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Felix Kersten (30 September 1898 Yuryev (Dorpat), Imperial Russia [now Tartu, Estonia] – 16 April 1960, Stockholm, Sweden) was before and during World War II the personal masseur of Heinrich Himmler. Kersten used his position to aid people persecuted by Nazi Germany, although whether his actions were as decisive as Kersten claimed in his memoirs is not readily verifiable from other sources.
Kersten was born in a Baltic German family in Estonia when the country was still a part of Imperial Russia. During World War I he fought in the German Army and arrived in Finland in April 1918 with the German forces that intervened in the Finnish Civil War. Kersten served for a while in Suojeluskunta, was granted Finnish citizenship in 1920 and commissioned 2nd Lieutenant (vänrikki) in the Finnish Army in September 1921.
Kersten began his studies in Helsinki 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 where he continued his studies and eventually became Dr. Ko'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’s son-in-law and Foreign Minister Galeazzo Ciano. Kersten accepted Heinrich Himmler'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 the release of several prisoners.
Towards the end of the War, Kersten arranged a meeting with Himmler and Norbert Masur, 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 people from forced deportation to the Nazi-occupied East. In 1953 the Dutch government nominated him for the Nobel Peace Prize 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 archives testify that Kersten was intermediary between Himmler and Count Folke Bernadotte in the negotiations that led to the rescue operation 'The White Buses', saving hundreds of Norwegians and Danes from certain death in the last days of the Third Reich.
Kersten’s claims of being instrumental in saving Finland’s Jews from German hands may be exaggerated, but the Finnish government did use his services in the hope of influencing Himmler.
Kersten's war memoirs were published in English 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.
In popular culture
Writer and journalist Joseph Kessel was the first to write about the life of Felix Kersten, in his book The man with the miraculous hands (1960).
Felix Kersten is heavily parodied in the Woody Allen 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 and other high-ranking Nazi officers.
Kersten is played by actor Martin Jarvis 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.
- H.R. Trevor-Roper. Kersten, Himmler and Count Bernadotte, The Atlantic, vol 7 (1953), pp 43-45.
- Louis de Jong, 1972, reprinted in German translation: H-H. Wilhelm and L. de Jong. Zwei Legenden aus dem dritten Reich : quellenkritische Studien, Deutsche Verlags-Anstalt 1974, pp 79-142.
- "Neville Watchurst - A Vital Flaw". BBC. June 12, 2011. Retrieved March 27, 2012.
- Massage's Greatest Humanitarian
- Documentary film in Finnish: Who Was Felix Kersten?
- Satan’s Doctor documentary (directed by Emmanuel Amara, produced by Sunset Presse).
- "Klerk en Beul" (book)
- Heinrich Himmler's private doctor clip containing footage of Kersten and Himmler.