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Man’s Search for Meaning

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Fourth Edition

Viktor E. Frankl

With more than 4 million copies in print in the English language alone, Man’s
Search for Meaning, the chilling yet inspirational story of Viktor Frankl’s
struggle to hold on to hope during his three years as a prisoner in Nazi
concentration camps, is a true classic. Beacon Press is now pleased to
present a special gift edition of a work that was hailed in 1959 by Carl Rogers
as “one of the outstanding contributions to psychological thought in the last
fifty years.” Frankl’s training as a psychiatrist informed every waking
moment of his ordeal and allowed him a remarkable perspective on the
psychology of survival. His assertion that “the will to meaning” is the basic
motivation for human life has forever changed the way we understand our
humanity in the face of suffering.



Beacon Press 25 Beacon Street
Boston, Massachusetts 02108-2892
Beacon Press books
are published under the auspices of
the Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations.
© 1959, 1962, 1984, 1992 by Viktor E. Frankl
All rights reserved
Printed in the United States of America First published in German in 1946 under the title
Ein Psycholog erlebt das Konzentrationslager. Original English title was From Death-Camp to Existentialism.
05 04 03 02 01

Library of Congress Cataloguing-in-Publication Data
Frankl, Viktor Emil.
[Ein Psycholog erlebt das Konzentrationslager. English]
Man’s search for meaning: an introduction to logotherapy /
Viktor E. Frankl; part one translated by Use Lasch; preface by
Gordon W. Allport. — 4th ed.
p. cm. Includes bibliographical references (p. ).
ISBN 0-8070-1426-5 (cloth) 1. Frankl, Viktor Emil. 2. Holocaust, Jewish (1939—1945)—
Personal narratives. 3. Holocaust, Jewish (1939-1945)—
Psychological aspects. 4. Psychologists—Austria—Biography.
5. Logotherapy. I. Title.
D810J4F72713 1992
i5o.ig’5—dc2o 92-21055


by Gordon W. Allport, Preface to the 1992 Edition II

Experiences in a Concentration Camp

Logotherapy in a Nutshell

The Case for a Tragic Optimism

Selected English Language Bibliography of Logotherapy

About the Author


Dr. Frankl, author-psychiatrist, sometimes asks his patients who suffer from a multitude of
torments great and small, “Why do you not commit suicide?” From their answers he can often find
the guide-line for his psycho-therapy: in one life there is love for one’s children to tie to; in another
life, a talent to be used; in a third, perhaps only lingering memories worth preserving. To weave
these slender threads of a broken life into a firm pattern of meaning and responsibility is the object
and challenge of logo-therapy, which is Dr. Frankl’s own version of modern existential analysis.
In this book, Dr. Frankl explains the experience which led to his discovery of logotherapy. As a long-
time prisoner in bestial concentration camps he found himself stripped to naked existence. His
father, mother, brother, and his wife died in camps or were sent to the gas ovens, so that, excepting
for his sister, his entire family perished in these camps. How could he—every possession lost, every
value destroyed, suffering from hunger, cold and brutality, hourly expecting extermination—how
could he find life worth preserving? A psychiatrist who personally has faced such extremity is a
psychiatrist worth listening to. He, if anyone, should be able to view our human condition wisely and
with compassion. Dr. Frankl’s words have a profoundly honest ring, for they rest on experiences too
deep for deception. What he has to say gains in prestige because of his present position on the
Medical Faculty of the University of Vienna and because of the renown of the logotherapy clinics
that today are springing up in many lands, patterned on his own famous Neurological Policlinic in

One cannot help but compare Viktor Frankl’s approach to theory and therapy with the work of his
predecessor, Sigmund Freud. Both physicians concern themselves primarily with the nature and cure
of neuroses. Freud finds the root of these distressing disorders in the anxiety caused by conflicting
and unconscious motives. Frankl distinguishes several forms of neurosis, and traces some of them
(the noogenic neuroses) to the failure of the sufferer to find meaning and a sense of responsibility in
his existence. Freud stresses frustration in the sexual life; Frankl, frustration in the “will-to-meaning.”
In Europe today there is a marked turning away from Freud and a widespread embracing of
existential analysis, which takes several related forms—the school of logotherapy being one. It is
characteristic of Frankl’s tolerant outlook that he does not repudiate Freud, but builds gladly on his
contributions; nor does he quarrel with other forms of existential therapy, but welcomes kinship
with them.

The present narrative, brief though it is, is artfully constructed and gripping. On two occasions I have
read it through at a single sitting, unable to break away from its spell. Somewhere beyond the
midpoint of the story Dr. Frankl introduces his own philosophy of logotherapy. He introduces it so
gently into the continuing narrative that only after finishing the book does the reader realize that
here is an essay of profound depth, and not just one more brutal tale of concentration camps.
From this autobiographical fragment the reader learns much. He learns what a human being does
when he suddenly realizes he has “nothing to lose except his so ridiculously naked life.” Frankl’s
description of the mixed flow of emotion and apathy is arresting. First to the rescue comes a cold
detached curiosity concerning one’s fate. Swiftly, too, come strategies to preserve the remnants of
one’s life, though the chances of surviving are slight. Hunger, humiliation, fear and deep anger at
injustice are rendered tolerable by closely guarded images of beloved persons, by religion, by a grim
sense of humour, and even by glimpses of the healing beauties of nature—a tree or a sunset.
But these moments of comfort do not establish the will to live unless they help the prisoner make
larger sense out of his apparently senseless suffering. It is here that we encounter the central theme
of existentialism: to live is to suffer, to survive is to find meaning in the suffering. If there is a
purpose in life at all, there must be a purpose in suffering and in dying. But no man can tell another
what this purpose is. Each must find out for himself, and must accept the responsibility that his

answer prescribes. If he succeeds he will continue to grow in spite of all indignities. Frankl is fond of
quoting Nietzsche, “He who has a why to live can bear with almost any how.”

In the concentration camp every circumstance conspires to make the prisoner lose his hold. All the
familiar goals in life are snatched away. What alone remains is “the last of human freedoms”—the
ability to “choose one’s attitude in a given set of circumstances.” This ultimate freedom, recognized
by the ancient Stoics as well as by modern existentialists, takes on vivid significance in Frankl’s story.
The prisoners were only average men, but some, at least, by choosing to be “worthy of their
suffering” proved man’s capacity to rise above his outward fate.

As a psychotherapist, the author, of course, wants to know how men can be helped to achieve this
distinctively human capacity. How can one awaken in a patient the feeling that he is responsible to
life for something, however grim his circumstances may be? Frankl gives us a moving account of one
collective therapeutic session he held with his fellow prisoners.

At the publisher’s request Dr. Frankl has added a statement of the basic tenets of logotherapy as
well as a bibliography. Up to now most of the publications of this “Third Viennese School of
Psychotherapy” (the predecessors being the Freudian and Adlerian Schools) have been chiefly in
German. The reader will therefore welcome Dr. Frankl’s supplement to his personal narrative.
Unlike many European existentialists, Frankl is neither pessimistic nor antireligious. On the contrary,
for a writer who faces fully the ubiquity of suffering and the forces of evil, he takes a surprisingly
hopeful view of man’s capacity to transcend his predicament and discover an adequate guiding

I recommend this little book heartily, for it is a gem of dramatic narrative, focused upon the deepest
of human problems. It has literary and philosophical merit and provides a compelling introduction to
the most significant psychological movement of our day.


Gordon W. Allport, formerly a professor of psychology at Harvard University, was one of the foremost writers and teachers
in the field in this hemisphere. He was author of a large number of original works on psychology and was the editor of the
Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology. It is chiefly through the pioneering work of Professor Allport that Dr. Frankl’s
momentous theory was introduced to this country; moreover, it is to his credit that the interest shown here in logotherapy
is growing by leaps and bounds.

Preface to the 1992Edition

This book has now lived to see nearly one hundred printings in English—in addition to having
been published in twenty-one other languages. And the English editions alone have sold more than
three million copies.

These are the dry facts, and they may well be the reason why reporters of American newspapers and
particularly of American TV stations more often than not start their interviews, after listing these
facts, by exclaiming: “Dr. Frankl, your book has become a true bestseller—how do you feel about
such a success?” Whereupon I react by reporting that in the first place I do not at all see in the
bestseller status of my book an achievement and accomplishment on my part but rather an
expression of the misery of our time: if hundreds of thousands of people reach out for a book whose
very title promises to deal with the question of a meaning to life, it must be a question that burns
under their fingernails.

To be sure, something else may have contributed to the impact of the book: its second, theoretical
part (“Logotherapy in a Nutshell”) boils down, as it were, to the lesson one may distil from the first
part, the autobiographical account (“Experiences in a Concentration Camp”), whereas PART ONE
serves as the existential validation of my theories. Thus, both parts mutually support their credibility.

I had none of this in mind when I wrote the book in 1945. And I did so within nine successive days
and with the firm determination that the book should be published anonymously. In fact, the first
printing of the original German version does not show my name on the cover, though at the last
moment, just before the book’s initial publication, I did finally give in to my friends who had urged
me to let it be published with my name at least on the title page. At first, however, it had been
written with the absolute conviction that, as an anonymous opus, it could never earn its author
literary fame. I had wanted simply to convey to the reader by way of a concrete example that life
holds a 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.

And so it is both strange and remarkable to me that— among some dozens of books I have
authored—precisely this one, which I had intended to be published anonymously so that it could
never build up any reputation on the part of the author, did become a success. Again and again I
therefore admonish my students both in Europe and in America: “Don’t aim at success—the more
you aim at it and make it a target, the more you are going to miss it. For success, like happiness,
cannot be pursued; it must ensue, and it only does so as the unintended side-effect of one’s
dedication to a cause greater than oneself or as the by-product of one’s surrender to a person other
than oneself. Happiness must happen, and the same holds for success: you have to let it happen by
not caring about it. I want you to listen to what your conscience commands you to do and go on to
carry it out to the best of

your knowledge. Then you will live to see that in the long run—in the long run, I say!—success will
follow you precisely because you had forgotten to think of it.”

The reader may ask me why I did not try to escape what was in store for me after Hitler had
occupied Austria. Let me answer by recalling the following story. Shortly before the United States
entered World War II, I received an invitation to come to the American Consulate in Vienna to pick
up my immigration visa. My old parents were overjoyed because they expected that I would soon be

allowed to leave Austria. I suddenly hesitated, however. The question beset me: could I really afford
to leave my parents alone to face their fate, to be sent, sooner or later, to a concentration camp, or
even to a so-called extermination camp? Where did my responsibility lie? Should I foster my brain
child, logotherapy, by emigrating to fertile soil where I could write my books? Or should I
concentrate on my duties as a real child, the child of my parents who had to do whatever he could to
protect them? I pondered the problem this way and that but could not arrive at a solution; this was
the type of dilemma that made one wish for “a hint from Heaven,” as the phrase goes.

It was then that I noticed a piece of marble lying on a table at home. When I asked my father about
it, he explained that he had found it on the site where the National Socialists had burned down the
largest Viennese synagogue. He had taken the piece home because it was a part of the tablets on
which the Ten Commandments were inscribed. One gilded Hebrew letter was engraved on the
piece; my father explained that this letter stood for one of the Commandments. Eagerly I asked,
“Which one is it?” He answered, “Honour thy father and thy mother that thy days may be long upon
the land.” At that moment I decided to stay with my father and my mother upon the land, and to let
the American visa lapse.


Vienna, 1992


Experiences in a Concentration Camp

THIS BOOK DOES NOT CLAIM TO BE an account of facts and events but of personal experiences,
experiences which millions of prisoners have suffered time and again. It is the inside story of a
concentration camp, told by one of its survivors. This tale is not concerned with the great horrors,
which have already been described often enough (though less often believed), but with the
multitude of small torments. In other words, it will try to answer this question: How was everyday
life in a concentration camp reflected in the mind of the average prisoner?

Most of the events described here did not take place in the large and famous camps, but in the small
ones where most of the real extermination took place. This story is not about the suffering and
death of great heroes and martyrs, nor is it about the prominent Capos—prisoners who acted as
trustees, having special privileges—or well-known prisoners. Thus it is not so much concerned with
the sufferings of the mighty, but with the sacrifices, the crucifixion and the deaths of the great army
of unknown and unrecorded victims. It was these common prisoners, who bore no distinguishing
marks on their sleeves, whom the Capos really despised. While these ordinary prisoners had little or
nothing to eat, the Capos were never hungry; in fact many of the Capos fared better in the camp
than they had in their entire lives. Often they were harder on the prisoners than were the guards,
and beat them more cruelly than the SS men did. These Capos, of course, were chosen only from
those prisoners whose characters promised to make them suitable for such procedures, and if they
did not comply with what was expected of them, they were immediately demoted. They soon
became much like the SS men and the camp wardens and may be judged on a similar psychological

It is easy for the outsider to get the wrong conception of camp life, a conception mingled with
sentiment and pity. Little does he know of the hard fight for existence which raged among the
prisoners. This was an unrelenting struggle for daily bread and for life itself, for one’s own sake or for
that of a good friend.

Let us take the case of a transport which was officially announced to transfer a certain number of
prisoners to another camp; but it was a fairly safe guess that its final destination would be the gas
chambers. A selection of sick or feeble prisoners incapable of work would be sent to one of the big
central camps which were fitted with gas chambers and crematoriums. The selection process was
the signal for a free fight among all the prisoners, or of group against group. All that mattered was
that one’s own name and that of one’s friend were crossed off the list of victims, though everyone
knew that for each man saved another victim had to be found.

A definite number of prisoners had to go with each transport. It did not really matter which, since
each of them was nothing but a number. On their admission to the camp (at least this was the
method in Auschwitz) all their documents had been taken from them, together with their other
possessions. Each prisoner, therefore, had had an opportunity to claim a fictitious name or
profession; and for various reasons many did this. The authorities were interested only in the
captives’ numbers. These numbers were often tattooed on their skin, and also had to be sewn to a
certain spot on the trousers, jacket, or coat. Any guard who wanted to make a charge against a
prisoner just glanced at his number (and how we dreaded such glances!); he never asked for his

To return to the convoy about to depart. There was neither time nor desire to consider moral or
ethical issues. Every man was controlled by one thought only: to keep himself alive for the family
waiting for him at home, and to save his friends. With no hesitation, therefore, he would arrange for
another prisoner, another “number,” to take his place in the transport.

As I have already mentioned, the process of selecting Capos was a negative one; only the most
brutal of the prisoners were chosen for this job (although there were some happy exceptions). But
apart from the selection of Capos which was undertaken by the SS, there was a sort of self-selecting
process going on the whole time among all of the prisoners. On the average, only those prisoners
could keep alive who, after years of trekking from camp to camp, had lost all scruples in their fight
for existence; they were prepared to use every means, honest and otherwise, even brutal force,
theft, and betrayal of their friends, in order to save themselves. We who have come back, by the aid
of many lucky chances or miracles—whatever one may choose to call them—we know: the best of
us did not return.

Many factual accounts about concentration camps are already on record. Here, facts will be
significant only as far as they are part of a man’s experiences. It is the exact nature of these
experiences that the following essay will attempt to describe. For those who have been inmates in a
camp, it will attempt to explain their experiences in the light of present-day knowledge. And for
those who have never been inside, it may help them to comprehend, and above all to understand,
the experiences of that only too small percentage of prisoners who survived and who now find life
very difficult. These former prisoners often say, “We dislike talking about our experiences. No
explanations are needed for those who have been inside, and the others will understand neither
how we felt then nor how we feel now.”

To attempt a methodical presentation of the subject is very difficult, as psychology requires a certain
scientific detachment. But does a man who makes his observations while he himself is a prisoner
possess the necessary detachment? Such detachment is granted to the outsider, but he is too far
removed to make any statements of real value. Only the man inside knows. His judgments may not
be objective; his evaluations may be out of proportion. This is inevitable. An attempt must be made
to avoid any personal bias, and that is the real difficulty of a book of this kind. At times it will be
necessary to have the courage to tell of very intimate experiences. I had intended to write this book
anonymously, using my prison number only. But when the manuscript was completed, I saw that as
an anonymous publication it would lose half its value, and that I must have the courage to state my
convictions openly. I therefore refrained from deleting any of the passages, in spite of an intense
dislike of exhibitionism.

I shall leave it to others to distil the contents of this book into dry theories. These might become a
contribution to the psychology of prison life, which was investigated after the First World War, and
which acquainted us with the syndrome of “barbed wire sickness.” We are indebted to the Second
World War for enriching our knowledge of the “psychopathology of the masses,” (if I may quote a
variation of the well-known phrase and title of a book by LeBon), for the war gave us the war of
nerves and it gave us the concentration camp.

As this story is about my experiences as an ordinary prisoner, it is important that I mention, not
without pride, that I was not employed as a psychiatrist in camp, or even as a doctor, except for the
last few weeks. A few of my colleagues were lucky enough to be employed in poorly heated first-aid
posts applying bandages made of scraps of waste paper. But I was Number 119,104, and most of the
time I was digging and laying tracks for railway lines. At one time, my job was to dig a tunnel,
without help, for a water main under a road. This feat did not go unrewarded; just before Christmas
1944, I was presented with a gift of so-called “premium coupons.” These were issued by the

construction firm to which we were practically sold as slaves: the firm paid the camp authorities a
fixed price per day, per prisoner. The coupons cost the firm fifty pfennigs each and could be
exchanged for six cigarettes, often weeks later, although they sometimes lost their validity. I became
the proud owner of a token worth twelve cigarettes. But more important, the cigarettes could be
exchanged for twelve soups, and twelve soups were often a very real respite from starvation.

The privilege of actually smoking cigarettes was reserved for the Capo, who had his assured quota of
weekly coupons; or possibly for a prisoner who worked as a foreman in a warehouse or workshop
and received a few cigarettes in exchange for doing dangerous jobs. The only exceptions to this were
those who had lost the will to live and wanted to “enjoy” their last days. Thus, when we saw a
comrade smoking his own cigarettes, we knew he had given up faith in his strength to carry on, and,
once lost, the will to live seldom returned.

When one examines the vast amount of material which has been amassed as the result of many
prisoners’ observations and experiences, three phases of the inmate’s mental reactions to camp life
become apparent: the period following his admission; the period when he is well entrenched in
camp routine; and the period following his release and liberation.

The symptom that characterizes the first phase is shock. Under certain conditions shock may even
precede the prisoner’s formal admission to the camp. I shall give as an example the circumstances of
my own admission.

Fifteen hundred persons had been travelling by train for several days and nights: there were eighty
people in each coach. All had to lie on top of their luggage, the few remnants of their personal
possessions. The carriages were so full that only the top parts of the windows were free to let in the
grey of dawn. Everyone expected the train to head for some munitions factory, in which we would
be employed as forced labour. We did not know whether we were still in Silesia or already in Poland.
The engine’s whistle had an uncanny sound, like a cry for help sent out in commiseration for the
unhappy load which it was destined to lead into perdition. Then the train shunted, obviously nearing
a main station. Suddenly a cry broke from the ranks of the anxious passengers, “There is a sign,
Auschwitz!” Everyone’s heart missed a beat at that moment. Auschwitz—the very name stood for all
that was horrible: gas chambers, crematoriums, massacres. Slowly, almost hesitatingly, the train
moved on as if it wanted to spare its passengers the dreadful realization as long as possible:

With the progressive dawn, the outlines of an immense camp became visible: long stretches of
several rows of barbed wire fences; watch towers; search lights; and long columns of ragged human
figures, grey in the greyness of dawn, trekking along the straight desolate roads, to what destination
we did not know. There were isolated shouts and whistles of command. We did not know their
meaning. My imagination led me to see gallows with people dangling on them. I was horrified, but
this was just as well, because step by step we had to become accustomed to a terrible and immense

Eventually we moved into the station. The initial silence was interrupted by shouted commands. We
were to hear those rough, shrill tones from then on, over and over again in all the camps. Their
sound was almost like the last cry of a victim, and yet there was a difference. It had a rasping
hoarseness, as if it came from the throat of a man who had to keep shouting like that, a man who
was being murdered again and again. The carriage doors were flung open and a small detachment of
prisoners stormed inside. They wore striped uniforms, their heads were shaved, but they looked well
fed. They spoke in every possible European tongue, and all with a certain amount of humour, which
sounded grotesque under the circumstances. Like a drowning man clutching a straw, my inborn

optimism (which has often controlled my feelings even in the most desperate situations) clung to
this thought: These prisoners look quite well, they seem to be in good spirits and even laugh. Who
knows? I might manage to share their favourable position.

In psychiatry there is a certain condition known as “delusion of reprieve.” The condemned man,
immediately before his execution, gets the illusion that he might be reprieved at the very last
minute. We, too, clung to shreds of hope and believed to the last moment that it would not be so
bad. Just the sight of the red cheeks and round faces of those prisoners was a great encouragement.
Little did we know then that they formed a specially chosen elite, who for years had been the
receiving squad for new transports as they rolled into the station day after day. They took charge of
the new arrivals and their luggage, including scarce items and smuggled jewellery. Auschwitz must
have been a strange spot in this Europe of the last years of the war. There must have been unique
treasures of gold and silver, platinum and diamonds, not only in the huge storehouses but also in the
hands of the SS.

