, that suspicious chance encounter prompted an investigation. A daughter of an Orthodox priest, she was next accused of poisoning a drinking well with laboratory bacteria. These "awful, miserable years" worsened with the Nazi invasion and closing of her medical school. Fleeing to Poland, the married couple were captured and sent to a work camp in Germany. They managed to escape, but spent 5 years confined at a Bavarian settlement village, awaiting assistance from the International Relief Organization. Without citizenship or passports, they were "suspended between heaven and earth." Ultimately, they were able to emigrate to America.