Felix Kersten

Felix Kersten

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Felix Kersten was before and during World War II
World War II
World War II, or the Second World War , was a global conflict lasting from 1939 to 1945, involving most of the world's nations—including all of the great powers—eventually forming two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis...

 the personal masseur
Massage
Massage is the manipulation of superficial and deeper layers of muscle and connective tissue to enhance function, aid in the healing process, and promote relaxation and well-being. The word comes from the French massage "friction of kneading", or from Arabic massa meaning "to touch, feel or handle"...

 of Heinrich Himmler
Heinrich Himmler
Heinrich Luitpold Himmler was Reichsführer of the SS, a military commander, and a leading member of the Nazi Party. As Chief of the German Police and the Minister of the Interior from 1943, Himmler oversaw all internal and external police and security forces, including the Gestapo...

. Kersten used his position to aid people persecuted by Nazi Germany
Nazi Germany
Nazi Germany , also known as the Third Reich , but officially called German Reich from 1933 to 1943 and Greater German Reich from 26 June 1943 onward, is the name commonly used to refer to the state of Germany from 1933 to 1945, when it was a totalitarian dictatorship ruled by...

, although whether his actions were as decisive as Kersten claimed in his memoirs is not readily verifiable from other sources.

Early life


Kersten was born in a Baltic German
Baltic German
The Baltic Germans were mostly ethnically German inhabitants of the eastern shore of the Baltic Sea, which today form the countries of Estonia and Latvia. The Baltic German population never made up more than 10% of the total. They formed the social, commercial, political and cultural élite in...

 family in Estonia
Estonia
Estonia , officially the Republic of Estonia , is a state in the Baltic region of Northern Europe. It is bordered to the north by the Gulf of Finland, to the west by the Baltic Sea, to the south by Latvia , and to the east by Lake Peipsi and the Russian Federation . Across the Baltic Sea lies...

 when the country was still a part of Imperial Russia. During World War I
World War I
World War I , which was predominantly called the World War or the Great War from its occurrence until 1939, and the First World War or World War I thereafter, was a major war centred in Europe that began on 28 July 1914 and lasted until 11 November 1918...

 he fought in the German Army
German Army
The German Army is the land component of the armed forces of the Federal Republic of Germany. Following the disbanding of the Wehrmacht after World War II, it was re-established in 1955 as the Bundesheer, part of the newly formed West German Bundeswehr along with the Navy and the Air Force...

 and arrived in Finland
Finland
Finland , officially the Republic of Finland, is a Nordic country situated in the Fennoscandian region of Northern Europe. It is bordered by Sweden in the west, Norway in the north and Russia in the east, while Estonia lies to its south across the Gulf of Finland.Around 5.4 million people reside...

 in April 1918 with the German forces that intervened in the Finnish Civil War
Finnish Civil War
The Finnish Civil War was a part of the national, political and social turmoil caused by World War I in Europe. The Civil War concerned control and leadership of The Grand Duchy of Finland as it achieved independence from Russia after the October Revolution in Petrograd...

. Kersten served for a while in Suojeluskunta, was granted Finnish citizenship in 1920 and commissioned 2nd Lieutenant (vänrikki) in the Finnish Army
Finnish Army
The Finnish Army is the land forces branch of the Finnish Defence Forces.Today's Army is divided into six branches: the infantry , field artillery, anti-aircraft artillery, engineers, signals, and materiel troops.-History of the Finnish Army:Between 1809 and 1917 Finland was an autonomous part of...

 in September 1921.

Kersten began his studies in Helsinki
Helsinki
Helsinki is the capital and largest city in Finland. It is in the region of Uusimaa, located in southern Finland, on the shore of the Gulf of Finland, an arm of the Baltic Sea. The population of the city of Helsinki is , making it by far the most populous municipality in Finland. Helsinki is...

 where he studied with the specialist Dr Colander. After two years' study he was awarded his degree in scientific massage. He then left for Berlin
Berlin
Berlin is the capital city of Germany and is one of the 16 states of Germany. With a population of 3.45 million people, Berlin is Germany's largest city. It is the second most populous city proper and the seventh most populous urban area in the European Union...

 where he continued his studies and eventually became Dr. Ko
Dr. Ko
Dr. Ko was Chinese but was brought up in a Tibetan monastery, where he became a Lama. It was here, from an early age, he began his study of the ancient art of massage....