Fifteen hundred captives were cooped up in a shed built to accommodate probably two hundred at
the most. We were cold and hungry and there was not enough room for everyone to squat on the
bare ground, let alone to lie down. One five-ounce piece of bread was our only food in four days. Yet
I heard the senior prisoners in charge of the shed bargain with one member of the receiving party
about a tie-pin made of platinum and diamonds. Most of the profits would eventually be traded for
liquor—schnapps. I do not remember any more just how many thousands of marks were needed to
purchase the quantity of schnapps required for a “gay evening,” but I do know that those long-term
prisoners needed schnapps. Under such conditions, who could blame them for trying to dope
themselves? There was another group of prisoners who got liquor supplied in almost unlimited
quantities by the SS: these were the men who were employed in the gas chambers and
crematoriums, and who knew very well that one day they would be relieved by a new shift of men,
and that they would have to leave their enforced role of executioner and become victims

Nearly everyone in our transport lived under the illusion that he would be reprieved, that everything
would yet be well. We did not realize the meaning behind the scene that was to follow presently.
We were told to leave our luggage in the train and to fall into two lines—women on one side, men
on the other—in order to file past a senior SS officer. Surprisingly enough, I had the courage to hide
my haversack under my coat. My line filed past the officer, man by man. I realized that it would be
dangerous if the officer spotted my bag. He would at least knock me down; I knew that from
previous experience. Instinctively, I straightened on approaching the officer, so that he would not
notice my heavy load. Then I was face to face with him. He was a tall man who looked slim and fit in
his spotless uniform. What a contrast to us, who were untidy and grimy after our long journey! He
had assumed an attitude of careless ease, supporting his right elbow with his left hand. His right
hand was lifted, and with the forefinger of that hand he pointed very leisurely to the right or to the
left. None of us had the slightest idea of the sinister meaning behind that little movement of a man’s
finger, pointing now to the right and now to the left, but far more frequently to the left.

It was my turn. Somebody whispered to me that to be sent to the right side would mean work, the
way to the left being for the sick and those incapable of work, who would be sent to a special camp. I
just waited for things to take their course, the first of many such times to come. My haversack
weighed me down a bit to the left, but I made an effort to walk upright. The SS man looked me over,
appeared to hesitate, then put both his hands on my shoulders. I tried very hard to look smart, and
he turned my shoulders very slowly until I faced right, and I moved over to that side.

The significance of the finger game was explained to us in the evening. It was the first selection, the
first verdict made on our existence or non-existence. For the great majority of our transport, about
90 per cent, it meant death. Their sentence was carried out within the next few hours. Those who
were sent to the left were marched from the station straight to the crematorium. This building, as I
was told by someone who worked there, had the word “bath” written over its doors in several
European languages. On entering, each prisoner was handed a piece of soap, and then but mercifully
I do not need to describe the events which followed. Many accounts have been written about this

We who were saved, the minority of our transport, found out the truth in the evening. I inquired
from prisoners who had been there for some time where my colleague and friend P had been sent.
“Was he sent to the left side?”
“Yes,” I replied.
“Then you can see him there,” I was told.
“Where?” A hand pointed to the chimney a few hundred yards off, which was sending a column of
flame up into the grey sky of Poland. It dissolved into a sinister cloud of smoke.
“That’s where your friend is, floating up to Heaven,” was the answer. But I still did not understand
until the truth was explained to me in plain words.

But I am telling things out of their turn. From a psychological point of view, we had a long, long way
in front of us from the break of that dawn at the station until our first night’s rest at the camp.

Escorted by SS guards with loaded guns, we were made to run from the station, past electrically
charged barbed wire, through the camp, to the cleansing station; for those of us who had passed the
first selection, this was a real bath. Again our illusion of reprieve found confirmation. The SS men
seemed almost charming. Soon we found out their reason. They were nice to us as long as they saw
watches on our wrists and could persuade us in well-meaning tones to hand them over. Would we
not have to hand over all our possessions anyway, and why should not that relatively nice person
have the watch? Maybe one day he would do one a good turn.

We waited in a shed which seemed to be the anteroom to the disinfecting chamber. SS men
appeared and spread out blankets into which we had to throw all our possessions, all our watches
and jewellery. There were still naive prisoners among us who asked, to the amusement of the more
seasoned ones who were there as helpers, if they could not keep a wedding ring, a medal or a good-
luck piece. No one could yet grasp the fact that everything would be taken away.

I tried to take one of the old prisoners into my confidence. Approaching him furtively, I pointed to
the roll of paper in the inner pocket of my coat and said, “Look, this is the manuscript of a scientific
book. I know what you will say; that I should be grateful to escape with my life, that that should be
all I can expect of fate. But I cannot help myself. I must keep this manuscript at all costs; it contains
my life’s work. Do you understand that?”

Yes, he was beginning to understand. A grin spread slowly over his face, first piteous, then more
amused, mocking, insulting, until he bellowed one word at me in answer to my question, a word that
was ever present in the vocabulary of the camp inmates: “Shit!” At that moment I saw the plain
truth and did what marked the culminating point of the first phase of my psychological reaction: I
struck out my whole former life.

Suddenly there was a stir among my fellow travellers, who had been standing about with pale,
frightened faces, helplessly debating. Again we heard the hoarsely shouted commands. We were
driven with blows into the immediate anteroom of the bath. There we assembled around an SS man

who waited until we had all arrived. Then he said, “I will give you two minutes, and I shall time you
by my watch. In these two minutes you will get fully undressed and drop everything on the floor
where you are standing. You will take nothing with you except your shoes, your belt or suspenders,
and possibly a truss. I am starting to count— now!”

With unthinkable haste, people tore off their clothes. As the time grew shorter, they became
increasingly nervous and pulled clumsily at their underwear, belts and shoelaces. Then we heard the
first sounds of whipping; leather straps beating down on naked bodies.

Next we were herded into another room to be shaved: not only our heads were shorn, but not a hair
was left on our entire bodies. Then on to the showers, where we lined up again. We hardly
recognized each other; but with great relief some people noted that real water dripped from the

While we were waiting for the shower, our nakedness was brought home to us: we really had
nothing now except our bare bodies—even minus hair; all we possessed, literally, was our naked
existence. What else remained for us as a material link with our former lives? For me there were my
glasses and my belt; the latter I had to exchange later on for a piece of bread. There was an extra bit
of excitement in store for the owners of trusses. In the evening the senior prisoner in charge of our
hut welcomed us with a speech in which he gave us his word of honour that he would hang,
personally, “from that beam”—he pointed to it—any person who had sewn money or precious
stones into his truss. Proudly he explained that as a senior inhabitant the camp laws entitled him to
do so.

Where our shoes were concerned, matters were not so simple. Although we were supposed to keep
them, those who had fairly decent pairs had to give them up after all and were given in exchange
shoes that did not fit. In for real trouble were those prisoners who had followed the apparently well-
meant advice (given in the anteroom) of the senior prisoners and had shortened their jackboots by
cutting the tops off, then smearing soap on the cut edges to hide the sabotage. The SS men seemed
to have waited for just that. All suspected of this crime had to go into a small adjoining room. After a
time we again heard the lashings of the strap, and the screams of tortured men. This time it lasted
for quite a while.

Thus the illusions some of us still held were destroyed one by one, and then, quite unexpectedly,
most of us were overcome by a grim sense of humour. We knew that we had nothing to lose except
our so ridiculously naked lives. When the showers started to run, we all tried very hard to make fun,
both about ourselves and about each other. After all, real water did flow from the sprays!

Apart from that strange kind of humour, another sensation seized us: curiosity. I have experienced
this kind of curiosity before, as a fundamental reaction toward certain strange circumstances. When
my life was once endangered by a climbing accident, I felt only one sensation at the critical moment:
curiosity, curiosity as to whether I should come out of it alive or with a fractured skull or some other

Cold curiosity predominated even in Auschwitz, somehow detaching the mind from its surroundings,
which came to be regarded with a kind of objectivity. At that time one cultivated this state of mind
as a means of protection. We were anxious to know what would happen next; and what would be
the consequence, for example, of our standing in the open air, in the chill of late autumn, stark
naked, and still wet from the showers. In the next few days our curiosity evolved into surprise;
surprise that we did not catch cold.

There were many similar surprises in store for new arrivals. The medical men among us learned first
of all: “Textbooks tell lies!” Somewhere it is said that man cannot exist without sleep for more than a
stated number of hours. Quite wrong! I had been convinced that there were certain things I just
could not do: I could not sleep without this or I could not live with that or the other. The first night in
Auschwitz we slept in beds which were constructed in tiers. On each tier (measuring about six-and-a-
half to eight feet) slept nine men, directly on the boards. Two blankets were shared by each nine
men. We could, of course, lie only on our sides, crowded and huddled against each other, which had
some advantages because of the bitter cold. Though it was forbidden to take shoes up to the bunks,
some people did use them secretly as pillows in spite of the fact that they were caked with mud.
Otherwise one’s head had to rest on the crook of an almost dislocated arm. And yet sleep came and
brought oblivion and relief from pain for a few hours.

I would like to mention a few similar surprises on how much we could endure: we were unable to
clean our teeth, and yet, in spite of that and a severe vitamin deficiency, we had healthier gums than
ever before. We had to wear the same shirts for half a year, until they had lost all appearance of
being shirts. For days we were unable to wash, even partially, because of frozen water-pipes, and yet
the sores and abrasions on hands which were dirty from work in the soil did not suppurate (that is,
unless there was frostbite). Or for instance, a light sleeper, who used to be disturbed by the slightest
noise in the next room, now found himself lying pressed against a comrade who snored loudly a few
inches from his ear and yet slept quite soundly through the noise.

If someone now asked of us the truth of Dostoevsky’s statement that flatly defines man as a being
who can get used to anything, we would reply, “Yes, a man can get used to anything, but do not ask
us how.” But our psychological investigations have not taken us that far yet; neither had we
prisoners reached that point. We were still in the first phase of our psychological reactions.

The thought of suicide was entertained by nearly everyone, if only for a brief time. It was born of the
hopelessness of the situation, the constant danger of death looming over us daily and hourly, and
the closeness of the deaths suffered by many of the others. From personal convictions which will be
mentioned later, I made myself a firm promise, on my first evening in camp, that I would not “run
into the wire.” This was a phrase used in camp to describe the most popular method of suicide—
touching the electrically charged barbed-wire fence. It was not entirely difficult for me to make this
decision. There was little point in committing suicide, since, for the average inmate, life expectation,
calculating objectively and counting all likely chances, was very poor. He could not with any
assurance expect to be among the small percentage of men who survived all the selections. The
prisoner of Auschwitz, in the first phase of shock, did not fear death. Even the gas chambers lost
their horrors for him after the first few days—after all, they spared him the act of committing

Friends whom I have met later have told me that I was not one of those whom the shock of
admission greatly depressed. I only smiled, and quite sincerely, when the following episode occurred
the morning after our first night in Auschwitz. In spite of strict orders not to leave our “blocks,” a
colleague of mine, who had arrived in Auschwitz several weeks previously, smuggled himself into our
hut. He wanted to calm and comfort us and tell us a few things. He had become so thin that at first
we did not recognize him. With a show of good humour and a Devil-may-care attitude he gave us a
few hurried tips: “Don’t be afraid! Don’t fear the selections! Dr. M(the SS medical chief) has a soft
spot for doctors.” (This was wrong; my friend’s kindly words were misleading. One prisoner, the
doctor of a block, of huts and a man of some sixty years, told me how he had entreated Dr. M to let
off his son, who was destined for gas. Dr. M coldly refused.)

“But one thing I beg of you”; he continued, “shave daily, if at all possible, even if you have to use a
piece of glass to do it … even if you have to give your last piece of bread for it. You will look younger
and the scraping will make your cheeks look ruddier. If you want to stay alive, there is only one way:
look fit for work. If you even limp, because, let us say, you have a small blister on your heel, and an
SS man spots this, he will wave you aside and the next day you are sure to be gassed. Do you know
what we mean by a ‘Moslem’? A man who looks miserable, down and out, sick and emaciated, and
who cannot manage hard physical labour any longer . . . that is a ‘Moslem.’ Sooner or later, usually
sooner, every ‘Moslem’ goes to the gas chambers. Therefore, remember: shave, stand and walk
smartly; then you need not be afraid of gas. All of you standing here, even if you have only been
here twenty-four hours, you need not fear gas, except perhaps you.” And then he pointed to me and
said, “I hope you don’t mind my telling you frankly.” To the others he repeated, ” Of all of you he is
the only one who must fear the next selection. So, don’t worry!” And I smiled. I am now convinced
that anyone in my place on that day would have done the same.

I think it was Lessing who once said, “There are things which must cause you to lose your reason or
you have none to lose.” An abnormal reaction to an abnormal situation is normal behaviour. Even
we psychiatrists expect the reactions of a man to an abnormal situation, such as being committed to
an asylum, to be abnormal in proportion to the degree of his normality. The reaction of a man to his
admission to a concentration camp also represents an abnormal state of mind, but judged
objectively it is a normal and, as will be shown later, typical reaction to the given circumstances.
These reactions, as I have described them, began to change in a few days. The prisoner passed from
the first to the second phase; the phase of relative apathy, in which he achieved a kind of emotional

Apart from the already described reactions, the newly arrived prisoner experienced the tortures of
other most painful emotions, all of which he tried to deaden. First of all, there was his boundless
longing for his home and his family. This often could become so acute that he felt himself consumed
by longing. Then there was disgust; disgust with all the ugliness which surrounded him, even in its
mere external forms.

Most of the prisoners were given a uniform of rags which would have made a scarecrow elegant by
comparison. Between the huts in the camp lay pure filth, and the more one worked to clear it away,
the more one had to come in contact with it. It was a favourite practice to detail a new arrival to a
work group whose job was to clean the latrines and remove the sewage. If, as usually happened,
some of the excrement splashed into his face during its transport over bumpy fields, any sign of
disgust by the prisoner or any attempt to wipe off the filth would only be punished with a blow from
a Capo. And thus the mortification of normal reactions was hastened.

At first the prisoner looked away if he saw the punishment parades of another group; he could not
bear to see fellow prisoners march up and down for hours in the mire, their movements directed by
blows. Days or weeks later things changed. Early in the morning, when it was still dark, the prisoner
stood in front of the gate with his detachment, ready to march. He heard a scream and saw how
34 Man’s Search for Meaning

a comrade was knocked down, pulled to his feet again, and knocked down once more—and why? He
was feverish but had reported to sick-bay at an improper time. He was being punished for this
irregular attempt to be relieved of his duties.

But the prisoner who had passed into the second stage of his psychological reactions did not avert
his eyes any more. By then his feelings were blunted, and he watched unmoved. Another example:
he found himself waiting at sickbay, hoping to be granted two days of light work inside the camp

because of injuries or perhaps oedema or fever. He stood unmoved while a twelve-year-old boy was
carried in who had been forced to stand at attention for hours in the snow or to work outside with
bare feet because there were no shoes for him in the camp. His toes had become frostbitten, and
the doctor on duty picked off the black gangrenous stumps with tweezers, one by one. Disgust,
horror and pity are emotions that our spectator could not really feel any more. The sufferers, the
dying and the dead, became such commonplace sights to him after a few weeks of camp life that
they could not move him any more.

I spent some time in a hut for typhus patients who ran very high temperatures and were often
delirious, many of them moribund. After one of them had just died, I watched without any
emotional upset the scene that followed, which was repeated over and over again with each death.
One by one the prisoners approached the still warm body. One grabbed the remains of a messy meal
of potatoes; another decided that the corpse’s wooden shoes were an improvement on his own, and
exchanged them. A third man did the same with the dead man’s coat, and another was glad to be
able to secure some—just imagine!—genuine string.

All this I watched with unconcern. Eventually I asked the “nurse” to remove the body. When he
decided to do so, he took the corpse by its legs, allowing it to drop into the small corridor between
the two rows of boards which were the beds for the fifty typhus patients, and dragged it across the
bumpy earthen floor toward the door. The two steps which led up into the open air always
constituted a problem for us, since we were exhausted from a chronic lack of food. After a few
months’ stay in the camp we could not walk up those steps, which were each about six inches high,
without putting our hands on the door jambs to pull ourselves up.

The man with the corpse approached the steps. Wearily he dragged himself up. Then the body: first
the feet, then the trunk, and finally—with an uncanny rattling noise— the head of the corpse
bumped up the two steps.

My place was on the opposite side of the hut, next to the small, sole window, which was built near
the floor. While my cold hands clasped a bowl of hot soup from which I sipped greedily, I happened
to look out the window. The corpse which had just been removed stared in at me with glazed eyes.
Two hours before I had spoken to that man. Now I continued sipping my soup.

If my lack of emotion had not surprised me from the standpoint of professional interest, I would not
remember this incident now, because there was so little feeling involved in it.

Apathy, the blunting of the emotions and the feeling that one could not care any more, were the
symptoms arising during the second stage of the prisoner’s psychological reactions, and which
eventually made him insensitive to daily and hourly beatings. By means of this insensibility the
prisoner soon surrounded himself with a very necessary protective shell.

Beatings occurred on the slightest provocation, sometimes for no reason at all. For example, bread
was rationed out at our work site and we had to line up for it. Once, the man behind me stood off a
little to one side and that lack of symmetry displeased the SS guard. I did not know what was going
on in the line behind me, nor in the mind of the SS guard, but suddenly I received two sharp blows
on my head. Only then did I spot the guard at my side who was using his stick. At such a moment it is
not the physical pain which hurts the most (and this applies to adults as much as to punished
children); it is the mental agony caused by the injustice, the unreasonableness of it all.

Strangely enough, a blow which does not even find its mark can, under certain circumstances, hurt
more than one that finds its mark. Once I was standing on a railway track in a snowstorm. In spite of

the weather our party had to keep on working. I worked quite hard at mending the track with gravel,
since that was the only way to keep warm. For only one moment I paused to get my breath and to
lean on my shovel. Unfortunately the guard turned around just then and thought I was loafing. The
pain he caused me was not from any insults or any blows. That guard did not think it worth his while
to say anything, not even a swear word, to the ragged, emaciated figure standing before him, which
probably reminded him only vaguely of a human form. Instead, he playfully picked up a stone and
threw it at me. That, to me, seemed the way to attract the attention of a beast, to call a domestic
animal back to its job, a creature with which you have so little in common that you do not even
punish it.

The most painful part of beatings is the insult which they imply. At one time we had to carry some
long, heavy girders over icy tracks. If one man slipped, he endangered not only himself but all the
others who carried the same girder. An old friend of mine had a congenitally dislocated hip. He was
glad to be capable of working in spite of it, since the physically disabled were almost certainly sent to
death when a selection took place. He limped over the track with an especially heavy girder, and
seemed about to fall and drag the others with him. As yet, I was not carrying a girder so I jumped to
his assistance without stopping to think. I was immediately hit on the back, rudely reprimanded and
ordered to return to my place. A few minutes previously the same guard who struck me had told us
deprecatingly that we “pigs” lacked the spirit of comradeship.

Another time, in a forest, with the temperature at 2°F, we began to dig up the topsoil, which was
frozen hard, in order to lay water pipes. By then I had grown rather weak physically. Along came a
foreman with chubby rosy cheeks. His face definitely reminded me of a pig’s head. I noticed that he
wore lovely warm gloves in that bitter cold. For a time he watched me silently. I felt that trouble was
brewing, for in front of me lay the mound of earth which showed exactly how much I had dug.

Then he began: “You pig, I have been watching you the whole time! I’ll teach you to work, yet! Wait
till you dig dirt with your teeth—you’ll die like an animal! In two days I’ll finish you off! You’ve never
done a stroke of work in your life. What were you, swine? A businessman?”

I was past caring. But I had to take his threat of killing me seriously, so I straightened up and looked
him directly in the eye. “I was a doctor—a specialist.”
“What? A doctor? I bet you got a lot of money out of people.”
“As it happens, I did most of my work for no money at all, in clinics for the poor.” But, now, I had said
too much. He threw himself on me and knocked me down, shouting like a madman. I can no longer
remember what he shouted.

I want to show with this apparently trivial story that there are moments when indignation can rouse
even a seemingly hardened prisoner—indignation not about cruelty or pain, but about the insult
connected with it. That time blood rushed to my head because I had to listen to a man judge my life
who had so little idea of it, a man (I must confess: the following remark, which I made to my fellow-
prisoners after the scene, afforded me childish relief) “who looked so vulgar and brutal that the
nurse in the out-patient ward in my hospital would not even have admitted him to the waiting

Fortunately the Capo in my working party was obligated to me; he had taken a liking to me because I
listened to his love stories and matrimonial troubles, which he poured out during the long marches
to our work site. I had made an impression on him with my diagnosis of his character and with my
psychotherapeutic advice. After that he was grateful, and this had already been of value to me. On
several previous occasions he had reserved a place for me next to him in one of the first five rows of
our detachment, which usually consisted of two hundred and eighty men. That favour was

important. We had to line up early in the morning while it was still dark. Everybody was afraid of
being late and of having to stand in the back rows. If men were required for an unpleasant and
disliked job, the senior Capo appeared and usually collected the men he needed from the back rows.
These men had to march away to another, especially dreaded kind of work under the command of
strange guards. Occasionally the senior Capo chose men from the first five rows, just to catch those
who tried to be clever. All protests and entreaties were silenced by a few well-aimed kicks, and the
chosen victims were chased to the meeting place with shouts and blows.

