Winnipeg Jewish Review  
Site Search:
Home  |  Archives  |  Contact Us
Features Local Israel Next Generation Arts/Op-Eds Editorial/Letters Links Obituary/In Memoriam

The K syndrome-The Fake Disease That Saved Jews from the Nazis

by Noel Hershfield, April 8


There is in Italy a hospital called Fatebenefratelli which loosely means “to do good to those passing by.” During World War 2 the hospital was running full time. When the Nazis took over Italy in support of Mussolini, they began the usual attacks on politicians, gypsies, anyone who did not adhere to the Nazi philosophy, and of course the Jews, who were being systematically incinerated and killed by the Nazis and their collaborators in Europe.


The K syndrome was a fake disease that was used to save Jewish patients. The K syndrome was originally named after  Koch who discovered tuberculosis, but it later became named after two Nazis Albert Kesselring and Herbert Kepler. Jewish patients at this hospital in Italy were given the diagnosis of  this fake disease, the K syndrome, which the Nazis thought was real, and the Nazis were frightened of  becoming infected.  The last surviving physician, a Jewish doctor named Sacerdoti, stated in an interview that it was well known that the Nazi soldier was terrified of becoming infected by a disease. That Nazis knew that more soldiers died of disease in wars, than died in combat.


The doctors at the hospital therefore invented the  K syndrome, and constructed charts on each patient describing their daily treatment, the drugs that they were using, and the progress or lack of progress in some of their patients.


The reason why these doctors invented the syndrome was because in October 1943 the Nazis combed the Jewish ghetto and other areas of Rome and deported 1200 Jews. Only 15 of these deportees survived the camps.


The inventor of the syndrome was Dr. Giovanni Borromeo, who was assisted by the remainder of the doctors except for two who refused to take part  and left the hospital. Dr. Borromeo was a dedicated antifascist and at one time was prosecuted by Mussolini for his antifascist activities, but the case was dismissed.


In addition to the syndrome the physicians installed a radio station in the hospital and used it to keep in touch with partisans. I'm not certain how long the radio was in existence, but it was discovered by the positioning system of the Nazis and when the doctors found out that it was discovered, they tossed all of the equipment into the Tiber River.


In an interview 10 years after the war with Dr. Borromeo, he stated that the syndrome was named after Albert Kesselring or Herbert Kepler.  Both of these men were high ranking Gestapo soldiers and both undertook a massacre at the famous Andrea caves where 335 people were killed by by these two Gestapo heroes, who were convicted of wars crimes.  I don't not know if the two men were executed or given time in prison.


The hospital continued to give Jews the diagnosis of the K Syndrome,  right up until Rome was liberated. When a patient "recovered" they were sent to various Catholic nursing homes and basements of Catholic churches in the area and if the Nazis inquired,  they were told that they  were being rehabilitated from their long illness of the syndrome.


There is a difference of opinion among some of the doctors who were asked how many of these survivors were saved. Because of this and also because of politics, many Italians who were in government or church employment, questioned the very existence of the syndrome. The most recent review that I read was in 1993 and an Italian newspaper questioned the existence of the syndrome.


The syndrome policy was recognized in 2004 shortly after Dr. Borromeo died and he was recognized as one of the Righteous  Amongst the Nations shortly after by Yad Vashem.


It is interesting that some of the physicians who remain nameless, were concerned that the Catholic Church, which was ambivalent in their policies against Nazi-ism, would tell the Nazis about the activities at the hospital. As far as anyone knows the K syndrome continued without any interference from the church.


This fascinating story is just one that seem to be inundating the book market at this time. I don't believe there's a week that goes by without  a new book about the Holocaust being written. I think it's very interesting that after 75 years there are more and more testimonies about the Holocaust and the final solution of the Nazis.



<<Previous Article       Next Article >>
Subscribe to the Winnipeg Jewish Review
  • RBC
  • Fillmore Riley
  • Daniel Friedman and Rob Dalgleish
  • Equitable Solutions Consulting
  • Taylor McCaffrey
  • Shuster Family
  • Winter's Collision
  • Obby Khan
  • Orthodox Union
  • Lipkin Family
  • Munroe Pharmacy
  • Booke + Partners
  • Karyn & Mel Lazareck
  • The Bob Silver Family
  • Leonard and Susan Asper Foundation
  • Taverna Rodos
  • Coughlin Insurance Brokers
  • Safeway Tuxedo
  • Gislason Targownik Peters
  • Jacqueline Simkin
  • Commercial Pool
  • Dr. Brent Schachter and Sora Ludwig
  • Shinewald Family
  • Lanny Silver
  • Laufman Reprographics
  • Sobeys Grant Park
  • West Kildonan Auto Service
  • Accurate Lawn & Garden
  • Artista Homes
  • Fetching Style
  • Preventative Health First
  • MCW Consultants Ltd.
  • Bridges for Peace
  • Bob and Shirley Freedman
  • PFK Lawyers
  • Myers LLP
  • MLT Aikins
  • Elaine and Ian Goldstine
  • Wolson Roitenberg Robinson Wolson & Minuk
  • MLT Aikins
  • Rudy Fidel
  • Pitblado
  • Cavalier Candies
  • Kathleen Cook
  • John Orlikow
  • Ted Falk
  • Chisick Family
  • Danny and Cara Stoller and family
  • Lazar Family
  • James Bezan
  • Evan Duncan
  • Ross Eadie
  • Cindy Lamoureux
  • Roseman Corp
  • Ronald B. Zimmerman
  • Shindico
  • Ambassador Mechanical
  • Red River Coop
  • CdnVISA Immigration Consultants
  • Holiday Inn Polo Park
  • Superlite
  • Tradesman Mechanical
  • Chochy's
  • Astroid Management Limited
  • Dr. Marshall Stitz
  • Doheny Securities Limited
  • Nick's Inn
  • Grant Kurian Trucking
  • Seer Logging
  • Shoppers Drug Mart
  • Josef Ryan
  • Fair Service
  • Broadway Law Group
  • Abe and Toni Berenhaut
  • Shoppers Drug Mart
  • kristinas-greek
  • The Center for Near East Policy Research Ltd.
  • Sarel Canada
  • Roofco Winnipeg Roofing
  • Center for Near East Policy Research
  • Nachum Bedein
Rhonda Spivak, Editor

Publisher: Spivak's Jewish Review Ltd.

Opinions expressed in letters to the editor or articles by contributing writers are not necessarily endorsed by Winnipeg Jewish Review.