April 10, 2000
Viktor Frankl and Existentialism
Viktor Frankl, psychiatrist and concentration camp survivor, is the man credited with “translating existential philosophy to practical reality” (Kottler and Brown, 2000). Frankl was born in Vienna, Austria, in 1905. He studied neurology and psychiatry at the University of Vienna, and in 1940 became director of the Neurological Department of the Rothschild Hospital in Vienna. Before the outbreak of World War II, Frankl had the chance to go to America. He decided to stay in Vienna instead because of something his father had recovered from a synagogue recently destroyed by the Nazis--a block of marble bearing the first letters of the Commandment “Honor thy father and mother that thy days may be long upon the land.” Frankl and his family were sent to Auschwitz in 1942. Frankl was the only one to survive (Scully, 1995). It was in Auschwitz that Frankl began to put together his existentialist ideas. He noticed that those prisoners who created personal meaning from this hellish experience were the ones most likely to survive. Frankl himself came to realize that “suffering is an ineradicable part of life, even as fate and death. Without suffering and death human life cannot be complete” (Frankl, 1946). In 1946 he published Man’s Search for Meaning, a book titled From Concentration Camp to Existentialism in its German editions. Frankl’s goal for the book is simple: “I had wanted simply to convey to the reader by way of concrete example that life holds potential meaning under any conditions, even the most miserable ones. And I thought that if the point were demonstrated in a situation as extreme as that in a concentration camp, my book might gain a hearing. I therefore felt responsible for writing down what I had gone through, for I thought it might be helpful to people who are prone to despair” (Frankl, 1946). Frankl continued to work with...