Viktor Frankl - Experiences in a Concentration Camp

Ryan

The Living Force
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One of the books I am currently reading at present is Viktor Frankl's classic work, "Man's Search for Meaning". Dr. Frankl was a Jewish psychologist who lived through the genocide perpetrated by the Nazis, and his descriptions of concentration camp life are quite unique in perspective. As a psychiatrist who went on to found a system of psychology that he called logotherapy, his short book (originally an essay entitled "Experiences in a Concentration Camp" that he planned on penning anonymously) contains some valuable observations that are interesting when considered in the light of Dr. Lobaczewski's work "Political Ponerology". There is one particular part towards the end that I have typed out in full here:

Viktor Frankl said:
We now come to the third stage of a prisoner's mental reactions: the psychology of the prisoner after his liberation. But prior to that we shall consider a question which the psychologist is asked frequently, especially when he has personal knowledge of these matters. What can you tell us about the psychological make-up of the camp guards? How is it possible that man of flesh and blood could treat others as so many prisoners say they have been treated? Having once heard these accounts and having come to believe that these things did happen, one is bound to ask how, psychologically, they could happen. To answer this question without going into great detail, a few things must be pointed out:

First, among the guards there were some sadists, sadists in the purest clinical sense.
Second, these sadists were always selected when a really severe detachment of guards was needed.

There was great joy at our work site when we had permission to warm ourselves for a few minutes (after two hours of work in the bitter frost) in front of a little stove which was fed with twigs and scraps of wood. But there were always some foremen who found a great pleasure in taking this comfort from us. How clearly their faces reflected this pleasure when they not only forbade us to stand there but turned over the stove and dumped its lovely fire into the snow! When the SS took a dislike to a person, there was always some special man in their ranks known to have a passion for, and to be highly specialized in, sadistic torture, to whom the unfortunate prisoner was sent.

Third, the feelings of the majority of the guards had been dulled by the number of years in which, in ever increasing doses, they had witnessed the brutal methods of the camp. These morally and mentally hardened men at least refused to take active part in sadistic measures. But they did not prevent others from carrying them out.

Fourth, it must be stated that even among the guards there were some who took pity on us. I shall only mention the commander of the camp from which I was liberated. It was found after the liberation - only the camp doctor, a prisoner himself, had known of it previously - that this man had paid no small sum of money from his own pocket in order to purchase medicines for his prisoners from the nearest market town. But the senior camp warden, a prisoner himself, was harder than any of the SS guards. He beat the other prisoners at every slightest opportunity, while the camp commander, to my knowledge, never once lifted his hand against any of us.

It is apparent that the mere knowledge that a man was either a camp guard or a prisoner tells us almost nothing. Human kindness can be found in all groups, even those which as a whole it would be easy to condemn. The boundaries between groups overlapped and we must not try to simplify matters by saying that these men were angels and those were devils. Certainly, it was a considerable achievement for a guard or foreman to be kind to the prisoners in spite of all the camp's influences, and, on the other hand, the baseness of a prisoner who treated his own companions badly was exceptionally contemptible. Obviously the prisoners found the lack of character in such men especially upsetting, while they were profoundly moved by the smallest kindness received from any of the guards. I remember how one day a foreman secretly gave me a piece of bread which I knew he must have saved from his breakfast ration. It was far more than the small piece of bread which moved me to tears at that time. It was the human "something" which this man also gave to me - the word and look which accompanied the gift.

From all this we may learn that there are two races of men in the world, but only these two - the "race" of the decent man, and the "race" of the indecent man. Both are found everywhere; they penetrate into all groups of society. No group consists entirely of decent or indecent people. In this sense, no group is of "pure race" - and therefore one occasionally found a decent fellow among the camp guards.

Life in a concentration camp tore open the human soul and exposed its depths. Is it surprising that in those depths we again found only human qualities which in their very nature were a mixture of good and evil? The rift dividing good from evil, which goes through all human beings, reaches into the lowest depths and becomes apparent even on the bottom of the abyss which is laid open by the concentration camp.
Dr Frankl's comments suggest that even in highly restrictive environs such as a concentration camp, there is still a certain essential "something" in some types of people which guides their actions regardless of their external circumstances. It seems this "something" can be either of pathological or conscientious nature, and that those of a pathological nature are "selected" by the power structure in place (an extension or microcosm of the greater pathocracy) to help it fulfil its destructive and deviant purposes.

It also appears that those who did not have an inherently pathological nature, despite being strongly traumatised themselves, developed a psychological immunity over time that was capable of resisting the intensely strong ponerogenic influences of their environment. This began to manifest in small, furtive acts of "guerilla kindness" to those they were ordered to treat as sub-human. While no doubt a far stretch from what we might call "ideal" psychological defense or hygene when dealing with psychopathy, considering the knowledge available at the time there were probably valuable lessons being learned. This time around, maybe those lessons could be learned in a much less traumatic way if people were even "semi-consciously" aware of the material on psychopathy and ponerology.

Anyway, just a few thoughts.
 

Laura

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Thanks for this. It emphasizes my point that we cannot just label whole groups of people as this or that. There were obviously evil Jews in the camps and good Germans.

