Albert Schweitzer:  Called to Africa (2006) 





Director:     Martin Doblmeier.

Starring:     Michaël Balerdi (A student) and Jeff McCarthy (Albert Schweitzer).

short film on Nobel Peace Prize winner who, as a doctor, served the poor in today's Gabon starting in 1905; docudrama


Spoiler Warning:  below is a summary of the entire film.

Zurich, Switzerland, 1957.  An old woman wakes up in bed wondering what time it is.  She writes a letter to her husband.

Strasbourg, Germany, 1905.  The woman says that she came to hear Albert Schweitzer preach, but she fell in love with him as she saw him pouring his heart out in church when he played Bach on the organ.  She was there also when he explained to the congregation that he must go to Africa.  There is a desperate need for doctors there.  He will go to medical school to become a doctor who can heal those who suffer.  His congregation doesn't want him to go to Africa.  Schweitzer tells them that:  "I want my life to be my argument." 

His future wife was already studying to be a nurse and now Schweitzer would study to be a doctor.  She adds that too many years had passed since she and Albert had first met. 

Some years earlier.  She was the professor's daughter. while Schweitzer was the minister's son.  One day Albert read an article about how badly the Europeans treated the people in the colonies.  He was determined to do something about it.  His wife says it was then that she knew their paths would unite.  There was one big obstacle, however.  It was the Paris Missionary Society, which decided who went to Africa and who did not on missionary work.  The members of the board were prejudiced against Schweitzer because of the man's controversial writings.  He wrote that Jesus did not think he was a deity.  That claim came only with the earliest of the writers of the future New Testament. They asks Schweitzer if he is even a Christian?  Schweitzer says he tries to live according to the teachings of Jesus.  He says he has to go to medical school because he wants to serve God by serving mankind. 

They approve of his going to Africa as long as he will not teach any of his controversial statements about theology.  Schweitzer agrees.  He travels to Gabon, Africa. 

The French Congo, 1913.  They went to Lambaréné.  The couple were the only doctors/nurses within 200 miles of the place.  They set up a little hospital and people started flocking in right away.  And they get a volunteer.  A native known as Joseph.  Schweitzer was very strict, severe and demanding.  Those years were the happiest years of his wife's life.  Her husband was important, but she too was important, and helped her husband in many different ways.  They were very limited in what they could do because this was the pre-antibiotic period.  He didn't have things like penicillin. 

One of their first patients had a strangulated hernia.  This was new in 1913.  So the word spread of how wonderful the new doctor and his nurse wife were.  Schweitzer was very much a healer who could calm people just by talking to them. 

World War I began. The war effected them even in Africa.  As German citizens in a French colony, the French order them to return to France as prisoners of war.  Schweitzer promises Joseph that he will return when this mess in Europe is over. 

France 1917.  The couple are POWs in an old Monastery.  Mrs. Schweitzer had tuberculosis when she came to Africa, but there it got much worse.  And in the old, cold Monastery she finally realized just how bad it really was.  She tells her husband she misses those Sunday afternoon performances of the music of Bach put on by her husband.     

The couple were in the monastery for a year.  It was hard for Mrs. Schweitzer to talk to her husband because he kept everything bottled up inside.  Mrs. Schweitzer becomes pregnant.

When the war ended, they were released.  For the next four years Mrs. Schweitzer says she was happy.  They lived in Europe for those years.  Her husband made money by giving concerts and lecturing.  But then it occurred to Mr. Schweitzer that he could make enough money doing this type of work so that he could return to Gabon.  She reminds him that her tuberculosis and the heat of the African continent makes it impossible for her to return to Gabon.  She also insists that his place is here in Europe with their family. 

Schweitzer says not a day passes that he doesn't wish he was in Gabon helping the natives there.  He is haunted by visions of the face of people suffering because he is not with them.  He will got to Lambaréné for two years.  This really disappoints his wife and his daughter.  As an old woman, their daughter said:  "My father never made sacrifices, he lived his life exactly as he wanted to live it.  The sacrifices were made by my mother."

Lambaréné, 1924.  Schweitzer writes home to say that almost all of the hospital is gone with a couple of minor exceptions.  So he is rebuilding the hospital.  He things he is going to have to move the hospital to another location.  It takes Schweitzer three years to complete the building of the hospital.  He has with him three doctors and three nurses.  They work from 7 in the morning until 6 in the evening.  He often has 50 to 60 patients per day.  Many walk up to 100 kilometers to reach the hospital. 

Even though Schweitzer promised the Paris Missionary Society that he would never lectured on theology, Schweitzer loved to do just that. 

WW II begins and very few donations were now being sent to the hospital in Africa.   But Mrs. Schweitzer was able to raise $4,000 dollars on a visit to the USA and that was enough to keep the hospital going.

His wife visited him in Africa after the end of WW II.  She thought it a good idea because European journalists came to interview her husband in an attempt to discredit some of his work.  Many thought he should have been more supportive of the African countries fight for their independence from various European countries.  And over the years journalists kept coming and coming and always to criticize, says his wife. 

Oslo, Norway 1954.  Schweitzer lectures the audience as part of the ceremonies associated with the Nobel Peace Prize.  With the money he built a place for those suffering from leprosy.

Mrs. Schweitzer dies and her ashes were brought to Lambaréné.  The Africans were very touched that Mrs. Schweitzer wanted to return to Africa after her death.

Albert Schweitzer died in Africa September 4, 1965, 8 years after Helene Schweitzer.

The granddaughter of the Schweitzers says that the hospital her grandparents built has endured. 


The film is a short-one, but it's short and sweet.  Enjoyed watching it.  This film deals with a man and his wife and how much they accomplished in improving health standards in Gabon, west Africa.  The hospital is still going strong and even has a research center that tracks the disease malaria, which kills a million children in sub-Saharan Africa every year.  They see 8,000 children a year.  

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.



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