The level of de-sensitization was lower on the Western Front where Allied soldiers and citizens remained humans to Nazis. Still there was no difference in the camps for the Jews from the West. Frankl came from Vienna.
Amidst the apathy of the many were some inmates who retained their “spiritual freedom” comforting others and giving up some food. Their example shows everyone has the choice of retaining dignity while suffering.
Frankl thought, in the final days of the war, he was both sacrificing himself when he volunteered to go to a “rest camp” with typhus patients and saving himself as he was relieved of exhausting physical work. Random chance kept him with the patients left behind when the camp was being “evacuated”. He survived because the “rest camp” conditions were slightly less harsh and he was not among those chosen in the last camp selection for “evacuation” and then killed.
In difficult circumstances we can find deeper meaning to life or descend to being no more than an animal fighting for survival - the saints and swine of the camps. A dying inmate cheerfully faced her death saying she was grateful that the brutal camp life had forced her spoiled pre-camp self to “take spiritual accomplishments seriously”.
The “most depressing influence” was their indefinite imprisonment. There was no end date except death. It was destructive to live in the past and any prisoner who lost “faith in the future – his future – was doomed”.
I try to convince clients that what seem open ended court proceedings will come to a conclusion. It is not a journey without end. There will be a solution and a good life beyond the resolution.
Frankl said it “does not matter what we expected from life, but rather what life expected from us”. If suffering is your task in life it is necessary to face it with dignity. All life has meaning. He said those with religious faith understood their sacrifice.
I still remember Father Bisztyo saying Frankl observed Christians and Communists doing the best of the groups in surviving the camps because they had strong beliefs and motivations guiding their lives.
The last section of the book discusses logotherapy, his form of psychotherapy, which focuses on helping people find meaning in their lives. He discusses a mental exercise in which you are imagine you are 80 and ask yourself what will I say about my life.
What gives meaning in my life? I would say in descending importance – family, church, work, sports, community, books, clubs and computer. The meaning changes depending on the time and circumstances of the day or week or month or year.
Frankl addresses outside the camp experience the meaning of life in the midst of suffering. Suffering is unavoidable during life. To face suffering with dignity gives meaning to life. We admire those who face adversity with courage. For Christians we have the inspiration of Jesus. In suffering our inner cores are revealed.
In 150 pages Frankl wrote a profound treatise. (Mar. 12/10) (Most interesting of 2010)