Friday, October 11, 2013

Felix Kersten, Himmler's Miracle Masseur, and Franzi Loerber, the Man Who Replaced Him

The history books tell us that Reichsfuhrer SS Heinrich Himmler suffered from terrible stomach cramps brought on by the stress of being possibly the greatest cold-blooded mass murderer in history. As Nazi Germany's fortunes kept getting worse and worse, so did Himmler's stomach spasms.  The history books tell us that during this time Himmler was completely dependent on his Finnish masseur Felix Kersten, the only man who could take his awful pain away. The history books also tell us that Kersten was an important intelligence conduit who, working through Swedish Red Cross chief Count Folke Bernadotte, kept back-channel communication going with Eisenhower. The history books tell us that in March, 1945, Kersten flew to Stockholm with SS intelligence chief General Walter Schellenberg, for some high level discussions with Bernadotte and possibly Allied intelligence officials. They also tell us that when the meetings were finished, Kersten decided at the last minute to remain behind in Stockholm and take care of personal business, which left the increasingly frantic and stressed-out Reichsfuhrer in a bit of a quandry.  The history books don't tell us how he managed to cope without Felix Kersten's magic fingers. For that, you need to read my novel Germania.

Kersten is on Schellenberg's mind one day in April 1945, as he's flying down from Stockholm to persuade Himmler to finally take action to depose Hitler:

"There must be immediate action," Bernadotte had told him. "Force Hitler to step down, arrest him, kill him. How you do it is not our concern. Just get it done.”

That was what Schellenberg really needed to tell Himmler, and perhaps in a perfect world, he would. But he knew from experience how terribly skittish his boss was when it came to things like this. Anything requiring definitive action sent him into one of his massive panic attacks. His stomach would go into spasms and next thing he’d be screaming for Kersten, his Finnish masseur, to come in and take the pain away. Schellenberg didn’t want that to happen this time because Kersten wouldn’t be there. He was supposed to fly back with Schellenberg from Stockholm, but at the last minute he’d made up some excuse and stayed behind. That put Schellenberg in a doubly sensitive situation, since he’d have to force Himmler into making a difficult decision without having Kersten on hand to rescue him.

With a Finnish passport which allowed him to come and go seamlessly, Kersten was the Reichsfuhrer’s secret envoy to Allied intelligence. Schellenberg had flown up with him the day before to see Count Folke Bernadotte, head of the Swedish Red Cross and a member of the Royal Family, who was their intermediary to Eisenhower to explore ways of making a deal to end the war.

Needless to say, the meeting with Himmler doesn't go well. When Schellenberg pushes him to stand up to Hitler, Himmmler suffers one of his panic attacks:

Suddenly Himmler clutched at his stomach and began shrieking in pain. “It’s starting again, Schellenberg! The pain, it’s tearing me up!” he screamed. “Aaahhhh, I can’t take this! It’s killing me, it’s killing me. Call Kersten. Get him in here at once.”

“Reichsfuhrer,” said Schellenberg calmly. “Kersten is still in Stockholm.”

“Aaaaaaaahhhhhh!” Himmler shrieked as he thrashed about on the couch. “Do something, Schellenberg! Do something! I can’t take it.”

Schellenberg went to the door. In the outer office, Himmler’s adjutants, aides and secretaries all waited in hushed terror. “Shouldn’t we send for Kersten?” suggested one of the women.

“Kersten isn’t coming back,” said Schellenberg. “Is there anyone else we can call?”

Everyone looked at each other helplessly. There wasn’t a doctor Himmler would let touch him. There was only Kersten. Nobody could take the pain away like Kersten. Nobody could listen to him and give him advice like Kersten. In the next room Himmler screamed like he was being gutted.

“There has to be somebody,” repeated Schellenberg.

One of the adjutants shifted nervously. “Ummm, there’s Sub-lieutenant Loerber from the Astrology Branch. He’s supposed to be pretty good.”

Himmler shrieked louder.

“Then get this Loerber up here on the double!” ordered Schellenberg.

Franzi Loerber is one of the fictional Flying Magical Loerber Brothers, who were the toast of Berlin's cabaret scene before the war. After spending the whole war in bureaucratic anonymity as a Russian spy in the SS astrology department, Franzi gets suddenly elevated to the post of Himmler's personal masseur and psychic advisor:

Schellenberg remained where he was, nodding at Franzi not to mind his presence. Franzi noticed the thick spectacles lying on the desk and realized that without them, the Reichsfuhrer probably couldn’t see anything. Franzi finished with the abdomen and began working the chest, the shoulders and the arms. He kneaded the muscles, methodically working his fingers deep into them, following the strands up to their ends, then moving to the next. All of them felt expended, moribund; as if having been rid of their pent-up tension, they were now unwilling to recover any of their former elasticity. Himmler’s body was a mess, shapeless and puffy, no tone, color like paste. Hadn’t he ever taken any exercise? What kind of food did he eat? A man in his position could eat anything he wanted. But this was the body of someone who kept himself going on cheap sweets and canteen food. He couldn’t understand how anybody could do that to themselves.

“You’re very good,” said Himmler, after Franzi had worked on him for fifteen minutes.

“Thank you, Reichsfuhrer,” Franzi answered.

“No, I mean it,” insisted Himmler. “You’re very good. You might even be better than Kersten. I haven’t felt this relaxed in a long time. I want you on my staff full time. What is your name?”

“Loerber, Reichsfuhrer. Lieutenant Loerber. I’m with Ahnenerbe.”

Himmler seemed surprised and delighted at his answer. “Loerber? As in the Flying Magical Loerber Brothers?”

“Yes sir. I am Franzi.”

Himmler let out a laugh. “And ten years later, you’re here exactly when I needed you. It must be karma.”

Germania was first published in 2008 by Simon & Schuster, and is now also available on Kindle here.

No comments:

Post a Comment