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Viktor Emil Frankl experienced the inexplicable during his time at the concentration camps, but one can only begin to understand his pain and struggles in his autobiography, Man’s Search for Meaning. Frankl was a victim and a survivor of the Holocaust who lived through four different camps. The physical and mental trauma he endured in the camps took a heavy toll on him as well as drastically diminished his quality of life. He also greatly struggled in the environment of the camp due to its lack spirit.
This would naturally lead anyone to believe that this traumatic time period conquered and haunted his mind even after liberation, leaving a shell of his former self.
However, Frankl emerged from these obstacles with a new meaning and understanding of life. He is well-known for discovering logotherapy, which was a coping mechanism he and the other prisoners used to attempt to soften some of their many harsh experiences in the camps. Frankl’s views on the reasons for living drew me to choose to read his autobiography because, despite our drastically different circumstances, I felt that reading this book would give me a better understanding of the life I’m living.
More importantly, it could help others who genuinely struggle with finding their purpose to do so.
It’s difficult to pinpoint specific obstacles that Frankl was faced with considering his life appears to many as one big obstacle because of his time in the concentration camps. However, he and the other prisoners were faced with daily physical abuse.
“Beatings occured on the slightest provocation, sometimes for no reason at all” (Frankl 23). They constantly lived in fear and had to microanalyze everything they did to ensure that they didn’t get whipped or smashed with the butt of a rifle. Frankl recalls a man standing behind him for bread who was slightly out of the line and Frankl was the one to receive two sharp blows to the back of the head because “the lack of symmetry displeased the SS guard” (Frankl 23).
One would expect the man standing behind Frankl to get the beating but that just shows how careful the prisoners needed to be with their words and actions because beatings were given regardless of what was done or who did it. In order to attempt to deal with the physical abuse, “the prisoner surrounded himself with a very necessary protective shell” (Frankl 23). This “shell” Frankl protected himself with was apathy “which eventually made him insensitive to daily and hourly beatings” (Frankl 23). One of the most beneficial ways to cope with the abuse was to cut off all the emotions and feelings about the situation which distracted them from the pain and suffering.
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