Himmler’s Doctor

Himmler’s Doctor, is a 2015 documentary which offers a lesson in history through the lens of an insider, one Doctor Felix Kersten, the highly valued and trusted doctor of Heimlich Himmler. Himmler was a leading member of the Nazi party and head of the S.S.

Trained by a Tibetan practitioner, Kersten’s masseur treatments were popular among such aristocrats from the King of Romania to the wealthy industrialists of Pre-WWII Europe. Married to a German woman, Dr. Kersten was an apolitical figure among the powerful people who were his patients. As a result, he became extremely successful and was eventually led to serve as physician to Himmler. Suffering from terrible abdominal pain that could not be relieved by conventional medicine, Himmler received Kersten’s treatments daily from 1939 until the end of the war. So dependent upon his treatments, Himmler required that Kersten live nearby and eventually took him on his travels with him—sometimes even to the front lines of battle. Kersten documented his treatments and his conversations with Himmler, and as a Finnish citizen realized that his relationship with Himmler could be useful to Finland and he eventually became a diplomatic courier and able to smuggle documents and thus aid his country and further its interests in the war.

Taking full advantage of Himmler’s dependence on him Kersten set conditions on his work with Himmler and instead of taking payment for his services, began to negotiate the release of people from German prison camps. Because Himmler was so reliant upon Kersten, he scarcely denied any request. The exchange of services in return for the saving of human lives continued, despite suspicion of Himmler’s fellow Nazis about how and why this Dr. Kersten had such great privilege such as unmonitored mail and the ability to make foreign phone calls—both a rarity at the time of the height of Nazi dominance. Many considered him to be a spy and wondered how he seemed to be able to influence Himmler, the great mastermind of Nazi propaganda.

Initally, Himmler did not allow Jews to be freed from prison despite Kersten’s persistent requests, and would only agree to exchange Danes, Swedes, and other non-Jews. By 1943, Kersten was granted permission to move his own family to Sweden for safety. Kersten attempted to facilitate negotiations for separate peace between Germany and the United States, and even though this failed, he went as far as having Himmler sit with leaders of the World Jewish Congress which led to the diversion of the first group of 2,700 Jews who were taken to the Swiss border instead of to a Concentration Camp. That was the first of many successes in freeing Jews from the atrocities.

Kersten also served as an intermediary between Germany and the neutral Sweden, especially the Swedish Red Cross. Without Hitler’s knowledge, in April 1945 Himmler struck a deal with the World Jewish Congress to have 7,000 Jewish women freed from Ravensbrück Concentration Camp. In addition, Himmler agreed to fly white flags at the concentration camps on Allied forces arrival, not to blow up the camps and prisoners, and the approval for the Swedish Red Cross to evacuate by bus many occupants of the death camps.

Kersten is credited with saving the lives of 60,000 Jews in total. He retired to Sweden and despite being painted as a Nazi sympathizer immediately following the war, his name was eventually cleared and he was granted humanitarian awards as a result of his heroism.

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