by Andrada, Romania
One of the most sincere testimonies of experience in a concentration camp comes from therapist Viktor Frankl, the founder of logotherapy, the Third Viennese School of Psychotherapy, after Freud’s psychoanalysis and Adler’s individual psychotherapy. Man’s Search for Meaning is his most famous work and is divided into two parts, the first part being made up of opinions and observations of the author, and the second explaining the basic concepts of logotherapy.
Search for meaning is probably one of the most important things we can do as humans. A purpose in life clearly aware provides the necessary motivation crossing any obstacle. The whole book is based on Nietzsche’s idea that “He who has a why to live can bear with almost any how”. This thought was present in the doctor’s mind everyday during his years in the concentration camps, for a while even in Auschwitz. People think they cannot live without things, but put in a position to live without them, they survive. Frankl notes that the human body is much more powerful than we can imagine from the perspective of our normal everyday life.
His entire testimony was somehow under a bad sign, as if something bad but inevitable had to happen. Frankl was able to leave the country before being sent to camp, but chose to stay to be close to his parents and wife. He was the only one who survived. He understands that, after all, few things depend on us.
Connoisseur of man, Frankl describes what happens to the psyche of people imprisoned. One of the most interesting things he’s observed is that after the passage of the shock you have when you are deprived of the basic needs, there remains a strong calm, sometimes apathy, when the prisoner no longer feels emotions, only curiosity: “curiosity as to whether I should come out of it alive or with a fractured skull or other injuries”.
Gas chambers no longer scared people, they were no longer afraid of death, some even chose to commit suicide because of the conditions they were in. Frankl’s conclusion as a therapist was that an abnormal reaction to an abnormal situation is normal behavior.
Having all his possessions taken away from him, Frankl understands that a man in this situation remains only with the last of human’s freedoms, the freedom to choose the way he looks at the things that happen to him. The fundamental truth that is discovered is “that love is the ultimate and the highest goal to which a man can aspire”, truth which for him was represented by the image of his wife, whom he knew nothing about.
The sense of humor was a very good distraction mechanism. It was necessary for them to be able to feel less tragic about their destiny. In all malice and all surrounding sadism, in which people were numbers whose existence was irrelevant, beauty could be found, and the prisoners could see it mostly in nature, in every sunset and every landscape that could be seen through the shutters during transports between camps.
I will not talk about the gruesome things that happened, as neither did Frankl. The most important is the message that he later materializes in logotherapy, namely the huge importance for man to discover the meaning of life. Asked what is the meaning of his life, Frankl responded with “helping others find theirs”.