Dr Albert Schweitzer’s efforts after the rampage in 1963 and his burial in 1965

William Moffitt Harris - Part 14

Old man Schweitzer, 88, with tears rolling from his eyes watched his over forty years of work being partially destroyed by the insurgents. He thanked God that his beloved wife Helène Breslau Schweitzer (1879-1957) had left this earth six years before, after forty-four years of hard dedication and tough times beside her husband, despite long and severe suffering due to the ailment that victimized her for years on end. Not at all resigning himself to the disaster and trying to reconstruct his project, going through his remaining two years pushed around in a wheelchair and crutches when possible, he kept his spirits high encouraging his helpers and companions to go ahead and do their best to make the place shipshape. His 44 year old daughter Rhena took up her place in the reconstruction by directing and supervising the auxiliary personnel in nursing, laundry, kitchen, cleaning, communication and accounting tasks.

In her telegrams to relatives and friends in France, England, Germany, Switzerland and the States, Rhena sent news of her father’s death. She and Doctor Miller, the hospital’s cardiologist and her future husband, sat beside him all night. They said he died of exhaustion and weakness in consequence of a serious circulatory condition due to his advanced age and hard work. “He is, inevitably, dying and soon he will leave in quiet, in peace and dignity”.

Doctor Schweitzer was buried inside the Forrest Hospital compound in the exact place he had determined on the Ogooué River banks beside the urn containing his wife’s ashes and the grave of Nurse Emma Haussknecht. The cross marking the location was made by him out of hard beech wood resistant to bad weather and the voracity of Africa’s giant ants. During his eightieth birthday party on January 14 1955 he proclaimed his wish to be buried right there by saying “- I feel at home here; I belong to you until my last breath”.

Miss Emma Haussknecht (1895-1956) was a nurse who really believed in the objectives and efforts of the couple and worked for thirty one years nonstop beside the Schweitzers, remaining there right from 1925 until her death at sixty-one. In a long letter to the Albert Schweitzer Foundation in 1946, a year after World War Two ended, she mentioned that it had been a great privilege to help Doctor Schweitzer during the war years due to his leadership and courage. She also described how, after the daily toil, he used to play his piano with organ footboards tied to the pedals, during the first hours of early mornings before daybreak, throughout the silence of the night, humming or actually singing softly and frequently reciting poems of his own authorship.

Music did a lot of good to everybody especially to her for it meant dear memories during years of separation from her family. In this letter Miss Emma also mentions that the misery around them was a strong stimulus to continue their work as long as their energies allowed.