's pupil after an encounter at a dinner party. In 1925 Dr. Ko told Kersten "You have learned all I can teach you." He then turned his patients over to Kersten and retired.

Kersten had a number of very influential customers, among them Prince Hendrik of the Netherlands (after 1928) and Benito Mussolini
Benito Mussolini
Benito Amilcare Andrea Mussolini was an Italian politician who led the National Fascist Party and is credited with being one of the key figures in the creation of Fascism....

’s son-in-law and Foreign Minister
Foreign minister
A Minister of Foreign Affairs, or foreign minister, is a cabinet minister who helps form the foreign policy of a sovereign state. The foreign minister is often regarded as the most senior ministerial position below that of the head of government . It is often granted to the deputy prime minister in...

 Galeazzo Ciano
Galeazzo Ciano
Gian Galeazzo Ciano, 2nd Count of Cortellazzo and Buccari was an Italian Minister of Foreign Affairs and Benito Mussolini's son-in-law. In early 1944 Count Ciano was shot by firing squad at the behest of his father-in-law, Mussolini under pressure from Nazi Germany.-Early life:Ciano was born in...

. Kersten accepted Heinrich Himmler
Heinrich Himmler
Heinrich Luitpold Himmler was Reichsführer of the SS, a military commander, and a leading member of the Nazi Party. As Chief of the German Police and the Minister of the Interior from 1943, Himmler oversaw all internal and external police and security forces, including the Gestapo...

's request to become his personal masseur, writing later that he feared for his safety if he refused.

He was able to alleviate Himmler’s severe stomach pains with his skills and gained his trust. Kersten used this trust to obtain pardons and releases of several prisoners.

During the War, Kersten also provided information to the OSS
Office of Strategic Services
The Office of Strategic Services was a United States intelligence agency formed during World War II. It was the wartime intelligence agency, and it was a predecessor of the Central Intelligence Agency...

 (predecessor of the CIA).

Towards the end of the War, Kersten arranged a meeting with Himmler and Norbert Masur
Norbert Masur
Norbert Masur was a Swedish representative who aided in the rescue of Nazi concentration camp victims during World War II.Masur was born in Friedrichstadt, Germany, and was the son of Leiser Masur. As an exiled Jewish German, he later moved to Stockholm...

, a member of the Swedish branch of the World Jewish Congress, in Harztwalde, a few miles from Ravensbruck concentration camp. As a result Himmler agreed to spare the lives of the remaining 60,000 Jews left in Nazi concentration camps days before their liberation by the Allies.

In December 1945 the World Jewish Congress presented Kersten with a letter thanking him for helping to save Jewish concentration-camp victims.

After the War


In his post-war memoirs Kersten takes credit for saving, among others, the whole Dutch
Netherlands
The Netherlands is a constituent country of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, located mainly in North-West Europe and with several islands in the Caribbean. Mainland Netherlands borders the North Sea to the north and west, Belgium to the south, and Germany to the east, and shares maritime borders...

 people from forced deportation to the Nazi-occupied East
Eastern Europe
Eastern Europe is the eastern part of Europe. The term has widely disparate geopolitical, geographical, cultural and socioeconomic readings, which makes it highly context-dependent and even volatile, and there are "almost as many definitions of Eastern Europe as there are scholars of the region"...

. In 1953 the Dutch government nominated him for the Nobel Peace Prize
Nobel Peace Prize
The Nobel Peace Prize is one of the five Nobel Prizes bequeathed by the Swedish industrialist and inventor Alfred Nobel.-Background:According to Nobel's will, the Peace Prize shall be awarded to the person who...

 on this account.

However a later official Dutch investigation concluded that no such plan had ever existed and that some of Kersten's documents were fabricated. The Swedish
Sweden
Sweden , officially the Kingdom of Sweden , is a Nordic country on the Scandinavian Peninsula in Northern Europe. Sweden borders with Norway and Finland and is connected to Denmark by a bridge-tunnel across the Öresund....

 archives testify that Kersten was intermediary between Himmler and Count
Count
A count or countess is an aristocratic nobleman in European countries. The word count came into English from the French comte, itself from Latin comes—in its accusative comitem—meaning "companion", and later "companion of the emperor, delegate of the emperor". The adjective form of the word is...

