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06 August, 2013


(14.01.1875 - 04.09.1965)

BIRTH (January 14, 1875)

       The son of Lutheran Pastor, Albert Schweitzer (January 14, 1875 - September 4, 1965) was born in a small village in Alsace, then part of Germany, into an Alsatian family that for generations had been devoted to religion, music and education.  His father and maternal grandfather were ministers; both of his grandfathers were talented organists; many of his relatives were persons of scholarly attainments.

     Dr. Albert Schweitzer was one of history's most amazing personalities - a scholar, a gifted musician, a doctor who devoted his life to the service of the poor and neglected people - a white European who saw the image of Christ in the faces of the black people belonging to the forsaken tribes of Africa.  

Childhood Life

       As a child he was forcibly escorted to the piano by his old aunt, who told the small boy, "You must not give-up practising! If you really want to play well, you must burn midnight oil.  You never know what you can do with your music, one day!"

       The little boy took her advice to heart.  He practised his music lessons tirelessly - though, at that time, neither the old aunt nor the young boy really foresaw what he would be able to accomplish with his music.  The little boy, Albert Schweitzer, not only built one of the most famous hospitals in the world, but he also became a well-known musician, and used the power of his music to heal the sick and the ailing!

       Truly, Dr. Albert Schweitzer was one of the most amazing personalities of the modern age - an  intellectual giant and a musical genius, who chose to become a servant of the poor.

       Born to affluence, he sacrificed a life of comfort and luxury to serve the black people of Africa.

       Son of a pastor, Albert Schweitzer was born in Kaysersbeg, Alsace, Germany, in 1875.  A gentle and quiet boy, he was loved by everyone.

       He was a sensitive child who learnt his lessons in life seriously.  He tells us of an incident from his boyhood which left a deep impact on him.  When he was out riding with his friends, he was overcome by a sudden impulse to "show off" his prowess before his friends.  He whipped and spurred his horse, driving the animal at a breakneck speed.  When he dismounted, he was shocked to see how drained and exhausted the horse looked.  He would never ever forget that look!

       On another occasion, he was riding a horse-drawn sleigh, when a vicious dog sprang at the horse's head.  Wishing to protect his horse, Albert whipped the dog to drive it away.  The whip lashed at the dog's eye, and the dog rolled on the snow, groaning in the agony of pain.  The howls and groans of the wounded dog haunted Albert for weeks, after the incident.

       Albert could not forget these incidents.  The realisation dawned on him at a young age that it was a dreadful thing to cause pain.  "I have no right to inflict suffering or pain on any living creature," he told himself firmly.

       Albert felt he was truly blessed to have a happy family, a comfortable home, good health and good friends.  He was popular and well-liked in his school and the neighbourhood.  But he did not take it all for granted.  Instead, he would constantly ask himself, "What have I done to deserve this?"

       The answer came to him from within:  'To whom much is given, of him much is expected."  Thus was laid the foundation of a life of selfless service and sacrifice.

       Having obtained a doctorate a theology, Albert became a pastor, like his father.  In his leisure hours, he continued to practise his music, which had always been his passion.  He became a maestro, a gifted organist.  He even acquired a doctorate in music, specialising the organ, his chosen instrument.

       A serious and profound scholar, it was not long before he acquired a third doctorate in philosophy.  At a young age, he started teaching those subjects to students at the University.  He wrote books on religion and philosophy, and also brought out a biography of the great musician Bach, whom he loved and admired greatly.  He astonishing creativity and versatility were admired by everyone.

Marriage Life

       In 1912, when he was 37 years of age, Albert married Helene - truly a soul-mate - who shared his spirit of selfless service.  She was a great source of strength and support to him in his life of intense activity and creativity.  She helped him in all his effort. 

       Gifted with a brilliant intellect and a probing mind, Schweitzer also aspired to grow in the life of the Spirit.  In his life of intense activity, there was also a sense of utter simplicity: he always travelled in a third-class carriage; he always carried his own luggage.  He was a firm believer in the culture of manual labour.

      When Albert saw the way blacks were being treated and read about conditions in Africa, his conscience was stirred.  His life took a new turn.  He felt that Jesus was calling him to a life of service and dedication.  He longed to do something for the African people - to share their burden, to help them, to make their life better in any way that was possible.

       "I have always held firmly to the thought that each one of us can do a little to bring some portion of misery to end."  And putting his belief into practice, Albert surprised his friends and family considerably by going back to college for a third time - at the age of 38.  This time he acquired a fourth doctorate to become a real and proper doctor - a doctor of medicine.  Not to be left out of his efforts, his wife took up training as a nurse, so that she could assist him in all his endeavours.

       More than one University offered Dr. Schweitzer a chair - but he declined all their offers politely.  He said, he had been born in this world not to make money, but to serve humanity, for the love of Jesus.

       Even the people who had admired and respected him, failed to understand his aspirations.  Some people called him quixotic, others called him eccentric.  One man even remarked that too much learning had made Albert mad!

       "They tried to dig firsts into my heart," Albert said of them later.  But all their digs and insults did not deter him from his purpose.  He packed his bags for Africa, turning his back on a lucrative career, and a life of security and comfort.

       He choose the backwoods of Lumberene to set up his mission of mercy.  Lamberene was completely cut off from civilisation, and had no medical facilities to speak of.  Undeterred, Dr. Schweitzer began to see his patients on an open plot of ground - a clearing adjacent to his dwelling.

       It was not an easy life, administering even basic medical care in the African bush.  Conditions were tough.  It was exhausting to work under the scorching tropical sun.  Every evening, there would be a thunderstorm, and all the medical equipment had to be taken indoors.

