ARJUN PEREIRA picks up the eternal bestseller, Viktor Frankl’s ‘Man’s Search for Meaning’ and finds great lessons to be learnt from the author’s experiences in concentration camps
Very recently, I picked up the classic, philosophical book published in 1946, Man’s Search for Meaning written by the venerable German neurologist and psychologist, Victor Frankl. Intriguingly, it still figures in Amazon’s top 100 book list. This week, it was placed on No. 19.
The book, a paperback edition is simple and compact to look at, and hold. Quite lightweight. On the cover was the description: The classic tribute to hope from the Holocaust. Over 12 million copies sold! I began reading it right away….
This very beautiful, yet very gruesome and dark book encapsulates his life for almost three years in a concentration camp with all its trials and tribulations of living in a death camp with no basic human rights and terrible work conditions.
He found that the Jewish prisoners were humble, cooperative and had tried their best to be optimistic in very harsh conditions. They would often work even in temperatures of -16 degrees Celsius, barefoot!
In contrast, the Nazi guards were impressively clothed, well-fed, healthy and would order around the Jews as if they were slaves and did no work of any real value. This shows that the most despicable, cruel and gruesome crimes have been done under the guise of ‘taking orders.’ This was the common excuse given by Nazi workers after the war when they were questioned as to how their conscience allowed them to commit such gruesome crimes against humanity.
Viktor Emil Frankl was an Austrian neurologist, psychiatrist, philosopher, author, and Holocaust survivor. He was the founder of logotherapy, a school of psychotherapy which describes a search for a life meaning as the central human motivational force.
Man’s Search for Meaning chronicles the absolute lowest depths that humans can fall to, more so the Nazis and SS guards who lacked any shred of empathy, remorse, kindness and consideration for their fellow human beings who had been sent to these concentration camps.
Reading this book will make you feel very grateful for the lifestyle you currently have, including the food you eat, the work you do, the clothes you wear and the family you have.
For all of this was most definitely taken away from the millions of shocked and unsuspecting prisoners who had done nothing wrong, expect for belonging to a certain religion which did not agree with the machinations of the completely insane regime that describes the Nazis from 1933 to 1945.
In my opinion, this book should be compulsory in all schools and colleges for it teaches you a beautiful lesson in gratefulness, humbleness and humility towards all aspects of your life.
Viktor Frankl in hindsight led a very inspirational and groundbreaking life simply by his beautiful philosophy and written works, which number some thirty-five books in total. Holocaust deniers who are not convinced of the brutality, cruelty and atrocities of the Nazi regime should only read this book carefully to be fully informed of what actually happened in the concentration camps of Auschwitz, Dachau and others which are described in gruesome detail in this book. As a reader, I was completely shocked, for I was not really aware of the extent of the cruelty and crimes of the Nazi regime, before I had begun reading this book.
Viktor Frankl’s experiences made him very tough and he eventually lived long till the age of 92, which in itself must be celebrated considering the atrocities, mental and physical trauma he was subjected to during the war years. He was a very sensitive man and the experience changed him deeply.
Honour and dignity were very important to him, as they were for the others. He and his fellow prisoners would use humour and other tricks to make light of the morbid circumstances in which they found themselves. For example, when all the prisoners were forced to strip down and shave off every single strand of their hair, they would make fun of each other’s naked bodies especially while showering in the cold winter water, despite the grim circumstances.
I was moved when Viktor Frankl wrote: “Between stimulus and response, there is a choice.” Or when he said, “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms, to choose one’s attitude in a given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”
Reading this book made me recall a movie I had recently watched: Roberto Benigni’s Life is Beautiful, an Oscar-winning Italian film, which is about a father making the concentration camps a fun and humorous game for his son and entertaining his son cheerfully throughout their harrowing ordeal and their grim reality as Jews during the Second World War. Here to, the father made a choice – which was to make his son happy and cheerful, despite the unpleasant and gruesome surroundings around them.
This is what makes humans truly evolved in my humble opinion, and far different from an animal: the choices you make that allow one to choose your own reactions to any set of circumstances or event, no matter how unpleasant or disturbing it may be.
Arjun Pereira, a writer and editor, is also a singer, composer, lyricist and guitarist. He has worked for several leading publishing houses and corporates and loves to travel, soaking in new experiences and cultures.
Dear Arjun, you have picked up a wonderful book to review.
I personally feel fortunate too to read this book way back in early nineties. Reading the poignant and soulfully confidant tale of Frankl, (I would prefer to call him The Victor Frankl with a Big-V), would definitely fire the neurons of a thinking mind for he speaks not merely as a human being but addresses it from a horrible pedestal speaking about “a meaning” to be alive and fight for it in spite of everything…for the sake of humanity.
Salutations to the fighter in him who surviving through the dehumanising state of the concentration camp coined the concept of the noogenic neurosis which is a state of existential angst leading to a sense of lack of meaning in life and worked throughout his life to bail out people from this by logo therapy. “Life has to be lived to actualise a meaning”, this is such a powerful concept which is deeply etched in everyone’s soul and spirit and yet failing to empower it, challenging situations often push people to the brink and make them shy away from life. But, once one makes a u-turn to empower oneself with the soul searching exercise to give life a meaning then there is nothing in the world that one can not achieve!
“Man’s Search for Meaning” is of course a great work of all time by Viktor Frankl, a compulsive reading for every inquisitive. Along the path of the long journey of humanity, it will always stand tall as a big searchlight…
Yes, thank you Baturam ji, it is very interesting to read all that you say about Viktor Frankl. Indeed, his experiences, words and philosophy of logo therapy is a vital searchlight for the present as well as the future of humanity! ?