Man's Search for Meaning

2 min read

I've read and seen many accounts of the Holocaust, so I was interested if another book on the same subject could offer a different perspective. It does. Frankl splits into 2 halves - anecdotes from his time in the death camps and the theory behind his psychotherapy

I've read histories of the Holocaust which try to help the reader understand the scale of the atrocities. They into detail of the camps - where they were located, how people were transported, how many died immediately and how many over time, the purpose of each camp and so on. In movies it's different - the camera pans from one interaction between guard and victim to the next. The violence and exploitation shown to us visually gives us an inkling of what it was like.

This book is different though - it's the perspective of the a person at the camp. He speaks about what it was like to live from day to day, when any day could be your last. We learn about how people at the camp look out for each other - one of the first stories he mentions is about a person risking his life to give advice to newcomers on how best to survive. Not just the heroics either, the small words and kindnesses that helped people get up in the morning when it felt like they no longer had any reason to. We also read about just how much the camp affects the psyche of the person within - nothing shocks him anymore. For example, a group of people waiting for a fellow inmate to die so they can take his coat, his shoes and to check his pockets for any crumbs to eat. Most people lost their sense of self and their sense of humanity, according to Frankl, but some were able to cling on.

This led to the creation of his school of psychotherapy, logotherapy. The basic idea behind this is this quote by Friedrich Nietzsche - he who has a why to live for can bear almost any how. Frankl gives a few examples of helping patients who were suffering by helping them find meaning in their suffering. Its a cool theory, but I don't know how easy it is to implement in practice. I think logotherapy certainly has promise, though I'll say no more because I know very little of these matters.

Overall, its an important book, one that's worth reading.

Also, thanks to Adithya Rajaram for gifting me this book.