Historical account of Zdzisław Przybyłkiewicz - a professor of microbiology at the Jagiellonian University Medical School.

Piotr Heczko 1


I was recently invited by Prof. Igor Gościński, the Chairman of Cracow Medical Society (CMS) to give a talk about my late boss - Prof. Zdzisław Przybyłkiewicz. The lecture took place in the afternoon of October 3, 2018 at CMS headquarters on Radziwiłłowska 4 [1].

It was a privilege to talk about Prof. Przybyłkiewicz since I knew him for many years and have taken over the Microbiology Institute from him back in 1978. I think his person deserves some form of commemo-ration. New generations of doctors, especially Polish doctors, should know at least something about him and in order to do that, it's worthwhile to publish a short historical account accompanied by photographs in the World Journal of Medical Images, Videos and Cases, which will become international and therefore go beyond my lecture presented at the Cracow Medical Society.

Short Biography

Prof. Przybyłkiewicz was born on 12 September 1908 in Tarnów. His father Władysław was the Secretary of a Provincial Committee in Tarnów and a PSL politician (pol. PSL - Polskie Stronnictwo Ludowe: Polish People's Party, an agrarian Christian democratic political party). His mother was a German and French language as well as history teacher and later a headmistress of a private secondary school for ladies in Tarnów. Zdzisław had a brother Zygmunt (1905-1968) who was the Consul General of the Republic of Poland in Australia.

He attended a junior high school (gymnasium) in Tarnów and matriculated in 1926. He then moved to study and completed a medical degree at the Jagiellonian University in Cracow in 1933. He did his Ph.D. thesis in 1935 which was recelebrated after 50 years in 1985. He received his habilitation and became an assistant professor of the Medical Academy in Cracow in 1949. He became an associate professor two years later in 1951 and a full professor only in 1972. Why? Well, he was already nominated to be a full professor in 1961 but owing to the fact he was not from the right political (communist) option, the Faculty of Medicine of the Medical Academy had to send two reminders to the authorities and his title was officially approved only 9 years later! Prof. Przybyłkiewicz handed over the Chair to me in 1978, retired in 1985 and continued to be active professionally. He died 11 years later on November 1, 1996 at the age of 88 [1].


The photograph below was taken during an official ceremony at the Jagiellonian University, when the Medical College was called the Medical Academy, being split on purpose to decrease its significance by the communist government (Figures 1).

Figure 1. Prof. Zdzisław Przybyłkiewicz (on the right) and I sitting in one of the formal rooms of the Jagiellonian University. The photograph was taken in the 1970's [1].
[please click on the image to enlarge]

Scientific interests

His line of research was complimentary with the many studies performed at the Institute of Microbiology of the Medical Academy as well as the Department of Vaccines and Sera Production in Cracow in those years. These studies encompassed the current problems related to microbiological diagnostics of infectious diseases including trachoma, tuberculosis, diphtheria, typhoid fever, trench fever but also the evaluation studies of available BCG and DTP vaccines. Furthermore, Professor Przybyłkiewicz was involved in studies on the pathomechanisms and resistance of Toxoplasma gondii, bacterial sinusitis, fungal infections and viruses, including polyomaviruses and the Motol virus. He authored many publications which may be still found on pubmed.com by conducting a search for "Przybylkiewicz Z".

Beyond publishing in English, he mainly published in Polish. Some of his best known works were articles in medical journals as well as educational manuscripts, like the one presented in Figure 2.

Figure 2. The Polish publication entitled "Bacteria harmful for one’s health" by Prof. Przybyłkiewicz was just one of many educational manuscripts [1].
[please click on the image to enlarge]

In total he published 53 bibliographic entries (as per 1968 report) but one may count more, i.e. 41 PubMed publications, 5 monographies, 9 reviews and 2 student scripts.

Prof. Przybyłkiewicz was a diligent organizer. Before being nominated as the Head of the Department of Medical Microbiology in 1952, he was the organizer and a director of the Production Department of Sera and Vaccines in the building on 18 Czysta Street as part of the Polish National Institute of Hygiene in the years 1945-1946, being its scientific adviser after 1952. Later on, he was the Dean of the Medical Faculty (1956-1958), became the Director of the Institute of Microbiology of the Medical Academy in 1973 and worked as professor emeritus until 1992. Prof. Przybyłkiewicz was the President of Cracow Medical Society from 1993-1994, a member of other professional scientific organizations and was nominated as an honorary member of the Polish Society of Microbiologists.

He was a mentor to many future Polish professors, just to name some (in alphabetical order): Janusz Borysiewicz, Alicja Budak, Małgorzata Bulanda, Anna Macura, Zofia Porwit-Bóbr, Włodzimierz Ptak, Marek Zembala, Krystyna Zemburowa, Izabela Zgórniak-Nowosielska, etc.