However, as long as my Capo felt the need of pouring out his heart, this could not happen to me. I
had a guaranteed place of honour next to him. But there was another advantage, too. Like nearly all
the camp inmates I was suffering from oedema. My legs were so swollen and the skin on them so
tightly stretched that I could scarcely bend my knees. I had to leave my shoes unlaced in order to
make them fit my swollen feet. There would not have been space for socks even if I had had any. So
my partly bare feet were always wet and my shoes always full of snow. This, of course, caused
frostbite and chilblains. Every single step became real torture. Clumps of ice formed on our shoes
during our marches over snow-covered fields. Over and again men slipped and those following
behind stumbled on top of them. Then the column would stop for a moment, but not for long. One
of the guards soon took action and worked over the men with the butt of his rifle to make them get
up quickly. The more to the front of the column you were, the less often you were disturbed by
having to stop and then to make up for lost time by running on your painful feet. I was very happy to
be the personally appointed physician to His Honour the Capo, and to march in the first row at an
even pace.

As an additional payment for my services, I could be sure that as long as soup was being dealt out at
lunchtime at our work site, he would, when my turn came, dip the ladle right to the bottom of the
vat and fish out a few peas. This Capo, a former army officer, even had the courage to whisper to the
foreman, whom I had quarrelled with, that he knew me to be an unusually good worker. That didn’t
help matters, but he nevertheless managed to save my life (one of the many times it was to be
saved). The day after the episode with the foreman he smuggled me into another work party.

There were foremen who felt sorry for us and who did their best to ease our situation, at least at the
building site. But even they kept on reminding us that an ordinary labourer did several times as
much work as we did, and in a shorter time. But they did see reason if they were told that a normal
workman did not live on 10-1/2 ounces of bread (theoretically—actually we often had less) and 1-
3/4 pints of thin soup per day; that a normal labourer did not live under the mental stress we had to
submit to, not having news of our families, who had either been sent to another camp or gassed
right away; that a normal workman was not threatened by death continuously, daily and hourly. I
even allowed myself to say once to a kindly foreman, “If you could learn from me how to do a brain
operation in as short a time as I am learning this road work from you, I would have great respect for
you.” And he grinned.

I shall never forget how I was roused one night by the groans of a fellow prisoner, who threw himself
about in his sleep, obviously having a horrible nightmare. Since I had always been especially sorry for
people who suffered from fearful dreams or deliria, I wanted to wake the poor man. Suddenly I drew
back the hand which was ready to shake him, frightened at the thing I was about to do. At that
moment I became intensely conscious of the fact that no dream, no matter how horrible, could be as
bad as the reality of the camp which surrounded us, and to which I was about to recall him.
Apathy, the main symptom of the second phase, was a necessary mechanism of self-defence. Reality
dimmed, and all efforts and all emotions were cantered on one task: preserving one’s own life and
that of the other fellow. It was typical to hear the prisoners, while they were being herded back to
camp from their work sites in the evening, sigh with relief and say, “Well, another day is over.”

It can be readily understood that such a state of strain, coupled with the constant necessity of
concentrating on the task of staying alive, forced the prisoner’s inner life down to a primitive level.
Several of my colleagues in camp who were trained in psychoanalysis often spoke of a “regression”
in the camp inmate—a retreat to a more primitive form of mental life. His wishes and desires
became obvious in his dreams.

What did the prisoner dream about most frequently? Of bread, cake, cigarettes, and nice warm
baths. The lack of having these simple desires satisfied led him to seek wish-fulfilment in dreams.

Whether these dreams did any good is another matter; the dreamer had to wake from them to the
reality of camp life, and to the terrible contrast between that and his dream illusions.

Because of the high degree of undernourishment which the prisoners suffered, it was natural that
the desire for food was the major primitive instinct around which mental life cantered. Let us
observe the majority of prisoners when they happened to work near each other and were, for once,
not closely watched. They would immediately start discussing food. One fellow would ask another
working next to him in the ditch what his favourite dishes were. Then they would exchange recipes
and plan the menu for the day when they would have a reunion—the day in a distant future when
they would be liberated and returned home. They would go on and on, picturing it all in detail, until
suddenly a warning was passed down the trench, usually in the form of a special password or
number: “The guard is coming.”

I always regarded the discussions about food as dangerous. Is it not wrong to provoke the organism
with such detailed and affective pictures of delicacies when it has somehow managed to adapt itself
to extremely small rations and low calories? Though it may afford momentary psychological relief, it
is an illusion which physiologically, surely, must not be without danger.

During the later part of our imprisonment, the daily ration consisted of very watery soup given out
once daily, and the usual small bread ration. In addition to that, there was the so-called “extra
allowance,” consisting of three-fourths of an ounce of margarine, or of a slice of poor quality
sausage, or of a little piece of cheese, or a bit of synthetic honey, or a spoonful of watery jam,
varying daily. In calories, this diet was absolutely inadequate, especially taking into consideration our
heavy manual work and our constant exposure to the cold in inadequate clothing. The sick who were
“under special care”—that is, those who were allowed to lie in the huts instead of leaving the camp
for work—-were even worse off.

When the last layers of subcutaneous fat had vanished, and we looked like skeletons disguised with
skin and rags, we could watch our bodies beginning to devour themselves. The organism digested its
own protein, and the muscles disappeared. Then the body had no powers of resistance left. One
after another the members of the little community in our hut died. Each of us could calculate with
fair accuracy whose turn would be next, and when his own would come. After many observations we
knew the symptoms well, which made the correctness of our prognoses quite certain. “He won’t last
long,” or, “This is the next one,” we whispered to each other, and when, during our daily search for
lice, we saw our own naked bodies in the evening, we thought alike: This body here, my body, is
really a corpse already. What has become of me? I am but a small portion of a great mass of human
flesh … of a mass behind barbed wire, crowded into a few earthen huts; a mass of which daily a
certain portion begins to rot because it has become lifeless.

I mentioned above how unavoidable were the thoughts about food and favourite dishes which
forced themselves into the consciousness of the prisoner, whenever he had a moment to spare.
Perhaps it can be understood, then, that even the strongest of us was longing for the time when he

would have fairly good food again, not for the sake of good food itself, but for the sake of knowing
that the sub-human existence, which had made us unable to think of anything other than food,
would at last cease.

Those who have not gone through a similar experience can hardly conceive of the soul-destroying
mental conflict and clashes of will power which a famished man experiences. They can hardly grasp
what it means to stand digging in a trench, listening only for the siren to announce 9:30 or 10:00
A.M.—the half-hour lunch interval—when bread would be rationed out (as long as it was still
available); repeatedly asking the foreman—if he wasn’t a disagreeable fellow—what the time was;
and tenderly touching a piece of bread in one’s coat pocket, first stroking it with frozen gloveless
fingers, then breaking off a crumb and putting it in one’s mouth and finally, with the last bit of will
power, pocketing it again, having promised oneself that morning to hold out till afternoon.

We could hold endless debates on the sense or nonsense of certain methods of dealing with the
small bread ration, which was given out only once daily during the latter part of our confinement.
There were two schools of thought. One was in favour of eating up the ration immediately. This had
the twofold advantage of satisfying the worst hunger pangs for a very short time at least once a day
and of safeguarding against possible theft or loss of the ration. The second group, which held with
dividing the ration up, used different arguments. I finally joined their ranks.

The most ghastly moment of the twenty-four hours of camp life was the awakening, when, at a still
nocturnal hour, the three shrill blows of a whistle tore us pitilessly from our exhausted sleep and
from the longings in our dreams. We then began the tussle with our wet shoes, into which we could
scarcely force our feet, which were sore and swollen with oedema. And there were the usual moans
and groans about petty troubles, such as the snapping of wires which replaced shoelaces. One
morning I heard someone, whom I knew to be brave and dignified, cry like a child because he finally
had to go to the snowy marching grounds in his bare feet, as his shoes were too shrunken for him to
wear. In those ghastly minutes, I found a little bit of comfort; a small piece of bread which I drew out
of my pocket and munched with absorbed delight.

Undernourishment, besides being the cause of the general preoccupation with food, probably also
explains the fact that the sexual urge was generally absent. Apart from the initial effects of shock,
this appears to be the only explanation of a phenomenon which a psychologist was bound to
observe in those all-male camps: that, as opposed to all other strictly male establishments—such as
army barracks—there was little sexual perversion. Even in his dreams the prisoner did not seem to
concern himself with sex, although his frustrated emotions and his finer, higher feelings did find
definite expression in them.

With the majority of the prisoners, the primitive life and the effort of having to concentrate on just
saving one’s skin led to a total disregard of anything not serving that purpose, and explained the
prisoners’ complete lack of sentiment. This was brought home to me on my transfer from Auschwitz
to a camp affiliated with Dachau. The train which carried us—about 2,000 prisoners—passed
through Vienna. At about midnight we passed one of the Viennese railway stations. The track was
going to lead us past the street where I was born, past the house where I had lived many years of my
life, in fact, until I was taken prisoner.

There were fifty of us in the prison car, which had two small, barred peepholes. There was only
enough room for one group to squat on the floor, while the others, who had to stand up for hours,
crowded round the peepholes. Standing on tiptoe and looking past the others’ heads through the
bars of the window, I caught an eerie glimpse of my native town. We all felt more dead than alive,
since we thought that our transport was heading for the camp at Mauthausen and that we had only

one or two weeks to live. I had a distinct feeling that I saw the streets, the squares and the houses of
my childhood with the eyes of a dead man who had come back from another world and was looking
down on a ghostly city.

After hours of delay the train left the station. And there was the street—my street! The young lads
who had a number of years of camp life behind them and for whom such a journey was a great
event stared attentively through the peephole. I began to beg them, to entreat them, to let me
stand in front for one moment only. I tried to explain how much a look through that window meant
to me just then. My request was refused with rudeness and cynicism: “You lived here all those
years? Well, then you have seen quite enough already!”

In general there was also a “cultural hibernation” in the camp. There were two exceptions to this:
politics and religion. Politics were talked about everywhere in camp, almost continuously; the
discussions were based chiefly on rumours, which were snapped up and passed around avidly. The
rumours about the military situation were usually contradictory. They followed one another rapidly
and succeeded only in making a contribution to the war of nerves that was waged in the minds of all
the prisoners. Many times, hopes for a speedy end to the war, which had been fanned by optimistic
rumours, were disappointed. Some men lost all hope, but it was the incorrigible optimists who were
the most irritating companions.

The religious interest of the prisoners, as far and as soon as it developed, was the most sincere
imaginable. The depth and vigour of religious belief often surprised and moved a new arrival. Most
impressive in this connection were improvised prayers or services in the corner of a hut, or in the
darkness of the locked cattle truck in which we were brought back from a distant work site, tired,
hungry and frozen in our ragged clothing.

In the winter and spring of 1945 there was an outbreak of typhus which infected nearly all the
prisoners. The mortality was great among the weak, who had to keep on with their hard work as
long as they possibly could. The quarters for the sick were most inadequate, there were practically
no medicines or attendants. Some of the symptoms of the disease were extremely disagreeable: an
irrepressible aversion to even a scrap of food (which was an additional danger to life) and terrible
attacks of delirium. The worst case of delirium was suffered by a friend of mine who thought that he
was dying and wanted to pray. In his delirium he could not find the words to do so. To avoid these
attacks of delirium, I tried, as did many of the others, to keep awake for most of the night. For hours
I composed speeches in my mind. Eventually I began to reconstruct the manuscript which I had lost
in the disinfection chamber of Auschwitz, and scribbled the key words in shorthand on tiny scraps of

Occasionally a scientific debate developed in camp. Once I witnessed something I had never seen,
even in my normal life, although it lay somewhat near my own professional interests: a spiritualistic
séance. I had been invited to attend by the camp’s chief doctor (also a prisoner), who knew that I
was a specialist in psychiatry. The meeting took place in his small, private room in the sick quarters.
A small circle had gathered, among them, quite illegally, the warrant officer from the sanitation

One man began to invoke the spirits with a kind of prayer. The camp’s clerk sat in front of a blank
sheet of paper, without any conscious intention of writing. During the next ten minutes (after which
time the séance was terminated because of the medium’s failure to conjure the spirits to appear) his
pencil slowly drew lines across the paper, forming quite legibly “VAE V.” It was asserted that the clerk
had never learned Latin and that he had never before heard the words “vae victis”—woe to the
vanquished. In my opinion he must have heard them once in his life, without recollecting them, and

they must have been available to the “spirit” (the spirit of his subconscious mind) at that time, a few
months before our liberation and the end of the war.

In spite of all the enforced physical and mental primitiveness of the life in a concentration camp, it
was possible for spiritual life to deepen. Sensitive people who were used to a rich intellectual life
may have suffered much pain (they were often of a delicate constitution), but the damage to their
inner selves was less. They were able to retreat from their terrible surroundings to a life of inner
riches and spiritual freedom. Only in this way can one explain the apparent paradox that some
prisoners of a less hardy makeup often seemed to survive camp life better than did those of a robust
nature. In order to make myself clear, I am forced to fall back on personal experience. Let me tell
what happened on those early mornings when we had to march to our work site.

There were shouted commands: “Detachment, forward march! Left-2-3-4! Left-2-3-4! Left-2-3-4!
Left-2-3-4! First man about, left and left and left and left! Caps off!” These words sound in my ears
even now. At the order “Caps off!” we passed the gate of the camp, and searchlights were trained
upon us. Whoever did not march smartly got a kick. And worse off was the man who, because of the
cold, had pulled his cap back over his ears before permission was given.

We stumbled on in the darkness, over big stones and through large puddles, along the one road
leading from the camp. The accompanying guards kept shouting at us and driving us with the butts
of their rifles. Anyone with very sore feet supported himself on his neighbour’s arm. Hardly a word
was spoken; the icy wind did not encourage talk. Hiding his mouth behind his upturned collar, the
man marching next to me whispered suddenly: “If our wives could see us now! I do hope they are
better off in their camps and don’t know what is happening to us.”

That brought thoughts of my own wife to mind. And as we stumbled on for miles, slipping on icy
spots, supporting each other time and again, dragging one another up and onward, nothing was
said, but we both knew: each of us was thinking of his wife. Occasionally I looked at the sky, where
the stars were fading and the pink light of the morning was beginning to spread behind a dark bank
of clouds. But my mind clung to my wife’s image, imagining it with an uncanny acuteness. I heard her
answering me, saw her smile, her frank and encouraging look. Real or not, her look was then more
luminous than the sun which was beginning to rise.

A thought transfixed me: for the first time in my life I saw the truth as it is set into song by so many
poets, proclaimed as the final wisdom by so many thinkers. The truth —that love is the ultimate and
the highest goal to which man can aspire. Then I grasped the meaning of the greatest secret that
human poetry and human thought and belief have to impart: The salvation of man is through love
and in love. I understood how a man who has nothing left in this world still may know bliss, be it only
for a brief moment, in the contemplation of his beloved. In a position of utter desolation, when man
cannot express himself in positive action, when his only achievement may consist in enduring his
sufferings in the right way—an honourable way— in such a position man can, through loving
contemplation of the image he carries of his beloved, achieve fulfilment. For the first time in my life I
was able to understand the meaning of the words, “The angels are lost in perpetual contemplation
of an infinite glory.”

In front of me a man stumbled and those following him fell on top of him. The guard rushed over
and used his whip on them all. Thus my thoughts were interrupted for a few minutes. But soon my
soul found its way back from the prisoner’s existence to another world, and I resumed talk with my
loved one: I asked her questions, and she answered; she questioned me in return, and I answered.

“Stop!” We had arrived at our work site. Everybody rushed into the dark hut in the hope of getting a
fairly decent tool. Each prisoner got a spade or a pickaxe.

“Can’t you hurry up, you pigs?” Soon we had resumed the previous day’s positions in the ditch. The
frozen ground cracked under the point of the pickaxes, and sparks flew. The men were silent, their
brains numb.

My mind still clung to the image of my wife. A thought crossed my mind: I didn’t even know if she
were still alive. I knew only one thing—which I have learned well by now: Love goes very far beyond
the physical person of the beloved. It finds its deepest meaning in his spiritual being, his inner self.
Whether or not he is actually present, whether or not he is still alive at all, ceases somehow to be of

I did not know whether my wife was alive, and I had no means of finding out (during all my prison
life there was no outgoing or incoming mail); but at that moment it ceased to matter. There was no
need for me to know; nothing could touch the strength of my love, my thoughts, and the image of
my beloved. Had I known then that my wife was dead, I think that I would still have given myself,
undisturbed by that knowledge, to the contemplation of her image, and that my mental
conversation with her would have been just as vivid and just as satisfying. “Set me like a seal upon
thy heart, love is as strong as death.”

This intensification of inner life helped the prisoner find a refuge from the emptiness, desolation and
spiritual poverty of his existence, by letting him escape into the past. When given free rein, his
imagination played with past events, often not important ones, but minor happenings and trifling
things. His nostalgic memory glorified them and they assumed a strange character. Their world and
their existence seemed very distant and the spirit reached out for them longingly: In my mind I took
bus rides, unlocked the front door of my apartment, answered my telephone, switched on the
electric lights. Our thoughts often cantered on such details, and these memories could move one to

As the inner life of the prisoner tended to become more intense, he also experienced the beauty of
art and nature as never before. Under their influence he sometimes even forgot his own frightful
circumstances. If someone had seen our faces on the journey from Auschwitz to a Bavarian camp as
we beheld the mountains of Salzburg with their summits glowing in the sunset, through the little
barred windows of the prison carriage, he would never have believed that those were the faces of
men who had given up all hope of life and liberty. Despite that factor—or maybe because of it—we
were carried away by nature’s beauty, which we had missed for so long.

In camp, too, a man might draw the attention of a comrade working next to him to a nice view of the
setting sun shining through the tall trees of the Bavarian woods (as in the famous water colour by
Diirer), the same woods in which we had built an enormous, hidden munitions plant. One evening,
when we were already resting on the floor of our hut, dead tired, soup bowls in hand, a fellow
prisoner rushed in and asked us to run out to the assembly grounds and see the wonderful sunset.
Standing outside we saw sinister clouds glowing in the west and the whole sky alive with clouds of
ever-changing shapes and colours, from steel blue to blood red. The desolate grey mud huts
provided a sharp contrast, while the puddles on the muddy ground reflected the glowing sky. Then,
after minutes of moving silence, one prisoner said to another, “How beautiful the world could be!”

Another time we were at work in a trench. The dawn was grey around us; grey was the sky above;
grey the snow in the pale light of dawn; grey the rags in which my fellow prisoners were clad, and
grey their faces. I was again conversing silently with my wife, or perhaps I was struggling to find the

reason for my sufferings, my slow dying. In a last violent protest against the hopelessness of
imminent death, I sensed my spirit piercing through the enveloping gloom. I felt it transcend that
hopeless, meaningless world, and from somewhere I heard a victorious “Yes” in answer to my
question of the existence of an ultimate purpose. At that moment a light was lit in a distant
farmhouse, which stood on the horizon as if painted there, in the midst of the miserable grey of a
dawning morning in Bavaria. “Et lux in tenebris lucet”—and the light shineth in the darkness. For
hours I stood hacking at the icy ground. The guard passed by, insulting me, and once again 1
communed with my beloved. More and more I felt that she was present, that she was with me; I had
the feeling that I was able to touch her, able to stretch out my hand and grasp hers. The feeling was
very strong: she was there. Then, at that very moment, a bird flew down silently and perched just in
front of me, on the heap of soil which I had dug up from the ditch, and looked steadily at me.

Earlier, I mentioned art. Is there such a thing in a concentration camp? It rather depends on what
one chooses to call art. A kind of cabaret was improvised from time to time. A hut was cleared
temporarily, a few wooden benches were pushed or nailed together and a program was drawn up.
In the evening those who had fairly good positions in camp—the Capos and the workers who did not
have to leave camp on distant marches—assembled there. They came to have a few laughs or
perhaps to cry a little; anyway, to forget. There were songs, poems, jokes, some with underlying
satire regarding the camp. All were meant to help us forget, and they did help. The gatherings were
so effective that a few ordinary prisoners went to see the cabaret in spite of their fatigue even
though they missed their daily portion of food by going.

During the half-hour lunch interval when soup (which the contractors paid for and for which they did
not spend much) was ladled out at our work site, we were allowed to assemble in an unfinished
engine room. On entering, everyone got a ladleful of the watery soup. While we sipped it greedily, a
prisoner climbed onto a tub and sang Italian arias. We enjoyed the songs, and he was guaranteed a
double helping of soup, straight “from the bottom”—that meant with peas!

