The 450-year-old hospital located in the heart of Rome has a history of rising to the challenge to address the current needs of the local community.
It was established by a group of monks and the phrase "Fatebenefratelli" means 'Do well brothers' (for the sake of God).
The hospital has been known for being active in times of need, be it the 1656 black death or the 1832 Cholera break out.
In the fascist regime of Mussolini, antisemitism was on the rise. A ghetto was made for the isolation of the Jewish community and they were gradually removed from all jobs and services. The monks and doctors at the hospital did not agree with the new developments but given Mussolini's penchant for capital punishment could not retaliate openly.
They did their part by admitting Jewish patients and hiring Jewish doctors too if they were meritorious, against government instructions.
Earlier, Italy was with Germany as a part of the Axis powers. But as the possibility of Hitler winning the war waned, Italy signed an armistice with the Allied Powers. As revenge Germany invaded Italy and began enforcing these racial laws strictly.
The staff at the Fatebenefratelli could not meekly watch the systematic execution of the Jews in concentration camps and considered it a violation of the Hippocratic oath to do nothing to save them.
The Deception Begins
The Nazi commander threatened the city's Jewish community that unless they handed over 50 kilograms of gold 200 Jews family heads would be deported. In 1259 the Ghetto was sealed and all people who ventured out were caught by the Nazi soldiers to be sent to Auschwitz.
Dr Sacedoti was a Jewish doctor hired by the Fatebenefratelli on a false identity and he came up with a plan to save the Jews who had escaped successfully. He admitted all the fugitive Jews to the hospital under the garb of Syndrome K.
This imaginary disease was brainstormed by the Fatebenefratelli staff and it was decided that the symptoms would be nausea, headache, vomiting and a nasty cough. It was popularized that it has no treatment and the patient would die a slow painful death. To keep these people privacy from the other patients and protection from diagnosis by Nazi doctors, it was declared that the disease was highly contagious. The fact that the nazi's considered Jews dirty and less than human, made it easier for the doctors to fool them. The Nazi army thought that the 'inferior' Jewish race would be more susceptible to such a disease and never suspected foul play as only Jews were admitted to the Syndrome K ward.
New Identity, New Life
This way Jews could be hidden but they could not afford to feed more people. The doctors started using hospital machines to print false Non-Jewish identity proofs for the patients so that they can be sent to other countries where Hitler did not have power. Finally, when the Nazi army found some evidence of illegal activities in the hospital they decided to raid the Fatebenefratelli. Fortunately, this news was leaked an hour before the army's arrival. Meanwhile, Dr Sacedoti hid contraband and disassembled his illegal radio.
He then welcomed the soldiers into the hospital and warned them that Syndrome K is highly contagious and causes neurological degeneration with dramatic consequences and they should enter the isolated ward at their own risk. As he opened the door, the soldiers could hear the Jews coughing as someone with tuberculosis would just as Dr Sacedoti had taught them. The soldiers decided against it and reported back that the hospital was perfectly legal in its work. On June 4th, 1944 American troops finally arrived in Rome and the pretence ended. The Jewish citizens saw daylight as they were now free citizens and it was announced that Syndrome K was nothing but an elaborate ploy to mislead the Nazis.
That's how this misinformation about the 'disease' save thousands of Jews from the Nazis. Despite being under the direct jurisdiction of Germany about 80% of the Jewish population of Rome survived due to the conscious efforts of the doctors and non-Jewish citizens who did not fall for racial propaganda.