28 August 2019

A book I loved #7: Man's Search for Meaning by Victor Frankl

The final book in this review series of mine is the saddest and most revealing. How did it feel to be in Auschwitz? What were their emotions and attitudes?

We'll never know that about the nicest people. Frankl explains that they were the ones who didn't push someone in front of them in the round-ups for the gas chambers. But Frankl tried to inspire at least some the remainder to live by reminding them what focus on what they had to live for. He maintained that if you have a meaning and a purpose to life, you're happier and more resilient.

He persuaded many of his cabin-mates, at least, by the sound of it, to refrain from giving up (there was always a convenient suicide option in the form of a nearby electrified fence) by getting them to think of this meaning - to transport themselves away from reality into whatever it was they wanted to live for.

For many of them, including Frankl, it was their family. Incredibly sadly, when he dragged the sad remnants of himself back to Vienna after the war ended, he learnt that his wife, parents and siblings had mostly all died at the hands of the Nazis - and the people who had remained in Vienna barely acknowledged what he'd been through: "Oh, we suffered, too."

A lesson I got from this book is that we can do more and bear more than we think we can. Within a few days of arriving at the concentration camps, men who thought that in order to sleep they needed perfect silence and a soft bed were slumbering deeply on a hard platform full of men packed like sardines. All comforts were gone, and they were surprised at what they could bear.

What a comfortable life we live! Let's hope we never have to explore that dark and deeply uncomfortable side of life ourselves.

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