I was 16 years old in the summer of 1959, a tall, gawky teenager. I had almost achieved my eventual 6’5″ height, but my limbs had grown rapidly, so I was relatively clumsy, not always sure of where knees, elbows and feet were. My grandfather, the famous and highly controversial physician Dr. Max Gerson, had died that March, leaving his widow, Gretchen Gerson with her daughters and their families for support and love.
The Gersons and their offspring were German-Jewish immigrants, and unlike most of their relatives, they survived the Nazi Holocaust, World War II and the massive diaspora that scattered Jews around the world. They were left with very negative feelings towards Germany and the populace that to a great extent had supported Hitler and his programs. Dr. Gerson had only visited Germany once since their flight to survival, and had no desire to return. Gretchen respected that sentiment, and made no effort to change his mind. She did, however, have some relatives and friends who remained in Germany, and had not seen them since before 1936, nearly a quarter century earlier. With no more objection from her husband, and all concerned aging, she longed to see them one more time before she or they would die.
Gretchen, however, was a very shy woman. She was the product of a Westphalian upbringing that demanded years of close contact before friends could even use the familiar “du” with each other. How could she travel in a Germany so radically changed, so different both physically and socially from what she knew? The solution to that dilemma was for me to accompany her as companion, luggage carrier and overall helper. This arrangement was possible since I had been raised at her dinner table and had, perhaps, sufficient knowledge of the German language. I was happy to be able to return some of the loving support she and Dr. Gerson had provided me over the years.
One of the people she really wanted to visit were two of Dr. Gerson’s healed patients. Nobel Laureate Dr. Albert Schweitzer had become a lifelong friend of Dr. Gerson when Gerson healed Helene (Mrs. Schweitzer) of lung tuberculosis decades earlier. Rhena Schweitzer, the doctor’s daughter, had also been healed of an unknown, mysterious and very painful skin ailment by Dr. Gerson’s treatment. Gerson and Schweitzer carried on a lifelong correspondence, and had deep and personal respect and admiration for each other. Schweitzer had written to Gretchen on Dr. Gerson’s death that Gerson “was one of the most eminent medical geniuses to ever walk among us.” Gretchen added him to her list of visits, and we made the arrangements to spend the day with him at his home in Gunsbach, Haut-Rhin, France.
When we arrived, Gretchen and Dr. Schweitzer greeted each other with great pleasure, tinged with the sadness of Dr. Gerson’s passing, and did a bit of catching up. As a 16-year-old who barely spoke his language, I did my best to be unobtrusive and simply soak up the contact with the now-famous Nobel Laureate (Schweitzer’s Nobel had been awarded seven years earlier, in 1952.) We gradually drifted into the house, now a museum, to join Schweitzer and some other guests for lunch. We were introduced all around, and sat down at a large table for a typical and simple German farmer’s lunch: boiled potatoes, sauerkraut and sliced ham.
While Schweitzer and his guests chatted and ate, I had some time to find out about the other guests. There were two Swiss farmers, one of them named “Albert Schweitzer” after the great man, who had made a pilgrimage to meet his namesake. Schweitzer’s secretary sat next to him, then Gretchen and me. Across the table from me was an elderly woman who was introduced as “Wanda Landowska,” which meant nothing to me at the time. In the coming years, however, as my musical tastes broadened, I found out that she was a world-famous musician, credited with re-popularizing the harpsichord in the 20th century. She was visiting her friend Schweitzer in his capacity as one of the world’s premier experts on Johann Sebastian Bach. Miss Landowska died later that summer at her home in Connecticut.
After lunch, Dr. Schweitzer had to go to the next town, Münster, for a meeting. Since Gretchen and I were staying at a hotel in Münster, he had arranged for a car to drive us all there. As we stood outside his home awaiting the arrival of the vehicle, Schweitzer started a conversation with me, much to my surprise. Here I was, an American teenager, and Schweitzer, a world citizen sporting four doctorates, wanted to know more about me! I was able to limp along in German, and respond to his questions adequately. One of the things that he wanted to know was if I was going to follow my grandfather into medicine. I’m afraid that I disappointed him by expressing my preference for mathematics, physics and technology, but he did not make a big deal over it.
When the car arrived, we all got in, and I ended up sitting next to Dr. Schweitzer in the rear seat. As we drove away, about a quarter of a mile out of the town we came to a dirt track crossing the fields and the small road we were on. At the intersection, a sign had been erected, showing the dirt track’s name: “Rue Dr. Albert Schweitzer.” (Rue: French “street” or “road.”) I could not believe that Gunsbach had chosen to name an insignificant dirt track after it’s most famous, accomplished and globally honored citizen. But I felt Schweitzer pluck at my sleeve. He pointed glowingly at the sign, and said, “Look! They named a street after me!” This intellectual and moral giant was humbly amazed that he had been so honored by his fellow townspeople. The impression that left on me would last a lifetime: I resolved that until I had accomplished more than he had, I would never dare to be any more egotistical than that.
Notes: Dr. Schweitzer was dying of type 2 diabetes in 1950, unable to work or function. Dr. Gerson cleared that quickly. Schweitzer went back to the jungle and back to work. He died in 1965, age 90. His biographies mention that he was a vegetarian. There is no mention of the fact that he was not until Gerson had him change his diet. Dr. Schweitzer’s daughter, Rhena Schweitzer Miller told me that he loved roast pork. Rue Dr. Albert Schweitzer is now paved, a one-lane street with residences and businesses on both sides, winding through Gunsbach.
(Howard Straus is the author of Dr. Max Gerson: Healing the Hopeless. [Scroll down at http://orthomolecular.org/library/jom/2002/pdf/2002-v17n02-p120.pdf to read a review of this book.] Straus’ regular natural health radio programs are archived at http://www.voiceamerica.com/show/1951/the-power-of-natural-healing .)
Documentary films about the work of Max Gerson, MD:
“The Gerson Miracle” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Rj8JoJXP9dI or http://topdocumentaryfilms.com/gerson-miracle/ or https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y6l84pQ1Pxk
Detailed Gerson Therapy lecture by Dr. Gerson’s daughter, Charlotte:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=quuvi6Gvvmc
Transcript of a speech by Dr. Gerson:
Articles and papers about the Gerson therapy:http://www.doctoryourself.com/mgerson.html