October 19, 2014
Dr. Margo Shea
World History Since 1900
Concentration Camps: A Dehumanizing Life
Victor Frankl’s memoir Man’s Search for Meaning outlines the difficult life within a concentration camp. He utilizes the Nazi’s masochistic forms of punishment along with clever survival strategies to show the meaning of life in times of great suffering. He also is able to reveal the startling ways in which the prisoners in these camps were able to adapt and survive when put in situations where their death was most certainly imminent. Frankl plays a prominent role in keeping prisoners alive with his logotherapy, which gives inmates-in their most desperate times-a reason to stay alive. However, not everything Frankl says is motivational. He also talks about the ways in which the Nazi’s were able to turn human beings into emotionless, apathetic shells.
Life as a prisoner was never simple and never easy. Men, women and children endured hours of manual labor with just enough sustenance to keep them alive. Therefore, it is no surprise that many people lacked in hope as well as faith. In the eyes of Frankl these two beliefs happen to be the most important when it comes to the fight for survival. He states “a prisoner who had lost faith in the future-his future-was doomed” (Frankl, 74). This ultimately leads to “mental and physical decay” (Frankl, 74). Loss of faith comes in stages. A prisoner will lose interest in the most basic necessities that they need to live, such as food. They refuse to go to work even when threatened and beaten up by capos. Frankl refers to this as the point in time when a prisoner has given up everything and is ready to for death to overcome them. He goes on to speak about how faith is the underlying force that causes man to find hope in places that are hard to reach. It is this that keeps the prisoners alive. They especially find hope in their future, and the idea that suffering will not last forever. Frankl particularly references his wife and the possibility that she may still be alive. He finds that it makes working conditions easier for him. If he thinks about a hopeful situation after liberation rather than the bleak situation around him, he chooses to survive.
Frankl overcomes the urge to give into death by realizing the important things in his life he has to live for. Upon entering the camp he makes a soul promise to never “run into the wire” (Frankl, 18) because he understands his life has more purpose than that. By looking into the future, he makes the idea of liberation a viable possibility. Before the start of World War II Frankl was a successful physiatrist, who helped thousands of people Jewish and German alike. Once becoming imprisoned he found it difficult to run away from the ‘easy way out’. Little scraps of hope, including pieces of his stolen manuscript, help Frankl to hold onto life. He also manages to give speeches to the other prisoners on the idea that faith and hope will drag them to eventual freedom. Many of the prisoners thank him for this as, not much else gave them a lot of hope inside the camps.
Nazi officials were successful in stripping away the rights and moral values of the Jewish prisoners. In this way they were like an onion whose layers were peeled away, slowly, one by one until all that was left was the basic and raw core of their humanity. The first night Frankl spent in Auschwitz he was treated like an animal, as he was forced to sleep “directly on boards” with “nine men a bunk” (Frankl, 17). Not only that, but the beds were also ridden with lice and human feces. Being a realist Frankl manages to find the good and bad in most situations. While he was forced to sleep in such deplorable conditions he points out that the prisoners did manage to keep each other warm because they slept so closely together. Nazis gave the prisoners living conditions that were worse than those many animals had to live in. Cows lived in better conditions than...
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