 Folke Bernadotte
Folke Bernadotte
Folke Bernadotte, Count of Wisborg was a Swedish diplomat and nobleman noted for his negotiation of the release of about 31,000 prisoners from German concentration camps during World War II, including 450 Danish Jews from Theresienstadt released on 14 April 1945...

 in the negotiations that led to the rescue operation 'The White Buses
White Buses
"White Buses" refers to a program undertaken by the Swedish Red Cross and the Danish government in the spring of 1945 to rescue concentration camp inmates in areas under Nazi control and transport them to Sweden, a neutral country...

', saving hundreds of Norwegians
Norway
Norway , officially the Kingdom of Norway, is a Nordic unitary constitutional monarchy whose territory comprises the western portion of the Scandinavian Peninsula, Jan Mayen, and the Arctic archipelago of Svalbard and Bouvet Island. Norway has a total area of and a population of about 4.9 million...

 and Danes
Denmark
Denmark is a Scandinavian country in Northern Europe. The countries of Denmark and Greenland, as well as the Faroe Islands, constitute the Kingdom of Denmark . It is the southernmost of the Nordic countries, southwest of Sweden and south of Norway, and bordered to the south by Germany. Denmark...

 from certain death in the last days of the Third Reich.

Kersten’s claims of being instrumental in saving Finland
Finland
Finland , officially the Republic of Finland, is a Nordic country situated in the Fennoscandian region of Northern Europe. It is bordered by Sweden in the west, Norway in the north and Russia in the east, while Estonia lies to its south across the Gulf of Finland.Around 5.4 million people reside...

’s Jews from German hands may be exaggerated, but the Finnish government did use his services in the hope of influencing Himmler.

After the War Kersten lived in West Germany
West Germany
West Germany is the common English, but not official, name for the Federal Republic of Germany or FRG in the period between its creation in May 1949 to German reunification on 3 October 1990....

 and Sweden
Sweden
Sweden , officially the Kingdom of Sweden , is a Nordic country on the Scandinavian Peninsula in Northern Europe. Sweden borders with Norway and Finland and is connected to Denmark by a bridge-tunnel across the Öresund....

, taking Swedish citizenship in 1953.

Kersten's war memoirs were published in English
English language
English is a West Germanic language that arose in the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms of England and spread into what was to become south-east Scotland under the influence of the Anglian medieval kingdom of Northumbria...

 translation in 1947 and a second edition was published in 1956 (The Kersten memoirs, 1940-1945, London 1956) with an introduction by H. R. Trevor-Roper
Hugh Trevor-Roper, Baron Dacre of Glanton
Hugh Redwald Trevor-Roper was an English historian of early modern Britain and Nazi Germany. He was made a life peer by Margaret Thatcher in 1979, choosing the title Baron Dacre of Glanton.-Early life and education:...

.

In popular culture


Felix Kersten is heavily parodied in the Woody Allen
Woody Allen
Woody Allen is an American screenwriter, director, actor, comedian, jazz musician, author, and playwright. Allen's films draw heavily on literature, sexuality, philosophy, psychology, Jewish identity, and the history of cinema...

 book Getting Even, in the chapter entitled "The Schmeed Memoirs"," in which a fictional barber in wartime Germany describes his time as a hair stylist for Adolf Hitler
Adolf Hitler
Adolf Hitler was an Austrian-born German politician and the leader of the National Socialist German Workers Party , commonly referred to as the Nazi Party). He was Chancellor of Germany from 1933 to 1945, and head of state from 1934 to 1945...

 and other high-ranking Nazi officers.

Kersten also appears as a character in the film Hitler: a film from Germany
Hitler: A Film from Germany
Hitler: A Film from Germany is a 1978 Franco-British-German experimental biopic directed by Hans-Jürgen Syberberg, produced by Bernd Eichinger, and co-produced by the BBC. It starred Heinz Schubert, who played both Adolf Hitler and Heinrich Himmler...

, directed by Hans-Jürgen Syberberg
Hans-Jürgen Syberberg
Hans-Jürgen Syberberg is a German film director, whose best known film is his lengthy feature, Hitler: A Film from Germany.- Early life :...

.

Kersten is played by actor Martin Jarvis
Martin Jarvis
Martin Jarvis OBE is an English actor.-Early life:Jarvis is the son of Denys Harry Jarvis and Margot Lillian Scottney, and grew up in South Norwood and Sanderstead, South Croydon.-Education:...

in the radio play by Neville Watchurst A Vital Flaw, about his work to help Heinrich Himmler's health. The play was broadcast on BBC Radio 4 Extra on 11 June 2011. http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b00mj27x

External links