I’m sure many readers would be aware of the courageous acts and legacy of Oscar Schindler; indeed, his story was made into a major film by Steven Spielberg in 1993 and brought not only Schindler’s story to light but also many aspects of the treatment of the Jewish people that many may not have been aware previously.
However, another important figure who history has sadly overlooked is that of Felix Kersten, and it is in The Man with Miraculous Hands (Les mains du miracle) that Joseph Kessel revived this astounding story, of the man who managed to influence the Reichsführer of the Schutzstaffel himself, Heinrich Himmler, thus saving the lives of thousands who would have otherwise perished in the Nazis notorious concentration camps.
Kersten’s story in The Man with Miraculous Hands presents more than just a historic account of his influence over Himmler, the man in charge of the Nazi camps, who having suffered from stomach cramps engaged Kersten’s services as a masseur to relieve him of his pain. In so doing, Himmler became swayed by Kersten into permitting the release of thousands of prisoners who would most certainly have seen the end of their lives in the camps. Kessel also presents a fascinating insight not only into the Nazi high command, but the weakness and gullibility of Himmler himself, who swayed under Kersten’s treatments, sometimes almost as much as he was influenced by Hitler, shows a side of the character of Himmler otherwise unknown.
However, this portrayal certainly doesn’t attempt to undermine the atrocities committed under Himmler’s command but highlights not only him as someone easily influenced but the levels of opportunism, mistrust and incompetence that permeated the Nazi regime.
However, Kersten’s story presents several problems, which are covered in the introduction by novelist Norman Ohler, in that Kersten’s account somewhat embellishes his actual accomplishments, and although these are certainly covered within the book, Kessel’s account certainly appears to have been mindful of these and attempts to convey Kersten’s story in a more factual way.
The Man with Miraculous Hands is certainly a truly fascinating account that everyone should be made aware, and with a new film in the works, then this story is one that will finally be told. Kersten’s achievements played a vital part in saving the lives of thousands during the Second World War, and here Joseph Kessel expertly relates this story in a brilliant page-turner.
- The Man with Miraculous Hands by Joseph Kessel is published by Elliot & Thompson (£20.00). To order a copy go to eandtbooks.com