Fatebenefratelli Hospital

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Fatebenefratelli Hospital
Brothers Hospitallers of Saint John of God
Rom, das Krankenhaus Fatebenefratelli.JPG
LocationRome, Italy
CoordinatesCoordinates: 41°53′27″N 12°28′37″E / 41.89083°N 12.47694°E / 41.89083; 12.47694
ListsHospitals in Italy

Fatebenefratelli Hospital (officially Ospedale San Giovanni Calibita Fatebenefratelli) is a hospital located on the western side of the Tiber Island in Rome. It was established in 1585 and is currently run by the Brothers Hospitallers of Saint John of God. The hospital is known for having sheltered Jews during the Holocaust by diagnosing them with a fictitious disease called "Syndrome K".


The origins of the hospital on the Tiber Island date to before 1000 CE, when an ancient temple dedicated to the Greek god of medicine, Asclepius, was replaced by a sanctuary dedicated to Bartholomew the Apostle, one of the Twelve Apostles of Jesus. The sanctuary provided aid for local populations of beggars, the poor, and the sick. During the mid-sixteenth century, begging was banned in Rome and the shelter was converted into a fabbriche della salute ("health factory").[1]

In 1539 Saint John of God founded the religious institute, the Brothers Hospital, in Granada, Spain. The institute was recognized in 1572 by Pope Pius V and was nicknamed "Fatebenefratelli", a phrase used by the saints while inviting passersby to do charity. The epithet means "You do well, brothers[, for God's sake]". In 1581, the Brothers Hospital founded a new hospital called "Casa degli Orfanelli" ("House of Orphans") in Piazza di Pietra, with around 20 beds.[2] Two members of the institute, Brother Pietro Soriano and Brother Sebastiano Arias, moved to the Tiber Island.[1] In 1585, the institute purchased a monastery with the help of Pope Gregory XIII; the monastery had previously been occupied by the Benedictine Sisters until 1573 and later by the Brotherhood of the Bolognese. The pontiff also granted them the adjoining church of St. John Calybita.[2]

Fifteen saints settled on Tiber Island and introduced health care measures. During the 1656–57 plague outbreaks in Rome, the hospital specialized in the treatment of plague patients and formed a school to teach its staff to deal with epidemics. The hospital was recognized by the Special Commission of Health during the 1832 cholera outbreaks in Rome.[1]

Eight years after the capture of Rome in 1870, the hospital management was dissolved in 1878. Three individuals bought the hospital for "private industry and interest". These three "mysterious" people were three friars who acted as buyers in disguise to elude the law still in force against possessing the work of religious hospitals. In 1892, the old management of the hospital was restored. During the nineteenth century, the hospital was strengthened against the floods of the Tiber River with the erection of surrounding walls. This construction was interrupted by World War I and resumed in 1922. The hospital added ophthalmology and fluoroscopy units, considered the first of their kind in Rome.[1]

"Syndrome K"[edit]

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.

—Adriano Ossicini, 2016[3]

Initially, the hospital was used as a hospice on the premises of the San Giovanni Calibita Church. Later, it was expanded into a modern hospital by Dr. Giovanni Borromeo, who joined in 1934, with the help of Father Maurizio Bialek.[4]

In 1938, Italy introduced antisemitic laws. The hospital had allowed the Jewish doctor Vittorio Emanuele Sacerdoti to work under false papers. With the Nazi occupation of Italy in September 1943 and the imposition of antisemitic laws against the Roman Jews, Sacerdoti – with the approval of Borromeo and Bialek – brought patients from the Jewish hospital to be cared for at Fatebenefratelli.[4]

During the Nazi raid of the Jewish ghetto in Rome on October 16, 1943, Jewish escapees sought refuge at the hospital. Borromeo accepted them and declared that these new "patients" had been diagnosed with a contagious, fatal disease called Il Morbo di K ("the Syndrome K"), which could be interpreted as standing for "Koch disease" or "Kreps disease".[4][5] The name was suggested by physician and anti-fascist activist Adriano Ossicini.[3] The letter K was designated for the Jewish refugees to distinguish them from real patients. K was derived from the German officer Albert Kesselring, who led the troops in Rome, and from Sicherheitspolizei and Sicherheitsdienst chief Herbert Kappler, who was appointed as city police chief.[3] "Syndrome K" was purported to be a neurological illness whose symptoms included convulsions, dementia, paralysis, and, ultimately, death from asphyxiation.[6] While the symptoms of the disease were deliberately kept ambiguous, the Nazis were noted to refrain from investigating the hospital or even to conduct searches for Jews on the premises out of fear of contracting the disease.[4] The Jewish patients were advised to appear ill and to cough loudly, affecting symptoms similar to tuberculosis.[4]

