November 25, 2012
Keeping Hope and Faith
In Viktor Frankl’s book, Man’s Search for Meaning, Frankl writes of his experiences in a concentration camp during the Holocaust. Frankl tells his story by including vivid details of the camp itself, the other prisoners, and the guards. Not only does he write of the physical aspects, but of all the mental battles that went on inside of his and other prisoner’s minds. Optimism, hope, and strong religion are some reoccurring themes throughout Frankl’s book. These same themes were discussed thoroughly and frequently in class as they are in most philosophy classes.
Frankl believed that if a prisoner gave up hope in the concentration camp then that prisoner would not survive. Cigarettes were a reward to the prisoners for doing various jobs around the camps. The cigarettes were traded for more food so the prisoners knew that “when [they] saw a comrade smoking his own cigarettes, [they] knew he had given up faith in his strength the carry on… (Frankl 21-22). Frankl noticed that once someone had given up his will to live, then those people hardly ever regained that will.
When Frankl and the other prisoners were arriving by train to the concentration camp, many of them were relieved that they were not going to Auschwitz. When the prisoners finally reached their camp, they got “the illusion that [they] might reprieved at the very last moment,” meaning that they might be spared from the awful things that were to happen in the future (Frankl 23). In the beginning of their experiences in the concentration camp, the prisoners, including Frankl, lived and survived, hoping to be Sandoval 2
reprieved at any time. This idea of being reprieved helped the prisoners believe that things would not be so bad, and that they all would survive and live when the war was all over.
After living in the horrible conditions for a while, almost all the prisoners “thought of suicide…if only for a brief time,” (Frankl 31). The people constantly feared death and torture and most were depressed, so depression seemed like a way to end their misery. Frankl compares the thoughts of prisoners in his camp and the prisoners in Auschwitz. The prisoners in Auschwitz “did not fear death,” as “even the gas chambers lost their horrors for him after the first few days…” (Frankl 31). The ones who did result to suicide, according to Frankl, had given up all hope in surviving. The prisoners were told to not fear death but to keep their faith and their hopes up. The presence of hope in desperate situations allows prisoners, even today, to survive from day to day. Without the hope that some of the prisoners had they would not have had the mental strength to fight through the hardships and live. The prisoners in the concentration camps, just as prisoners in jails do today, looked at the miserable moments in their lives and knew that the torture did not define who they were. They simply had to look and hope for the good times that would soon come to them. In order to survive, the prisoners had to believe that something good was going to come after all this torture and pain. After a few days being in the concentration camp, Frankl described his state of mind as the “phase of apathy,” (Frankl 33). During this phase a person had reached a type of emotional death, in which, he/she did not care for anything anymore and nothing seemed to bother him that once did. At the beginning of this experience, prisoners would look away when other prisoners were begin tortured, but after a few days living in the concentration Sandoval 3
camp, the ones that once turned away, “could not avert his eyes any more,” (Frankl 34). The prisoners became emotionless as the days passed and this became evident when a fellow prisoner died. Once a prisoner had died, men raced towards the corpse to see what clothing, remnants of food, or shoes they could take before the body was taken away. Everything on...