Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Man's Search for Meaning by Victor Frankl

Why I Read It: Another "find" in a box I had dusted off. It had long been on the list.

Summary: The introduction of logotherapy told in two parts, a description of the practice preceded with the author's memoir of life in Nazi concentration camps.

My Thoughts: I often wonder how people a hundred years from now will react to stories of the Holocaust. Will it be diluted through time? We are just now losing the last of the "greatest generation," so that means that I have lived among them for nearly half a century. The people of World War II have always been a part of my life.

I guess that's why the stories have always affected me so deeply. People of my grandparents' vintage were among those gassed or otherwise atrociously treated. And when it came to such levels of understanding, it probably helped to grow up in a town with a strong Jewish population.

But Frankl's memoir struck me if just in two sentences. I guess at this point I have no expectations for how low the Nazis could sink; the depths of their cruelty no longer shock me. But Frankl made one statement that jumped out at me. He mentioned how life in the camps was the ultimate game of survival, and that in many cases, the good guys, the men and women who thought of others first, lost. In his words, it wasn't the best among them who survived the ordeal. I think I've always just believed that the prisoners in the concentration camps had no free will whatsoever, but Frankl's book changed my viewpoint on that idea. Some men and women went to great lengths to survive, often at the expense of others.

The second sentence that got me presented me with a physical reality that just struck a chord. He talked about being so weak that to take a step up into a building he had to put his hands inside the doorway and pull himself in. We've all seen the pictures of the gauntness of the concentration camp prisoner. But I guess that that's it; they're still pictures. I never thought too much of what it must have been like to try to do the simplest tasks.

I wasn't as impressed with the second half of the book, but it's not for me to really tear it down. The fact that any man or woman was able to survive the ordeal and think so deeply about the psychiatric side of concentration camp life - of the prisoners, of the guards, of the liberators, etc. - is amazing. To have gained the attention of so many millions and tell the tales as Frankl did, is astounding.

For me, personally, the timing was odd, too. The last line in the book (1984 edition) has to do with Hiroshima, which was the subject of the book I had just put down before picking this one up. I guess, in the end, as long as texts like this one survive, perhaps there will be less dilution than I fear. If we are supposed to learn from history, this is one lesson we should never forget.

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