Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor E. Frankl

A review of the Memoir Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor E. Frankl.

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Man’s Search for Meaning is a true account of one man’s experiences in the Nazi concentration camps during the Second World War. Imprisoned for five years, Frankl tries to explain through his own observations people’s different reactions to varying degrees of suffering.

Before the war, Viktor Frankl was an eminent psychiatrist in Vienna. His work, at the time, was looked upon with the same regard and respect of Sigmund Freud. The book is written in two parts. The first is an extremely matter-of-fact account of his time in Auschwitz, other camps, and his liberation. The second part is an explanation of Logotherapy: a psychotherapy treatment he developed through his experiences.

The first part of the book does make quite difficult reading. Frankl does not sensationalise the cruelty or inhumanity at all. In fact, his honesty and lack of emotion in his writing is quite different to other accounts of the Holocaust. There are still clear and concise descriptions of the agony and diabolical living conditions in the camps, ranging from inmates with typhus to the extreme cruelty of the guards and even some of the other prisoners. Frankl uses the anecdotes to help the reader understand his basic premise: man needs to find meaning for his suffering. His description of the days leading up to and after the liberation are really thought provoking. The book is less about the horror stories from the camp but how people dealt with the misery and torment.

The second part of the book is heavy-going, especially if you are not really interested in psychotherapy. It is worth getting through as Frankl’s insights into why some prisoners survived and other fitter, stronger inmates did not is fascinating.

All through the book, Frankl manages to inject moments of humour and courage despite the appalling conditions. His stories range from heart-warming kindness to total despair. He shows from these examples that it is the little things that are important.

All-in-all this is a moving, inspirational and influential book, and it gives us an insight into the strength of the human spirit. I feel I now have a different understanding of one man’s experiences during the Holocaust. I would recommend reading it at least once.

Cassidy grew up in Thanet and lives here with her family.

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