During WWII, an old hospital in Rome run by friars fooled the Third Reich and saved the lives of hundreds of Jewish individuals. They did it by inventing a fake disease called K Syndrome. What is K Syndrome, exactly? Though it sounded like Koch syndrome, or tuberculosis, K Syndrome was completely made up. The head physician at the hospital, Giovanni Borromeo, hid hundreds of Jewish people in his hospital wards by diagnosing them with K Syndrome.
In 1943 and 1944, the SS stormed Rome's Jewish ghetto, deporting thousands to concentration camps. When the camps were liberated, less than a hundred survived. Thanks to the quick thinking of Dr. Borromeo and his assistants, however, a lucky few got to pull one over the German soldiers and escape persecution.
During the war, Hitler's regime raided the hospital looking for individuals of Jewish heritage, and the hospital staff warned them about the deadly, contagious K Syndrome. The fake syndrome protected hundreds during the Third Reich's occupation. Horrifying photos of concentration camps show the fate that could have been for the men, women, and children struck with this lifesaving plague.
When the Third Reich swept into Rome in September 1943, they immediately began targeting the city's Jewish population. Hundreds went into hiding, and some even hid in Catholic churches. But on October 18, 1943, the deportations began. In a single day, over 1,000 Jewish individuals got deported, and an additional thousand would be sent to extermination camps in the coming weeks.
Of the 2,091 Jewish people departed from Rome, only 102 survived.
On October 16, 1943, the SS rounded up over 1,000 Jewish individuals in Rome. Once the deportations began, the Fatebenefratelli Hospital in Rome began welcoming the Jewish population. The hospital's head physician, Giovanni Borromeo, was a lifelong anti-fascist. He also hired Jewish doctors, including Vittorio Emanuele Sacerdoti, who was instrumental in inventing K Syndrome.
In shock at the deportations, the hospital welcomed Jewish people, who hid in a special ward. And the hospital soon became a center of resistance.
The case files for multiple patients at the hospital read "Syndrome K." But the disease was fake, a ploy to keep the SS from deporting Jewish people to the concentration camps. Adriano Ossicini, who helped hide Jewish individuals in the hospital, explained:
Syndrome K was put on patient papers to indicate that the sick person wasn't sick at all, but Jewish. We created those papers for Jewish people as if they were ordinary patients, and in the moment when we had to say what disease they suffered? It was Syndrome K, meaning, "I am admitting a Jew," as if he or she were ill, but they were all healthy.
The Fatebenefratelli Hospital was close to Rome's Jewish ghetto. From its location on Tiber Island, the friars at the hospital could practically see the ghetto. This proximity made the Third Reich suspicious that the hospital was hiding Jewish people.
When the SS finally visited the hospital in late October 1943, Giovanni Borromeo had a plan.