The most unfamous man


He was born in Odessa, in the family of Aaron Haffkine and Rosalia Landsberg 15.03. 1860

The family consisted of an older brother and three sisters (one of them was adopted)
His mother died when Waldemar was 7
From 1872 to 1879 he studied at the Berdyansk Male Gymnasium

He was a favorite student of a Nobel prize laureate Ilya Mechnikov
  1879 - 1884

He entered the Faculty of Natural Sciences at Imperial Novorossiya University in Odessa
In 1882 he was expelled from the University for participation in revolutionary activities
In 1884 he was reinstated, further brilliantly defended his thesis and received the Degree of Candidate of Natural Sciences
Until 1888 he worked at the Zoological Museum in Odessa

In 1888 he moved to Switzerland to continue his scientific activities 1888

For a year he worked as an assistant physiologist at the University of Geneva
Further, in 1889 he was invited to Paris by Ilya Mechnikov
In the Pasteur Institute he took on a Junior librarian position

«I’m ready to work as
an assistant with Mr. Mechnikov in the Pasteur Institute» said Waldemar Haffkine

He presented a method of vaccination against cholera to the Paris Biological Community 09.07. 1892

Haffkine tested the vaccination on himself and demonstrated the vaccine effect on his own body
In March 1893 he came to Calcutta as the State Bacteriologist of the British Crown. Calcutta was infected by cholera at that time
After two years of working in the extremely difficult conditions, the result was achieved: mortality in epidemic-affected areas dropped as much as 75%

He set up a laboratory in Bombay and in the shortest time possible produced a plague vaccine 07.10. 1896

Later on, the laboratory became the largest bacteriology and epidemiology research center in South and Southeast Asia
During the 34 years since its establishment there have been 33 391 339 people vaccinated and hereby saved from death
Since 1925, the research center has been called the Haffkine Institute

Queen Victoria of Great Britain knighted Waldemar Haffkine for his outstanding work in the field of microbiology 1897

He lived in India for more than 20 years… 1893 - 1915

Loved, but never had a family

Saved millions of lives

«A revolutionary in life and science, he was a pariah in his homeland, only to become a Mahatma in India»

Get the book for free

from the author of the novel David Markish

Mahatma is Sanskrit word for «Great Soul». Every nation has the right to have its own Mahatma, but it is not found by every nation.

My «Mahatma» started twenty years ago, when I received an offer from Kiev television to write a screenplay and play the role of a presenter in the film about Odessa-born doctor Waldemar Haffkine, the inventor of the plague vaccine, whom Anton Chekhov called «the most unfamous man». Having heard the offer, I accepted it without hesitation.

Waldemar Haffkine together with Nobel Laureate Robert Koch in Daman

India, 1897

To complete this work, I needed to go with the film crew to India, namely to Bombay, where Haffkine spent a fair amount of his life, and get acquainted with the events that happened there 120 years ago right on the spot.

Who has not dreamed of going to India? I have never met such a strange person. And here we are in Bombay, called Mumbai now, in the stunning hotel «Taj Mahal» two steps from the ocean and the magnificent arch on the shore, epitomizing the main entrance to India.

Hotel Taj Mahal, Mumbai

Major General Vasily Strelnikov

1838 — March 30, 1882

Now I know about Waldemar Haffkine a little bit more than a month ago. Having the instinct for pure justice common to youth and desire to change the world for the better, young Haffkine joins the terrorist organization «Narodnaya Volya», becomes a militant and takes part in the assassination attempt on general Strelnikov.

The assassination was successful…

I. I. Mechnikov

1845 — 1916

Trying to get away from the gendarmes breathing down his neck, the freedom-loving student of Odessa University and beloved student of Mechnikov, Volodya Haffkine, crosses the border of the Empire, heading to free France.

In Paris, exciting adventures await him — before he will be accepted into the Pasteur Institute as a Junior librarian and working throughout the night in the institute laboratory. His plan is to produce a cholera vaccine and fearlessly experience its effect on himself. The invention of the plague vaccine, which still saves people around the world today, is still ahead in India, where Haffkine, after his Paris success, marked by certain experienced eyes, comes to the high position of the State Bacteriologist of the British Crown.

The Louis Pasteur Institute was founded in Paris in 1887

Louis Pasteur

1822 — 1895

Thus, the life of Dr. Haffkine begins to take the shape of an old fabled heroes tale. Sitting in the luxurious room of the «Taj Mahal», the windows and balcony of which were fitted with bars so that the monkeys would not break in, break the dishes and turn everything upside down, I thought about how I wanted to write a novel about Haffkine and contribute to making «the most unfamous man», by right, «the most famous man».