Despite not signing up for the existing regime in Poland, and even being invigilated by the government authorities (Fig. 3), he received a Gold Medal for Service in the Defence of the Country from General Wojciech Jaruzelski (Fig. 4). All that, thanks to his post-World War II efforts to regain the apparatus stolen from Cracow by the Nazis, but with American (sic!) help [1].

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Figure 3. Prof. Zdzisław Przybyłkiewicz was invigilated by the Polish communist secret police within the operation “Medyk” for his negative attitude towards recommending party members for important posts and keeping in touch with the Cracow Curia and the office for academic Christianity [1].
[please click on the image to enlarge]

Figure 4. Prof. Przybyłkiewicz, Head of the Microbiology Institute, lets the university know that he received a Gold Medal for Service in the Defence of the Country from General Jaruzelski [1].
[please click on the image to enlarge]

II World War

Zdzisław Przybyłkiewicz was called to arms on 4 September 1939. He was taken prisoner on 10 September 1939 somewhere around Przemyśl and transported to a German POW camp in Cracow. When the Nazis got to know his profession, he was freed conditionally as a specialist in vaccines. He was again arrested on November 6, 1939 during Sonderaktion Krakau, when prominent Jagiellonian University professors were arrested, and finally sent to a concentration camp. Owing to his profession, he was again freed and sent to do forced labour in the new branch of the Institut für Fleckfieber- und Virusforschung (Institute for Research on Typhus and Viral Infections) in the same existing lab building on Czysta 18 Street [1].

Probably on Home Army (pol. Armia Krajowa, AK) orders he sabotaged a large batch of typhus vaccines that were manufactured in the Institute and transferred many vials to AK itself. When the Germans finally retreated from Cracow, he secured the partially destroyed building that was robbed of most valuable apparatus [1].

In August 1946 he got promoted to a major in the People's Polish Army to fulfil his mission outside of Poland and left to the American occupational zone in Germany with a single mission - to bring back the University equipment that was stolen from the building on 18 Czysta Street. And he succeeded. In November 1946 he brought back 9 train wagons full of the goods stolen by Nazis [1].

Personal life

Prof. Przybyłkiewicz was married twice and had one daughter (Fig. 5). He was an avid sportsman and took active part in the activities of the academic sports association - AZS (pol. Akademicki Związek Sportowy), being also its Board of Directors Member and later its Chairman to finally become an Honorary Member. He was leading the mountain-climbing section of the Polish Tourist and Sightseeing Society (PTTK), being its member since 1950. He was an inspiration to students and often took them camping in Bieszczady and organized climbing camps in the Tatras [1]. He was also a visiting professor for the Academy of Physical Education in Cracow [1].

Figure 5. Prof. Zdzisław Przybyłkiewicz [1].
[please click on the image to enlarge]

He often came to work by motorbike and would park it next to the building. His smartly dressed assistant took his bag and opened the lecture room, making the students think that he's the professor. Then, to everyone's surprise came the real professor, who was usually less formally dressed.


The life of Professor Przybyłkiewicz was truly interesting and could easily be made into an epic Hollywood drama. I was proud to take on the work started by Prof. Przybyłkiewicz at the Institute on Czysta Street and when I recently retired, I am happy to look back on those many past years, the generations of newly trained doctors in clinical microbiology, the many grants and publications that were performed. And by no means am I giving up. Just like my predecessor I am still professionally active. The future is bright, and I am certain it will be continued by my successors.


[1] Heczko P. Działalność naukowa i organizacyjna Prof. dr hab. Zdzisława Przybyłkiewicza. Zebranie z programem: "Wspomnienie o Prof. dr hab. Zdzisławie Przybyłkieiwczu (1908-1966)". Towarzystwo Lekarskie Krakowskie wspólnie z Polskim Towarzystwem Zakażeń Szpitalnych, Krakowskim Oddziałem Polskiego Towarzystwa Mikrobiologów, Krakowskim Oddziałem Polskiego Towarzystwa Epidemiologów i Lekarzy Chorób Zakaźnych oraz Stowarzyszeniem Absolwentów Wydziałów Medycznych UJ. Kraków, 3 October 2018.

Conflict of interest: none declared.

Acknowledgements: Staff of the Medical Library of the Jagiellonian University for archive materials.

Authors’ affiliations:
1 Professor Emeritus, Past Head of the Chair of Microbiology, Jagiellonian University Medical College in Cracow, Poland

Corresponding author:
Prof. Piotr B. Heczko, M.D., Ph.D.
18 Czysta Str.
31-121 Kraków
Tel. +48 12 633 25 67
e-mail: mbheczko@cyf-kr.edu.pl

To cite this article: Heczko PB. Historical account of Zdzisław Przybyłkiewicz - a professor of microbiology at the Jagiellonian University Medical School. World J Med Images Videos Cases 2018; 4:e52-57.

Submitted for publication: 3 October 2018
Accepted for publication: 15 November 2018
Published on: 30 November 2018

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