Viktor Frankl: Man's Search for Meaning

Man's Search for Meaning

Man's Search for Meaning

Man's Search for Meaning -or Ein Psychologe erlebt das Konzentrationslager, by its original title in German—is a classic of existentialist thought written by the Austrian philosopher, psychiatrist, neurologist and author Viktor Frankl. The work was published for the first time in 1946, in Vienna. The launch was a great commercial success, which led the publisher to print another edition. However, it failed to surpass its predecessor.

It later received other editions, one in 1955 and another in 1959, both in English and other languages, including Spanish, where it was translated as From the death camp to existentialism. Even so, It was not until 1961 that this renowned text achieved worldwide fame with an edition of Beacon Press that was titled Man's Searching for meaning o Man's Search for Meaning.

Synopsis of Man's Search for Meaning

Man's Search for Meaning narrates the story of three years —between 1942 and 1945— that Viktor Frankl spent in four of the concentration camps that were set up during the Second World War. The most notable location is Auschwitz, better known as the extermination camp. There, Frank, colleagues and friends had to face the most deplorable and dehumanizing circumstances a person could have experienced.

Every day, prisoners were victims and witnesses of forced labor, physical abuse, mental alienation, malnutrition, and, ultimately, death. In a context of such calamity, men had only two options: resort to hope and love to rebuild themselves from the inside, or allow the facts to turn them into beings that behave more like animals than as humans.

Structure of the work

Man's Search for Meaning is divided into three parts: first, second and third phase. In each of them, the author tries to respond to one of the main points of the book., which translates as follows: “How does everyday life in a concentration camp affect the mind and psychology of the average prisoner?”

First phase: Internment in the field

It all begins with the story of how the prisoners speculated about which concentration camp they would be taken to next. Contrary to what the common people believe, those deprived of liberty were confined to small sections, and not to large towns.

The men feared the worst, although They were sure that their final fate would be the most terrible: the gas chamber. The author says that under these conditions they only thought about returning home to their families and friends.

For that reason, Over time, no one was afraid to make ethical or moral considerations. None appealed to remorse when arranging for another prisoner to take his place and receive the fate that was prepared for someone else.

During this first stage, the prisoners harbored the hope of saving colleagues or friends who were also in that situation. But, Little by little they realized that they could only try to safeguard their own forces.

Second phase: Life in the countryside

After so much abuse, working naked, with shoes as the only clothing option, apathy became visible. In this period the prisoners were possessed by a kind of death, the passing away of their basic emotions.

Over time, men became creatures immune to compassion. The continuous blows, the irrationality that governed the concentration centers, the pain, the injustice... dulled their consciences and their hearts.

The degree of malnutrition they presented was aberrant. They were only allowed to eat once a day., and they were not substantial foods, not to mention that each bite was almost a bad joke: it was a piece of bread and soup water, which did not help them stay strong during their “working days.”

That situation also lowered his sexual desire. This didn't even manifest in their dreams, because all they could think about was a way to survive.

Third phase: After liberation

In prison, Viktor Frankl concluded that, to survive such deep suffering like the one they were exposed to it was necessary to tell with three fundamental factors: love, purpose and an irrevocable conviction about how, if you can't change a situation, you need to change yourself. After his release, the psychiatrist set out to analyze the psychology of the released prisoner.

When the white flag was finally raised at the entrances of the camps everyone was lost. They couldn't be happy because they thought that that freedom was a beautiful dream from which they could wake up at any moment. However, little by little they adapted to a certain normality again. At first, many resorted to learned violence, until they realized that there was nothing more to fear.

About the author, Viktor Emil Frankl

Viktor Frankl

Viktor Frankl

Viktor Emil Frankl was born in 1905, in Vienna, Austria. He grew up in a family of Jewish origin. During his time at university he became involved in socialist groups, and began to show interest in human psychology. That passion led him to study at the Faculty of Medicine at the University of Vienna., where he also obtained two specializations, one in psychiatry and the other in neurology. After graduating he worked at the Vienna General Hospital.

He worked there from 1933 to 1940. From that last year he set up his own office, at the same time as directing the neurology department at the Rothschild Hospital. However, it wouldn't be long before his turn took an unexpected turn: In 1942, the doctor was deported to the Theresienstadt concentration camp along with his wife and parents. In 1945, when he was granted the long-awaited freedom, he discovered that all his loved ones had died.

Other books by Viktor Frankl

  • Viktor Frankl, The Unknown Presence of God. Synthesis and Comments (1943);
  • Psychoanalysis and existentialism (1946);
  • Despite everything, say yes to life (1948);
  • Theory and therapy of neuroses: Introduction to logotherapy and existential analysis (1956);
  • The will to meaning: selected lectures on logotherapy (1969);
  • Psychotherapy and humanism (1978);
  • Logotherapy and existential analysis (1987);
  • Psychotherapy within everyone's reach: Radio conferences on psychic therapy (1989);
  • The suffering man: Anthropological foundations of psychotherapy 2 (1992);
  • Faced with the existential void (1994);
  • What is not written in my books: memoirs (1997)

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