Updated: May 30, 2018
By: Kevin Pollard
It is winter. The temperature outside is about 0 degrees Fahrenheit, not including the wind chill factor. You are awakened at the crack of dawn, lying on a wooden crate in a rundown hut. You are then herded, barefoot and in dirty rags, through miles of snow to a worksite where you are forced to dig trenches on your hands and knees. If you stop working, even for a second to catch your breath, you risk being beaten by the butt of a rifle. When the sun goes down and the “work day” is over, you are marched back to the hut where you are given a piece of bread and some runny soup for dinner.
How long could you survive? How could a man withstand this type of physical and psychological abuse and live?
“The Search For Meaning” by Dr. Viktor Frankl is a horrifying memoir about man’s will to survive during one of the worst atrocities known to human history: the holocaust. Not only did Frankl survive, he has since become a world-renowned psychologist on a practice he developed through these experiences. Essentially, logotherapy is the theory that human nature is motivated by the search for a life purpose. In the book, Frankl discusses the battle between man and circumstance as he brings insight to the horrors of the internment camps.
The book describes the Nazi death camps on such a personal level that I found myself occasionally stopping to remind myself that this was not a work of fiction, but nightmarish fact. Frankl’s firsthand accounts provide a glimpse into the psyche of man when he is pushed to his ultimate limits.
Although the book is full of these horrible events and illustrations of human decay and degradation, the book itself is layered with lessons and undertones of Frankl’s theory. The book leaves the reader shocked at the recounting of events while simultaneously motivated by the survivor’s reactions, mentality and underlying psychology.
In one story, he recounts a particularly brutal morning with the wind howling, pain rushing through his body and guards screaming commands. For a few moments, he could see death and wondered if he would be able to continue. It was in this moment he was able to shift his consciousness deep within his mind and make the physical torture fade away.
How did he do this?
By “talking” to his wife.
He would ask her questions and she would answer. He imagined her so powerfully he could feel her there with him. In the physical realm, he had no idea where she was or if she was even alive, but by harnessing the love he had for her, he was able to escape the torment and raise his spirits enough to survive.
This book has made me incredibly thankful for the blessings I take for granted in my life. Stories like Dr. Frankl’s are so important to keep things in check and remember just how lucky we are. This book has forced me to stop, look around and take inventory of the things I am truly blessed to have. The simple pleasures of a warm bed, a good meal or even just a place to be alone are truly worth their weight in gold.
If you are looking for something to move you and help you see the beauty around you, look no further than “The Search For Meaning”.
Logotherapy: the theory founded on the belief that human nature is motivated by the search for a life purpose