Rewards were given in camp not only for entertainment, but also for applause. I, for example, could
have found protection (how lucky I was never in need of it!) from the camp’s most dreaded Capo,
who for more than one good reason was known as “The Murderous Capo.” This is how it happened.
One evening I had the great honour of being invited again to the room where the spiritualistic
séance had taken place. There were gathered the same intimate friends of the chief doctor and,
most illegally, the warrant officer from the sanitation squad was again present. The Murderous Capo
entered the room by chance, and he was asked to recite one of his poems, which had become
famous (or infamous) in camp. He did not need to be asked twice and quickly produced a kind of
diary from which he began to read samples of his art. I bit my lips till they hurt in order to keep from
laughing at one of his love poems, and very likely that saved my life. Since I was also generous with
my applause, my life might have been saved even had I been detailed to his working party to which I
had previously been assigned for one day—a day that was quite enough for me. It was useful,
anyway, to be known to The Murderous Capo from a favourable angle. So I applauded as hard as I

Generally speaking, of course, any pursuit of art in camp was somewhat grotesque. I would say that
the real impression made by anything connected with art arose only from the ghostlike contrast
between the performance and the background of desolate camp life. I shall never forget how I
awoke from the deep sleep of exhaustion on my second night in Auschwitz—roused by music. The
senior warden of the hut had some kind of celebration in his room, which was near the entrance of
the hut. Tipsy voices bawled some hackneyed tunes. Suddenly there was a silence and into the night
a violin sang a desperately sad tango, an unusual tune not spoiled by frequent playing. The violin
wept and a part of me wept with it, for on that same day someone had a twenty-fourth birthday.

That someone lay in another part of the Auschwitz camp, possibly only a few hundred or a thousand
yards away, and yet completely out of reach. That someone was my wife.

To discover that there was any semblance of art in a concentration camp must be surprise enough
for an outsider, but he may be even more astonished to hear that one could find a sense of humour
there as well; of course, only the faint trace of one, and then only for a few seconds or minutes.
Humour was another of the soul’s weapons in the fight for self-preservation. It is well known that
humour, more than anything else in the human make-up, can afford an aloofness and an ability to
rise above any situation, even if only for a few seconds. I practically trained a friend of mine who
worked next to me on the building site to develop a sense of humour. I suggested to him that we
would promise each other to invent at least one amusing story daily, about some incident that could
happen one day after our liberation. He was a surgeon and had been an assistant on the staff of a
large hospital. So I once tried to get him to smile by describing to him how he would be unable to
lose the habits of camp life when he returned to his former work. On the building site (especially
when the supervisor made his tour of inspection) the foreman encouraged us to work faster by
shouting: “Action! Action!” I told my friend, “One day you will be back in the operating room,
performing a big abdominal operation. Suddenly an orderly will rush in announcing the arrival of the
senior surgeon by shouting, ‘Action! Action!’ ”

Sometimes the other men invented amusing dreams about the future, such as forecasting that
during a future dinner engagement they might forget themselves when the soup was served and beg
the hostess to ladle it “from the bottom.”

The attempt to develop a sense of humour and to see things in a humorous light is some kind of a
trick learned while mastering the art of living. Yet it is possible to practice the art of living even in a
concentration camp, although suffering is omnipresent. To draw an analogy: a man’s suffering is
similar to the behaviour of gas. If a certain quantity of gas is pumped into an empty chamber, it will
fill the chamber completely and evenly, no matter how big the chamber. Thus suffering completely
fills the human soul and conscious mind, no matter whether the suffering is great or little. Therefore
the “size” of human suffering is absolutely relative.

It also follows that a very trifling thing can cause the greatest of joys. Take as an example something
that happened on our journey from Auschwitz to the camp affiliated with Dachau. We had all been
afraid that our transport was heading for the Mauthausen camp. We became more and more tense
as we approached a certain bridge over the Danube which the train would have to cross to reach
Mauthausen, according to the statement of experienced travelling companions. Those who have
never seen anything similar cannot possibly imagine the dance of joy performed in the carriage by
the prisoners when they saw that our transport was not crossing the bridge and was instead heading
“only” for Dachau.

And again, what happened on our arrival in that camp, after a journey lasting two days and three
nights? There had not been enough room for everybody to crouch on the floor of the carriage at the
same time. The majority of us had to stand all the way, while a few took turns at squatting on the
scanty straw which was soaked with human urine. When we arrived the first important news that we
heard from older prisoners was that this comparatively small camp (its population was 2,500) had no
“oven,” no crematorium, no gas! That meant that a person who had become a “Moslem” could not
be taken straight to the gas chamber, but would have to wait until a so-called “sick convoy” had
been arranged to return to Auschwitz. This joyful surprise put us all in a good mood. The wish of the
senior warden of our hut in Auschwitz had come true: we had come, as quickly as possible, to a
camp which did not have a “chimney”—unlike Auschwitz. We laughed and cracked jokes in spite of,
and during, all we had to go through in the next few hours.

When we new arrivals were counted, one of us was missing. So we had to wait outside in the rain
and cold wind until the missing man was found. He was at last discovered in a hut, where he had
fallen asleep from exhaustion. Then the roll call was turned into a punishment parade. All through
the night and late into the next morning, we had to stand outside, frozen and soaked to the skin
after the strain of our long journey. And yet we were all very pleased! There was no chimney in this
camp and Auschwitz was a long way off.

Another time we saw a group of convicts pass our work site. How obvious the relativity of all
suffering appeared to us then! We envied those prisoners their relatively well-regulated, secure and
happy life. They surely had regular opportunities to take baths, we thought sadly. They surely had
toothbrushes and clothesbrushes, mattresses—a separate one for each of them—and monthly mail
bringing them news of the whereabouts of their relatives, or at least of whether they were still alive
or not. We had lost all that a long time ago.

And how we envied those of us who had the opportunity to get into a factory and work in a
sheltered room! It was everyone’s wish to have such a lifesaving piece of luck. The scale of relative
luck extends even further. Even among those detachments outside the camp (in one of which I was a
member) there were some units which were considered worse than others. One could envy a man
who did not have to wade in deep, muddy clay on a steep slope emptying the tubs of a small field
railway for twelve hours daily. Most of the daily accidents occurred on this job, and they were often

In other work parties the foremen maintained an apparently local tradition of dealing out numerous
blows, which made us talk of the relative luck of not being under their command, or perhaps of
being under it only temporarily. Once, by an unlucky chance, I got into such a group. If an air raid
alarm had not interrupted us after two hours (during which time the foreman had worked on me
especially), making it necessary to regroup the workers afterwards, I think that I would have
returned to camp on one of the sledges which carried those who had died or were dying from
exhaustion. No one can imagine the relief that the siren can bring in such a situation; not even a
boxer who has heard the bell signifying the finish of a round and who is thus saved at the last minute
from the danger of a knockout.

We were grateful for the smallest of mercies. We were glad when there was time to delouse before
going to bed, although in itself this was no pleasure, as it meant standing naked in an unheated hut
where icicles hung from the ceiling. But we were thankful if there was no air raid alarm during this
operation and the lights were not switched off. If we could not do the job properly, we were kept
awake half the night.

The meagre pleasures of camp life provided a kind of negative happiness,—”freedom from
suffering,” as Schopenhauer put it—and even that in a relative way only. Real positive pleasures,
even small ones, were very few. I remember drawing up a kind of balance sheet of pleasures one day
and finding that in many, many past weeks I had experienced only two pleasurable moments. One
occurred when, on returning from work, I was admitted to the cook house after a long wait and was
assigned to the line filing up to prisoner-cook F. He stood behind one of the huge pans and ladled
soup into the bowls which were held out to him by the prisoners, who hurriedly filed past. He was
the only cook who did not look at the men whose bowls he was filling; the only cook who dealt out
the soup equally, regardless of recipient, and who did not make favourites of his personal friends or
countrymen, picking out the potatoes for them, while the others got watery soup skimmed from the

But it is not for me to pass judgment on those prisoners who put their own people above everyone
else. Who can throw a stone at a man who favours his friends under circumstances when, sooner or
later, it is a question of life or death? No man should judge unless he asks himself in absolute
honesty whether in a similar situation he might not have done the same.

Long after I had resumed normal life again (that means a long time after my release from camp),
somebody showed me an illustrated weekly with photographs of prisoners lying crowded on their
bunks, staring dully at a visitor. “Isn’t this terrible, the dreadful staring faces—everything about it.”

“Why?” I asked, for I genuinely did not understand. For at that moment I saw it all again: at 5:00 A.M.
it was still pitch dark outside. I was lying on the hard boards in an earthen hut where about seventy
of us were “taken care of.” We were sick and did not have to leave camp for work; we did not have
to go on parade. We could lie all day in our little corner in the hut and doze and wait for the daily
distribution of bread (which, of course, was reduced for the sick) and for the daily helping of soup
(watered down and also decreased in quantity). But how content we were; happy in spite of
everything. While we cowered against each other to avoid any unnecessary loss of warmth, and
were too lazy and disinterested to move a finger unnecessarily, we heard shrill whistles and shouts
from the square where the night shift had just returned and was assembling for roll call. The door
was flung open, and the snowstorm blew into our hut. An exhausted comrade, covered with snow,
stumbled inside to sit down for a few minutes. But the senior warden turned him out again. It was
strictly forbidden to admit a stranger to a hut while a check-up on the men was in progress. How
sorry I was for that fellow and how glad not to be in his skin at that moment, but instead to be sick
and able to doze on in the sick quarters! What a lifesaver it was to have two days there, and perhaps
even two extra days after those!

All this came to my mind when I saw the photographs in the magazine. When I explained, my
listeners understood why I did not find the photograph so terrible: the people shown on it might not
have been so unhappy after all.

On my fourth day in the sick quarters I had just been detailed to the night shift when the chief
doctor rushed in and asked me to volunteer for medical duties in another camp containing typhus
patients. Against the urgent advice of my friends (and despite the fact that almost none of my
colleagues offered their services), I decided to volunteer. I knew that in a working party I would die
in a short time. But if I had to die there might at least be some sense in my death. I thought that it
would doubtless be more to the purpose to try and help my comrades as a doctor than to vegetate
or finally lose my life as the unproductive labourer that I was then.

For me this was simple mathematics, not sacrifice. But secretly, the warrant officer from the
sanitation squad had ordered that the two doctors who had volunteered for the typhus camp should
be “taken care of” till they left. We looked so weak that he feared that he might have two additional
corpses on his hands, rather than two doctors.

I mentioned earlier how everything that was not connected with the immediate task of keeping
oneself and one’s closest friends alive lost its value. Everything was sacrificed to this end. A man’s
character became involved to the point that he was caught in a mental turmoil which threatened all
the values he held and threw them into doubt. Under the influence of a world which no longer
recognized the value of human life and human dignity, which had robbed man of his will and had
made him an object to be exterminated (having planned, however, to make full use of him first—to
the last ounce of his physical resources)— under this influence the personal ego finally suffered a
loss of values. If the man in the concentration camp did not struggle against this in a last effort to
save his self-respect, he lost the feeling of being an individual, a being with a mind, with inner

freedom and personal value. He thought of himself then as only a part of an enormous mass of
people; his existence descended to the level of animal life. The men were herded—sometimes to
one place then to another; sometimes driven together, then apart—like a flock of sheep without a
thought or a will of their own. A small but dangerous pack watched them from all sides, well versed
in methods of torture and sadism. They drove the herd incessantly, backwards and forwards, with
shouts, kicks and blows. And we, the sheep, thought of two things only—how to evade the bad dogs
and how to get a little food.

Just like sheep that crowd timidly into the centre of a herd, each of us tried to get into the middle of
our formations. That gave one a better chance of avoiding the blows of the guards who were
marching on either side and to the front and rear of our column. The central position had the added
advantage of affording protection against the bitter winds. It was, therefore, in an attempt to save
one’s own skin that one literally tried to submerge into the crowd. This was done automatically in
the formations. But at other times it was a very conscious effort on our part—in conformity with one
of the camp’s most imperative laws of self-preservation: Do not be conspicuous. We tried at all
times to avoid attracting the attention of the SS.

There were times, of course, when it was possible, and even necessary, to keep away from the
crowd. It is well known that an enforced community life, in which attention is paid to everything one
does at all times, may result in an irresistible urge to get away, at least for a short while. The
prisoner craved to be alone with himself and his thoughts. He yearned for privacy and for solitude.
After my transportation to a so-called “rest camp,” I had the rare fortune to find solitude for about
five minutes at a time. Behind the earthen hut where I worked and in which were crowded about
fifty delirious patients, there was a quiet spot in a corner of the double fence of barbed wire
surrounding the camp. A tent had been improvised there with a few poles and branches of trees in
order to shelter a half-dozen corpses (the daily death rate in the camp). There was also a shaft
leading to the water pipes. I squatted on the wooden lid of this shaft whenever my services were not
needed. I just sat and looked out at the green flowering slopes and the distant blue hills of the
Bavarian landscape, framed by the meshes of barbed wire. I dreamed longingly, and my thoughts
wandered north and northeast, in the direction of my home, but I could only see clouds.

The corpses near me, crawling with lice, did not bother me. Only the steps of passing guards could
rouse me from my dreams; or perhaps it would be a call to the sick-bay or to collect a newly arrived
supply of medicine for my hut— consisting of perhaps five or ten tablets of aspirin, to last for several
days for fifty patients. I collected them and then did my rounds, feeling the patients’ pulses and
giving half-tablets to the serious cases. But the desperately ill received no medicine. It would not
have helped, and besides, it would have deprived those for whom there was still some hope. For
light cases, I had nothing, except perhaps a word of encouragement. In this way I dragged myself
from patient to patient, though I myself was weak and exhausted from a serious attack of typhus.
Then I went back to my lonely place on the wood cover of the water shaft.

This shaft, incidentally, once saved the lives of three fellow prisoners. Shortly before liberation, mass
transports were organized to go to Dachau, and these three prisoners wisely tried to avoid the trip.
They climbed down the shaft and hid there from the guards. I calmly sat on the lid, looking innocent
and playing a childish game of throwing pebbles at the barbed wire. On spotting me, the guard
hesitated for a moment, but then passed on. Soon I could tell the three men below that the worst
danger was over.

It is very difficult for an outsider to grasp how very little value was placed on human life in camp. The
camp inmate was hardened, but possibly became more conscious of this complete disregard of
human existence when a convoy of sick men was arranged. The emaciated bodies of the sick were

thrown on two-wheeled carts which were drawn by prisoners for many miles, often through
snowstorms, to the next camp. If one of the sick men had died before the cart left, he was thrown
on anyway—the list had to be correct I The list was the only thing that mattered. A man counted
only because he had a prison number. One literally became a number: dead or alive—that was
unimportant; the life of a “number” was completely irrelevant. What stood behind that number and
that life mattered even less: the fate, the history, the name of the man. In the transport of sick
patients that I, in my capacity as a doctor, had to accompany from one camp in Bavaria to another,
there was a young prisoner whose brother was not on the list and therefore would have to be left
behind. The young man begged so long that the camp warden decided to work an exchange, and the
brother took the place of a man who, at the moment, preferred to stay behind. But the list had to be
correct! That was easy. The brother just exchanged numbers with the other prisoner.

As I have mentioned before, we had no documents; everyone was lucky to own his body, which,
after all, was still breathing. All else about us, i.e., the rags hanging from our gaunt skeletons, was
only of interest if we were assigned to a transport of sick patients. The departing “Moslems” were
examined with unabashed curiosity to see whether their coats or shoes were not better than one’s
own. After all, their fates were sealed. But those who stayed behind in camp, who were still capable
of some work, had to make use of every means to improve their chances of survival. They were not
sentimental. The prisoners saw themselves completely dependent on the moods of the guards—
playthings of fate—and this made them even less human than the circumstances warranted.

In Auschwitz I had laid down a rule for myself which proved to be a good one and which most of my
comrades later followed. I generally answered all kinds of questions truthfully. But I was silent about
anything that was not expressly asked for. If I were asked my age, I gave it. If asked about my
profession, I said “doctor,” but did not elaborate. The first morning in Auschwitz an SS officer came
to the parade ground. We had to fall into separate groups of prisoners: over forty years, under forty
years, metal workers, mechanics, and so forth. Then we were examined for ruptures and some
prisoners had to form a new group. The group that I was in was driven to another hut, where we
lined up again. After being sorted out once more and having answered questions as to my age and
profession, I was sent to another small group. Once more we were driven to another hut and
grouped differently. This continued for some time, and I became quite unhappy, finding myself
among strangers who spoke unintelligible foreign languages. Then came the last selection, and I
found myself back in the group that had been with me in the first hut! They had barely noticed that I
had been sent from hut to hut in the meantime. But I was aware that in those few minutes fate had
passed me in many different forms.

When the transport of sick patients for the “rest camp” was organized, my name (that is, my
number) was put on the list, since a few doctors were needed. But no one was convinced that the
destination was really a rest camp. A few weeks previously the same transport had been prepared.
Then, too, everyone had thought that it was destined for the gas ovens. When it was announced
that anyone who volunteered for the dreaded night shift would be taken off the transport list,
eighty-two prisoners volunteered immediately. A quarter of an hour later the transport was
cancelled, but the eighty-two stayed on the list for the night shift. For the majority of them, this
meant death within the next fortnight.

Now the transport for the rest camp was arranged for the second time. Again no one knew whether
this was a ruse to obtain the last bit of work from the sick—if only for fourteen days—or whether it
would go to the gas ovens or to a genuine rest camp. The chief doctor, who had taken a liking to me,
told me furtively one evening at a quarter to ten, “I have made it known in the orderly room that you
can still have your name crossed off the list; you may do so up till ten o’clock.”

I told him that this was not my way; that I had learned to let fate take its course. “I might as well stay
with my friends,” I said. There was a look of pity in his eyes, as if he knew. . . . He shook my hand
silently, as though it were a farewell, not for life, but from life. Slowly I walked back to my hut. There
I found a good friend waiting for me.
“You really want to go with them?” he asked sadly.
“Yes, I am going.”
Tears came to his eyes and I tried to comfort him. Then there was something else to do—to make
my will:
“Listen, Otto, if I don’t get back home to my wife, and if you should see her again, then tell her that I
talked of her daily, hourly. You remember. Secondly, I have loved her more than anyone. Thirdly, the
short time I have been married to her outweighs everything, even all we have gone through here.”
Otto, where are you now? Are you alive? What has happened to you since our last hour together?
Did you find your wife again? And do you remember how I made you learn my will by heart—word
for word—in spite of your childlike tears?

The next morning I departed with the transport. This time it was not a ruse. We were not heading
for the gas chambers, and we actually did go to a rest camp. Those who had pitied me remained in a
camp where famine was to rage even more fiercely than in our new camp. They tried to save
themselves, but they only sealed their own fates. Months later, after liberation, I met a friend from
the old camp. He related to me how he, as camp policeman, had searched for a piece of human flesh
that was missing from a pile of corpses. He confiscated it from a pot in which he found it cooking.
Cannibalism had broken out. I had left just in time.

Does this not bring to mind the story of Death in Teheran? A rich and mighty Persian once walked in
his garden with one of his servants. The servant cried that he had just encountered Death, who had
threatened him. He begged his master to give him his fastest horse so that he could make haste and
flee to Teheran, which he could reach that same evening. The master consented and the servant
galloped off on the horse. On returning to his house the master himself met Death, and questioned
him, “Why did you terrify and threaten my servant?” “I did not threaten him; I only showed surprise
in still finding him here when I planned to meet him tonight in Teheran,” said Death.

The camp inmate was frightened of making decisions and of taking any sort of initiative whatsoever.
This was the result of a strong feeling that fate was one’s master, and that one must not try to
influence it in any way, but instead let it take its own course. In addition, there was a great apathy,
which contributed in no small part to the feelings of the prisoner. At times, lightning decisions had to
be made, decisions which spelled life or death. The prisoner would have preferred to let fate make
the choice for him.

This escape from commitment was most apparent when a prisoner had to make the decision for or
against an escape attempt. In those minutes in which he had to make up his mind—and it was
always a question of minutes—he suffered the tortures of Hell. Should he make the attempt to flee?
Should he take the risk?

I, too, experienced this torment. As the battle-front drew nearer, I had the opportunity to escape. A
colleague of mine who had to visit huts outside the camp in the course of his medical duties wanted
to escape and take me with him. Under the preteens of holding a consultation about a patient
whose illness required a specialist’s advice, he smuggled me out. Outside the camp, a member of a
foreign resistance movement was to supply us with uniforms and documents. At the last moment
there were some technical difficulties and we had to return to camp once more. We used this
opportunity to provide ourselves with provisions —a few rotten potatoes—and to look for a

We broke into an empty hut of the women’s camp, which was vacant, as the women had been sent
to another camp. The hut was in great disorder; it was obvious that many women had acquired
supplies and fled. There were rags, straw, rotting food, and broken crockery. Some bowls were still
in good condition and would have been very valuable to us, but we decided not to take them. We
knew that lately, as conditions had become desperate, they had been used not only for food, but
also as washbasins and chamber pots. (There was a strictly enforced rule against having any kind of
utensil in the hut. However, some people were forced to break this rule, especially the typhus
patients, who were much too weak to go outside even with help.) While I acted as a screen, my
friend broke into the hut and returned shortly with a rucksack which he hid under his coat. He had
seen another one inside which I was to take. So we changed places and I went in. As I searched in
the rubbish, finding the rucksack and even a toothbrush, I suddenly saw, among all the things that
had been left behind, the body of a woman.

