Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl sat on my “to read” list for ages. It wasn’t until last year that I finally read this small, but widely impactful, first hand account on the horrors of the holocaust and the ferocity of the human spirit.
The Man Behind the Book
Born in Vienna, Frankl grew up in a Jewish family. He eventually found an interest in psychology and studies medicine at the University of Vienna.
Frankl’s specialties were neurology and psychiatry. He then went on to start a counseling program for high school students.
At the Steinhof Psychiatric Hospital Frankl completed his residency and founded his own neurological practice in Vienna.
As Nazi occupation began in Austria, Frankl quickly felt the repercussions as a Jewish Austrian.
It first started with the prohibition of treating Aryan patients as a Jewish man. He then worked at the only hospital in Vienna where Jews were still allowed and “saved several patients from being euthanized as a result of the Nazi euthanasia program.”
In the early 1940s Frankl began performing lobotomies and experiments on Jews who had taken their lives prior to incarceration. His findings were shared in Nazi medical journals.
Eventually, Frankl and his family were relocated to Thresienstadt Ghetto in Czechoslovakia. The Nazi ghettos were simply means of concealing the horrors occuring at concentration camps. Here Frankl worked at a clinic and gave lectures.
Then, Frankl’s life took its most dramatic turn yet, when he and his wife were taken to Auschwitz.
Man’s Search for Meaning
While the birthplace of horrific events for Frankl and many others, Auschwitz is also the birthplace of one of the greatest works of all time: Man’s Search for Meaning.
Frankl chronicles, in this work, the unspeakable conditions of Auschwitz as well as psychoanalyzing both the Nazis and prisoners of the camp.
This novel takes both the logic and emotional routes of appeal. Frankl breaks down the reasoning behind certain actions on both sides of the prison.
Frankl separates Man’s Search for Meaning into two parts. The first breaks down Frankl’s experiences in the camp and his personal analyses of them. Part two discusses the meaning of these experiences and his theory, “logotherapy.”
Perspective Shifting Impact
Frankl’s work inspired me to be better in so many different ways. It propelled me to optimism and gratitude, while also giving me insight into the reality behind tales we all hear regarding the Holocaust. He brought the struggle of the Jewish people during this time down to a personal level.
While this book is undoubtedly dark, it also serves as the most inspiring book I have ever read. It exemplifies man’s desire for a meaningful life, and the way that varies from person to person.
Frankl taught me that freedom is something for us to choose in the confines of our own minds. Our bodies may deteriorate, but our spirit and mind will prosper.
He emphasized that it’s not about where you are, but who you are. We have the power to extract whatever meaning you desire from any situation.
The last lesson I will outline, even though there’s countless others, is gratitude and where we place it. During the hardest times, we realize the importance of seemingly minuscule parts of our lives. It’s easy to be grateful for the large events, but what truly comprises happiness is seeing the importance of the things that often pass us by.
I walked away from this book a completely changed person, and I know that you will too.
Cover image via Act Build Change
Also published on Medium.