Albert Schweitzer


Albert Schweitzer : biography

14 January 1875 – 4 September 1965

Schweitzer’s wife was anaesthetist for surgical operations. After briefly occupying a shed formerly used as a chicken hut, in autumn 1913 they built their first hospital of corrugated iron, with two 13-foot rooms (consulting room and operating theatre) and with a dispensary and sterilising room in spaces below the broad eaves. The waiting room and dormitory (42 by 20 feet) were built, like native huts, of unhewn logs along a 30-yard path leading from the hospital to the landing-place. The Schweitzers had their own bungalow and employed as their assistant Joseph, a French-speaking Galoa (Mpongwe) who first came as a patient.From the Primeval Forest, Chapters 3–5.

When World War I broke out in summer of 1914, Schweitzer and his wife, Germans in a French colony, were put under supervision at Lambaréné by the French military, where Schweitzer continued his work.. (in German) In 1917, exhausted by over four years’ work and by tropical anaemia, they were taken to Bordeaux and interned first in Garaison and then from March 1918 in Saint-Rémy-de-Provence. In July 1918, after being transferred to his home in Alsace, he was a free man again. At this time Schweitzer, born a German citizen, had his parents’ former (pre-1871) French citizenship reinstated and became a French citizen. Then, working as medical assistant and assistant-pastor in Strasbourg, he advanced his project on The Philosophy of Civilization, which had occupied his mind since 1900. By 1920, his health recovering, he was giving organ recitals and doing other fund-raising work to repay borrowings and raise funds for returning to Gabon. In 1922 he delivered the Dale Memorial Lectures in Oxford University, and from these in the following year appeared Volumes I and II of his great work, The Decay and Restoration of Civilization and Civilization and Ethics. The two remaining volumes, on The World-View of Reverence for Life and a fourth on the Civilized State, were never completed.

In 1924 he returned without his wife but with an Oxford undergraduate, Noel Gillespie, as assistant. Everything was heavily decayed and building and doctoring progressed together for months. He now had salvarsan for treating syphilitic ulcers and framboesia. Additional medical staff, nurse (Miss) Kottmann and Dr. Victor Nessmann,Nessmann worked with the French Resistance during the Second World War, was captured and executed by the Gestapo in Limoges in 1944. cf Guy Penaud, Dictionaire Biographique de Périgord, p. 713. ISBN 978-2-86577-214-8 joined him in 1924, and Dr. Mark Lauterberg in 1925; the growing hospital was manned by native orderlies. Later Dr. Trensz replaced Nessmann, and Martha Lauterberg and Hans Muggenstorm joined them. Joseph also returned. In 1925-6 new hospital buildings were constructed, and also a ward for white patients, so that the site became like a village. The onset of famine and a dysentery epidemic created fresh problems. Much of the building work was carried out with the help of local people and patients. Drug advances for sleeping sickness included Germanin and tryparsamide. Trensz conducted experiments showing that the non-amoebic strain of dysentery was caused by a paracholera vibrion (facultative anaerobic bacteria). With the new hospital built and the medical team established, Schweitzer returned to Europe in 1927, this time leaving a functioning hospital at work.

He was there again from 1929–1932. Gradually his opinions and concepts became acknowledged, not only in Europe, but worldwide. There was a further period of work in 1935. In January 1937 he returned again to Lambaréné and continued working there throughout World War II.

Sound recordings

Recordings of Schweitzer playing the music of Bach are available on CD. During 1934 and 1935 he resided in Britain, delivering the Gifford Lectures at Edinburgh University, and those on Religion in Modern Civilization at Oxford and London. He had originally conducted trials for recordings for HMV on the organ of the old Queen’s Hall in London. These records did not satisfy him, the instrument being too harsh. In mid-December 1935 he began to record for Columbia Records on the organ of All Hallows, Barking-by-the-Tower (London).This fine 1909 Harrison and Harrison organ was blitzed in the War (cf W. Kent, The Lost Treasures of London (Phoenix House 1947), 94–95) but was rebuilt in 1957, see . Then at his suggestion the sessions were transferred to the church of Ste Aurélie in Strasbourg, on a mid-18th century organ by Johann Andreas Silbermann (brother of Gottfried), an organ-builder greatly revered by Bach, which had been restored by the Lorraine organ-builder Frédéric Härpfer shortly before the First World War. These recordings were made in the course of a fortnight in October 1936.Seaver (1951) pp. 139–152.