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Felix Kersten’s story has held director Arto Koskinen in its grip for 20 years

Director Arto Koskinen
Director Arto Koskinen Picture by: Pauline Taubach Felix Kersten

Felix Kersten was the personal physical therapist of SS commander Heinrich Himmler. According to Kersten, he saved the lives of thousands of concentration camp prisoners. “Felix Kersten's story is too good to be true”, director and screenwriter Arto Koskinen insists. The elusive Kersten mystery has occupied Koskinen for twenty years. How has Kersten's story affected Koskinen's own life?

"Felix Kersten’s story fell into my lap in the mid 1990's when a friend of mine showed me an article in Ultra magazine titled 'Felix Kersten — Finland’s forgotten gift to humanity'. I reacted to the article with some reservation as the magazine is known for articles on the occult and the paranormal. My interest was piqued when I found out that Kersten was a real person.

When I got to know Felix Kersten better, I couldn’t help but wonder why no one had told his story before. I first thought that it was because of a typical Finnish dilemma: you perform heroic acts that are lost in the annals of time while someone else basks in the glory. I thought Felix Kersten was a good masseur and a forgotten hero whose story is fantastic!

That is why I began making the documentary film “Who was Felix Kersten?” (1998).

There were times when I was afraid.

I ended up not being able to process the story of Himmler’s personal physical therapist as any old documentary about an interesting topic. Kersten’s story became like a sort of burr for me, one that I could no longer get rid of. The more I tried to shake it off, the more firmly it seemed to hold on to me. Questions raised more questions.

I’ve often wondered why it was me who came across this odd character. My friend, John Bernstein, playfully calls it fate.

I understood that this gentleman had created an immense amount of false material and documents. There may be various versions of a single topic in the different translations of his memoirs. By comparing the documents’ dates between various documents and against Felix Kersten’s memoirs, I began to understand the web of lies that lay behind it all. If you want to lie, you have to be good at it, because otherwise you’ll miss out on details that begin to reveal the lies. This is what happened to Felix Kersten.

There were times when I was afraid. There was no real threat but rather a lack of knowledge about the powers that may be hidden behind all these secrets. And I have to admit that they sometimes even entered my dreams.

When I realized that Kersten’s plotting may have had something to do with the murder of the King of Sweden’s cousin in Palestine in 1948 when he was a UN ambassador, I understood that I couldn’t rush like a bull into this china shop, which is what a traditional filmmaking crew would do. I doubt that the man himself even knew at the time what kind of web he was weaving.

This podcast could also be a zany, paranoid romp if it wasn’t based on the truth.

But the puzzle hasn’t yet been fully solved.

Every story wants to tell us something essential about ourselves and the world we live in. This is why every story also ends at some point. But the puzzle hasn’t yet been fully solved. Is there another person behind Kersten’s identity? Or was he actually the humble Estonian boy from Tartu? What other mysteries surround this enigmatic man?

Felix Kersten is not just a man from the past. If we thought that World War II, the reasons behind it, and its events, are far behind us, it’s not the case. Many archives will maintain their secrets even decades from now. Felix Kersten raises many ghosts from the war, which can be seen in modern politics. That is why he still interests me.

Arto Koskinen ja John Bernstein äänittämässä Gut Harzwaldessa
Friends and the podcast’s screenwriters Arto Koskinen and John Bernstein in Gut Hartzwalde, Germany in 2018. Arto Koskinen ja John Bernstein äänittämässä Gut Harzwaldessa Picture by: Pauline Taubach Felix Kersten,Arto Koskinen,John Bernstein

World War II, nationalist socialism, Nazism, fascism, racial doctrines and eugenics were not something just one group of people thought about – it was all of humanity. The entire human race at the time shared the experience of being the torturer or the victim, an observer or participant, a murderer or a murder victim.

To me, Felix Kersten, or Felix Huberti as he was originally known if it can be proven someday, was a person who tried to find balance amidst these powerful forces and, with his life, he posed a question to all of humanity: Can you ally yourself with both good and evil at the same time? Can you be both friend and enemy?

Maybe that is the lesson in this story. And if so, that’s enough for me.”

Author Arto Koskinen is the director and one of the screenwriters of 'The Felix Kersten Files' podcast. He has made both fictional and documentary films.

Article translated from Finnish by Timo Puolitaipale.

The Felix Kersten Files is available on Yle Areena, Spotify and iTunes.