becoming a self in history, becoming a self in my street
Viktor Frankl was working as a doctor in Vienna when he was deported to
Auschwitz. He arrived there with his young wife and was separated from her in the selections. He had with him
the manuscript of his book which was the culmination of his life’s work. On reaching the infamous shower block
where prisoners were stripped, tattooed and shaved he spoke to an older prisoner to ask him to help save his
manuscript. With a look of mocking contempt the prisoner looked at the manuscript and uttered the word, ‘shit’.
Without any softening of his words, he made it quite clear to Frankl such concerns were irrelevant in a place
where the only way out was through the chimney of the crematoria.
Frankl was the founder of
Logotherapy, which holds that it does not matter what we expect from life, but rather, what life expects from us.
Our response to any situation lies in our power of choice, and in these choices the meaning of each individual
existence lies. Confronted with the reality of the camp and the realization that his wife, and therefore their
future, had died, he had only one choice, which was to live what he believed there, in the worst possible
place. This he did. He survived the camps and spent the rest of his life working for understanding between
nations as well as for the healing of the traumatized individual. He rewrote the book that he had lost in
Auschwitz when he returned home. His unflinching honesty about the experiences he had and his response to
it gave his philosophy potency and inner authority.