A child survivor of the Holocaust, Inge Auerbacher developed tuberculosis in Terezin and was “at death’s door” with the disease shortly after she immigrated to the United States in 1946. Only treatment with streptomycin, a drug developed three years earlier and still in its experimental stage, saved her life.
A half-century later, Auerbacher — a chemist and author — discovered who had saved her life.
A January 1997 article in The Jewish Week about the growing role of prayer and spirituality in dealing with illness, mentioned Dr. Albert Schatz, a retired professor of science education at Temple University and co-discoverer of streptomycin.
Auerbacher, a longtime Queens resident, contacted Schatz, who lived in Philadelphia. She wanted to thank him.
While researching Schatz’s life, she learned that Schatz, a young graduate student at Rutgers University in 1942, assisted Selman Waksman in developing an antibiotic against TB. The result was streptomycin, for which Waksman, taking sole credit for the discovery, received the 1952 Nobel Prize in Medicine.
Schatz sued Waksman, received credit and a portion of the royalties in an out-of-court settlement, but largely remained a footnote in medical history.
Auerbacher wanted to set the record straight.
The result is a book, her sixth, “Finding Dr. Schatz — The Discovery of Streptomycin and A Life It Saved” (iUniverse, 2006) and a 2009 documentary by the same name that was produced and directed by Richard Colosi.
The documentary (FindingDrSchatz.com) premieres here this week.
“Finding Dr. Schatz” tells the story of the two scientists — Auerbacher was born into a wealthy Jewish family in Germany; Schatz, to poor immigrants in Connecticut — and of the life-saving discovery that eventually brought them together,
“The drug worked miracles on me,” Auerbacher says. She met Schatz in Philadelphia in 1997. “He reacted with great warmth,” she says. “We both cried when we met.”
Schatz died in 2005.
“Finding Dr. Schatz” airs July 30 at 8 and 11 p.m. and Aug. 2 at 5 p.m. on the Jewish Life Television cable network, Channel 120 in New York and New Jersey, Channel 137 in the Hudson Valley.