Conrad ("Koert") W. Baars, M.D. (1919-1981), Catholic psychiatrist, author and lecturer, was born Rotterdam, Netherlands, on January 2, 1919. He was born into a prominent family, the second of six children. Koert revealed in his autobiography, Doctor of the Heart,1 how, from very early on in life, he had a zeal for knowledge and a great love for books. He was well educated in the liberal arts as was the Dutch tradition at the time and was always one to take on a challenge. Koert spoke also of his great faith in God and his strong religious background, and explained how these attributes, his temperament, and especially his faith led him through many difficult times—especially during World War II.
Koert originally started out studying chemical engineering, but soon came to realize that his real desire was to study medicine. In the years before World War II, Koert did so at the University of Amsterdam. Simultaneously, he joined the Royal Dutch Army because of the situation brewing in Europe, and also put his name on the list of quotas. He admired the freedom available in America, and waited until the day when he could emigrate to the land that promised him the desire of his heart—the United States.
It was during the time of Koert's medical studies at the University of Amsterdam that the Nazi’s bombed Rotterdam. No longer could the Dutch remain neutral in this war, and Koert himself was forced to flee the Netherlands.
To fight the enemy, Koert joined the French underground resistance. He fought the Nazis alone, or in partnership with one or two others at any given time. He thought joining the larger Dutch Underground would be too dangerous, as these people were easier for the Nazis to identify and arrest. Koert lived under assumed names with falsified papers in order to do whatever he could to undermine the Nazi regime.
His life was one of constant peril during that time, and the time came when he and his two comrades knew they were close to being detected by the enemy. It was time then for them to escape to Spain yet, during their flight over the Pyrenees Mountains the rain at the base of the mountain turned into snow that covered the path and ultimately the escape route to freedom. What should have been a ten-hour climb on the first night of the escape, and an eight-hour climb on the last night, turned into a nightmare. They were so close to freedom, yet so far away. In horrendous conditions, without proper clothing or food, the group got lost. They were captured by the Nazis after many hours of nearly impossible mountain climbing, and the death of one member of the expedition.
The Nazis arrested the group and transferred them to prison. After interrogations by the hated Gestapo, Koert was sent to a concentration camp north of Paris, and was finally transferred to the notorious Buchenwald concentration camp in the winter of 1943.
As prisoner number 38263 Koert entered the camp. Most of the people he met there did not make it out of the camp alive. Koert saw firsthand the horrible atrocities about which he had previously only heard stories. The living conditions at the camp were inhumane by any standards and the treatment of the prisoners barbarous. Because he was a medical student, Koert was advised by fellow prisoners to tell the Nazis he was a doctor, and he was put in the position of nursing the sick. This turned out to be an enviable position in the camp and a blessing for him, because he was given slightly better living conditions and a bit better food than much of the rest of the camp. Even so, by the day of liberation 19 months later, malnutrition had cost him several of his teeth as well as his health, as he later suffered from a weakened heart.
Koert personally witnessed atrocities and murders that stimulated him to fight against this evil with all the strength that he had. He credited his deep faith and reliance on God, as well as his anger at and fierce determination to fight against the oppressing enemy and evil, as the major factors in his emerging from Buchenwald alive.2 Koert Baars was to spend almost two years at this dreaded camp before being freed by the Americans on April 11, 1945, a day he would always celebrate. Thousands were starved, tortured and murdered in this camp, before freedom came to the remaining twenty-one thousand prisoners that the Nazis never wanted returned to the world alive.
Koert learned through his experience there that the Nazi plan was to murder all of the prisoners, and destroy all of the evidence. This experience left an indelible mark on his life and his spirit and it was from this experience that he learned the most important truth: that only God gives life its meaning and purpose. Without Him, life is meaningless.
After the war, Koert came to the United States on a student visa in 1946 after finishing his medical degree in his native land in 1945. He toured a number of states and ended up as an intern in a Mount Vernon, New York hospital. After completion of his internship, he went from there to a residency in Chicago, Illinois. It was during this time that he met his bride, Mary Jean Kennedy. Because of his marriage to an American citizen, he was able to apply for citizenship to the country in which he had longed to live. On January 15, 1951, Conrad W. Baars became an American Citizen.