The same is true of Israel today. Even if Israel, as a whole, has been taken over (or literally created) by a group of psychological deviants, that doesn't mean that all Israelis are deviant. Even if we suspect that a much higher percentage of Israelis may very well be deviant due to the "culling methods" employed during WW II (with the cooperation of evil Jews), that doesn't mean they ALL are.

And we can also consider the example of the U.S. itself. We KNOW that a majority of Americans do NOT like Bush, do not agree with the Neocons, and feel that they are living through a nightmare from which they cannot awaken. But they cannot DO anything about it because the only thing that is really left to them is to take to the streets en masse. They are afraid to do that because it is dangerous and they don't see others doing it.

So, do we assume that all Americans are evil like the Neocons because they are not fighting and resisting them?

And then, do we suggest that ALL Americans ought to die for the sins of the Neocons? Or the Jews controlling the Neocons?

Of course not. Nor should we suggest that all Jews should be destroyed for the sins of the Zionist Pathocrats. Or even that all Jews are responsible for all the evils of the world just as all Americans are not responsible for all the evils of the world.
 

vinny

The Living Force
Viktor Frankl said:
From all this we may learn that there are two races of men in the world, but only these two - the "race" of the decent man, and the "race" of the indecent man. Both are found everywhere; they penetrate into all groups of society. No group consists entirely of decent or indecent people. In this sense, no group is of "pure race" - and therefore one occasionally found a decent fellow among the camp guards.
thanks for posting that Ryan. Well, it is very interesting that Viktor Frankl should actually come out with it in quite those explicit terms.

It seems that this concept, of a different contrasting race that infiltrates every corner of society, is simmering under the surface in more places, maybe still yet to be discovered, and not just the likes of Mouravieff and Lobaczewski.

If this information can continue to be spread to as many people as possible then maybe it will reach a critical mass and truly become 'public' knowledge?

a while ago I saw a UK documentary about corruption within the police force, and towards the end of the program, the conclusion was reached that consistently throughout the system there were two types of people who are police officers:
1. the person who sees policing as an honorable way to serve society, to uphold the law, and to protect the public, ie to do one's bit for the community.
2. the person who can use his position as a police officer because it gives him social standing, machismo, status and power over others, and who don't give a damn about the people they are 'policing', except in terms of how they can be 'used'.
Naturally, the second category are the types who are ready to compromise their principles (or have no principles!?), who chase statistics etc, rather than concentrating on the 'caring' side of the job, and so 'work the system', to rapidly rise through the ranks, to end up in the decision-making/controlling positions.
 

Joe

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Reading this book now and thought I'd share an excerpt that I found very insightful:

Man's Search for Meaning said:
As we said before, any attempt to restore a person's inner strength in the camp had first to succeed in showing them some future goal. Nietzsche's words, "He who has a why to live for can bear with almost any how", could be the guiding motto for all psychotherapeutic and pyschohygenic efforts regarding prisoners. Whenever there was an opportunity for it, one had to give them a why - an aim - for their lives, in order to strengthen them to bear the terrible how of their existence. Woe to him who saw no more sense in his life, no aim, no purpose, and therefore no point in carrying on. He was soon lost. The typical reply with which such a person rejected all encouraging arguments was, "I have nothing to expect from life any more." What sort of answer can one give to that?

What was really needed was a fundamental change in our attitude toward life. We had to learn ourselves and, furthermore, we had to teach the despairing person, that it did not really matter what we expected from life, but rather what life expected from us. We needed to stop asking about the meaning of life, and instead to think of ourselves as those who were being questioned by life - daily and hourly. Our answer must consist, not in talk and meditation, but in right action and in right conduct. Life ultimately means taking the responsibility to find the right answer to its problems and to fulfill the tasks which it constantly sets for each individual.

These tasks, and therefore the meaning of life, differ from person to person, and from moment to moment. This it is impossible to define the meaning of life in a general way. Questions about the meaning of life can never be answered by sweeping statements. "Life" does not mean something vague, but something very real and concrete. They form a person's destiny, which is different and unique for each individual. No person and no destiny can be compared with any other person or any other destiny. No situation repeats itself, and each situation calls for a different response. Sometimes the situation in which a person finds themselves may require them to shape their own fate by action. At other times it is more advantageous for a person to make use of an opportunity for contemplation and to realize assets in this way.

When a person finds that it is their destiny to suffer, they will have to accept their suffering as their task; their single and unique task. They will have to acknowledge the fact that even in suffering they are unique and alone in the universe. No one can relieve them of their suffering or suffer in their place. Their unique opportunity lies in the way in which they bear their suffering.
 

PerfectCircle

Jedi Master
Nomad said:
Viktor Frankl said:


a while ago I saw a UK documentary about corruption within the police force, and towards the end of the program, the conclusion was reached that consistently throughout the system there were two types of people who are police officers:
1. the person who sees policing as an honorable way to serve society, to uphold the law, and to protect the public, ie to do one's bit for the community.
2. the person who can use his position as a police officer because it gives him social standing, machismo, status and power over others, and who don't give a damn about the people they are 'policing', except in terms of how they can be 'used'.
Naturally, the second category are the types who are ready to compromise their principles (or have no principles!?), who chase statistics etc, rather than concentrating on the 'caring' side of the job, and so 'work the system', to rapidly rise through the ranks, to end up in the decision-making/controlling positions.