The conditional name of the book — «Mahatma» - became absolute twenty years later, when the novel was published. And for the first time it was heard in a conversation with the director of the Bombay Bacteriological Research Institute named after Haffkine.

The director said: «Dr. Haffkine was a man of great soul. That’s why we call him Mahatma here in India.»
The director said: «Dr. Haffkine was a man of great soul. That’s why we call him Mahatma here in India.»

Upon returning home, I found out that Dr. Haffkine’s archive is being kept in our National Library, in Jerusalem. Familiarity with this archive helped me while working on the novel.

Learn about the author

And in conclusion: on one of the hills surrounding Jerusalem, a forest bears the name of my hero — the Haffkine forest.

— David Markish Learn about the author

Learn the story of the savior of the world from Odessa

Get the book

Project mission

Last year, Haffkine Institute in India celebrated its 120th anniversary, and this year marks 160 years since the birth of its founder.

My name is Aleksander Duel, I am a descendant of Waldemar Haffkine’s elder brother

It took me 7 years to make this discovery. I gathered the history of my family bit by bit: I visited dozens of cities, explored archives and decrypted thousands of pages of handwritten documents

Watch video

I want the whole world to know about Dr. Haffkine. By purchasing this book you will be helping to fund further projects

The proceeds
are used for:

Establishment of the Haffkine Foundation to popularize science through educational grants and scholarships to young scientists

Transcripts and translations of all archival documents related to life and scientific activity (more than 25,000 pages of handwritten text), including personal diaries that were kept daily

Digitization of all documents and the establishment of an electronic archive

Large-scale documentary filming

Getting the novel «MAHATMA», you will not only learn about the incredible life of Dr. Haffkine, but also make your invaluable contribution to the history that we will recreate together!


Pavel Finn

The famous Russian film playwright

The book of David Markish is incredibly interesting and fascinating. Sometimes you even feel like you read a Hollywood tale about the incredible transformation of Cinderella masculine. Indeed, it could, if only it were not real and absolute truth.

The author calls his book a free fantasy in the subtitle, as if he preliminary defends himself from annoying historians and depressing incompetent literary critics and bookworms.

But don’t be fooled by the definition — for him fantasy is not fiction, but the right to a romantic review of the amazing fate of his hero.

Nineteenth century — young Odessa citizen Volodya was fascinated by the trendy idea of that time — ​​individual terror. And he, a bacteriologist and epidemiologist Khaffkine, deeply disappointed in such activities, in the twentieth century becomes one of the saviors of mankind, by inventing a vaccine against cholera and plague. The writer knows and feels his hero as a close person, who alone entrusted the secrets of his soul.

The novel is full of surprises. Just read this book. You will not regret. You will not be able to stop reading it, just like me.

Nadezhda Nolle

Translator of fiction literature

Good things never last. I tried so much to read this book as long as possible, but turned the last page of the Mahatma! To be true, I wanted to read the book as quickly as possible.

Jacob Schechter

Writer, Editor-in-Chief, Article
Tel Aviv

David Markish succeeded in what only great masters succeed: turned, it would seem, a boring story about a scientific work into an adventure novel.

In «Mahatma» book there was a place for philosophical discussions about the meaning of life, and for historical excursions, and for the history of unhappy love. A revolutionary, who became a saint in India, the savior of millions of people, who tested the effect of vaccines on himself — there is something to read about!

But first of all, this is a novel about a troubled soul that wanted to change the world for the better, first with the help of a revolutionary struggle, then with the war against the cholera and plague pandemics, that found peace only after finding God in its heart.

Maria Volozhinskaya

Head of the Treasury in a large financial organization

A very interesting project of historical, scientific and spiritual research we can observe. I recommend to follow and absorb this interesting information! Good luck to the website creators, real devotees of their business!

Natalia Vlasyuk


This book is a discovery for me! I will share it with my family and friends. I would recommend to include this information in school and medical textbooks!

Dmitry Berchansky


A brilliantly written story, 100 years have passed since it happened, but you read it as if it is written about your contemporary. The same feelings and experience, problems with the authorities, same goals. But the actions of a goal-oriented person is extremely emotional experience. Experience of another person and the result important for the whole world.

Learn about the great scientist and his inventions

Get the book

Make an invaluable contribution to history

Get the book
The story of a man
who saved us
«The plague is not so very terrible. We already have inoculations that have proven effective and for which we are, by the way, obliged to the Russian Dr. Haffkine. In Russia, this is the most unfamous man, in England he has long been known as a great benefactor.»
— Anton Chekhov
(in a letter to A. Suvorin, 19.08.1899)
Doctor Haffkine
Are you ready to discover the story of the most unfamous man?