I ran back to my hut to collect all my possessions: my food bowl, a pair of torn mittens “inherited”
from a dead typhus patient, and a few scraps of paper covered with shorthand notes (on which, as I
mentioned before, I had started to reconstruct the manuscript which I lost at Auschwitz). I made a
quick last round of my patients, who were lying huddled on the rotten planks of wood on either side
of the huts. I came to my only countryman, who was almost dying, and whose life it had been my
ambition to save in spite of his condition. I had to keep my intention to escape to myself, but my
comrade seemed to guess that something was wrong (perhaps I showed a little nervousness). In a
tired voice he asked me, “You, too, are getting out?” I denied it, but I found it difficult to avoid his
sad look. After my round I returned to him. Again a hopeless look greeted me and somehow I felt it
to be an accusation. The unpleasant feeling that had gripped me as soon as I had told my friend I
would escape with him became more intense. Suddenly I decided to take fate into my own hands for
once. I ran out of the hut and told my friend that I could not go with him. As soon as I had told him
with finality that I had made up my mind to stay with my patients, the unhappy feeling left me. I did
not know what the following days would bring, but I had gained an inward peace that I had never
experienced before. I returned to the hut, sat down on the boards at my countryman’s feet and tried
to comfort him; then I chatted with the others, trying to quiet them in their delirium.

Our last day in camp arrived. As the battle-front came nearer, mass transports had taken nearly all
the prisoners to other camps. The camp authorities, the Capos and the cooks had fled. On this day
an order was given that the camp must be evacuated completely by sunset. Even the few remaining
prisoners (the sick, a few doctors, and some “nurses”) would have to leave. At night, the camp was
to be set on fire. In the afternoon the trucks which were to collect the sick had not yet appeared.
Instead the camp gates were suddenly closed and the barbed wire closely watched, so that no one
could attempt an escape. The remaining prisoners seemed to be destined to burn with the camp. For
the second time my friend and I decided to escape.

We had been given an order to bury three men outside the barbed wire fence. We were the only
two in camp who had strength enough to do the job. Nearly all the others lay in the few huts which
were still in use, prostrate with fever and delirium. We now made our plans: along with the first
body we would smuggle out my friend’s rucksack, hiding it in the old laundry tub which served as a
coffin. When we took out the second body we would also carry out my rucksack, and on the third
trip we intended to make our escape. The first two trips went according to plan. After we returned, I
waited while my friend tried to find a piece of bread so that we would have something to eat during
the next few days in the woods. I waited. Minutes passed. I became more and more impatient as he
did not return. After three years of imprisonment, I was picturing freedom joyously, imagining how
wonderful it would be to run toward the battle-front. But we did not get that far.

The very moment when my friend came back, the camp gate was thrown open. A splendid,
aluminium-coloured car, on which were painted large red crosses, slowly rolled on to the parade
ground. A delegate from the International Red Cross in Geneva had arrived, and the camp and its
inmates were under his protection. The delegate billeted himself in a farmhouse in the vicinity, in
order to be near the camp at all times in case of emergency. Who worried about escape now? Boxes
with medicines were unloaded from the car, cigarettes were distributed, we were photographed and
joy reigned supreme. Now there was no need for us to risk running toward the fighting line.

In our excitement we had forgotten the third body, so we carried it outside and dropped it into the
narrow grave we had dug for the three corpses. The guard who accompanied us—a relatively
inoffensive man—suddenly became quite gentle. He saw that the tables might be turned and tried
to win our goodwill. He joined in the short prayers that we offered for the dead men before
throwing soil over them. After the tension and excitement of the past days and hours, those last
days in our race with death, the words of our prayer asking for peace, were as fervent as any ever
uttered by the human voice.

And so the last day in camp passed in anticipation of freedom. But we had rejoiced too early. The
Red Cross delegate had assured us that an agreement had been signed, and that the camp must not
be evacuated. But that night the SS arrived with trucks and brought an order to clear the camp. The
last remaining prisoners were to be taken to a central camp, from which they would be sent to
Switzerland within forty-eight hours—to be exchanged for some prisoners of war. We scarcely
recognized the SS. They were so friendly, trying to persuade us to get in the trucks without fear,
telling us that we should be grateful for our good luck. Those who were strong enough crowded into
the trucks and the seriously ill and feeble were lifted up with difficulty. My friend and I—we did not
hide our rucksacks now—stood in the last group, from which thirteen would be chosen for the next
to last truck. The chief doctor counted out the requisite number, but he omitted the two of us. The
thirteen were loaded into the truck and we had to stay behind. Surprised, very annoyed and
disappointed, we blamed the chief doctor, who excused himself by saying that he had been tired
and distracted. He said that he had thought we still intended to escape. Impatiently we sat down,
keeping our rucksacks on our backs, and waited with the few remaining prisoners for the last truck.
We had to wait a long time. Finally we lay down on the mattresses of the deserted guard-room,
exhausted by the excitement of the last few hours and days, during which we had fluctuated
continually between hope and despair. We slept in our clothes and shoes, ready for the journey.

The noise of rifles and cannons woke us; the flashes of tracer bullets and gun shots entered the hut.
The chief doctor dashed in and ordered us to take cover on the floor. One prisoner jumped on my
stomach from the bed above me and with his shoes on. That awakened me all right! Then we
grasped what was happening: the battle-front had reached us! The shooting decreased and morning
dawned. Outside on the pole at the camp gate a white flag floated in the wind.

Many weeks later we found out that even in those last hours fate had toyed with us few remaining
prisoners. We found out just how uncertain human decisions are, especially in matters of life and
death. I was confronted with photographs which had been taken in a small camp not far from ours.
Our friends who had thought they were travelling to freedom that night had been taken in the trucks
to this camp, and there they were locked in the huts and burned to death. Their partially charred
bodies were recognizable on the photograph. I thought again of Death in Teheran.

Apart from its role as a defensive mechanism, the prisoners’ apathy was also the result of other
factors. Hunger and lack of sleep contributed to it (as they do in normal life, also) and to the general
irritability which was another characteristic of the prisoners’ mental state. The lack of sleep was due
partly to the pestering of vermin which infested the terribly overcrowded huts because of the

general lack of hygiene and sanitation. The fact that we had neither nicotine nor caffeine also
contributed to the state of apathy and irritability.

Besides these physical causes, there were mental ones, in the form of certain complexes. The
majority of prisoners suffered from a kind of inferiority complex. We all had once been or had
fancied ourselves to be “somebody.” Now we were treated like complete nonentities. (The
consciousness of one’s inner value is anchored in higher, more spiritual things, and cannot be shaken
by camp life. But how many free men, let alone prisoners, possess it?) Without consciously thinking
about it, the average prisoner felt himself utterly degraded. This became obvious when one
observed the contrasts offered by the singular sociological structure of the camp. The more
“prominent” prisoners, the Capos, the cooks, the store-keepers and the camp policemen, did not, as
a rule, feel degraded at all, like the majority of prisoners, but on the contrary—promoted! Some
even developed miniature delusions of grandeur. The mental reaction of the envious and grumbling
majority toward this favoured minority found expression in several ways, sometimes in jokes. For
instance, I heard one prisoner talk to another about a Capo, saying, “Imagine! I knew that man when
he was only the president of a large bank. Isn’t it fortunate that he has risen so far in the world?”

Whenever the degraded majority and the promoted minority came into conflict (and there were
plenty of opportunities for this, starting with the distribution of food) the results were explosive.
Therefore, the general irritability (whose physical causes were discussed above) became most
intense when these mental tensions were added. It is not surprising that this tension often ended in
a general fight. Since the prisoner continually witnessed scenes of beatings, the impulse toward
violence was increased. I myself felt my fists clench when anger came over me while I was famished
and tired. I was usually very tired, since we had to stoke our stove—which we were allowed to keep
in our hut for the typhus patients—throughout the nights. However, some of the most idyllic hours I
have ever spent were in the middle of the night when all the others were delirious or sleeping. I
could lie stretched out in front of the stove and roast a few pilfered potatoes in a fire made from
stolen charcoal. But the following day I always felt even more tired, insensitive and irritable.

While I was working as a doctor in the typhus block, I also had to take the place of the senior block
warden who was ill. Therefore, I was responsible to the camp authority for keeping the hut clean—if
“clean” can be used to describe such a condition. The preteens at inspection to which the hut was
frequently submitted was more for the purpose of torture than of hygiene. More food and a few
drugs would have helped, but the only concern of the inspectors was whether a piece of straw was
left in the centre corridor, or whether the dirty, ragged and verminous blankets of the patients were
tucked in neatly at their feet. As to the fate of the inmates, they were quite unconcerned. If I
reported smartly, whipping my prison cap from my shorn head and clicking my heels, “Hut number
VI/9: 52 patients, two nursing orderlies, and one doctor,” they were satisfied. And then they would
leave. But until they arrived—often they were hours later than announced, and sometimes did not
come at all—I was forced to keep straightening blankets, picking up bits of straw which fell from the
bunks, and shouting at the poor devils who tossed in their beds and threatened to upset all my
efforts at tidiness and cleanliness. Apathy was particularly increased among the feverish patients, so
that they did not react at all unless they were shouted at. Even this failed at times, and then it took
tremendous self-control not to strike them. For one’s own irritability took on enormous proportions
in the face of the other’s apathy and especially in the face of the danger (i.e., the approaching
inspection) which was caused by it.

In attempting this psychological presentation and a psychopathological explanation of the typical
characteristics of a concentration camp inmate, I may give the impression that the human being is
completely and unavoidably influenced by his surroundings. (In this case the surroundings being the
unique structure of camp life, which forced the prisoner to conform his conduct to a certain set

pattern.) But what about human liberty? Is there no spiritual freedom in regard to behaviour and
reaction to any given surroundings? Is that theory true which would have us believe that man is no
more than a product of many conditional and environmental factors—be they of a biological,
psychological or sociological nature? Is man but an accidental product of these? Most important, do
the prisoners’ reactions to the singular world of the concentration camp prove that man cannot
escape the influences of his surroundings? Does man have no choice of action in the face of such

We can answer these questions from experience as well as on principle. The experiences of camp life
show that man does have a choice of action. There were enough examples, often of a heroic nature,
which proved that apathy could be overcome, irritability suppressed. Man can preserve a vestige of
spiritual freedom, of independence of mind, even in such terrible conditions of psychic and physical

We who lived in concentration camps can remember the men who walked through the huts
comforting others, giving away their last piece of bread. They may have been few in number, but
they offer sufficient proof that everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the
human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own

And there were always choices to make. Every day, every hour, offered the opportunity to make a
decision, a decision which determined whether you would or would not submit to those powers
which threatened to rob you of your very self, your inner freedom; which determined whether or
not you would become the plaything of circumstance, renouncing freedom and dignity to become
moulded into the form of the typical inmate.

Seen from this point of view, the mental reactions of the inmates of a concentration camp must
seem more to us than the mere expression of certain physical and sociological conditions. Even
though conditions such as lack of sleep, insufficient food and various mental stresses may suggest
that the inmates were bound to react in certain ways, in the final analysis it becomes clear that the
sort of person the prisoner became was the result of an inner decision, and not the result of camp
influences alone. Fundamentally, therefore, any man can, even under such circumstances, decide
what shall become of him—mentally and spiritually. He may retain his human dignity even in a
concentration camp. Dostoevsky said once, “There is only one thing that I dread: not to be worthy of
my sufferings.” These words frequently came to my mind after I became acquainted with those
martyrs whose behaviour in camp, whose suffering and death, bore witness to the fact that the last
inner freedom cannot be lost. It can be said that they were worthy of their sufferings; the way they
bore their suffering was a genuine inner achievement. It is this spiritual freedom— which cannot be
taken away—that makes life meaningful and purposeful.

An active life serves the purpose of giving man the opportunity to realize values in creative work,
while a passive life of enjoyment affords him the opportunity to obtain fulfilment in experiencing
beauty, art, or nature. But there is also purpose in that life which is almost barren of both creation
and enjoyment and which admits of but one possibility of high moral behaviour: namely, in man’s
attitude to his existence, an existence restricted by external forces. A creative life and a life of
enjoyment are banned to him. But not only creativeness and enjoyment are meaningful. If there is a
meaning in life at all, then there must be a meaning in suffering. Suffering is an ineradicable part of
life, even as fate and death. Without suffering and death human life cannot be complete.

The way in which a man accepts his fate and all the suffering it entails, the way in which he takes up
his cross, gives him ample opportunity—even under the most difficult circumstances—to add a

deeper meaning to his life. It may remain brave, dignified and unselfish. Or in the bitter fight for self-
preservation he may forget his human dignity and become no more than an animal. Here lies the
chance for a man either to make use of or to forgo the opportunities of attaining the moral values
that a difficult situation may afford him. And this decides whether he is worthy of his sufferings or

Do not think that these considerations are unworldly and too far removed from real life. It is true
that only a few people are capable of reaching such high moral standards. Of the prisoners only a
few kept their full inner liberty and obtained those values which their suffering afforded, but even
one such example is sufficient proof that man’s inner strength may raise him above his outward fate.
Such men are not only in concentration camps. Everywhere man is confronted with fate, with the
chance of achieving something through his own suffering.

Take the fate of the sick—especially those who are incurable. I once read a letter written by a young
invalid, in which he told a friend that he had just found out he would not live for long, that even an
operation would be of no help. He wrote further that he remembered a film he had seen in which a
man was portrayed who waited for death in a courageous and dignified way. The boy had thought it
a great accomplishment to meet death so well. Now—he wrote—fate was offering him a similar

Those of us who saw the film called Resurrection—taken from a book by Tolstoy—years ago, may
have had similar thoughts. Here were great destinies and great men. For us, at that time, there was
no great fate; there was no chance to achieve such greatness. After the picture we went to the
nearest cafe, and over a cup of coffee and a sandwich we forgot the strange metaphysical thoughts
which for one moment had crossed our minds. But when we ourselves were confronted with a great
destiny and faced with the decision of meeting it with equal spiritual greatness, by then we had
forgotten our youthful resolutions of long ago, and we failed.

Perhaps there came a day for some of us when we saw the same film again, or a similar one. But by
then other pictures may have simultaneously unrolled before one’s inner eye; pictures of people
who attained much more in their lives than a sentimental film could show. Some details of a
particular man’s inner greatness may have come to one’s mind, like the story of the young woman
whose death I witnessed in a concentration camp. It is a simple story. There is little to tell and it may
sound as if I had invented it; but to me it seems like a poem.

This young woman knew that she would die in the next few days. But when I talked to her she was
cheerful in spite of this knowledge. “I am grateful that fate has hit me so hard,” she told me. “In my
former life I was spoiled and did not take spiritual accomplishments seriously.” Pointing through the
window of the hut, she said, “This tree here is the only friend I have in my loneliness.” Through that
window she could see just one branch of a chestnut tree, and on the branch were two blossoms. “I
often talk to this tree,” she said to me. I was startled and didn’t quite know how to take her words.
Was she delirious? Did she have occasional hallucinations? Anxiously I asked her if the tree replied.
“Yes.” What did it say to her? She answered, “It said to me, ‘I am here—I am here—I am life, eternal
life.’ ”

We have stated that that which was ultimately responsible for the state of the prisoner’s inner self
was not so much the enumerated psychophysical causes as it was the result of a free decision.
Psychological observations of the prisoners have shown that only the men who allowed their inner
hold on their moral and spiritual selves to subside eventually fell victim to the camp’s degenerating
influences. The question now arises, what could, or should, have constituted this “inner hold”?

Former prisoners, when writing or relating their experiences, agree that the most depressing
influence of all was that a prisoner could not know how long his term of imprisonment would be. He
had been given no date for his release. (In our camp it was pointless even to talk about it.) Actually a
prison term was not only uncertain but unlimited. A well-known research psychologist has pointed
out that life in a concentration camp could be called a “provisional existence.” We can add to this by
defining it as a “provisional existence of unknown limit.”

New arrivals usually knew nothing about the conditions at a camp. Those who had come back from
other camps were obliged to keep silent, and from some camps no one had returned. On entering
camp a change took place in the minds of the men. With the end of uncertainty there came the
uncertainty of the end. It was impossible to foresee whether or when, if at all, this form of existence
would end.

The Latin word finis has two meanings: the end or the finish, and a goal to reach. A man who could
not see the end of his “provisional existence” was not able to aim at an ultimate goal in life. He
ceased living for the future, in contrast to a man in normal life. Therefore the whole structure of his
inner life changed; signs of decay set in which we know from other areas of life. The unemployed
worker, for example, is in a similar position. His existence has become provisional and in a certain
sense he cannot live for the future or aim at a goal. Research work done on unemployed miners has
shown that they suffer from a peculiar sort of deformed time—inner time—which is a result of their
unemployed state. Prisoners, too, suffered from this strange “time-experience.” In camp, a small
time unit, a day, for example, filled with hourly tortures and fatigue, appeared endless. A larger time
unit, perhaps a week, seemed to pass very quickly. My comrades agreed when I said that in camp a
day lasted longer than a week. How paradoxical was our time-experience! In this connection we are
reminded of Thomas Mann’s The Magic Mountain, which contains some very pointed psychological
remarks. Mann studies the spiritual development of people who are in an analogous psychological
position, i.e., tuberculosis patients in a sanatorium who also know no date for their release. They
experience a similar existence—without a future and without a goal.
One of the prisoners, who on his arrival marched with a long column of new inmates from the
station to the camp, told me later that he had felt as though he were marching at his own funeral.
His life had seemed to him absolutely without future. He regarded it as over and done, as if he had
already died. This feeling of lifelessness was intensified by other causes: in time, it was the
limitlessness of the term of imprisonment which was most acutely felt; in space, the narrow limits of
the prison. Anything outside the barbed wire became remote—out of reach and, in a way, unreal.
The events and the people outside, all the normal life there, had a ghostly aspect for the prisoner.
The outside life, that is, as much as he could see of it, appeared to him almost as it might have to a
dead man who looked at it from another world.

A man who let himself decline because he could not see any future goal found himself occupied with
retrospective thoughts. In a different connection, we have already spoken of the tendency there was
to look into the past, to help make the present, with all its horrors, less real. But in robbing the
present of its reality there lay a certain danger. It became easy to overlook the opportunities to
make something positive of camp life, opportunities which really did exist. Regarding our
“provisional existence” as unreal was in itself an important factor in causing the prisoners to lose
their hold on life; everything in a way became pointless. Such people forgot that often it is just such
an exceptionally difficult external situation which gives man the opportunity to grow spiritually
beyond himself. Instead of taking the camp’s difficulties as a test of their inner strength, they did not
take their life seriously and despised it as something of no consequence. They preferred to close
their eyes and to live in the past. Life for such people became meaningless.

Naturally only a few people were capable of reaching great spiritual heights. But a few were given
the chance to attain human greatness even through their apparent worldly failure and death, an
accomplishment which in ordinary circumstances they would never have achieved. To the others of
us, the mediocre and the half-hearted, the words of Bismarck could be applied: “Life is like being at
the dentist. You always think that the worst is still to come, and yet it is over already.” Varying this,
we could say that most men in a concentration camp believed that the real opportunities of life had
passed. Yet, in reality, there was an opportunity and a challenge. One could make a victory of those
experiences, turning life into an inner triumph, or one could ignore the challenge and simply
vegetate, as did a majority of the prisoners.

Any attempt at fighting the camp’s psychopathological influence on the prisoner by
psychotherapeutic or psycho-hygienic methods had to aim at giving him inner strength by pointing
out to him a future goal to which he could look forward. Instinctively some of the prisoners
attempted to find one on their own. It is a peculiarity of man that he can only live by looking to the
future— sub specie aeternitatis. And this is his salvation in the most difficult moments of his
existence, although he sometimes has to force his mind to the task.

I remember a personal experience. Almost in tears from pain (I had terrible sores on my feet from
wearing torn shoes), I limped a few kilometres with our long column of men from the camp to our
work site. Very cold, bitter winds struck us. I kept thinking of the endless little problems of our
miserable life. What would there be to eat tonight? If a piece of sausage came as extra ration, should
I exchange it for a piece of bread? Should I trade my last cigarette, which was left from a bonus I
received a fortnight ago, for a bowl of soup? How could I get a piece of wire to replace the fragment
which served as one of my shoelaces? Would I get to our work site in time to join my usual working
party or would I have to join another, which might have a brutal foreman? What could I do to get on
good terms with the Capo, who could help me to obtain work in camp instead of undertaking this
horribly long daily march?

