Dr. Boromeo, Dr. Ossicini, and Dr. Sacerdoti
Freestyle Digital Media
"Syndrome K" has World Premiere at Heartland International Film Festival
Syndrome K was known as a highly contagious and fatal disease during World War II, a disease most commonly found among Romans of Jewish descent.
It also didn't actually exist.
Concocted by three doctors at the Fatebenefratelli Hospital - Doctors Ossicini, Borromeo, and Sacerdoti - Syndrome K was so named as a jab at Albert Kesselring, a Nazi Commander, and Herbert Kappler, an SS Colonel. Both men, eventually convicted of war crimes, were responsible for the brutal occupation of Italy and stormed into Italy determined to continue planned genocide of Jews. Located on Vatican property, the Fatebenefratelli Hospital was under Papal control yet Pope Pius XIII yet Pope Pius had found himself torn between intervention and balancing his responsibility to all of Holy See. Acting without Vatican approval, these three doctors, supported fervently by the entire staff of the hospital, "discovered" Syndrome K as a way to protect Jews who needed a safe haven and who were quarantined in an isolated hospital ward with symptoms so descriptive and perilous that even those Nazis who dared enter the ward did so with great hesitation and with fear of this potentially deadly disease.
The truth of Fatebenefratelli Hospital remained a secret for a good majority of the next 60 years until 2004 when the World Holocaust Remembrance Center recognized Dr. Borromeo, the most senior of the three physicians, for his efforts helping Jewish patients during the war. The hospital itself was dubbed a "House of Life" in 2016 and Dr. Ossicini, at the age of 96, attended the ceremony.
Screening as part of the Indiana Spotlight during the 2019 Heartland International Film Festival, director Stephen Edwards' Syndrome K is an engaging, informative feature doc that moves along breezily at a rather slight 72 minute running time. Largely covering the time from 1943 until the Allies liberated Rome in 1944, Syndrome K is at its strongest when Edwards utilizes personal testimonials from the now elderly survivors and children of the survivors who recount the climate at the time and the immense pressures on those who participated in the elaborate, complex scheme that almost unfathomably worked. The hospital helped to facilitate what we Americans might understand as an "Underground Railroad" of sorts as those admitted to the ward were often then transitioned out to churches and monasteries for safe housing until such time as liberation would occur. While the overall numbers of those saved pales in comparison to those lost, the story of Syndrome K remains a stellar example of great heroics at great personal risk and, at least until now, remains one of World War II's great untold stories.
Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic