True story of Italian doctors in Rome who rescued Jews during the Holocaust through a horrific, contagious disease that wasn’t real.
“Syndrome K” is the true story about a highly contagious, highly fictitious disease created by three Roman Catholic doctors – Adriano Ossicini, Giovanni Borromeo, and Vittorio Sacradoti, during the Holocaust to hide Jews from Occupying Nazis in a Vatican-affiliated hospital during World War II. When over 1,000 Jews from the Jewish Ghetto in Rome were deported to Auschwitz on 16 October 1943, many other Jews sought refuge in the Fatebenefratelli Hospital, directly across the Tiber River from the Ghetto, and Syndrome K became a way to save them.
When the Nazis invaded Rome in 1943, they immediately targeted the Roman Jews. Against Vatican orders, three doctors at Fatebenefratelli, the Vatican-affiliated Catholic hospital, hid many Jews who had sought refuge, disguising them as sick patients infected with a wildly touted, highly contagious fake disease they dubbed Syndrome K to fool the Nazis, who were quite fearful of falling victim to disease. The doctors “quarantined” the “infected” Jews to protect them. As Nazi suspicions amplified, they were forced to elaborate and maintain this ruse to keep their countrymen alive until the Allied forces under Gen. Mark Clark began the harrowing fight to liberate Rome from the South. Syndrome K might be the only horrible disease in history that saved lives – because it didn’t exist.
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“Syndrome K” is led by a vastly talented team of filmmakers beginning with directed and produced by Stephen Edwards; narrated by the late screen icon Ray Liotta, (Good Fellas); executive produced by Lannette Turicchi (“Waking Mathilda: A Memoir of Childhood Narcolepsy”); Patrick Olson (“Love and Honor”), and James Duda; associate producers Christopher Lovasz, Peter J. D’Arruda (“Space Command”); and Maisy-Kay Kendrick; story by Stephen Edwards; written by Gregory Ballard (“Bodysnatch”); with re-creations produced and directed by Greg Hunter; Directors of Photography Robert Duncan, Craig Smith and Ilija Gavran (“Lost Treasure of the Valley”); edited by Greg Hunter(“Relationship Status,” “Kaboom”); with an original score by Stephen Edwards.
Director, Steven Edwards said, “My favorite documentaries are those that speak about ordinary people doing extraordinary things. When I happened to learn of the story of Syndrome K, I could scarcely believe it had remained untold for so many years. I began researching the story. The more I learned about the three heroic doctors who successfully fooled Nazis into believing that their quarantined Jewish patients had a rare and dangerous disease, the more I understood.
They did what they did without question and pause. They knew the risk but gave it no second thought. This is how they were. To these three men, taking a stand against the closest thing there ever was too pure evil, was necessary. It was obvious. I began to realize that the story had never been told partly because the doctors themselves did not desire fanfare or attention. It’s rare to encounter this sensibility. I had never come across it before as a filmmaker.
It took me some time to ascertain that Dr. Ossicini, the inventor of “Syndrome K” was alive, well into his 90s, and still living in Rome. I immediately booked a flight and interviewed him. He introduced me to colleagues and from there, I met several survivors. The more I learned, the more I affirmed that this was an astonishing story that needed to be told – and needed to be shared with (hopefully) a wide audience.
I said earlier that my favorite documentaries are those that speak about ordinary people doing extraordinary things. Well, these three doctors and their self-effacing style and matter-of-fact heroism were anything but ordinary. These were extraordinary men. And what they did was beyond extraordinary. I feel privileged to make this film and share it.”