Nice categorization!
The problem is that the vast majority of them are from the second type, at least in my country.
 

PhoenixToEmber

Jedi Council Member
Joe said:
Reading this book now and thought I'd share an excerpt that I found very insightful:

Man's Search for Meaning said:
As we said before, any attempt to restore a person's inner strength in the camp had first to succeed in showing them some future goal. Nietzsche's words, "He who has a why to live for can bear with almost any how", could be the guiding motto for all psychotherapeutic and pyschohygenic efforts regarding prisoners. Whenever there was an opportunity for it, one had to give them a why - an aim - for their lives, in order to strengthen them to bear the terrible how of their existence. Woe to him who saw no more sense in his life, no aim, no purpose, and therefore no point in carrying on. He was soon lost. The typical reply with which such a person rejected all encouraging arguments was, "I have nothing to expect from life any more." What sort of answer can one give to that?

What was really needed was a fundamental change in our attitude toward life. We had to learn ourselves and, furthermore, we had to teach the despairing person, that it did not really matter what we expected from life, but rather what life expected from us. We needed to stop asking about the meaning of life, and instead to think of ourselves as those who were being questioned by life - daily and hourly. Our answer must consist, not in talk and meditation, but in right action and in right conduct. Life ultimately means taking the responsibility to find the right answer to its problems and to fulfill the tasks which it constantly sets for each individual.

These tasks, and therefore the meaning of life, differ from person to person, and from moment to moment. This it is impossible to define the meaning of life in a general way. Questions about the meaning of life can never be answered by sweeping statements. "Life" does not mean something vague, but something very real and concrete. They form a person's destiny, which is different and unique for each individual. No person and no destiny can be compared with any other person or any other destiny. No situation repeats itself, and each situation calls for a different response. Sometimes the situation in which a person finds themselves may require them to shape their own fate by action. At other times it is more advantageous for a person to make use of an opportunity for contemplation and to realize assets in this way.

When a person finds that it is their destiny to suffer, they will have to accept their suffering as their task; their single and unique task. They will have to acknowledge the fact that even in suffering they are unique and alone in the universe. No one can relieve them of their suffering or suffer in their place. Their unique opportunity lies in the way in which they bear their suffering.

Beautiful passage. I read this book a little over a year ago and it left a lasting impression on me - without a doubt one of the most important books I've read so far.
 

Yas

The Living Force
FOTCM Member
I've just finished reading this book and also been listening to interviews and reading articles about Logotherapy because it has given me a perspective that was very much needed. This passage you posted, Joe, was one of my favourite and it certainly summarises some of the basics of what Frankl proposes.

Joe said:
Reading this book now and thought I'd share an excerpt that I found very insightful:

Man's Search for Meaning said:
As we said before, any attempt to restore a person's inner strength in the camp had first to succeed in showing them some future goal. Nietzsche's words, "He who has a why to live for can bear with almost any how", could be the guiding motto for all psychotherapeutic and pyschohygenic efforts regarding prisoners. Whenever there was an opportunity for it, one had to give them a why - an aim - for their lives, in order to strengthen them to bear the terrible how of their existence. Woe to him who saw no more sense in his life, no aim, no purpose, and therefore no point in carrying on. He was soon lost. The typical reply with which such a person rejected all encouraging arguments was, "I have nothing to expect from life any more." What sort of answer can one give to that?

What was really needed was a fundamental change in our attitude toward life. We had to learn ourselves and, furthermore, we had to teach the despairing person, that it did not really matter what we expected from life, but rather what life expected from us. We needed to stop asking about the meaning of life, and instead to think of ourselves as those who were being questioned by life - daily and hourly. Our answer must consist, not in talk and meditation, but in right action and in right conduct. Life ultimately means taking the responsibility to find the right answer to its problems and to fulfill the tasks which it constantly sets for each individual.

These tasks, and therefore the meaning of life, differ from person to person, and from moment to moment. This it is impossible to define the meaning of life in a general way. Questions about the meaning of life can never be answered by sweeping statements. "Life" does not mean something vague, but something very real and concrete. They form a person's destiny, which is different and unique for each individual. No person and no destiny can be compared with any other person or any other destiny. No situation repeats itself, and each situation calls for a different response. Sometimes the situation in which a person finds themselves may require them to shape their own fate by action. At other times it is more advantageous for a person to make use of an opportunity for contemplation and to realize assets in this way.

When a person finds that it is their destiny to suffer, they will have to accept their suffering as their task; their single and unique task. They will have to acknowledge the fact that even in suffering they are unique and alone in the universe. No one can relieve them of their suffering or suffer in their place. Their unique opportunity lies in the way in which they bear their suffering.

I add this similar quote from the book:

As each situation in life represents a challenge to man and presents a problem for him to solve, the question of the meaning of life may actually be reversed. Ultimately, man should not ask what the meaning of his life is, but rather he must recognize that it is he who is asked. In a word, each man is questioned by life; and he can only answer to life by answering for his own life; to life he can only respond by being responsible. Thus, logotherapy sees in responsibleness the very essence of human existence.

