The story was about a man called Felix Kersten, who as it turns out, was the personal physician to Himmler during World War II. As a man who is constantly reading and watching history programmes on TV, I was surprised that here was a very unusual and important man in recent history that I had never heard off.
Being fascinated by the story I did some research on Kersten and found an article by an English historian called H. R. Trevor-Roper who was an English scholar and historian of early modern Britain and Nazi Germany and Regius Professor of Modern History at Oxford University. I think we can take what he says seriously.
Kersten was born in Estonia in 1898, and therefore originally a Russian subject. He fought in 1918 as a volunteer in the Finnish war of liberation against Russia. In 1920 he became a Finnish subject. Thereafter he studied manual therapy in Berlin under a famous Chinese specialist, Dr Ko, and quickly became one of the most successful practitioners of this unorthodox but valuable art. His professional success began in Germany, where the aristocracy and the plutocracy of the 1920’s alike used his services.
As it turned out Himmler had some sort of stomach problem that the left him almost crippled with pain. I wonder if he ever thought it might have been caused by the type of job he was doing. Himmler sent for Kersten and asked him to come to the SS Headquarters. As most people knew, anyone who went into this building seldom came out alive.
After treating Himmler and giving Hitler’s second in command some relief, Himmler asked Kersten to become his personal doctor. At first Kersten refused but decided that if he could help Himmler then he might be able to do some good and perhaps be of use to those who opposed Nazism.
“How did Kersten use these extraordinary opportunities? The facts are now well attested. Thousands of Dutchmen, Germans, Jews, and indeed others owe their survival to his intercession. All who sought respite for doomed men and women learned gradually where it was most useful to turn.
The Finnish legation in Germany used him to rescue Norwegian and Danish prisoners; the World Jewish Congress credits him with the rescue of 60,000 Jews; particularly he devoted himself to the interests of Holland which, before the war, had become his real home.
Thus in 1941 Hitler proposed to transport up to three million “irreconcilable” Dutchmen to Polish Galicia and the Ukraine and referred the execution of the proposal to Himmler. Fortunately, Himmler happened at that time to be in a low state of health and particularly dependent on Kersten. Kersten persuaded him that the additional strain on his health of carrying out so vast an operation might well be fatal.”(H. R. Trevor-Roper)
The story of Kersten is fascinating and I have ordered his memoirs. I am looking forward to reading them.
The whole question as to why Kersten’s story fascinated me so much began to haunt me. I could not get to the bottom of it until I was reading another article by Fr Raymond Brown on the life of Jesus. It was strange how both articles came up within a seven day period.
Fr Brown said simply that Jesus causes us to judge ourselves.
I had never thought of that in my life before and it immediately hit me that the lives of great men such as Kersten force us to look at ourselves and to admire them for the courage and commitment that they have shown.
Then to top it all, over the weekend I listened to a talk by Fr Robert Barron on his ‘Word on Fire’ ministries website. In the talk, Fr Barron, who is Dean of a seminary in Chicago, was responding to an article written by some philosopher called John Messerly.
For the first time ever I saw Fr Barron let go and say what he thought of all these atheist philosophers. He was brilliant, and his words rung true. Basically what he said was that he didn’t give a hoot about what these men said, or to put it in his words, “Who cares?”
That’s what I think when I hear all these smart people rant and rave about whether or not there is a God or whether or not we are all animals and nothing else.
“Who cares what they think?”
Look at them, think about them for a minute and ask yourself a question, ‘does this person or their way of life force me to judge myself, to look at my behaviour and think why I do not match up to them?’
I cannot think of one political leader in the world who causes me to feel in any way that I should improve myself but when I look at the life of Kersten I know that I could never have done what he did. I would have probably played it safe and said nothing.
When we begin to consider the effect that Pope Francis is having on us Catholics we get a good picture of what I am talking about. His simplicity and way of life is causing millions of Catholics all over the world to reassess their values.
The way he smiles, the way he speaks and the fire in his eyes can do nothing other than force us to look at ourselves and ask ourselves ‘what does being Catholic really mean to me?’
Kersten went into the SS headquarters and at first he refused. Then when Himmler was in a position to force him to obey, Kersten immediately thought of how he could put the situation to good humanitarian use.
Again, look at our politicians and world leaders. The first question to them is ‘what is in this for me’ or ‘how will this affect our country and our strategic interests?’
Looking at Kersten and watching Pope Francis smile with the love of God, makes me feel uncomfortable and yet something inside of me is very attracted to these men and their stories.
It’s the same with Jesus. What do we really know about him? Not that much. We can’t take out a scientific instrument and prove that the things written about him are true. And yet, after even two thousand years he is still the most demanding figure in history.
The very idea that such a man could even have existed is enough to cause us consternation. I could never live up to the standards of bravery and justice Felix Kersten displayed, and I could never glow with the love of God that is quite natural to Pope Francis.
