Genero referred to Viktor Frankl as one of his mentors, and recommended the book Man’s Search for Meaning. I went home and started reading it that night.
Frankl was born in 1905 in Vienna, Austria. He knew he wanted to be a physician when he was three years old. He ended up getting and M.D. and Ph.D, practicing as a renowned psychiatrist. There was only one problem. He was Jewish.
In 1942, he was arrested and hauled off to Auschwitz, a death camp of the Nazis where 1.5 million people died and from where pretty much nobody ever returned.
In Man’s Search for Meaning, we experience Auschwitz with Frankl through the observant, scientific eyes of the psychiatrist. He makes sense of the senseless, he analyzes his motives, the motives of his fellow prisoners and those of the guards and tormentors. It’s not a book about Frankl, it’s a book about humanity under the most extreme imaginable conditions of pure horror and utter de-humanization. We learn what happens to people under those conditions.
There is no way to feel sorry for oneself in modern America after reading Man’s Search for Meaning. The story of the holocaust needs to be told, over and over again, lest we forget and allow it to happen again.
Frankl died in 1997, at the ripe age of 92. He lost his parents, his brother, and his wife in the camps. After his eventual and unlikely liberation, he had nothing to live for. Taking a dose of his own medicine, he threw himself into this work and accomplished a renowned career, not only as a holocaust survivor, but also as an international psychoanalyst.
I said above “lest we forget and allow it to happen again” yet at the moment I am writing this, I know that there are concentration camps right now in North Korea where people are kept as slave laborers, for generations. If a man commits a crime of stealing a loaf of bread, he can be incarcerated for generations. His children, born in the camp, will be indentured slaves because of their father’s crimes. That’s going on today.
In Syria, right this moment, a rogue regime hell-bent on its own survival, is brutally slaying its own people by the tens of thousands – pretty much what Hitler did – yet we stand by and wait.
How can we reconcile this?
Man’s Search for Meaning, as you can see from my waxings, is thought-provoking at a very deep and challenging level.