Masur and Kersten

Ben Caplan as Norbert Masur and Michael Lumsden as Felix Kersten.

Pictures: Mark Douet

The End of the Night

Original Theatre Online


In spring, 1945, the Third Reich was facing defeat as the Allies from the west and Russians from the east closed in with a delusional Adolf Hitler deep in the Führerbunker in Berlin directing a non-existent counter.

On 19 April, the eve of Hitler’s 56th birthday, Norbert Masur, a Swedish representative to the World Jewish Congress (WJC) flew on the mail flight from Stockholm to Berlin with Felix Kersten, Finnish osteopath, and confidante of Reichsführer Heinrich Himmler.

Kersten took Masur to his estate at Hartzwalde about 45 miles to the north where he had arranged a secret meeting with Himmler with the aim of saving the tens of thousands of Jews, and many others, in Nazi camps.

After the meeting some 7,000 women were released to the WJC through the Red Cross from the Ravensbrück women’s camp, some 50 miles north of Berlin, and taken to Sweden.

That much is known, that much is fact, but what happened at the meeting . . . a meeting that officially never took place? Are the two events connected?

Ben Brown has created a quiet and telling moment of theatre out of a meeting of the three men, one, perhaps the most powerful in Nazi Germany after Hitler, one his physiotherapist with no standing beyond that, and the third a stand-in for the Swedish representative of an international NGO lobbying body.


Richard Clothier as Reichsführer Heinrich Himmler

He was a Jew with no authority to negotiate, speaking for no Government or official body, he had nothing to offer in return and was there only to ask a favour of a man responsible for the deaths of millions of Jews and others in Nazi camps - and a man who still held the lives of thousands more in his hands.  

The tension builds slowly. Masur is nervous, he has safe passage, the assurance of Kersten, but he is a Jew, perhaps, as he says, the only free Jew in Germany, and what is free passage for a Jew worth to a man like Himmler? It is a brilliant performance by Ben Caplin.   

A constant worried look, trying not to antagonise or confront, but at the same time not cowed at meeting a man who has killed millions and who still holds so many lives, including Masur’s, in his domain. He is walking on eggshells and even breaks a few in an uneasy, tensely civil but defiantly far from servile, meeting.

And Himmler? He’s a rather elegant, affable sort of chap in a wonderful performance from Richard Clothier. Well mannered, a gentleman, likeable even, nothing like the monster he surely was.

His matter of fact and, in his mind, reasonable and rational explanation of the Jewish problem, the final solution, was deeply chilling. No histrionics, no shouting or anger, he could have been explaining the best way to prune a rose or paint a door.

To Himmler the meeting was sold to him as a chance to garner some goodwill among the allies with the war all but lost, the meeting with Masur a chance to “bury the hatchet” with the Jews – somehow letting millions of bygones be bygones, as if the blood on the slate could ever be wiped clean.

Himmler even took it further, seeing himself as a possible German leader to negotiate terms with the allies and offer to unite with the Jews against the Bolsheviks – the Jews and the Allies, who were controlled by Jews, being almost one and the same in his eyes. The Bolsheviks, it seems, he hated even more than the Jews, although he had to make the point that communism was as a result of the Jew, Karl Marx. 

kersten and Himler

Kersten's physiotherapy is the key for his influence, however small, over Himmler

And what of Kersten, with no authority, no official capacity at all, merely Himmler’s osteopath. The final part of the trio is another superb performance, this time from Michael Lumsden whose Kersten is an avuncular charmer. He shows due deference to Himmler, Herr Reichsführer, but, somehow has a way of charming Himmler for what he wants – small things in the scheme of things, but important to him.

We see the hold he has when Himmler suffers excruciating stomach cramps during the meeting and Kersten works his physiotherapist’s magic. He understands Himmler and his moods, knows his weaknesses, knows how to placate him, how to play him and most important, how not to confront, anger or clash with him.

Brown has pieced together what little was known of the meeting with what was known of the characters involved to create a slow-burning, gripping drama in much the same way as he dramatised the 1987 meeting in Moscow between Kim Philby and Graham Greene in A Splinter of Ice.

Hovering around the three protagonists is Elisabeth, Kersten’s housekeeper played by Audrey Palmer, who he wants to take with him to Sweden and safety – requiring another small favour from the Reichsführer .

The meeting ends with a promise, a sort of agreement, and we cut to Olivia Bernstone as Jeanne Bommezjin, one of the prisoners released from Ravensbrück, talking about the journey, the hopes, the ovens, fears, elation, horror.

Like Himmler’s explanations, it is a matter of fact description, devoid of emotion, which makes it all the more moving, feelings perhaps having been numbed by facing death every hour of every day of weeks, months and even years on end.

In all the 7,000 released was a small victory but as Masur observes it is “a tear in the sea”.

Michael Pavelka’s costumes had an air of authenticity on his simple set, lit effectively, sometimes representing candlelight, by Jason Taylor, with the distant rumbles of war in Gregory Clarke’s sound design a reminder rather than an interruption of war.

Original Theatre have found the knack of taking a stage production and remaking it for the screen without losing the essence of theatre, they don’t create movies they create plays for television – a latter day Play for Today.

The result is a tense drama involving a little known event which may or may not have been significant, but the subject certainly was, the Holocaust. It is beautifully acted and builds the tension gradually with the unease of Masur, the pacifying Kersten and the outwardly affable and deadly dangerous Himmler.

Directed by Alan Strachan The End of the Night is available online until 4 July, 2024, at a cost of £20 – details Original Theatre Online

Roger Clarke


NOTE: The play contains details of the Holocaust and also contains anti-semitic language; out of the horrors of the Holocaust and World War II came the UN’s Declaration of Human Rights followed by the Council of Europe’s European Convention on Human Rights in the hope such things could never happen again.  

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