The Fake Disease That Saved a Group of Roman Jews from the Nazis

August 25, 2022 | Stephen Silver
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In his new documentary Syndrome K, narrated by the late actor Ray Liotta, the filmmaker Stephen Edwards tells the story of a creative, little-known, and ultimately successful attempt at Holocaust rescue. Stephen Silver writes:

[T]hree doctors at a hospital in Rome shielded a group of Jews from the Nazis in 1943 and 1944 by inventing a fake infectious disease called Syndrome K. The prospect of catching the disease kept the Nazis, who were occupying Rome following the fall of Mussolini, away from the hospital. The Jews there hung on until the Allies liberated the city in June of 1944.

Fatebenefratelli Hospital was located very close to the Jewish Ghetto in Rome. The three doctors were Vittorio Sacerdoti, Giovani Borromeo, and Adriano Ossicini. Sacerdoti was Jewish, while the other two were Catholic. Borremeo, who among other things protected the family of one of his Jewish mentors, is recognized as one of the Righteous among the Nations by Yad Vashem, Israel’s Holocaust memorial authority.

Jews were kept in hospital rooms designated as dangerously infectious. “The Nazis thought it was cancer or tuberculosis, and they fled like rabbits,” Sacerdoti told the BBC in 2004. The exact number of Jews saved, according to the film, is unknown, although various historical accounts have placed the number in the dozens.

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