And I could certainly never say, as Jesus did, “What one of you could accuse me of sin?” In my case there would be a queue from here to Belfast, and every one of them would have a fair point. But I don’t run away from it. I see the flaws in myself and I struggle with my frail nature.
Us Catholics, we go up to Mass on a Sunday and we stand before God and we know that we make a mess of it but we come along anyway. We know that we are nowhere near worthy of what is going on in the Eucharist but we are willing to try to make it a bit better and when we fail we will come back again and ask for help.
For most of us, we feel we are making no progress and that going to Mass has become a weekly routine. I think this is the wrong way to look at it even though each of us knows that we would not be able to tie the shoe laces of a man like Kersten.
This is not the way with the atheist. The atheist looks at the story of Kersten, the attitude of Pope Francis and the life of Jesus and says defiantly, “Who are you to judge me?”
Notice the difference between what the atheist says and what Fr Raymond Brown says. You have probably forgotten so I will refresh your memory.
“Fr Brown said simply that Jesus causes us to judge ourselves.”
The poor old atheist feels that any disagreement with him is a judgement of him. “I feel you are judging me,” or “I feel that you are looking down on me,” are among the most common of the sayings that these people have.
No one is judging them; none of us can look down our nose at another person because we all carry or own frailty and humanness with us.
The difference is in the world view: we believers know that there is a God and that he wants and expects us to do better than we are, but who does not condemn us when we fail. The natural law, which is written by God on the heart of every human being, tells the non-believer that their life is not right but they cannot listen to their interior voice so they themselves feel condemned.
Greed, pride, avarice, lust; these are all the standards of today’s world. We see it everywhere. Look at what such attitudes have done to our society these past fifteen years. And we appear more and more to be choosing to follow the way of secularism.
These attitudes have serious consequences. Read this about that old hero of the black and white cowboy films, Wells Fargo.
Wells Fargo told a couple that if they paid $10,000 by a certain date, they would not foreclose on their mortgage.
“An employee of Freddie Mac (the company that bought the mortgage of Wells Fargo) testified that it would have welcomed a reinstatement of the Holms’ mortgage. But Wells stood to make more money foreclosing on the couple’s home, an expert witness in the case testified.
‘Defendant Wells Fargo’s deceptive and intentional conduct displayed a complete and total disregard for the rights of David and Crystal Holm,’ wrote R. Brent Elliott, a circuit judge in Missouri’s 43rd Judicial District, in a Jan. 26 opinion. ‘Wells Fargo took its money and moved on, with complete disregard to the human damage left in its wake.’”
It appears that British banks are not the only banks involved in this type of thing.
Then we hear that Apple had made $18 billion in the last quarter of the year. I found this in a financial report on Apple’s own website:
“The Company posted record quarterly revenue of $74.6 billion and record quarterly net profit of $18 billion.” I have no understanding of such money, what it could buy or what you could do with it means nothing to me.
Later the report goes on:
“bringing total returns to investors to almost $103 billion, over $57 billion of which occurred in just the last 12 months.”
The people who have bought shares in Apple got $57 billion last year. I wonder did they need it! But we must remember that a lot of pension funds and trusts would hold stock in companies such as Apple, and this does help the common good, so they are not all bad.
But I can’t help but wonder, will people 100 years from now, read the life of Steve Jobs, co-founder of Apple, who sadly died a few years ago, with awe and wonder at his humanity as they will about Felix Kersten.
Probably, they will study Steve Jobs in the business colleges and they will be right to do so, he was some sort of business genius and society needs business men to get things done.
But in the work of life, I would rather look to a man like Kersten, a man who causes me to ask myself questions about my relationship to others and their needs.
To be honest, most of us look at men like Steve Jobs with a little envy, but this is only a momentary thing. It soon passes when we realise that all the wealth in the world does not make a person happy.
I’m glad I wrote this, it has helped me clear my mind on a lot of things. The conclusion I have reached is ‘Fr Barron is right. Who cares what these atheist philosophers say, they have really nothing positive to add to the world. Their ideas of God and the depth of the human soul are so totally off beam. The Bible is right; the fool says there is no God.’
By the way, Steve Jobs of Apple was another man who was often quoted as an atheist. I don’t believe he was. Here is a quote that I found about him. The author is Walter Isaacson, who was Jobs’ biographer.
“I remember sitting in his backyard in his garden one day and he started talking about God,” said Isaacson in the interview. “Jobs said, ‘sometimes I believe in God, sometimes I don’t. I think it’s 50-50 maybe. But ever since I’ve had cancer, I’ve been thinking about it more. And I find myself believing a bit more. I kind of – maybe it’s ’cause I want to believe in an afterlife. That when you die, it doesn’t just all disappear. The wisdom you’ve accumulated. Somehow it lives on.’”
Steve Jobs was like the rest of us, searching for some meaning in life. As the old WWI saying goes: ‘there are no atheists in the trenches.’
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