“In attempting this psychological presentation and a psychopathological explanation of the typical characteristics of a concentration camp inmate, I may give the impression that the human being is completely and unavoidably influenced by his surroundings. (In this case the surroundings being the unique structure of camp life, which forced the prisoner to conform his conduct to a certain set pattern.) But what about human liberty? Is there no spiritual freedom in regard to behavior and reaction to any given surroundings? Is that theory true which would have us believe that man is no more than a product of many conditional and environmental factors–be they of a biological, psychological or sociological nature? Is man but an accidental product of these? Most important, do the prisoners’ reactions to the singular world of the concentration camp prove that man cannot escape the influences of his surroundings? Does man have no choice of action in the face of such circumstances?
We can answer these questions from experience as well as on principle. The experiences of camp life show that man does have a choice of action. There were enough examples, often of a heroic nature, which proved that apathy could be overcome, irritability suppressed. Man can preserve a vestige of spiritual freedom, of independence of mind, even in such terrible conditions of psychic and physical stress.
We who lived in concentration camps can remember the men who walked through the huts comforting others, giving away their last piece of bread. They may have been few in number, but they offer sufficient proof that everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms–to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.
And there were always choices to make. Every day, every hour, offered the opportunity to make a decision, a decision which determined whether you would or would not submit to those powers which threatened to rob you of your very self, your inner freedom; which determined whether or not you would become the plaything of circumstance, renouncing freedom and dignity to become molded into the form of the typical inmate.
Seen from this point of view, the mental reactions of the inmates of a concentration camp must seem more to us than the mere expression of certain physical and sociological conditions. Even though conditions such as lack of sleep, insufficient food and various mental stresses may suggest that the inmates were bound to react in certain ways, in the final analysis it becomes clear that the sort of person the prisoner became was the result of an inner decision, and not the result of camp influences alone. Fundamentally, therefore, any man can, even under such circumstances, decide what shall become of him–mentally and spiritually.”
-Viktor E. Frankl
“Man’s Search For Meaning”
Being that books have been such a big inspiration in my life, I’ve decided not only to read one each month, but also to write a book review just as often.
Title: Man’s Search for Meaning
Author: Viktor Frankl
Type: psychological, spiritual
Theme: enduring and overcoming adversity
Length: 165 pages
From the time I was in Jr. High to present, I must have had this book recommended to me at least six times, the most any book has ever been suggested I read directly from the mouth of other people, other than the scriptures of my faith. And for some reason, I just never got around to it. I would put up a tally mark on the chalkboard in my mind in a section marked, “Books to Read”. I guess I just needed that many suggestions before I finally got off of my butt to read it.
It’s not actually a very thick book at all. I’d rather call it a booklet. That said, it is easy to acquire, it being a book commonly required for reading in a small handful of college courses. I got my copy brand new for $9.99 at my local Barnes and Noble.
Viktor Frankl, through many near misses miraculously survived years in various Nazi concentration camps in the 1940’s. Being an expert psychologist even before internment, his findings on human will, the bitter limits of suffering, and free agency are well calculated, deeply thought out, and expertly pieced together in this small volume. He highlights some of the disgusting, soul shattering circumstances and moral dilemmas of life in the Nazi concentration camps, and expounds on just how he held on to hope and life throughout them all when most wanted to give up. Most chilling to me was his description of how bodies of the dead were dealt with not long after just having died due to the necessity of the sick and otherwise feeble survivors. To those of you who have yet to read it, I recommend doing so. It was pretty good for the most part, however…
My only two complaints:
- I did think his not wanting to share more of his actual story was a lazy writer’s cop out.
- Once I hit part II of the book (about pg. 99), I was lost in all the advanced psychological jargon.
Part one was pretty freaking awesome though!
Rating: 3 out of 5 Stars