Woody Harrelson Stars as the WWII Doctor Who Saved Thousands in 'The Man with the Miraculous Hands'

Sailors aboard the Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyer USS Halsey pose for a photograph with actors Patrick Wilson and Woody Harrelson. (U.S. Navy/Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Aja Bleu Jackson)

In April 1945, with the Red Army in Berlin and the Western Allies closing in on the rest of Germany, physical therapist Felix Kersten set up what had to be the most uncomfortable meeting ever held.

Just 60 miles north of Berlin, he arranged a summit between representatives of the World Jewish Congress and the world's most devout Nazi, SS-Reichsführer Heinrich Himmler, who was dedicated to carrying out German dictator Adolf Hitler's order to kill all the remaining Jewish people still held in concentration camps. The goal of the meeting was to convince Himmler not to carry out Hitler's order. Kersten and WJC members would ultimately convince Himmler that the Western allies would agree to a separate peace and turn the war against the communist Soviet Union. The agreement saved an estimated 60,000 Jewish prisoners.

The upcoming film "The Man with the Miraculous Hands" is a World War II-set psychological thriller that will star Woody Harrelson ("Zombieland") as Kersten and Andy Serkis ("The Lord of the Rings") as Himmler. 

Felix Kersten (left) with Reichsfuhrer Henrich Himmler.

"The Man with the Miraculous Hands" is set in 1939, before World War II kicked off in Europe and at a time when the real Kersten was a renowned physical therapist. Tending to clients from royal European families and even the son-in-law of Fascist dictator Benito Mussolini, his skills caught the attention of Himmler, who invited Kersten to be his personal therapist.

The talented doctor was German by birth, but came to Finland with German forces during the 1918 Finnish Civil War. He stayed in Finland and gained Finnish citizenship, but feared for his life if he turned down Himmler's invitation. Because he was able to alleviate Himmler's physical pains, the reichsführer placed significant trust in Kersten, giving the doctor the unprecedented ability to influence one of the Nazi regime's most powerful men. Kersten would use this influence to obtain the release of many concentration camp prisoners, including Jews, homosexuals, and other Nazi-labeled "undesirables."

But Kersten also used his position near the top of the German hierarchy to play a dangerous game. He informed the Finnish government about the Nazi concentration camps at a time when they were only speculation; he also provided information to American intelligence operatives in Finland. The meeting he set up toward the end of the war was the culmination of years of working behind the scenes to help prisoners of the regime escape to safety. If he had been caught, he would have ended up in a camp or outright executed himself.

Production of "The Man with the Miraculous Hands" is set to begin in late 2024. Oren Moverman ("The Messenger"), who wrote the script for the film, is also slated to direct.

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