Ever heard of Syndrome K?
It was a deadly disease that promised almost certain death if you contracted this virus. It is also entirely fake.
Syndrome K was ‘discovered’ at the Fatebenefratelli Hospital in Rome sometime around 1943. The head physician, Giovanni Borromeo, created this pretend virus as a way of protecting the Jews and anti-fascists in Italy at the time. Borromeo himself was anti-fascist and had turned down two other job offers because it would require him to join the party. Fatebenefratelli was a Catholic hospital run by Catholic friars and was therefore exempt from state hospital rules. This environment allowed Borromeo to hire other doctors who had been previously targeted by the regime in power.
In October of 1943 the Nazis began deporting the Italian Jews in the nearby ghetto to the concentration camps abroad. Borromeo and his team realized they needed to do something to help save these people. Thus Syndrome K, or ‘Il Morbo di K’, was born.
The doctors would fill out the paperwork as they would do for any other patient. However, if they were a Jew their papers would read that they had been diagnosed with this horrible disease. When the Nazis turned up at the hospital to flush out any Jewish individuals the doctors let them look around the building but advised them against entering the ward housing the Syndrome K patients.
The Nazis were supposedly told the disease was a neurological one that caused convulsions, paralysis, and eventually death. One article stated that the doctors taught the children how to fake horrible coughs to sell the performance.
According to Dr. Vittorio Sacerdoti, a Jewish doctor working in the hospital at the time, they convinced the Nazis the disease was something like tuberculosis or cancer.
He said, “They fled like rabbits.”
Dr. Adriano Ossicini, another doctor working at Fatebenefratelli, stated that he came up with the name for this phony disease. It was named after either Albert Kesselring, a Nazi commander in charge of the Italian occupation, or Herbert Kappler, an SS officer who was part of the massacre at the Ardeatine Caves where 335 people died.
There are differing accounts as to whether the doctors planned Syndrome K or if it was developed on the fly. Regardless the plan worked and the hospital continued to receive ‘patients’ until the Allies arrived.
Accounts vary as to how many people the Syndrome K plan saved. Regardless, everyone who played a role in this ruse acted bravely against almost impossible odds.
- Syndrome K Disease Save Lives [Historytoday.com]
- Syndrome K: The Fake WW2 Disease [history.co.uk]
- Fake Disease Fooled Nazis [mentalfloss.com]
- Feature Picture [Wikimedia]
- Giovanni Borromeo [Wikimedia]