Woody Harrelson to Star as Doctor Who Saved the Lives of Jews in WWII

Woody Harrelson (via Stefania D'Alessandro/Getty Images) and Felix Kersten (via ullstein bild/ullstein bild via Getty Images)
Woody Harrelson (via Stefania D'Alessandro/Getty Images) and Felix Kersten (via ullstein bild/ullstein bild via Getty Images)

Woody Harrelson, the three-time Oscar nominee will star in the role of Felix Kersten in a film version of Joseph Kessel’s novel The Man With the Miraculous Hands, a novel based on the life of Kersten, who was Himmler’s doctor.

The novel details the historical story of Felix Kersten, who was able to relieve Heinrich Himmler’s abdominal pain. Himmler was the head of the SS (Schutzstaffel) and the second most powerful man in Germany during the Third Reich.

Himmler’s doctor, Felix Kersten

Under Himmler’s leadership, membership in the SS grew to over 50,000 by 1933. When Adolf Hitler became the Fuehrer of Germany, Himmler became the commander of all German police units outside of Prussia. He founded the first concentration camp at Dachau.

The concentration camps resulted in the murder of millions, predominantly Jewish people, while providing cheap forced labor for the Third Reich’s projects and subjects for their medical experiments.

Himmler suffered from numerous illnesses, including abdominal pains that could not be relieved by conventional medical practices. Kersten, having trained in Tibet, had learned massage techniques which brought relief to Himmler.

Portait of Felix Kersten
Felix Kersten, Himmler’s doctor. (Photo Credit: ullstein bild/ullstein bild via Getty Images)

Himmler received daily treatments from Kersten. He became so dependent on the doctor that he rarely refused any request.

Kersten used this leverage to convince Himmler to free people from the concentration camps. At first, Himmler refused to release Jews and only agreed to release Swedes, Danes, and other non-Jewish people.

By 1943, Kersten received permission to move his own family to Sweden for their protection.

In the waning days of the war, Kersten succeeded in getting Himmler to meet with Norbert Masur, a representative of the Swedish branch of the World Jewish Congress. The result of those negotiations led to 2,700 Jews being diverted to the border with Sweden rather than being sent to a concentration camp.

Kersten also convinced Himmler to free 7,000 Jewish women from Ravensbrück concentration camp. According to his memoirs, he also influenced Himmler to fly white flags at concentration camps when they were approached by Allied forces rather than blowing them up with their prisoners, though the veracity of that claim is doubted by some.

In all, Kersten is credited with saving over 60,000 Jews during his time as Himmler’s physician. He retired to Sweden after the war. Initially, he was considered a Nazi sympathizer, but eventually, his name was cleared.

Himmler, on the other hand, was stripped of all power by Hitler after it was revealed that Himmler was working to undermine Hitler and succeed him. Himmler died by taking poison while in jail after being captured by the Allies.

About The Man With The Miraculous Hands

The movie version will star Harrelson as Kersten. Oren Moverman has agreed to write and direct the film.

This will be the third collaboration between Harrelson and Moverman. The two previously worked together on “Rampart” and “The Messenger.”

The movie is a Jerico Films production. Eric Jehelmann and Philippe Rousselet are the producers. Fabrice Gianfermi and Jeremy Plager are the executive producers.

Jehelmann said that World War II still holds untold stories of people who triumphed in the midst of the tragedy of the Holocaust and war. He went on to call Kersten “the true definition of a modern-day hero” and that Kersten’s story simultaneously “restores our hope in mankind” even as it reminds us of the horrors of WWII.

Ian Harvey

Ian Harvey is one of the authors writing for WAR HISTORY ONLINE