I became disgusted with the state of affairs which compelled me, daily and hourly, to think of only
such trivial things. I forced my thoughts to turn to another subject. Suddenly I saw myself standing
on the platform of a well-lit, warm and pleasant lecture room. In front of me sat an attentive
audience on comfortable upholstered seats. I was giving a lecture on the psychology of the
concentration camp! All that oppressed me at that moment became objective, seen and described
from the remote viewpoint of science. By this method I succeeded somehow in rising above the
situation, above the sufferings of the moment, and I observed them as if they were already of the
past. Both I and my troubles became the object of an interesting psychoscientific study undertaken
by myself. What does Spinoza say in his Ethics?—”Affectus, qui passio est, desinit esse passio
simulatque eius claram et distinctam formamus ideam.” Emotion, which is suffering, ceases to be
suffering as soon as we form a clear and precise picture of it.

The prisoner who had lost faith in the future—his future —was doomed. With his loss of belief in the
future, he also lost his spiritual hold; he let himself decline and became subject to mental and
physical decay. Usually this happened quite suddenly, in the form of a crisis, the symptoms of which
were familiar to the experienced camp inmate. We all feared this moment—not for ourselves, which
would have been pointless, but for our friends. Usually it began with the prisoner refusing one
morning to get dressed and wash or to go out on the parade grounds. No entreaties, no blows, no
threats had any effect. He just lay there, hardly moving. If this crisis was brought about by an illness,
he refused to be taken to the sick-bay or to do anything to help himself. He simply gave up. There he
remained, lying in his own excreta, and nothing bothered him any more.

I once had a dramatic demonstration of the close link between the loss of faith in the future and this
dangerous giving up. F, my senior block warden, a fairly well-known composer and librettist,
confided in me one day: “I would like to tell you something, Doctor. I have had a strange dream. A
voice told me that I could wish for something, that I should only say what I wanted to know, and all
my questions would be answered. What do you think I asked? That I would like to know when the
war would be over for me. You know what I mean, Doctor—for me! I wanted to know when we,
when our camp, would be liberated and our sufferings come to an end.”

“And when did you have this dream?” I asked. “In February, 1945,” he answered. It was then the
beginning of March.
“What did your dream voice answer?” Furtively he whispered to me, “March thirtieth.”
When F told me about his dream, he was still full of hope and convinced that the voice of his dream
would be right. But as the promised day drew nearer, the war news which reached our camp made it
appear very unlikely that we would be free on the promised date. On March twenty-ninth, F
suddenly became ill and ran a high temperature. On March thirtieth, the day his prophecy had told
him that the war and suffering would be over for him, he became delirious and lost consciousness.
On March thirty-first, he was dead. To all outward appearances, he had died of typhus.

Those who know how close the connection is between the state of mind of a man—his courage and
hope, or lack of them—and the state of immunity of his body will understand that the sudden loss of
hope and courage can have a deadly effect. The ultimate cause of my friend’s death was that the
expected liberation did not come and he was severely disappointed. This suddenly lowered his
body’s resistance against the latent typhus infection. His faith in the future and his will to live had
become paralyzed and his body fell victim to illness—and thus the voice of his dream was right after

The observations of this one case and the conclusion drawn from them are in accordance with
something that was drawn to my attention by the chief doctor of our concentration camp. The death
rate in the week between Christmas, 1944, and New Year’s, 1945, increased in camp beyond all
previous experience. In his opinion, the explanation for this increase did not lie in the harder
working conditions or the deterioration of our food supplies or a change of weather or new
epidemics. It was simply that the majority of the prisoners had lived in the naive hope that they
would be home again by Christmas. As the time drew near and there was no encouraging news, the
prisoners lost courage and disappointment overcame them. This had a dangerous influence on their
powers of resistance and a great number of them died.

As we said before, any attempt to restore a man’s inner strength in the camp had first to succeed in
showing him some future goal. Nietzsche’s words, “He who has a why to live for can bear with
almost any how,” could be the guiding motto for all psychotherapeutic and psychohygienic efforts
regarding prisoners. Whenever there was an opportunity for it, one had to give them a why—an
aim—for their lives, in order to strengthen them to bear the terrible how of their existence. Woe to
him who saw no more sense in his life, no aim, no purpose, and therefore no point in carrying on. He
was soon lost. The typical reply with which such a man rejected all encouraging arguments was, “I
have nothing to expect from life any more.” What sort of answer can one give to that?

What was really needed was a fundamental change in our attitude toward life. We had to learn
ourselves and, furthermore, we had to teach the despairing men, that it did not really matter what
we expected from life, but rather what life expected from us. We needed to stop asking about the
meaning of life, and instead to think of ourselves as those who were being questioned by life—daily
and hourly. Our answer must consist, not in talk and meditation, but in right action and in right

conduct. Life ultimately means taking the responsibility to find the right answer to its problems and
to fulfil the tasks which it constantly sets for each individual.

These tasks, and therefore the meaning of life, differ from man to man, and from moment to
moment. Thus it is impossible to define the meaning of life in a general way. Questions about the
meaning of life can never be answered by sweeping statements. “Life” does not mean something
vague, but something very real and concrete, just as life’s tasks are also very real and concrete. They
form man’s destiny, which is different and unique for each individual. No man and no destiny can be
compared with any other man or any other destiny. No situation repeats itself, and each situation
calls for a different response. Sometimes the situation in which a man finds himself may require him
to shape his own fate by action. At other times it is more advantageous for him to make use of an
opportunity for contemplation and to realize assets in this way. Sometimes man may be required
simply to accept fate, to bear his cross. Every situation is distinguished by its uniqueness, and there
is always only one right answer to the problem posed by the situation at hand.

When a man finds that it is his destiny to suffer, he will have to accept his suffering as his task; his
single and unique task. He will have to acknowledge the fact that even in suffering he is unique and
alone in the universe. No one can relieve him of his suffering or suffer in his place. His unique
opportunity lies in the way in which he bears his burden.

For us, as prisoners, these thoughts were not speculations far removed from reality. They were the
only thoughts that could be of help to us. They kept us from despair, even when there seemed to be
no chance of coming out of it alive. Long ago we had passed the stage of asking what was the
meaning of life, a naive query which understands life as the attaining of some aim through the active
creation of something of value. For us, the meaning of life embraced the wider cycles of life and
death, of suffering and of dying.

Once the meaning of suffering had been revealed to us, we refused to minimize or alleviate the
camp’s tortures by ignoring them or harbouring false illusions and entertaining artificial optimism.
Suffering had become a task on which we did not want to turn out backs. We had realized its hidden
opportunities for achievement, the opportunities which caused the poet Rilke to write, “Wie viel ist
aufzuleiden!”(How much suffering there is to get through!) Rilke spoke of “getting through suffering”
as others would talk of “getting through work.” There was plenty of suffering for us to get through.
Therefore, it was necessary to face up to the full amount of suffering, trying to keep moments of
weakness and furtive tears to a minimum. But there was no need to be ashamed of tears, for tears
bore witness that a man had the greatest of courage, the courage to suffer. Only very few realized
that. Shamefacedly some confessed occasionally that they had wept, like the comrade who
answered my question of how he had gotten over his oedema, by confessing, “I have wept it out of
my system.”

The tender beginnings of a psychotherapy or psycho-hygiene were, when they were possible at all in
the camp, either individual or collective in nature. The individual psychotherapeutic attempts were
often a kind of “life-saving procedure.” These efforts were usually concerned with the prevention of
suicides. A very strict camp ruling forbade any efforts to save a man who attempted suicide. It was
forbidden, for example, to cut down a man who was trying to hang himself. Therefore, it was all
important to prevent these attempts from occurring.

I remember two cases of would-be suicide, which bore a striking similarity to each other. Both men
had talked of their intentions to commit suicide. Both used the typical argument—they had nothing
more to expect from life. In both cases it was a question of getting them to realize that life was still
expecting something from them; something in the future was expected of them. We found, in fact,

that for the one it was his child whom he adored and who was waiting for him in a foreign country.
For the other it was a thing, not a person. This man was a scientist and had written a series of books
which still needed to be finished. His work could not be done by anyone else, any more than another
person could ever take the place of the father in his child’s affections.

This uniqueness and singleness which distinguishes each individual and gives a meaning to his
existence has a bearing on creative work as much as it does on human love. When the impossibility
of replacing a person is realized, it allows the responsibility which a man has for his existence and its
continuance to appear in all its magnitude. A man who becomes conscious of the responsibility he
bears toward a human being who affectionately waits for him, or to an unfinished work, will never
be able to throw away his life. He knows the “why” for his existence, and will be able to bear almost
any “how.”

The opportunities for collective psychotherapy were naturally limited in camp. The right example
was more effective than words could ever be. A senior block warden who did not side with the
authorities had, by his just and encouraging behaviour, a thousand opportunities to exert a far-
reaching moral influence on those under his jurisdiction. The immediate influence of behaviour is
always more effective than that of words. But at times a word was effective too, when mental
receptiveness had been intensified by some outer circumstances. I remember an incident when
there was occasion for psychotherapeutic work on the inmates of a whole hut, due to an
intensification of their receptiveness because of a certain external situation.

It had been a bad day. On parade, an announcement had been made about the many actions that
would, from then on, be regarded as sabotage and therefore punishable by immediate death by
hanging. Among these were crimes such as cutting small strips from our old blankets (in order to
improvise ankle supports) and very minor “thefts.” A few days previously a semi-starved prisoner
had broken into the potato store to steal a few pounds of potatoes. The theft had been discovered
and some prisoners had recognized the “burglar.” When the camp authorities heard about it they
ordered that the guilty man be given up to them or the whole camp would starve for a day. Naturally
the 2,500 men preferred to fast.

On the evening of this day of fasting we lay in our earthen huts—in a very low mood. Very little was
said and every word sounded irritable. Then, to make matters even worse, the light went out.
Tempers reached their lowest ebb. But our senior block warden was a wise man. He improvised a
little talk about all that was on our minds at that moment. He talked about the many comrades who
had died in the last few days, either of sickness or of suicide. But he also mentioned what may have
been the real reason for their deaths: giving up hope. He maintained that there should be some way
of preventing possible future victims from reaching this extreme state. And it was to me that the
warden pointed to give this advice.

God knows, I was not in the mood to give psychological explanations or to preach any sermons—to
offer my comrades a kind of medical care of their souls. I was cold and hungry, irritable and tired,
but I had to make the effort and use this unique opportunity. Encouragement was now more
necessary than ever.

So I began by mentioning the most trivial of comforts first. I said that even in this Europe in the sixth
winter of the Second World War, our situation was not the most terrible we could think of. I said
that each of us had to ask himself what irreplaceable losses he had suffered up to then. I speculated
that for most of them these losses had really been few. Whoever was still alive had reason for hope.
Health, family, happiness, professional abilities, fortune, position in society—all these were things
that could be achieved again or restored. After all, we still had all our bones intact. Whatever we had

gone through could still be an asset to us in the future. And I quoted from Nietzsche: “Was mich
nicht umbringt, macht mich starker.” (That which does not kill me, makes me stronger.)

Then I spoke about the future. I said that to the impartial the future must seem hopeless. I agreed
that each of us could guess for himself how small were his chances of survival. I told them that
although there was still no typhus epidemic in the camp, I estimated my own chances at about one
in twenty. But I also told them that, in spite of this, I had no intention of losing hope and giving up.
For no man knew what the future would bring, much less the next hour. Even if we could not expect
any sensational military events in the next few days, who knew better than we, with our experience
of camps, how great chances sometimes opened up, quite suddenly, at least for the individual. For
instance, one might be attached unexpectedly to a special group with exceptionally good working
conditions—for this was the kind of thing which constituted the “luck” of the prisoner.

But I did not only talk of the future and the veil which was drawn over it. I also mentioned the past;
all its joys, and how its light shone even in the present darkness. Again I quoted a poet—to avoid
sounding like a preacher myself —who had written, “Was Du erlebst, kann keine Macht der Welt Dir
rauben.” (What you have experienced, no power on earth can take from you.) Not only our
experiences, but all we have done, whatever great thoughts we may have had, and all we have
suffered, all this is not lost, though it is past; we have brought it into being. Having been is also a
kind of being, and perhaps the surest kind.

Then I spoke of the many opportunities of giving life a meaning. I told my comrades (who lay
motionless, although occasionally a sigh could be heard) that human life, under any circumstances,
never ceases to have a meaning, and that this infinite meaning of life includes suffering and dying,
privation and death. I asked the poor creatures who listened to me attentively in the darkness of the
hut to face up to the seriousness of our position. They must not lose hope but should keep their
courage in the certainty that the hopelessness of our struggle did not detract from its dignity and its
meaning. I said that someone looks down on each of us in difficult hours—a friend, a wife,
somebody alive or dead, or a God—and he would not expect us to disappoint him. He would hope to
find us suffering proudly—not miserably—knowing how to die.

And finally I spoke of our sacrifice, which had meaning in every case. It was in the nature of this
sacrifice that it should appear to be pointless in the normal world, the world of material success. But
in reality our sacrifice did have a meaning. Those of us who had any religious faith, I said frankly,
could understand without difficulty. I told them of a comrade who on his arrival in camp had tried to
make a pact with Heaven that his suffering and death should save the human being he loved from a
painful end. For this man, suffering and death were meaningful; his was a sacrifice of the deepest
significance. He did not want to die for nothing. None of us wanted that.

The purpose of my words was to find a full meaning in our life, then and there, in that hut and in
that practically hopeless situation. I saw that my efforts had been successful. When the electric bulb
flared up again, I saw the miserable figures of my friends limping toward me to thank me with tears
in their eyes. But I have to confess here that only too rarely had I the inner strength to make contact
with my companions in suffering and that I must have missed many opportunities for doing so.

We now come to the third stage of a prisoner’s mental reactions: the psychology of the prisoner
after his liberation. But prior to that we shall consider a question which the psychologist is asked
frequently, especially when he has personal knowledge of these matters: What can you tell us about
the psychological make-up of the camp guards? How is it possible that men of flesh and blood could
treat others as so many prisoners say they have been treated? Having once heard these accounts
and having come to believe that these things did happen, one is bound to ask how, psychologically,

they could happen. To answer this question without going into great detail, a few things must be
pointed out:

First, among the guards there were some sadists, sadists in the purest clinical sense.
Second, these sadists were always selected when a really severe detachment of guards was needed.
There was great joy at our work site when we had permission to warm ourselves for a few minutes
(after two hours of work in the bitter frost) in front of a little stove which was fed with twigs and
scraps of wood. But there were always some foremen who found a great pleasure in taking this
comfort from us. How clearly their faces reflected this pleasure when they not only forbade us to
stand there but turned over the stove and dumped its lovely fire into the snow! When the SS took a
dislike to a person, there was always some special man in their ranks known to have a passion for,
and to be highly specialized in, sadistic torture, to whom the unfortunate prisoner was sent.
Third, the feelings of the majority of the guards had been dulled by the number of years in which, in
ever-increasing doses, they had witnessed the brutal methods of the camp. These morally and
mentally hardened men at least refused to take active part in sadistic measures. But they did not
prevent others from carrying them out.
Fourth, it must be stated that even among the guards there were some who took pity on us. I shall
only mention the commander of the camp from which I was liberated. It was found after the
liberation—only the camp doctor, a prisoner himself, had known of it previously—that this man had
paid no small sum of money from his own pocket in order to purchase medicines for his prisoners
from the nearest market town.1 But the senior camp warden, a prisoner himself, was harder than
any of the SS guards. He beat the other prisoners at every slightest opportunity, while the camp
commander, to my knowledge, never once lifted his hand against any of us.

1 An interesting incident with reference to this SS commander is in regard to the attitude toward him of some of his Jewish
prisoners. At the end of the war when the American troops liberated the prisoners from our camp, three young Hungarian
Jews hid this commander in the Bavarian woods. Then they went to the commandant of the American Forces who was very
eager to capture this SS commander and they said they would tell him where he was but only under certain conditions: the
American commander must promise that absolutely no harm would come to this man. After a while, the American officer
finally promised these young Jews that the SS commander when taken into captivity would be kept safe from harm. Not
only did the American officer keep his promise but, as a matter of fact, the former SS commander of this concentration
camp was in a sense restored to his command, for he supervised the collection of clothing among the nearby Bavarian
villages, and its distribution to all of us who at that time still wore the clothes we had inherited from other inmates of
Camp Auschwitz who were not as fortunate as we, having been sent to the gas chamber immediately upon their arrival at
the railway station.

It is apparent that the mere knowledge that a man was either a camp guard or a prisoner tells us
almost nothing. Human kindness can be found in all groups, even those which as a whole it would be
easy to condemn. The boundaries between groups overlapped and we must not try to simplify
matters by saying that these men were angels and those were devils. Certainly, it was a considerable
achievement for a guard or foreman to be kind to the prisoners in spite of all the camp’s influences,
and, on the other hand, the baseness of a prisoner who treated his own companions badly was
exceptionally contemptible. Obviously the prisoners found the lack of character in such men
especially upsetting, while they were profoundly moved by the smallest kindness received from any
of the guards. I remember how one day a foreman secretly gave me a piece o£ bread which I knew
he must have saved from his breakfast ration. It was far more than the small piece of bread which
moved me to tears at that time. It was the human “something” which this man also gave to me—the
word and look which accompanied the gift.

From all this we may learn that there are two races of men in this world, but only these two—the
“race” of the decent man and the “race” of the indecent man. Both are found everywhere; they
penetrate into all groups of society. No group consists entirely of decent or indecent people. In this

sense, no group is of “pure race”—and therefore one occasionally found a decent fellow among the
camp guards.

Life in a concentration camp tore open the human soul and exposed its depths. Is it surprising that in
those depths we again found only human qualities which in their very nature were a mixture of good
and evil? The rift dividing good from evil, which goes through all human beings, reaches into the
lowest depths and becomes apparent even on the bottom of the abyss which is laid open by the
concentration camp.

And now to the last chapter in the psychology of a concentration camp—the psychology of the
prisoner who has been released. In describing the experiences of liberation, which naturally must be
personal, we shall pick up the threads of that part of our narrative which told of the morning when
the white flag was hoisted above the camp gates after days of high tension. This state of inner
suspense was followed by total relaxation. But it would be quite wrong to think that we went mad
with joy. What, then, did happen?

With tired steps we prisoners dragged ourselves to the camp gates. Timidly we looked around and
glanced at each other questioningly. Then we ventured a few steps out of camp. This time no orders
were shouted at us, nor was there any need to duck quickly to avoid a blow or kick. Oh no! This time
the guards offered us cigarettes! We hardly recognized them at first; they had hurriedly changed
into civilian clothes. We walked slowly along the road leading from the camp. Soon our legs hurt and
threatened to buckle. But we limped on; we wanted to see the camp’s surroundings for the first time
with the eyes of free men. “Freedom”—we repeated to ourselves, and yet we could not grasp it. We
had said this word so often during all the years we dreamed about it, that it had lost its meaning. Its
reality did not penetrate into our consciousness; we could not grasp the fact that freedom was ours.

We came to meadows full of flowers. We saw and realized that they were there, but we had no
feelings about them. The first spark of joy came when we saw a rooster with a tail of multicoloured
feathers. But it remained only a spark; we did not yet belong to this world.

In the evening when we all met again in our hut, one said secretly to the other, “Tell me, were you
pleased today?”
And the other replied, feeling ashamed as he did not know that we all felt similarly, “Truthfully, no!”
We had literally lost the ability to feel pleased and had to relearn it slowly.

Psychologically, what was happening to the liberated prisoners could be called “depersonalization.”
Everything appeared unreal, unlikely, as in a dream. We could not believe it was true. How often in
the past years had we been deceived by dreams! We dreamt that the day of liberation had come,
that we had been set free, had returned home, greeted our friends, embraced our wives, sat down
at the table and started to tell of all the things we had gone through—even of how we had often
seen the day of liberation in our dreams. And then—a whistle shrilled in our ears, the signal to get
up, and our dreams of freedom came to an end. And now the dream had come true. But could we
truly believe in it?

How long I knelt there and repeated this sentence memory can no longer recall. But I know that on
that day, in that hour, my new life started. Step for step I progressed, until I again became a human

The body has fewer inhibitions than the mind. It made good use of the new freedom from the first
moment on. It began to eat ravenously, for hours and days, even half the night. It is amazing what
quantities one can eat. And when one of the prisoners was invited out by a friendly farmer in the

neighbourhood, he ate and ate and then drank coffee, which loosened his tongue, and he then
began to talk, often for hours. The pressure which had been on his mind for years was released at
last. Hearing him talk, one got the impression that he had to talk, that his desire to speak was
irresistible. I have known people who have been under heavy pressure only for a short time (for
example, through a cross-examination by the Gestapo) to have similar reactions. Many days passed,
until not only the tongue was loosened, but something within oneself as well; then feeling suddenly
broke through the strange fetters which had restrained it.