       Dr. Schweitzer realised Lamberene desperately needed its own hospital - at least a small one to start with.  Malaria, dysentery and leprosy were rampant among the natives.

       Dr. Schweitzer did not belong to any church or voluntary organisation; he had chosen to work on his own - and that meant added responsibility.  Unfortunately, many of the natives were not friendly, helpful or appreciative of his work.

       Practically alone, Dr. Schweitzer carried on his work, helping and healing the people.  In his spare time, he set about building a hospital.  While the building was being constructed, he carried out surgical procedures in a windowless, leaking, poultry shelter!

       It was a tough job constructing a hospital in the African backwoods.  He would go to the forest and fell down the trees, chop the wood and carry logs on his shoulders to the site where the hospital was to be built.  Toiling all by himself, log by log, he single handedly raised the walls of his hospital building.

       One day, while struggling with a heavy load of wood, which he could not manage, he spotted a black man lounging in the woods.

       Politely, he requested the man, "Brother, can you give me a helping hand with this load?"

       "Hey misters," came the haughty reply, "can't you see I'm an educated man?"

       Dr. Schweitzer smiled and said, "I am happy, I am not educated!"

       Many of Dr. Schweitzer's friends felt that he was throwing away his talents and his special training.  Some of them even travelled to Africa to  persuade  him to come back to the land of his birth.  "Why should you work here among these Africans?" they asked him.  "What can a great and gifted man like you get out of all this painful struggle and hard labour?"

       Schweitzer's reply was simple.  "What does it matter where I live, provided I can do good work there?  I appreciate your concern for me - but I have made up my mind to stay here and look after my African brothers and sisters."

       The obstacles and challenges he faced were numerous.  He had to contend with poisonous insects, wild animals, a difficult tropical climate and unknown infections; the natives were not easy to treat, for their faith was in black magic and witchcraft; and they were not really appreciative of the efforts of their benefactor.  But Dr. Schweitzer did not give up his efforts.

       After a few years, he went back to Europe for a brief period, to raise funds for his work.  He gave organ recitals and delivered public lectures for fund raising purposes.  Huge crowds gathered to see him and hear him, and he was able to raise as much money as he needed to complete his hospital construction.

       When he returned to Lamberene, the half-completed hospital had been overrun by the ever-spreading jungle.  Grass and brushwood had grown over the walls and a thick growth covered the building.

       Dr. Schweitzer had begin all over again - but he never gave up his efforts, never gave in to despair.  He was a man with a mission - a man with great determination.

       Over the years, he won the respect, affection and admiration of the natives.  The rest of the world was not far behind in recognising and appreciating his spirit of selfless service.  Honours and awards were heaped upon him.  But he turned away from all public adulation, choosing to carry on with his mission of healing.

Compassion towards animals

       Dr. Schweitzer's compassion also extended to animals.  He protested, again and again, against the cruel treatment men meted out to animals.  "Let no one shirk the burden of his responsibility to animals," he said.  "Think of the cries of the animals who are stuffed into railway trucks and thirst for water!  Think of the pain we inflict on them in our cruel slaughter houses!  We are guilty, and must bear the blame!"

       In 1945, a British Newspaper wrote in commemoration of his 70th birthday:  "If sainthood consists in making a virtuous life attractive, Albert Schweitzer is a saint of our country."

Nobel Prize Award in 1952

       Dr. Schweitzer was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1952.  On his 80th birthday in 1955, he was awarded the Order of Merit, one of the highest distinctions of Great Britain.  With all the funds he earned from his own  royalties and personal appearances, fees and donations received from all over the world, he expanded his Hospital in Africa, which, by the early 1960's could take care of over 500 in-patients.  The Nobel Prize money of $33,000 was used to set up a special leprosy center at Lamberene.

Death (September 4, 1965)

       He worked in Lamberene till the last day of his life (September 4, 1965), and was buried near the hospital at Lambarene which he had built so much loe and care.

      Let us pay homage to this great soul - acclaimed preacher,concert organist, internationally renowned scholar and an intellectual genius, who devoted his life to serve those less fortunate than himself!"

      Let us remember with love and admiration, this multi-faced personality who was one of the most loved and respected men of our times!

Sayings of Albert Schweitzer

  • "The purpose of human life is to serve, and to show compassion and the will to help others."

  • "compassion, in which all ethics must take root, can only attain its full breadth and depth, if it embraces all living creatures and does not limit itself to mankind."

  • "Constant kindness can accomplish much.  As the sun makes ice melt, kindness causes misunderstanding, mistrust and hostility to evaporate."

  • "Do something for somebody everyday for which you do not get paid."

  • "Example is not the main thing in influencing others.  It is the only thing."

  • "The tragedy of life what dies inside a man while he lives."

  • "We are all so much together, but we are all dying of loneliness."

  • "The stronger the reverence for natural life, the stronger grows also that for spiritual life".

  • "Start early to instill in your students awareness that they are on this earth to help and serve others; that is as important to pass on to them as knowledge."

  • "The most important thing in education is to make young people think for themselves."

  • "The greatest thing is to give thanks for everything.  He who has learned this knows that it means to live."

Some Books by Albert Schweitzer

  1. Out of my Life and Thought
  2. Quest of the Historical Jesus
  3. Reverence for Life
  4. Philosophy of Civilization
  5. Memoirs of Childhood and Youth
  6. Mysticism of Paul the Apostle
  7. The Light within Us
  8. Mystery of the Kingdom of God: The Secret of Jesus Messiahship and Passion
  9. The Animal World of Albert Schweitzer
  10. Animals, Nature and Albert Schweitzer
  11. Peace or Atomic War?
  12. Pilgrimage to Humanity

Source: An excerpts from the book on "Sketches of Saints known and Unknown" by Dada J.P.Vaswani.  

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