This reminds me of what has been discussed in other threads, especially this one: "Life experiences represent interaction with "God"". Essentially, life gives you plenty of material to work on on a daily basis and the meaning of life is therefore, right there for us to embrace it by interacting with what life is giving us, by answering to life, by answering to God, if you will.

I really liked Frankl's book and ideas. There have been other existentialists out there who proposed quite interesting ideas, such as "life is suffering and the only way to overcome that suffering is an authentic attitude that takes full responsibility of the choices one makes and the betterment of the life conditions in which we live." (paraphrasing) Yet, Frankl is the only one I've come across that has proposed the idea that it is only through transcendence of the self that one can actually overcome the existencial emptiness. He says there are 3 ways by which man can achieve meaning and all of them involve being able to go beyond one-self and orienting ourselves to life, to the outside, to others.

According to logotherapy, we can discover this meaning in life in three different ways: (1) by creating a work or doing a deed; (2) by experiencing something or encountering someone; and (3) by the attitude we take toward unavoidable suffering.

By declaring that man is responsible and must actualize the potential meaning of his life, I wish to stress that the true meaning of life is to be discovered in the world rather than within man or his own psyche, as though it were a closed system. I have termed this constitutive characteristic "the self-transcendence of human existence." It denotes the fact that being human always points, and is directed, to something, or someone, other than oneself—be it a meaning to fulfill or another human being to encounter. The more one forgets himself—by giving himself to a cause to serve or another person to love—the more human he is and the more he actualizes himself. What is called self-actualization is not an attainable aim at all, for the simple reason that the more one would strive for it, the more he would miss it. In other words, self-actualization is possible only as a side-effect of self-transcendence.

This orientation towards transcending the self is most significant, I think. I have been thinking about it lately... that many therapies and psychological theories nowadays might be quite useful for the purpose of healing, knowing ourselves better and working with programs, yet, for me, there was something missing in the puzzle, and this idea of self transcendence as portrayed by Frankl really fit into that empty place and helped me gain perspective. Also, I can say that embracing responsibility can be tremendously healing.

I think that Frankl's psychology is particularly important for young people in this age of nihilism. There have been many discussions on the forum about how the young people today are kind of lost, and Jordan Peterson talks about this in several of his conferences and interviews; there is a loss of "maps of meaning", as he calls them, that can guide people through life and help create the necessary structure by which one understands reality and which guides the answers we give to life. Given that most young people are disenchanted with the traditional figures given by religion and have mostly lost the knowledge transmitted by mythology, the ideas expressed by Frankl can be quite useful because they portray a meaning in life itself that is independent of the spiritual/religious beliefs.

In addition, I just loved this idea:

...it can be seen that mental health is based on a certain degree of tension, the tension between what one has already achieved and what one still ought to accomplish, or the gap between what one is and what one should become. Such a tension is inherent in the human being and therefore is indispensable to mental wellbeing. We should not, then, be hesitant about challenging man with a potential meaning for him to fulfill. It is only thus that we evoke his will to meaning from its state of latency. I consider it a dangerous misconception of mental hygiene to assume that what man needs in the first place is equilibrium or, as it is called in biology, "homeostasis," i.e., a tensionless state.

What man actually needs is not a tensionless state but rather the striving and struggling for a worthwhile goal, a freely chosen task. What he needs is not the discharge of tension at any cost but the call of a potential meaning waiting to be fulfilled by him. What man needs is not homeostasis but what I call "nod-dynamics," i.e., the existential dynamics in a polar field of tension where one pole is represented by a meaning that is to be fulfilled and the other pole by the man who has to fulfill it.

I think that this is a very down to earth explanation of why "friction" is necessary for growth, and it is also similar to the ideas proposed by Drabrowski, I think. Again, many therapies and psychological theories nowadays concentrate on reducing the tension somehow, and maybe that's really needed in certain cases and to a certain degree, but if the tension comes form an inner need to grow and an "existencial crisis", so to say, reducing the tension can actually do worse because it moves people away from the chance of actually finding meaning in their lives.

I find this very encouraging and motivating myself. Instead of a book that's telling me "poor you", do this or that to reduce your stress, etc..., this one is telling me that the friction has a purpose and it is my responsibility to use it as a strength that helps me overcome my self-pity and start working towards what is important. I'm not saying that reducing the stress, healing and all that is not important, it is! And some people really need that, of course. But maybe because I became prone to self-pity and to be paralysed by guilt, this approach of responsibility, courage and also humour towards life is proving to be VERY useful... and that's basically why I really wanted to share these impressions with you here in case this little book may be of help to others. :)

I'll leave some more excerpts from the book that I've found truly inspiring.

"But let me make it perfectly clear that in no way is suffering necessary to find meaning. I only insist that meaning is possible even in spite of suffering—provided, certainly, that the suffering is unavoidable. If it were avoidable, however, the meaningful thing to do would be to remove its cause, be it psychological, biological or political. To suffer unnecessarily is masochistic rather than heroic."