One day, a few days after the liberation, I walked through the country past flowering meadows, for
miles and miles, toward the market town near the camp. Larks rose to the sky and I could hear their
joyous song. There was no one to be seen for miles around; there was nothing but the wide earth
and sky and the larks’ jubilation and the freedom of space. I stopped, looked around, and up to the
sky—and then I went down on my knees. At that moment there was very little I knew of myself or of
the world—I had but one sentence in mind—always the same: “I called to the Lord from my narrow
prison and He answered me in the freedom of space.”

The way that led from the acute mental tension of the last days in camp (from that war of nerves to
mental peace) was certainly not free from obstacles. It would be an error to think that a liberated
prisoner was not in need of spiritual care any more. We have to consider that a man who has been
under such enormous mental pressure for such a long time is naturally in some danger after his
liberation, especially since the pressure was released quite suddenly. This danger (in the sense of
psychological hygiene) is the psychological counterpart of the bends. Just as the physical health of
the caisson worker would be endangered if he left his diver’s chamber suddenly (where he is under
enormous atmospheric pressure), so the man who has suddenly been liberated from mental
pressure can suffer damage to his moral and spiritual health.

During this psychological phase one observed that people with natures of a more primitive kind
could not escape the influences of the brutality which had surrounded them in camp life. Now, being
free, they thought they could use their freedom licentiously and ruthlessly. The only thing that had
changed for them was that they were now the oppressors instead of the oppressed. They became
instigators, not objects, of wilful force and injustice. They justified their behaviour by their own
terrible experiences. This was often revealed in apparently insignificant events. A friend was walking
across a field with me toward the camp when suddenly we came to a field of green crops.
Automatically, I avoided it, but he drew his arm through mine and dragged me through it. I
stammered something about not treading down the young crops. He became annoyed, gave me an
angry look and shouted, “You don’t say! And hasn’t enough been taken from us? My wife and child
have been gassed—not to mention everything else—and you would forbid me to tread on a few
stalks of oats!”

Only slowly could these men be guided back to the commonplace truth that no one has the right to
do wrong, not even if wrong has been done to them. We had to strive to lead them back to this
truth, or the consequences would have been much worse than the loss of a few thousand stalks of
oats. I can still see the prisoner who rolled up his shirt sleeves, thrust his right hand under my nose
and shouted, “May this hand be cut off if I don’t stain it with blood on the day when I get home!” I
want to emphasize that the man who said these words was not a bad fellow. He had been the best
of comrades in camp and afterwards.

Apart from the moral deformity resulting from the sudden release of mental pressure, there were
two other fundamental experiences which threatened to damage the character of the liberated
prisoner: bitterness and disillusionment when he returned to his former life.

Bitterness was caused by a number of things he came up against in his former home town. When, on
his return, a man found that in many places he was met only with a shrug of the shoulders and with
hackneyed phrases, he tended to become bitter and to ask himself why he had gone through all that
he had. When he heard the same phrases nearly everywhere—”We did not know about it,” and
“We, too, have suffered,” then he asked himself, have they really nothing better to say to me?

The experience of disillusionment is different. Here it was not one’s fellow man (whose superficiality
and lack of feeling was so disgusting that one finally felt like creeping into a hole and neither hearing
nor seeing human beings any more) but fate itself which seemed so cruel. A man who for years had
thought he had reached the absolute limit of all possible suffering now found that suffering has no
limits, and that he could suffer still more, and still more intensely.

When we spoke about attempts to give a man in camp mental courage, we said that he had to be
shown something to look forward to in the future. He had to be reminded that life still waited for
him, that a human being waited for his return. But after liberation? There were some men who
found that no one awaited them. Woe to him who found that the person whose memory alone had
given him courage in camp did not exist any more! Woe to him who, when the day of his dreams
finally came, found it so different from all he had longed for! Perhaps he boarded a trolley, travelled
out to the home which he had seen for years in his mind, and only in his mind, and pressed the bell,
just as he has longed to do in thousands of dreams, only to find that the person who should open
the door was not there, and would never be there again.

We all said to each other in camp that there could be no earthly happiness which could compensate
for all we had suffered. We were not hoping for happiness—it was not that which gave us courage
and gave meaning to our suffering, our sacrifices and our dying. And yet we were not prepared for
unhappiness. This disillusionment, which awaited not a small number of prisoners, was an
experience which these men have found very hard to get over and which, for a psychiatrist, is also
very difficult to help them overcome. But this must not be a discouragement to him; on the contrary,
it should provide an added stimulus.

But for every one of the liberated prisoners, the day comes when, looking back on his camp
experiences, he can no longer understand how he endured it all. As the day of his liberation
eventually came, when everything seemed to him like a beautiful dream, so also the day comes
when all his camp experiences seem to him nothing but a nightmare. The crowning experience of all,
for the homecoming man, is the wonderful feeling that, after all he has suffered, there is nothing he
need fear any more—except his God.


Logotherapy in a Nutshell
This part, which has been revised and updated, first appeared as “Basic Concepts of Logotherapy” in the 1968 edition of
Man’s Search for Meaning.

READERS OF MY SHORT AUTOBIOGRAPHICAL STORY usually ask for a fuller and more direct explanation of my
therapeutic doctrine. Accordingly I added a brief section on logotherapy to the original edition of
From Death-Camp to Existentialism. But that was not enough, and I have been besieged by requests
for a more extended treatment. Therefore in the present edition I have completely rewritten and
considerably expanded my account.

The assignment was not easy. To convey to the reader within a short space all the material which
required twenty volumes in German is an almost hopeless task. I am reminded of the American
doctor who once turned up in my office in Vienna and asked me, “Now, Doctor, are you a
psychoanalyst?” Whereupon I replied, “Not exactly a psychoanalyst; let’s say a psychotherapist.”
Then he continued questioning me: “What school do you stand for?” I answered, “It is my own
theory; it is called logotherapy.” “Can you tell me in one sentence what is meant by logo-therapy?”
he asked. “At least, what is the difference between psychoanalysis and logotherapy?” “Yes,” I said,
“but in the first place, can you tell me in one sentence what you think the essence of psychoanalysis
is?” This was his answer: “During psychoanalysis, the patient must lie down on a couch and tell you
things which sometimes are very disagreeable to tell.” Whereupon I immediately retorted with the
following improvisation: “Now, in logotherapy the patient may remain sitting erect but he must hear
things which sometimes are very disagreeable to hear.”

Of course, this was meant facetiously and not as a capsule version of logotherapy. However, there is
something in it, inasmuch as logotherapy, in comparison with psychoanalysis, is a method less
retrospective and less introspective. Logotherapy focuses rather on the future, that is to say, on the
meanings to be fulfilled by the patient in his future. (Logotherapy, indeed, is a meaning-cantered
psychotherapy.) At the same time, logotherapy defocuses all the vicious-circle formations and
feedback mechanisms which play such a great role in the development of neuroses. Thus, the typical
self-centeredness of the neurotic is broken up instead of being continually fostered and reinforced.
To be sure, this kind of statement is an oversimplification; yet in logotherapy the patient is actually
confronted with and reoriented toward the meaning of his life. And to make him aware of this
meaning can contribute much to his ability to overcome his neurosis.

Let me explain why I have employed the term “logotherapy” as the name for my theory. Logos is a
Greek word which denotes “meaning.” Logotherapy, or, as it has been called by some authors, “The
Third Viennese School of Psychotherapy,” focuses on the meaning of human existence as well as on
man’s search for such a meaning. According to logotherapy, this striving to find a meaning in one’s
life is the primary motivational force in man. That is why I speak of a will to meaning in contrast to
the pleasure principle (or, as we could also term it, the will to pleasure) on which Freudian
psychoanalysis is cantered, as well as in contrast to the will to power on which Adlerian psychology,
using the term “striving for superiority,” is focused.

Man’s search for meaning is the primary motivation in his life and not a “secondary rationalization”
of instinctual drives. This meaning is unique and specific in that it must and can be fulfilled by him
alone; only then does it achieve a significance which will satisfy his own will to meaning. There are
some authors who contend that meanings and values are “nothing but defence mechanisms,

reaction formations and sublimations.” But as for myself, I would not be willing to live merely for the
sake of my “defence mechanisms,” nor would I be ready to die merely for the sake of my “reaction
formations.” Man, however, is able to live and even to die for the sake of his ideals and values!

A public-opinion poll was conducted a few years ago in France. The results showed that 89 percent
of the people polled admitted that man needs “something” for the sake of which to live. Moreover,
61 percent conceded that there was something, or someone, in their own lives for whose sake they
were even ready to die. I repeated this poll at my hospital department in Vienna among both the
patients and the personnel, and the outcome was practically the same as among the thousands of
people screened in France; the difference was only 2 percent.

Another statistical survey, of 7,948 students at forty-eight colleges, was conducted by social
scientists from Johns Hopkins University. Their preliminary report is part of a two-year study
sponsored by the National Institute of Mental Health. Asked what they considered “very important”
to them now, 16 percent of the students checked “making a lot of money”; 78 percent said their first
goal was “finding a purpose and meaning to my life.”

Of course, there may be some cases in which an individual’s concern with values is really a
camouflage of hidden inner conflicts; but, if so, they represent the exceptions from the rule rather
than the rule itself. In these cases we have actually to deal with pseudovalues, and as such they have
to be unmasked. Unmasking, however, should stop as soon as one is confronted with what is
authentic and genuine in man, e.g., man’s desire for a life that is as meaningful as possible. If it does
not stop then, the only thing that the “unmasking psychologist” really unmasks is his own “hidden
motive”—namely, his unconscious need to debase and depreciate what is genuine, what is genuinely
human, in man.

Man’s will to meaning can also be frustrated, in which case logotherapy speaks of “existential
frustration.” The term “existential” may be used in three ways: to refer to (1) existence itself, i.e., the
specifically human mode of being; (2) the meaning of existence; and (3) the striving to find a
concrete meaning in personal existence, that is to say, the will to meaning.

Existential frustration can also result in neuroses. For this type of neuroses, logotherapy has coined
the term “noogenic neuroses” in contrast to neuroses in the traditional sense of the word, i.e.,
psychogenic neuroses. Noogenic neuroses have their origin not in the psychological but rather in the
“noological” (from the Greek noos meaning mind) dimension of human existence. This is another
logotherapeutic term which denotes anything pertaining to the specifically human dimension.

Noogenic neuroses do not emerge from conflicts between drives and instincts but rather from
existential problems. Among such problems, the frustration of the will to meaning plays a large role.
It is obvious that in noogenic cases the appropriate and adequate therapy is not psychotherapy in
general but rather logotherapy; a therapy, that is, which dares to enter the specifically human

Let me quote the following instance: A high-ranking American diplomat came to my office in Vienna
in order to continue psychoanalytic treatment which he had begun five years previously with an
analyst in New York. At the outset I asked him why he thought he should be analyzed, why his
analysis had been started in the first place. It turned out that the patient was discontented with his
career and found it most difficult to comply with American foreign policy. His analyst, however, had
told him again and again that he should try to reconcile himself with his father; because the

government of the U.S. as well as his superiors were “nothing but” father images and, consequently,
his dissatisfaction with his job was due to the hatred he unconsciously harboured toward his father.
Through an analysis lasting five years, the patient had been prompted more and more to accept his
analyst’s interpretations until he finally was unable to see the forest of reality for the trees of
symbols and images. After a few interviews, it was clear that his will to meaning was frustrated by
his vocation, and he actually longed to be engaged in some other kind of work. As there was no
reason for not giving up his profession and embarking on a different one, he did so, with most
gratifying results. He has remained contented in this new occupation for over five years, as he
recently reported. I doubt that, in this case, I was dealing with a neurotic condition at all, and that is
why I thought that he did not need any psychotherapy, nor even logotherapy, for the simple reason
that he was not actually a patient. Not every conflict is necessarily neurotic; some amount of conflict
is normal and healthy. In a similar sense suffering is not always a pathological phenomenon; rather
than being a symptom of neurosis, suffering may well be a human achievement, especially if the
suffering grows out of existential frustration. I would strictly deny that one’s search for a meaning to
his existence, or even his doubt of it, in every case is derived from, or results in, any disease.
Existential frustration is in itself neither pathological nor pathogenic. A man’s concern, even his
despair, over the worthwhileness of life is an existential distress but by no means a mental disease. It
may well be that interpreting the first in terms of the latter motivates a doctor to bury his patient’s
existential despair under a heap of tranquilizing drugs. It is his task, rather, to pilot the patient
through his existential crises of growth and development.

Logotherapy regards its assignment as that of assisting the patient to find meaning in his life.
Inasmuch as logotherapy makes him aware of the hidden logos of his existence, it is an analytical
process. To this extent, logotherapy resembles psychoanalysis. However, in logotherapy’s attempt to
make something conscious again it does not restrict its activity to instinctual facts within the
individual’s unconscious but also cares for existential realities, such as the potential meaning of his
existence to be fulfilled as well as his will to meaning. Any analysis, however, even when it refrains
from including the noological dimension in its therapeutic process, tries to make the patient aware
of what he actually longs for in the depth of his being. Logotherapy deviates from psychoanalysis
insofar as it considers man a being whose main concern consists in fulfilling a meaning, rather than
in the mere gratification and satisfaction of drives and instincts, or in merely reconciling the
conflicting claims of id, ego and superego, or in the mere adaptation and adjustment to society and

To be sure, man’s search for meaning may arouse inner tension rather than inner equilibrium.
However, precisely such tension is an indispensable prerequisite of mental health. There is nothing
in the world, I venture to say, that would so effectively help one to survive even the worst conditions
as the knowledge that there is a meaning in one’s life. There is much wisdom in the words of
Nietzsche: “He who has a why to live for can bear almost any how.” I can see in these words a motto
which holds true for any psychotherapy. In the Nazi concentration camps, one could have witnessed
that those who knew that there was a task waiting for them to fulfil were most apt to survive. The
same conclusion has since been reached by other authors of books on concentration camps, and
also by psychiatric investigations into Japanese, North Korean and North Vietnamese prisoner-of-
war camps.

As for myself, when I was taken to the concentration camp of Auschwitz, a manuscript of mine ready
for publication was confiscated.1 Certainly, my deep desire to write this manuscript anew helped
me to survive the rigors of the camps I was in. For instance, when in a camp in Bavaria I fell ill with
typhus fever, I jotted down on little scraps of paper many notes intended to enable me to rewrite
the manuscript, should I live to the day of liberation. I am sure that this reconstruction of my lost

manuscript in the dark barracks of a Bavarian concentration camp assisted me in overcoming the
danger of cardiovascular collapse.

1 It was the first version of my first book, the English translation of which was published by Alfred A. Knopf, New York, in
1955, under the title The Doctor and the Soul: An Introduction to Logotherapy.

Thus it can be seen that mental health is based on a certain degree of tension, the tension between
what one has already achieved and what one still ought to accomplish, or the gap between what one
is and what one should become. Such a tension is inherent in the human being and therefore is
indispensable to mental well-being. We should not, then, be hesitant about challenging man with a
potential meaning for him to fulfil. It is only thus that we evoke his will to meaning from its state of
latency. I consider it a dangerous misconception of mental hygiene to assume that what man needs
in the first place is equilibrium or, as it is called in biology, “homeostasis,” i.e., a tensionless state.
What man actually needs is not a tensionless state but rather the striving and struggling for a
worthwhile goal, a freely chosen task. What he needs is not the discharge of tension at any cost but
the call of a potential meaning waiting to be fulfilled by him. What man needs is not homeostasis but
what I call “nod-dynamics,” i.e., the existential dynamics in a polar field of tension where one pole is
represented by a meaning that is to be fulfilled and the other pole by the man who has to fulfil it.
And one should not think that this holds true only for normal conditions; in neurotic individuals, it is
even more valid. If architects want to strengthen a decrepit arch, they increase the load which is laid
upon it, for thereby the parts are joined more firmly together. So if therapists wish to foster their
patients’ mental health, they should not be afraid to create a sound amount of tension through a
reorientation toward the meaning of one’s life.

Having shown the beneficial impact of meaning orientation, I turn to the detrimental influence of
that feeling of which so many patients complain today, namely, the feeling of the total and ultimate
meaninglessness of their lives.

They lack the awareness of a meaning worth living for. They are haunted by the experience of their
inner emptiness, a void within themselves; they are caught in that situation which I have called the
“existential vacuum.”

The existential vacuum is a widespread phenomenon of the twentieth century. This is
understandable; it may be due to a twofold loss which man has had to undergo since he became a
truly human being. At the beginning of human history, man lost some of the basic animal instincts in
which an animal’s behaviour is imbedded and by which it is secured. Such security, like Paradise, is
closed to man forever; man has to make choices. In addition to this, however, man has suffered
another loss in his more recent development inasmuch as the traditions which buttressed his
behaviour are now rapidly diminishing. No instinct tells him. what he has to do, and no tradition tells
him what he ought to do; sometimes he does not even know what he wishes to do. Instead, he
either wishes to do what other people do (conformism) or he does what other people wish him to
do (totalitarianism).

A statistical survey recently revealed that among my European students, 25 percent showed a more-
or-less marked degree of existential vacuum. Among my American students it was not 25 but 60

The existential vacuum manifests itself mainly in a state of boredom. Now we can understand
Schopenhauer when he said that mankind was apparently doomed to vacillate eternally between
the two extremes of distress and boredom. In actual fact, boredom is now causing, and certainly
bringing to psychiatrists, more problems to solve than distress. And these problems are growing

increasingly crucial, for progressive automation will probably lead to an enormous increase in the
leisure hours available to the average worker. The pity of it is that many of these will not know what
to do with all their newly acquired free time.

Let us consider, for instance, “Sunday neurosis,” that kind of depression which afflicts people who
become aware of the lack of content in their lives when the rush of the busy week is over and the
void within themselves becomes manifest. Not a few cases of suicide can be traced back to this
existential vacuum. Such widespread phenomena as depression, aggression and addiction are not
understandable unless we recognize the existential vacuum underlying them. This is also true of the
crises of pensioners and aging people.

Moreover, there are various masks and guises under which the existential vacuum appears.
Sometimes the frustrated will to meaning is vicariously compensated for by a will to power,
including the most primitive form of the will to power, the will to money. In other cases, the place of
frustrated will to meaning is taken by the will to pleasure. That is why existential frustration often
eventuates in sexual compensation. We can observe in such cases that the sexual libido becomes
rampant in the existential vacuum.

An analogous event occurs in neurotic cases. There are certain types of feedback mechanisms and
vicious-circle formations which I will touch upon later. One can observe again and again, however,
that this symptomatology has invaded an existential vacuum wherein it then continues to flourish. In
such patients, what we have to deal with is not a noogenic neurosis. However, we will never succeed
in having the patient overcome his condition if we have not supplemented the psychotherapeutic
treatment with logo-therapy. For by filling the existential vacuum, the patient will be prevented from
suffering further relapses. Therefore, logotherapy is indicated not only in noogenic cases, as pointed
out above, but also in psychogenic cases, and sometimes even the somatogenic (pseudo-) neuroses.
Viewed in this light, a statement once made by Magda B. Arnold is justified: “Every therapy must in
some way, no matter how restricted, also be logotherapy.”2

Let us now consider what we can do if a patient asks what the meaning of his life is.

2 Magda B. Arnold and John A. Gasson, The Human Person, Ronald Press, New York, 1954, p. 618.

I doubt whether a doctor can answer this question in general terms. For the meaning of life differs
from man to man, from day to day and from hour to hour. What matters, therefore, is not the
meaning of life in general but rather the specific meaning of a person’s life at a given moment. To
put the question in general terms would be comparable to the question posed to a chess champion:
“Tell me, Master, what is the best move in the world?” There simply is no such thing as the best or
even a good move apart from a particular situation in a game and the particular personality of one’s
opponent. The same holds for human existence. One should not search for an abstract meaning of
life. Everyone has his own specific vocation or mission in life to carry out a concrete assignment
which demands fulfilment. Therein he cannot be replaced, nor can his life be repeated. Thus,
everyone’s task is as unique as is his specific opportunity to implement it.

As each situation in life represents a challenge to man and presents a problem for him to solve, the
question of the meaning of life may actually be reversed. Ultimately, man should not ask what the
meaning of his life is, but rather he must recognize that it is he who is asked. In a word, each man is
questioned by life; and he can only answer to life by answering for his own life; to life he can only
respond by being responsible. Thus, logotherapy sees in responsibleness the very essence of human

This emphasis on responsibleness is reflected in the categorical imperative of logotherapy, which is:
“Live as if you were living already for the second time and as if you had acted the first time as
wrongly as you are about to act now!” It seems to me that there is nothing which would stimulate a
man’s sense of responsibleness more than this maxim, which invites him to imagine first that the
present is past and, second, that the past may yet be changed and amended. Such a precept
confronts him with life’s finiteness as well as the finality of what he makes out of both his life and

Logotherapy tries to make the patient fully aware of his own responsibleness; therefore, it must
leave to him the option for what, to what, or to whom he understands himself to be responsible.
That is why a logotherapist is the least tempted of all psychotherapists to impose value judgments
on his patients, for he will never permit the patient to pass to the doctor the responsibility of

It is, therefore, up to the patient to decide whether he should interpret his life task as being
responsible to society or to his own conscience. There are people, however, who do not interpret
their own lives merely in terms of a task assigned to them but also in terms of the taskmaster who
has assigned it to them.

