The documentary-maker Stephen Edwards’s most distinguished musical work is the score for his Requiem for My Mother (2017). The Requiem was premiered in the Vatican, and his award-winning television documentary, based on the premiere, was broadcast on the PBS network. It’s a breathtaking work, reminiscent of Duruflé but original and memorable.
Now Edwards, composer of nearly 100 film and television soundtracks, has another documentary in the making, entitled Syndrome K. It’s about a little-known story of World War II heroism, which as he put it, “captured my soul”.
During the Nazi occupation of Rome, three Italian doctors at Fatebenefratelli hospital invented a “deadly and contagious” disease called Syndrome K, in order to protect some Jewish patients from the Nazis.
The “patients” had escaped from the Nazi round-up in Rome by fleeing across the Tiber to the hospital, where the doctors put them in beds. The Nazis never entered the ward, and the supposed patients survived the war.
If the ruse had been discovered, the doctors and patients would surely have suffered the same fate as that of the 1,023 people deported from the Jewish ghetto by the Nazis and sent to Auschwitz. Only 16 survived.
Portions of Edwards’s soundtrack have already been recorded in London, Belgrade and Prague, with sessions scheduled for Rome and Moscow. Edwards says the music for Syndrome K is intended “to help convey feelings and emotions that are so crucial to this amazing story”.
Edwards interviewed survivors and descendants of survivors, including the 98-year-old Adriano Ossicini, the last surviving doctor, and Pietro Borromeo, son of the head doctor at the hospital. As the trailer attests, these interviews, combined with archive footage of Nazi soldiers in the ghetto and the US 5th Army fighting up the Italian coast towards Rome, promise to present a powerful depiction of courage and sacrifice in the face of Nazi horror.
Dr Ossicini, a Catholic and already known for being anti-fascist, not only coined the name “Syndrome K” but also helped establish a secret radio room in the hospital to communicate with the Allies. He enlisted the help of Catholic friars to provide cover for the ruse.
The other two doctors involved were Giovanni Borromeo and Vittorio Sacerdoti. Dr Borromeo was the hospital director who agreed to Dr Ossicini’s plan. Dr Sacerdoti was himself a Jew who worked at the hospital with forged papers that were known only to Borromeo.
In 2004, Borromeo was posthumously recognised by Yad Vashem as Righteous Among the Nations.
Meanwhile, Stephen Edwards has financed the film from personal funds to date. To raise the balance to complete and release it, he launched a campaign on Kickstarter. Those interested in reading more about the film, or supporting the effort can go to www.kickstarter.com and search “Syndrome K”.
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