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.

Freedom, however, is not the last word. Freedom is only part of the story and half of the truth. Freedom is but the negative aspect of the whole phenomenon whose positive aspect is responsibleness. In fact, freedom is in danger of degenerating into mere arbitrariness unless it is lived in terms of responsibleness.

Let us first ask ourselves what should be understood by "a tragic optimism." In brief it means that one is, and remains, optimistic in spite of the "tragic triad," as it is called in logotherapy, a triad which consists of those aspects of human existence which may be circumscribed by: (1) pain; (2) guilt; and (3) death. This chapter, in fact, raises the question, How is it possible to say yes to life in spite of all that? How, to pose the question differently, can life retain its potential meaning in spite of its tragic aspects? After all, "saying yes to life in spite of everything," to use the phrase in which the title of a German book of mine is couched, presupposes that life is potentially meaningful under any conditions, even those which are most miserable. And this in turn presupposes the human capacity to creatively turn life's negative aspects into something positive or constructive. In other words, what matters is to make the best of any given situation. "The best," however, is that which in Latin is called optimum —hence the reason I speak of a tragic optimism, that is, an optimism in the face of tragedy and in view of the human potential which at its best always allows for: (1)turning suffering into a human achievement and accomplishment; (2) deriving from guilt the opportunity to change oneself for the better; and (3) deriving from life's transitoriness an incentive to take responsible action.

The third aspect of the tragic triad concerns death. But it concerns life as well, for at any time each of the moments of which life consists is dying, and that moment will never recur. And yet is not this transitoriness a reminder that challenges us to make the best possible use of each moment of our lives? It certainly is, and hence my imperative: Live as if you were living for the second time and had acted as wrongly the first time as you are about to act now.

In fact, the opportunities to act properly, the potentialities to fulfill a meaning, are affected by the irreversibility of our lives. But also the potentialities alone are so affected. For as soon as we have used an opportunity and have actualized a potential meaning, we have done so once and for all. We have rescued it into the past wherein it has been safely delivered and deposited. In the past, nothing is irretrievably lost, but rather, on the contrary, everything is irrevocably stored and treasured. To be sure, people tend to see only the stubble fields of transitoriness but overlook and forget the full granaries of the past into which they have brought the harvest of their lives: the deeds done, the loves loved, and last but not least, the sufferings they have gone through with courage and dignity.

From this one may see that there is no reason to pity old people. Instead, young people should envy them. It is true that the old have no opportunities, no possibilities in the future. But they have more than that. Instead of possibilities in the future, they have realities in the past—the potentialities they have actualized, the meanings they have fulfilled, the values they have realized—and nothing and nobody can ever remove these assets from the past.
 

Gaby

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Live as if you were living for the second time and had acted as wrongly the first time as you are about to act now.

I finished this book a month ago or so. The above was the single most powerful quote that stuck in my mind.

:flowers:
 

Anthony

The Living Force
FOTCM Member
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.

This is one of the core ideas found in Stoicism, the Work, and other similar traditions. I assume that, like with Frankl, such insights come only after intense suffering, beacuse in suffering, there is a potential to recognize and actualize our own free will, despite the dreadful circumstances (as was in Frankl's case).
 

whitecoast

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Anthony said:
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.

This is one of the core ideas found in Stoicism, the Work, and other similar traditions. I assume that, like with Frankl, such insights come only after intense suffering, beacuse in suffering, there is a potential to recognize and actualize our own free will, despite the dreadful circumstances (as was in Frankl's case).

I read Man's Search for Meaning at the start of the year, and I find a lot of overlap in Jordan Peterson's work re: being able to overcome our nature/nurture to better ourselves and those around us, and the critical role the transcendent plays in our own psychic narratives and self-cultivation toward those ends.
 

ashu

Jedi Master
Thank you for bumping up this thread Yas. It seems like another good read to be added to the reading list. Instead of buying it, I shall be venturing over to my local library to borrow it today seeing as though they have it in.

The quotes you have provided are quite inspirational and I think that the book will compliment the material by Jordan Peterson for sure.
 

Nico

Jedi Council Member
I should reread this book in details, thank you Yas you have reactualize my view of life with your quotes and commentaries.

I found the quote on old people very true, and that's why in this time I'm more leading toward them because I intuitively feel their profound knowledge about life, even if they forget things or still have some programming running, their presence is radically different from certain young or mid-age. And I know saying that I have more to explore because if there is a difference there is some self-importance, but it seems to be this tensions Frankl talks about.

One does not have to suppress any feelings, using them striving for a more meaningful life feels like acknowledging our own bubbles or the predators' face wrinkles and making them the elastic lines to make you fly. I have come sometimes to a point where 'techniques and methods' to lessen one's baggage is no more fulfilling, and Frankl gives one answer.
 