After passing the appropriate examinations with excellence, Dr. Baars obtained a residency in psychiatry at Minneapolis General Hospital in Minnesota. After completing the residency, he joined the staff of the Rochester (Minnesota) State Hospital. During the years that followed, Koert became disillusioned with traditional methods of psychotherapy and he considered leaving the practice of psychiatry. "The psychoanalytic method which I had been taught in medical school did not seem to help many of those with whom I dealt" (Baars, 1996, p.206).
It was at this time of professional crisis that Koert believed the Lord intervened and introduced him to the work of a Dutch psychiatrist, Dr. Anna Terruwe. Her revolutionary ideas of psychotherapy and the healing of the whole person, including the human person's spiritual dimension, had a profound influence on Koert and reawakened his enthusiasm for psychiatry. It eventually led to his collaboration with her and together they studied affirmation psychology, based on the psychology of St. Thomas Aquinas.
Dr. Baars spent the remainder of his life trying to further his knowledge about the nature of man that Aquinas talked about. He studied man’s life as it relates to emotional and spiritual health and well being, and tried to spread the knowledge that he gained to the world. He spoke to the psychiatric world as well as the Christian world that he most tried to serve. In addition to his private practice in San Antonio, he lectured around the country and tried to reach out especially to those he believed had the greatest opportunity to help others understand what he had learned, so that this knowledge could be disseminated. Koert believed that the greatest problem in modern psychology was that it failed to integrate the spiritual dimension of man into the understanding of the human person's emotional well-being. Koert Baars, M.D. died on October 18, 1981.
His legacy still continues in his work that is still being spread throughout the world through his books and tapes. A number of his books have recently been revised and republished. His daughter, Suzanne Baars, continues his work through her psychotherapy practice in Dallas, Texas, her conferences and numerous appearances on The Abundant Life Show on EWTN (Eternal Word Television Network) and her cassette series Made In His Image.
In the epilogue of Doctor of the Heart (p.226), Koert’s wife, Mary Jean, wrote in regards to what her husband’s work was all about: "unless and until we turn back to a God-centered world, we are not likely to produce cures in psychiatry and psychology which bring normalcy, happiness and peace to people."
Dr. Baars' life was about leading people to emotional and spiritual health and happiness.
Dr. Conrad W. Baars was a man with a vision—a man in a constant search for the truth. He was a Christian psychiatrist with a drive to expand his knowledge to know and understand as much as he could about human nature, man's psyche, and the healing of emotional illnesses. He spent a large part of his life trying to find ever-deeper truths about God and humanity, and to further his understanding about them. He set about trying to help the world to heal—one person at a time. His understanding about the innate need for love and affirmation that all people have, has tremendous potential for the counseling and psychological communities—both for clients and for therapists. I pray that his work will be furthered and all will come to know the love, understanding, and affirmation that he wanted all people to have, that they in turn love, understand, and affirm others. It is through the process of receiving genuine love and affirmation that people can then go on to have the happiness and joy in life that they long for. I believe that Conrad Baars took to heart and endeavored to fulfill the command in scripture to "strengthen your brothers" (Luke 22:32) as he commented on this in numerous lectures that he gave. He interpreted the word "strengthen" to be "affirmation" and he endeavored to follow the "perfect representation of an affirmed and affirming person"—Jesus Christ.
— Bonnie N. Shayne, December, 1998 (Bonnie@conradbaars.com)
1. Baars, Conrad W. Doctor of the Heart. Staten Island, NY: Alba House, 1996. Back to text
2. Baars, Conrad W. Feeling and Healing Your Emotions. Rev. ed. Suzanne M. Baars and Bonnie N. Shayne (eds.) Plainfield, NJ: Logos International 1979. Gainesville, FL: Bridge-Logos, 2003. Back to text
Copyright © 2001 Suzanne M. Baars and Bonnie
N. Shayne All rights reserved.