Monday, August 15, 2022

Syndrome K, Narrated by Ray Liotta

This particular virus really was fake news. That is why it was so heroic and ingenious. After the German occupation of Rome in 1943, until its Allied liberation, a handful of doctors and supporting staff maintained the secret “K” ward, where they sheltered Jews, who were supposedly suffering from a completely fictitious virus. Documentarian and film score composer Stephen Edwards chronicles their courageous efforts in Syndrome K, which releases tomorrow on VOD.

Fatebenefratelli Hospital was Catholic by affiliation and ownership title. Yet, the Jewish Dr. Vittorio Sacradoti made a professional home there before the Germans invaded and a literal home during the occupation. He also found sympathetic colleagues in the senior physician, Dr. Giovani Borromeo and Dr. Adriano Ossicini, who was already active in the anti-Fascist underground. Together, they devised the Syndrome K deception, as a means to shelter Jewish Italians, shrewdly exploiting the National Socialists’ phobic obsessions with disease and impurity.

They also harbored resistance figures on a short-term basis and provided communications support to the underground. Since they were literally owned by the Church, it is highly likely Pope Pious XII was aware to some extent of their activities, which he apparently approved, at least passively.

In fact, Edwards devotes a good deal of time to analyzing the controversial Pope’s actions in response to Hitler and the Holocaust. Rather than attacking or defending, Edwards and his on-camera experts are surprisingly evenhanded. While the Pope still gets mixed-to-negative marks, the rank-and-file priests and nuns who sheltered Roman Jewry throughout the city get their due credit. As a result, this is a film that should really bring people together and inspire good fellowship.

To fully establish context, Edwards adeptly uses graphics that set the scene and illustrate the hospital’s strategic location, right across from the Jewish ghetto, on Tiber Island. He also conducted some invaluable interviews with Osscini (who survived into 2019) and Borromeo’s son, Pietro, supplementing with Sacradoti’s archival oral history, which directly addressed the secret Syndrome K operation. Plus, the late, great Ray Liotta narrates, with appropriate sensitivity and clarity.

Syndrome K
is a skillfully crafted documentary that explores a series of amazing historical events, in a thoughtful manner. The VOD-cut runs a mere hour in length, but there is a lot to learn from it. More people should have seen Edwards’ Requiem for My Mother when it dropped onto PBS outlets five years ago, but a film like Syndrome K should be thematically easier for stations to promote, so hopefully it will also reach Public Broadcasting sometime in the future. Regardless, Syndrome K is highly recommended when it releases tomorrow (8/16) on VOD.