Divide by Zero

The Living Force
Sorry, I had a bad taste in my mouth about Frankl for quite a bit of time. Why? I don't know, I just didn't feel he was sincere. I couldn't see where he made sense. Had I been in that situation, I'd be dead quickly. Remember Laura's great article on transmarginal inhibition by Pavlov? The dogs that stopped fighting survived the holocaust, including Frankl

Maybe deep down I refused his idealism and existentialism, which in essence is a form of post-modernism that we all know is toxic. Maybe this is just me justifying that feeling. But, remember that history is written by the victors. Frankl lied about the time he spent in the camps. He had skills and was part of brain experiments on suicidal Jews. Of course, to someone like Frankl, someone who was suicidal, they are a failure. You tell me that this guy doesn't sound exactly like Freud, who only gained notoriety despite his ungainly past due to what people wanted. You tell me that there's no religion behind his beliefs on how to survive, despite he wasn't actually in the same conditions as the general population.

Yes, I'm angry because this is another lie exposed about our heroes. Just like the C's and others exposed Mother Theresa for being quite dark, maybe it's time we woke the hell up and saw this:

Is It OK to Criticize a Saint? On Humanizing Viktor Frankl

Timothy Pytell Ph.D.
On Authoritarian Therapy
Is It OK to Criticize a Saint? On Humanizing Viktor Frankl
A Reply to My Critics
Posted Mar 31, 2017