Besides Fr. Maurizio and Borromeo, other doctors on staff assisted the Jewish patients and helped to move them to safer hideouts outside the hospital. In May 1944, the hospital was raided and five Jews from Poland were detained. However, the ruse saved approximately 100 refugees.[4]

Fr. Maurizio and Borromeo also installed an illegal radio transmitter in the hospital basement and made contact with General Roberto Lordi of the Italian Royal Air Force. After World War II, Borromeo was lauded by Government of Italy for his work and was recognized as a Righteous Among the Nations by Yad Vashem. He died in the hospital on 24 August 1961.[4]


The hospital has following departments:[7]

  • Cardiology
  • General surgery
  • CRTI
  • Endocrinology
  • Gastroenterology
  • Medicine
  • Nephrology and Dialysis
  • Neurology
  • Oncology
  • Orthopedics
  • Obstetrics and Gynecology
  • Otolaryngology
  • Radiotherapy
  • Neonatal Intensive Care
  • Urology

Services and surgeries[edit]

Following are the services provided and surgeries performed at the hospital:[8]


  • General Surgery
  • Systemic Amyloidosis Surgery
  • Surgery Cholesterol and Cardiovascular Disease Prevention
  • Hematology Surgery
  • Medicine Surgery
  • Neurological Surgery
  • Ophthalmology Surgery
  • Dentistry Surgery
  • Orthopedic Surgery
  • Otolaryngology Surgery
  • Pediatric Surgery
  • Skin ulcers Surgery
  • Urology Surgery
  • Oncology and DH Surgery
  • Disability support Surgery
  • Food intolerances Surgery


  • Acupuncture Clinic
  • Allergy Clinic
  • Anesthesiology Clinic
  • Angiology and Sclerosing Clinic
  • Cardiology Clinic
  • Dermatology Clinic
  • Endocrinology Clinic
  • Gastroenterology and Digestive Endoscopy Clinic
  • Nephrology and Dialysis Clinic
  • Homeopathy Clinic
  • Obstetrics and Gynecology Clinic
  • Pathological anatomy
  • Laboratory Analysis
  • Psychology and Psychotherapy
  • Radiology
  • Outpatient Service of Aesthetic Medicine
  • Dietary Service
  • Transfusion Service


On 21 June 2016, the hospital was honored as a "House of Life" by the International Raoul Wallenberg Foundation.[3]


  1. ^ a b c d "Storia dell'Ospedale: Cenni storici sull'Isola Tiberina" [Hospital History: Historical notes on the Tiber Island] (in Italian). Fatebenefratelli hospital. Retrieved 15 April 2017.
  2. ^ a b "L'ospedale Fatebenefratelli" [Fatebenefratelli Hospital] (in Italian). isolatiberina. Archived from the original on 2018-02-14. Retrieved 15 April 2017.
  3. ^ a b c d Hu, Caitlin (8 July 2016). "AKA 'Morbo di K': An Italian doctor explains 'Syndrome K,' the fake disease he invented to save Jews from the Nazis". Quartz Media LLC. Retrieved 14 April 2017.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g Bartrop, Paul R. (2016). Resisting the Holocaust: Upstanders, Partisans, and Survivors: Upstanders, Partisans, and Survivors. ABC-CLIO. pp. 36–38. ISBN 978-1-61069-879-5. Retrieved 27 February 2017.
  5. ^ "The Righteous Among The Nations". Yad Vashem. Retrieved 14 April 2017.
  6. ^ Willan, Philip (23 June 2016). "Doctors saved Jews by dreaming up an imaginary disease". The Times. London. Retrieved 14 April 2017.
  7. ^ "Reparti" [Departments] (in Italian). Fatebenefratelli hospital. Retrieved 18 April 2017.
  8. ^ "Ambulatori e Servizi" [Surgeries and services] (in Italian). Fatebenefratelli hospital. Retrieved 18 April 2017.

External links[edit]