Is It OK to Criticize a Saint?: A Response to My Critics
In a strange bit of synchronicity, Princess Diana, Mother Teresa and Viktor Frankl all died within in six days of each other in the late summer of 1997. At the time I was still working on my book on Frankl that I began in 1993 at NYU. When he passed away in 1997 Viktor Frankl was world renowned. His obituary in the NYTs captured his acclaim and highlighted his survival of Auschwitz. At the time I had already discovered that Frankl was only in Auschwitz for three days based on train records. Later in my research I learned Frankl had only been held in depot at Auschwitz before being transferred to Dachau where he was numbered and shaved. I contacted Holcomb Noble at the New York Times, who had written the obit for Frankl, to see if he was interested in correcting that error and a few others in his piece, but was rebuffed. It was an early signal that I was going to have a difficult time setting the record straight about Viktor Frankl.
I also wondered if I was doing the right thing criticizing and thus humanizing the saintly persona of Frankl. I had little professional status as an adjunct professor at The Cooper Union in New York and had only recently passed my comprehensive exams at New York University. On the other hand given the academic job market I had already began to realize my dream of a tenure track job was highly unlikely, so I wasn’t concerned about the professional implications of taking on someone of Frankl’s stature. I also recall meeting the famous historian Fritz Ringer in Houston at the German Studies Association in the Fall of 2000 on a bus to the airport. I shared my research with him and sent a draft of an article I was working on. His email reply was short and to the point, “you are going to have friends you don’t want and enemies you don’t need.” I already knew as much, but despite the obvious pitfalls I had become convinced Frankl’s life was a fascinating story worthy of being told. I still contend his continuous focus on the question of human meaning and his particular response offers an excellent introduction to the main themes in 20th Century European Intellectual history. The Library Journal gave it a starred review and described it fairly in my opinion as “Intellectually demanding, this is a scholarly, commendable biography and intellectual history. Lay readers will be challenged; psychologists and historians will be grateful.” Certainly not all psychologists and historians have been grateful.
Early on I also took solace in the support of many good advisors and in particular my friend the late Lawrence Birken who was teaching at Ball State University. “Larry” was the person who originally suggested I might look at Frankl as a way to think through some of the more philosophical issues I was asking. And, after my initial research and my discovery of the more controversial aspects of Frankl’s biography it was also “Larry” who tongue and cheek said my taking on Frankl was very similar to Christopher Hitchens’s bombastic criticism of Mother Teresa titled The Missionary Position: Mother Teresa in Theory and Practice. Then with his wry smile and wit Larry said the only difference is Hitchens is smarter and writes better.
In my 2015 revised biography of Viktor Frankl published by Berghahn Press I did my utmost to provide an accurate portrait of the life of Viktor Frankl. I spent over 20 years on the book and due to a number of circumstances both personal and professional there was a ten year gap between the publication of the German version of the book and the English. Most significantly Alexander Batthyany the director of the Viktor Frankl Archive in Vienna wrote a short book in response to mine in 2008. That led to a number of meetings between Alex and I going over our differences in 2010. I did my best to include his suggestions and the exchange made for a better book. However his interest in the therapeutic usefulness of Logotherapy and my focus on Frankl’s purported solution to the question of human meaning and issues 20th Century European History left a chasm between us on a number of issues.
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Nevertheless, I would be the first to admit there is a significant difference of tone between the 2005 German version and the more recent English version. When I first penned the biography of Frankl it was one part research and one part lawyerly brief. In hindsight I was undoubtedly channeling some of my angry young man oedipal rage at Frankl and also felt I “needed” to make the case against Frankl given his saintly renown. But I was also deeply, deeply disturbed by Frankl’s misrepresentation of his time in Auschwitz and the medical experiments he conducted during the war. I therefore concluded the 2005 book with the following justification of my criticisms which I defensively and sardonically titled Everyone needs a Hero Don’t They? I quote in full.
“I have tried to provide an accurate portrait of the life of Viktor Frankl. In doing so, I have presented Frankl’s journey through the 20th century as a profoundly Austrian story. From his youthful socialism in Red Vienna, to his conservative turn in the thirties, to his ambiguous activities during the war, and finally his willingness to reconcile and bury the past after the war, he is peculiarly Austrian. After such a fascinating life, he gained renown based mainly on his survival of Auschwitz. I also tried to revise his quasi-saintly public persona with a more balanced, more human-all-too-human account. That led me to focus on Frankl’s questionable wartime activities and subsequent choice to return to Vienna after the war and reconcile. Frankl’s life story exemplifies the experience of many Austrians whose response to Nazism was some mixture of resistance, accommodation and collaboration, and after the war, denial and burial of the past.
I have tried to be accurate, but lest any simple-minded person should think I have it in for the Austrians – or even more crudely, Jews — I would like to take the opportunity to describe how I came to my critical view. For anyone who has written a doctoral dissertation it will come as no surprise that the questions I was asking that drew me to study Viktor Frankl, and the subsequent intellectual production, are somewhat remote. Originally I was interested in the theoretical issues of nihilism, the popularization of existentialism, the association of existentialism with the origins of thanatology and the phenomenon of mass death in the twentieth century. In the simplest terms I was trying to write a history that began with Freud’s positing of the death instinct and concluded with Kervorkian and the science of thanatology. Given Frankl’s moral renown, and journey from an early influence by Freud, to existentialism and the Holocaust and critical comments on Kevorkian, I thought his life might provide a case study to help think through these issues. Although there are remnants of these interests in the present work, these theoretical concerns are more or less remote, and the focus is on the intersection of Frankl’s intellectual interests, his professional choices and Austrian history.
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The genesis of my critical approach to Viktor Frankl occurred when I found he had experimented on people during the war. My discovery occurred in the summer 1994, when I spent a month researching the life of Frankl at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, California. As I reflected on the research, I kept replaying his 1981 interview with the Canadian filmmaker Tom Corrigan, where he hesitantly described the experimental brain surgery he performed on suicidal Jewish patients from 1940 to 1942. These activities were so out of character for the morally renowned Holocaust survivor. Obviously something seemed strangely amiss. What was the context of these experiments? Why had there been no discussion of his efforts in the literature about him? Was Frankl hiding something? It seemed that he was – since on the tape he told Corrigan he was describing details of his life “scarcely known to anyone.” Frankl also told Corrigan that these details were “only for you and Joseph Fabry” and “can’t be used without special permission,” and then added “even though these details can’t be of use … but might be of interest.” At that moment a gap opened up between Frankl’s public persona and the reality of his activities as a man. The gap became a chasm as I pursued my research, but I never set out to criticize him or attack his integrity, although I did maintain a certain critical distance that I consider objective. That fall, when I questioned the curator of the Frankl archive Robert Leslie (also a disciple of Frankl) if he knew anything about the experiments he said “he never heard of them.” I should add his response seemed quite genuine.
When I first came to Vienna in 1995, I attended Frankl’s ninetieth birthday celebration. At the jubilee I discovered he had updated and reissued his biographical sketch from 1973. In Was nicht in meinen Büchern steht (What is not Said in My Books) I was stunned to read his rendition of the medical experiments as heroic efforts to save lives. At the time – and maybe it is just because of my intense American individualism – I held the opposite opinion. I was outraged and felt these experiments to be an offense against humanity. I was also struck how different the version Frankl was presenting to the public than the secretive, almost ashamed description he gave to Corrigan. It was this outrage and a bit of disgust at his brazenness that led me to decide not to interview him. I was convinced Frankl had come to believe in his own mythical status and we had little to say or gain from each other.
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I readily admit that this decision not to interview him has opened me up to the criticism that I did not know the man and that I am also biased. On the first issue, given his ambiguous past, the subsequent way he cultivated his fame and conducted himself in public, I am not being facetious when I say I am glad not to have know him personally. Even now, when I reread Man’s Search for Meaning, and then think back to my first reading, I feel as though I was hoodwinked. Based on this feeling, perhaps in a way I am biased. I think most intellectually honest people understand my reaction. Nevertheless, I have done my best to give an honest, objective interpretation despite my admitted, and I believe justified, disdain. In the end though the reader must decide whether I have captured adequately the ambiguity in Viktor Frankl.
Frankl’s official biography has recently appeared in English. The disciple and logotherapist, Haddon Klingberg describes his book When Life Calls Out to Us: The Love and Life Work of Viktor and Elly Frankl as “an unabashedly sympathetic rendering of their story.” Still Klingberg does attempt to confront some of the controversy surrounding Frankl. Although he doesn’t cite any of my writings, Klingberg did interview me once and I am sure he has me in mind when he writes: “I found other ‘scholars’ who were really crusaders – screening their sources and slanting them to manufacture one case or another, scarcely able to conceal their political and personal motivations.” I have laid bare my biases above, but since much of his chapter “Controversy, Conflict, and Criticism” attempts to apologize for the more scandalous aspects of Frankl’s life I discovered, he certainly screened his sources. Nevertheless, Klingberg’s apologetics are hardly convincing. The relationship between Frankl and his mentor Otto Pötzl is described as a “unique and enduring professional and personal association” in which “Viktor thought Pötzl an absolute genius, and the professor admired Viktor for his creativity and quickness.” Pötzl’s Nazi membership is passed off with the claim that “Pötzl was among many other decent people who had joined the National Socialists” and “Pötzl was, in Viktor’s enduring estimation, ‘no Nazi’ – not in sympathy, not in behavior.” Frankl’s questionable public and social relations with Kurt Waldheim and Jörg Haider - that many in the Austrian Jewish community found deeply troubling – are covered in a very cursory and apologetic manner. For example, on the issue of Frankl signing a book “to my friend Jörg Haider” Klingberg claims; “Frankl across the years had autographed thousands of books for admirers, often using the word ‘friend’ even for people he did not know well.” Not surprisingly, there is no mention of Frankl’s participation in the Göring Institute, nor any mention of the experimental brain surgery (even though this was the central subject of Klingberg’s interview with me).
On my revelation that Frankl was in Auschwitz three days, Klingberg claims “when he referred occasionally … to the three years he spent in Auschwitz and Dachau … he used these names as the ones his audience likely would recognize.” He then adds, “in every instance his point ‘in context’ was something other than naming or chronicling camps.” Klingberg’s defense of Frankl’s mendaciousness is a fallacy, and the issue of why Frankl never fully disclosed his actual camp experience remains.
I have argued that this dishonesty by Frankl opens him up to the criticism that he exploited his survival of Auschwitz. On the issue that Frankl has used his survival of Auschwitz to promote his meaning centered psychotherapyKlingberg defends Frankl with the claim “that what he was saying is: all other things being equal, the attitude one took and the meaning one found could make the difference between life and death.” But it bears repeating, in the inferno of Auschwitz, attitude mattered little to nothing for survival. At Auschwitz 1.3 million were killed, very few survived. Frankl survived because he quickly got out. In a strangely telling passage Klingberg describes how on his transport out of Auschwitz Frankl was “thrilled … to be heading ‘only’ for Dachau” and not the horrifying work camp Mauthausen.” Klingberg’s inability to think seriously about the issues surrounding Frankl’s survival, and instead offer justifications and rationalizations is understandable based on his sympathy for his subject. But once again, such arguments just further reflect the appeal of Frankl’s heroic vision of survival and serve to distort our understanding of the reality of Auschwitz.
Klingberg’s attempt to sustain Frankl’s saintly persona despite my factually based critical revision is a reflection of the quasi-religious intensity of his disciples and followers. Subsequently I do not expect my revelations and reflections will go very far in disabusing them of their idolatry. My hope is that they will at least recognize that Frankl was certainly a much more ambiguous figure than his public image belied.
At the heart of the controversy over Frankl is the issue of memory. In recent years historians have come to realize that memory often has a mythical quality somewhat removed from fact and reality. We have also come to recognize that memory has a multitude of levels (personal, public, local and national) where particular events take on different significance. In addition, the function memory plays in stabilizing different identities has become a central concern. I believe that I have successfully proven that Frankl’s personal memory as put down in his autobiography Was nicht in meinen Büchern steht and Man’s Search for Meaning omitted important details and falsified certain realities in order to promote a lionized and mythical image. On a more general cultural level I also believe that Frankl’s public statements and appearances both supported the burial of the ambiguous past in Austria and profoundly exemplified the Austrian problem with public memory. What the rationalizations and justifications from Klingberg and other followers suggest is that the institutional structure of logotherapy that depends on a lionized image of the founder, now has a problem with memory. Whether this book serves to further raise consciousness about the ambiguous past in Austria will be seen. Finally, I argue that in a way I am more objective because I am both an American and I don’t have a professional stake in the sanctity of Frankl’s memory. If the reader nevertheless still finds my critique too zealous I will make one more confession. As a historian I have long been troubled by the moral and cultural implications of the Holocaust. The fact that Frankl played and continues to play a significant role in how Auschwitz is memorialized motivates my critical reflection on his life.”
A lot of water has gone under the bridge since I wrote that conclusion some 15 years ago. I was defensive knowing I was criticizing a saint and many Austrians (and a few Americans i.e. Klingberg) were outraged by my revelations about Frankl. I find it odd that similar to Klingberg the two recent reviews of my English book make no mention of the medical experiments Frankl conducted in 1940-42 on suicidal Viennese Jews that I find so troubling. The renowned Allan Janik in his review goes so far to claim Frankl was “internationally celebrated for suicide prevention.” Clearly Janik is a Frankl admirer but since the experiments were supported by the Nazis for possible wartime use I have to ask is this the international celebration Janik is referring to?
Frankl lived a fascinating 20th century life by not only surviving “Auschwitz” but also by continuously asking “what it all means.” I can also honestly say I no longer have disdain for Frankl and I think that is evident in the tone of the English biography. This is because in the early 2000s I had an epiphany about Holocaust survival while researching that led me to rethink my position. I will describe my journey to that epiphany in my forthcoming posts. But in conclusion, although I don’t see Frankl as a “saint,” I realize that, like Mother Teresa, he remains one for many. So yes you can criticize a saint but for those who need saints, once a saint always a saint.
 
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