Logotherapy is neither teaching nor preaching. It is as far removed from logical reasoning as it is
from moral exhortation. To put it figuratively, the role played by a logotherapist is that of an eye
specialist rather than that of a painter. A painter tries to convey to us a picture of the world as he
sees it; an ophthalmologist tries to enable us to see the world as it really is. The logotherapist’s role
consists of widening and broadening the visual field of the patient so that the whole spectrum of
potential meaning becomes conscious and visible to him.

By declaring that man is responsible and must actualize the potential meaning of his life, I wish to
stress that the true meaning of life is to be discovered in the world rather than within man or his
own psyche, as though it were a closed system. I have termed this constitutive characteristic “the
self-transcendence of human existence.” It denotes the fact that being human always points, and is
directed, to something, or someone, other than oneself—be it a meaning to fulfil or another human
being to encounter. The more one forgets himself—by giving himself to a cause to serve or another
person to love—the more human he is and the more he actualizes himself. What is called self-
actualization is not an attainable aim at all, for the simple reason that the more one would strive for
it, the more he would miss it. In other words, self-actualization is possible only as a side-effect of

Thus far we have shown that the meaning of life always changes, but that it never ceases to be.
According to logotherapy, we can discover this meaning in life in three different ways: (1) by creating
a work or doing a deed; (2) by experiencing something or encountering someone; and (3) by the
attitude we take toward unavoidable suffering. The first, the way of achievement or
accomplishment, is quite obvious. The second and third need further elaboration.

The second way of finding a meaning in life is by experiencing something—such as goodness, truth
and beauty —by experiencing nature and culture or, last but not least, by experiencing another
human being in his very uniqueness;—by loving him.

Love is the only way to grasp another human being in the innermost core of his personality. No one
can become fully aware of the very essence of another human being unless he loves him. By his love
he is enabled to see the essential traits and features in the beloved person; and even more, he sees
that which is potential in him, which is not yet actualized but yet ought to be actualized.
Furthermore, by his love, the loving person enables the beloved person to actualize these
potentialities. By making him aware of what he can be and of what he should become, he makes
these potentialities come true.

In logotherapy, love is not interpreted as a mere epiphenomenon3 of sexual drives and instincts in
the sense of a so-called sublimation. Love is as primary a phenomenon as sex. Normally, sex is a
mode of expression for love. Sex is justified, even sanctified, as soon as, but only as long as, it is a
vehicle of love. Thus love is not understood as a mere side-effect of sex; rather, sex is a way of
expressing the experience of that ultimate togetherness which is called love.

The third way of finding a meaning in life is by suffering.

3 A phenomenon that occurs as the result of a primary phenomenon.

We must never forget that we may also find meaning in life even when confronted with a hopeless
situation, when facing a fate that cannot be changed. For what then matters is to bear witness to the
uniquely human potential at its best, which is to transform a personal tragedy into a triumph, to turn
one’s predicament into a human achievement. When we are no longer able to change a situation—
just think of an incurable disease such as inoperable cancer —we are challenged to change

Let me cite a clear-cut example: Once, an elderly general practitioner consulted me because of his
severe depression. He could not overcome the loss of his wife who had died two years before and
whom he had loved above all else. Now, how could I help him? What should I tell him? Well, I
refrained from telling him anything but instead confronted him with the question, “What would
have happened, Doctor, if you had died first, and your wife would have had to survive you?” “Oh,”
he said, “for her this would have been terrible; how she would have suffered!” Whereupon I replied,
“You see, Doctor, such a suffering has been spared her, and it was you who have spared her this
suffering—to be sure, at the price that now you have to survive and mourn her.” He said no word
but shook my hand and calmly left my office. In some way, suffering ceases to be suffering at the
moment it finds a meaning, such as the meaning of a sacrifice.

Of course, this was no therapy in the proper sense since, first, his despair was no disease; and
second, I could not change his fate; I could not revive his wife. But in that moment I did succeed in
changing his attitude toward his unalterable fate inasmuch as from that time on he could at least see
a meaning in his suffering. It is one of the basic tenets of logotherapy that man’s main concern is not
to gain pleasure or to avoid pain but rather to see a meaning in his life. That is why man is even
ready to suffer, on the condition, to be sure, that his suffering has a meaning.

But let me make it perfectly clear that in no way is suffering necessary to find meaning. I only insist
that meaning is possible even in spite of suffering—provided, certainly, that the suffering is
unavoidable. If it were avoidable, however, the meaningful thing to do would be to remove its cause,
be it psychological, biological or political. To suffer unnecessarily is masochistic rather than heroic.

Edith Weisskopf-Joelson, before her death professor of psychology at the University of Georgia,
contended, in her article on logotherapy, that “our current mental-hygiene philosophy stresses the
idea that people ought to be happy, that unhappiness is a symptom of maladjustment. Such a value
system might be responsible for the fact that the burden of unavoidable unhappiness is increased by
unhappiness about being unhappy.”4 And in another paper she expressed the hope that logotherapy
“may help counteract certain unhealthy trends in the present-day culture of the United States,
where the incurable sufferer is given very little opportunity to be proud of his suffering and to
consider it ennobling rather than degrading” so that “he is not only unhappy, but also ashamed of
being unhappy.”5

There are situations in which one is cut off from the opportunity to do one’s work or to enjoy one’s
life; but what never can be ruled out is the unavoidability of suffering. In accepting this challenge to
suffer bravely, life has a meaning up to the last moment, and it retains this meaning literally to the
end. In other words, life’s meaning is an unconditional one, for it even includes the potential
meaning of unavoidable suffering.

Let me recall that which was perhaps the deepest experience I had in the concentration camp. The
odds of surviving the camp were no more than one in twenty-eight, as can easily be verified by exact
statistics. It did not even seem possible, let alone probable, that the manuscript of my first book,
which I had hidden in my coat when I arrived at Auschwitz, would ever be rescued. Thus, I had to
undergo and to overcome the loss of my mental child. And now it seemed as if nothing and no one
would survive me; neither a physical nor a mental child of my own! So I found myself confronted
with the question whether under such circumstances my life was ultimately void of any meaning.

4 “Some Comments on a Viennese School of Psychiatry,” The Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, 51 (1955), pp.

5 “Logotherapy and Existential Analysis,” Ada Psychotherapeutica,6 (1958), pp.193-204.

Not yet did I notice that an answer to this question with which I was wrestling so passionately was
already in store for me, and that soon thereafter this answer would be given to me. This was the
case when I had to surrender my clothes and in turn inherited the worn-out rags of an inmate who
had already been sent to the gas chamber immediately after his arrival at the Auschwitz railway
station. Instead of the many pages of my manuscript, I found in a pocket of the newly acquired coat
one single page torn out of a Hebrew prayer book, containing the most important Jewish prayer,
Shema Yisrael. How should I have interpreted such a “coincidence” other than as a challenge to live
my thoughts instead of merely putting them on paper?

A bit later, I remember, it seemed to me that I would die in the near future. In this critical situation,
however, my concern was different from that of most of my comrades. Their question was, “Will we
survive the camp? For, if not, all this suffering has no meaning.” The question which beset me was,
“Has all this suffering, this dying around us, a meaning? For, if not, then ultimately there is no
meaning to survival; for a life whose meaning depends upon such a happenstance—as whether one
escapes or not—ultimately would not be worth living at all.”

More and more, a psychiatrist is approached today by patients who confront him with human
problems rather than neurotic symptoms. Some of the people who nowadays call on a psychiatrist
would have seen a pastor, priest or rabbi in former days. Now they often refuse to be handed over
to a clergyman and instead confront the doctor with questions such as, “What is the meaning of my

I should like to cite the following instance: Once, the mother of a boy who had died at the age of
eleven years was admitted to my hospital department after a suicide attempt. Dr. Kurt Kocourek
invited her to join a therapeutic group, and it happened that I stepped into the room where he was
conducting a psychodrama. She was telling her story. At the death of her boy she was left alone with
another, older son, who was crippled, suffering from the effects of infantile paralysis. The poor boy
had to be moved around in a wheelchair. His mother, however, rebelled against her fate. But when
she tried to commit suicide together with him, it was the crippled son who prevented her from doing
so; he liked living! For him, life had remained meaningful. Why was it not so for his mother? How
could her life still have a meaning? And how could we help her to become aware of it?

Improvising, I participated in the discussion, and questioned another woman in the group. I asked
her how old she was and she answered, “Thirty.” I replied, “No, you are not thirty but instead eighty
and lying on your deathbed. And now you are looking back on your life, a life which was childless but
full of financial success and social prestige.” And then I invited her to imagine what she would feel in
this situation. “What will you think of it? What will you say to yourself?” Let me quote what she
actually said from a tape which was recorded during that session. “Oh, I married a millionaire, I had
an easy life full of wealth, and I lived it up! I flirted with men; I teased them! But now I am eighty; I
have no children of my own. Looking back as an old woman, I cannot see what all that was for;
actually, I must say, my life was a failure!”

I then invited the mother of the handicapped son to imagine herself similarly looking back over her
life. Let us listen to what she had to say as recorded on the tape: “I wished to have children and this
wish has been granted to me; one boy died; the other, however, the crippled one, would have been
sent to an institution if I had not taken over his care. Though he is crippled and helpless, he is after
all my boy. And so I have made a fuller life possible for him; I have made a better human being out of
my son.” At this moment, there was an outburst of tears and, crying, she continued: “As for myself, I
can look back peacefully on my life; for I can say my life was full of meaning, and I have tried hard to
fulfil it; I have done my best—I have done the best for my son. My life was no failure!” Viewing her
life as if from her deathbed, she had suddenly been able to see a meaning in it, a meaning which
even included all of her sufferings. By the same token, however, it had become clear as well that a
life of short duration, like that, for example, of her dead boy, could be so rich in joy and love that it
could contain more meaning than a life lasting eighty years.

After a while I proceeded to another question, this time addressing myself to the whole group. The
question was whether an ape which was being used to develop poliomyelitis serum, and for this
reason punctured again and again, would ever be able to grasp the meaning of its suffering.
Unanimously, the group replied that of course it would not; with its limited intelligence, it could not
enter into the world of man, i.e., the only world in which the meaning of its suffering would be
understandable. Then I pushed forward with the following question: “And what about man? Are you
sure that the human world is a terminal point in the evolution of the cosmos? Is it not conceivable
that there is still another dimension, a world beyond man’s world; a world in which the question of
an ultimate meaning of human suffering would find an answer?”

This ultimate meaning necessarily exceeds and surpasses the finite intellectual capacities of man; in
logotherapy, we speak in this context of a super-meaning. What is demanded of man is not, as some
existential philosophers teach, to endure the meaninglessness of life, but rather to bear his
incapacity to grasp its unconditional meaningfulness in rational terms. Logos is deeper than logic.

A psychiatrist who goes beyond the concept of the super-meaning will sooner or later be
embarrassed by his patients, just as I was when my daughter at about six years of age asked me the
question, “Why do we speak of the good Lord?” Whereupon I said, “Some weeks ago, you were
suffering from measles, and then the good Lord sent you full recovery.” However, the little girl was
not content; she retorted, “Well, but please, Daddy, do not forget: in the first place, he had sent me
the measles.”

However, when a patient stands on the firm ground of religious belief, there can be no objection to
making use of the therapeutic effect of his religious convictions and thereby drawing upon his
spiritual resources. In order to do so, the psychiatrist may put himself in the place of the patient.
That is exactly what I did once, for instance, when a rabbi from Eastern Europe turned to me and
told me his story. He had lost his first wife and their six children in the concentration camp of
Auschwitz where they were gassed, and now it turned out that his second wife was sterile. I
observed that procreation is not the only meaning of life, for then life in itself would become
meaningless, and something which in itself is meaningless cannot be rendered meaningful merely by
its perpetuation. However, the rabbi evaluated his plight as an orthodox Jew in terms of despair that
there was no son of his own who would ever say Kaddish6 for him after his death.

6 A prayer for the dead.

But I would not give up. I made a last attempt to help him by inquiring whether he did not hope to
see his children again in Heaven. However, my question was followed by an outburst of tears, and
now the true reason for his despair came to the fore: he explained that his children, since they died
as innocent martyrs,7 were thus found worthy of the highest place in Heaven, but as for himself he
could not expect, as an old, sinful man, to be assigned the same place. I did not give up but retorted,
“Is it not conceivable, Rabbi, that precisely this was the meaning of your surviving your children: that
you may be purified through these years of suffering, so that finally you, too, though not innocent
like your children, may become worthy of joining them in Heaven? Is it not written in the Psalms that
God preserves all your tears?8 So perhaps none of your sufferings were in vain.” For the first time in
many years he found relief from his suffering through the new point of view which I was able to
open up to him.

7 L’kiddush basbem, i.e., for the sanctification of God’s name.

8 “Thou hast kept count of my tossings; put thou my tears in thy bottle! Are they not in thy book?” (Ps. 56, 8.)

Those things which seem to take meaning away from human life include not only suffering but dying
as well. I never tire of saying that the only really transitory aspects of life are the potentialities; but
as soon as they are actualized, they are rendered realities at that very moment; they are saved and
delivered into the past, wherein they are rescued and preserved from transitoriness. For, in the past,
nothing is irretrievably lost but everything irrevocably stored.

Thus, the transitoriness of our existence in no way makes it meaningless. But it does constitute our
responsibleness; for everything hinges upon our realizing the essentially transitory possibilities. Man
constantly makes his choice concerning the mass of present potentialities; which of these will be
condemned to nonbeing and which will be actualized? Which choice will be made an actuality once
and forever, an immortal “footprint in the sands of time”? At any moment, man must decide, for
better or for worse, what will be the monument of his existence.

Usually, to be sure, man considers only the stubble field of transitoriness and overlooks the full
granaries of the past, wherein he had salvaged once and for all his deeds, his joys and also his

sufferings. Nothing can be undone, and nothing can be done away with. I should say having been is
the surest kind of being.

Logotherapy, keeping in mind the essential transitoriness ,, of human existence, is not pessimistic
but rather activistic. To express this point figuratively we might say: The pessimist resembles a man
who observes with fear and sadness that his wall calendar, from which he daily tears a sheet, grows
thinner with each passing day. On the other hand, the person who attacks the problems of life
actively is like a man who removes each successive leaf from his calendar and files it neatly and
carefully away with its predecessors, after first having jotted down a few diary notes on the back. He
can reflect with pride and joy on all the richness set down in these notes, on all the life he has
already lived to the fullest. What will it matter to him if he notices that he is growing old? Has he any
reason to envy the young people whom he sees, or wax nostalgic over his own lost youth? What
reasons has he to envy a young person? For the possibilities that a young person has, the future
which is in store for him? “No, thank you,” he will think. “Instead of possibilities, I have realities in
my past, not only the reality of work done and of love loved, but of sufferings bravely suffered.
These sufferings are even the things of which I am most proud, though these are things which
cannot inspire envy.”

A realistic fear, like the fear of death, cannot be tranquilized away by its psychodynamic
interpretation; on the other hand, a neurotic fear, such as agoraphobia, cannot be cured by
philosophical understanding. However, logotherapy has developed a special technique to handle
such cases, too. To understand what is going on whenever this technique is used, we take as a
starting point a condition which is frequently observed in neurotic individuals, namely, anticipatory
anxiety. It is characteristic of this fear that it produces precisely that of which the patient is afraid.
An individual, for example, who is afraid of blushing when he enters a large room and faces many
people will actually be more prone to blush under these circumstances. In this context, one might
amend the saying “The wish is father to the thought” to “The fear is mother of the event.”

Ironically enough, in the same way that fear brings to pass what one is afraid of, likewise a forced
intention makes impossible what one forcibly wishes. This excessive intention, or “hyper-intention,”
as I call it, can be observed particularly in cases of sexual neurosis. The more a man tries to
demonstrate his sexual potency or a woman her ability to experience orgasm, the less they are able
to succeed. Pleasure is, and must remain, a side-effect or by-product, and is destroyed and spoiled
to the degree to which it is made a goal in itself.

In addition to excessive intention as described above, excessive attention, or “hyper-reflection,” as it
is called in logotherapy, may also be pathogenic (that is, lead to sickness). The following clinical
report will indicate what I mean: A young woman came to me complaining of being frigid. The case
history showed that in her childhood she had been sexually abused by her father. However, it had
not been this traumatic experience in itself which had eventuated in her sexual neurosis, as could
easily be evidenced. For it turned out that, through reading popular psychoanalytic literature, the
patient had lived constantly with the fearful expectation of the toll which her traumatic experience
would someday take. This anticipatory anxiety resulted both in excessive intention to confirm her
femininity and excessive attention cantered upon herself rather than upon her partner. This was
enough to incapacitate the patient for the peak experience of sexual pleasure, since the orgasm was
made an object of intention, and an object of attention as well, instead of remaining an unintended
effect of unreflected dedication and surrender to the partner. After undergoing short-term
logotherapy, the patient’s excessive attention and intention of her ability to experience orgasm had
been “dereflected,” to introduce another logo-therapeutic term. When her attention was refocused
toward the proper object, i.e., the partner, orgasm established itself spontaneously.9

9 In order to treat cases of sexual impotence, a specific logotherapeutic technique has been developed, based on the
theory of hyper-intention and hyper-reflection as sketched above (Viktor E. Frankl, “The Pleasure Principle and Sexual
Neurosis,” The International Journal of Sexology, Vol. 5, No. 3 [1952], pp. 128-30). Of course, this cannot be dealt with in
this brief presentation of the principles of logotherapy.

Logotherapy bases its technique called “paradoxical intention” on the twofold fact that fear brings
about that which one is afraid of, and that hyper-intention makes impossible what one wishes. In
German I described paradoxical intention as early as 1939.10 In this approach the phobic patient is
invited to intend, even if only for a moment, precisely that which he fears.

10 Viktor E. Frankl, “Zur medikamentosen Unterstiitzung der Psy-chotherapie bei Neurosen,” Schweizer Archiv fur
Neurologie und Psychiatrie, Vol. 43, pp. 26-31.

Let me recall a case. A young physician consulted me because of his fear of perspiring. Whenever he
expected an outbreak of perspiration, this anticipatory anxiety was enough to precipitate excessive
sweating. In order to cut this circle formation I advised the patient, in the event that sweating should
recur, to resolve deliberately to show people how much he could sweat. A week later he returned to
report that whenever he met anyone who triggered his anticipatory anxiety, he said to himself, “I
only sweated out a quart before, but now I’m going to pour at least ten quarts!” The result was that,
after suffering from his phobia for four years, he was able, after a single session, to free himself
permanently of it within one week.

The reader will note that this procedure consists of a reversal of the patient’s attitude, inasmuch as
his fear is replaced by a paradoxical wish. By this treatment, the wind is taken out of the sails of the

Such a procedure, however, must make use of the specifically human capacity for self-detachment
inherent in a sense of humour. This basic capacity to detach one from oneself is actualized whenever
the logotherapeutic technique called paradoxical intention is applied. At the same time, the patient
is enabled to put himself at a distance from his own neurosis. A statement consistent with this is
found in Gordon W. Allport’s book, The Individual and His Religion: “The neurotic who learns to
laugh at himself may be on the way to self-management, perhaps to cure.”11

11 New York, The Macmillan Co., 1956, p. 92.

Paradoxical intention is the empirical validation and clinical application of Allport’s statement.
A few more case reports may serve to clarify this method further. The following patient was a
bookkeeper who had been treated by many doctors and in several clinics without any therapeutic
success. When he was admitted to my hospital department, he was in extreme despair, confessing
that he was close to suicide. For some years, he had suffered from a writer’s cramp which had
recently become so severe that he was in danger of losing his job. Therefore, only immediate short-
term therapy could alleviate the situation. In starting treatment, Dr. Eva Kozdera recommended to
the patient that he do just the opposite of what he usually had done; namely, instead of trying to
write as neatly and legibly as possible, to write with the worst possible scrawl. He was advised to say
to himself, “Now I will show people what a good scribbler I am!” And at the moment in which he
deliberately tried to scribble, he was unable to do so. “I tried to scrawl but simply could not do it,” he
said the next day. Within forty-eight hours the patient was in this way freed from his writer’s cramp,
and remained free for the observation period after he had been treated. He is a happy man again
and fully able to work.

A similar case, dealing, however, with speaking rather than writing, was related to me by a colleague
in the Laryngological Department of the Vienna Poliklinik Hospital. It was the most severe case of

stuttering he had come across in his many years of practice. Never in his life, as far as the stutterer
could remember, had he been free from his speech trouble, even for a moment, except once. This
happened when he was twelve years old and had hooked a ride on a streetcar. When caught by the
conductor, he thought that the only way to escape would be to elicit his sympathy, and so he tried
to demonstrate that he was just a poor stuttering boy. At that moment, when he tried to stutter, he
was unable to do it. Without meaning to, he had practiced paradoxical intention, though not for
therapeutic purposes.

However, this presentation should not leave the impression that paradoxical intention is effective
only in mono-symptomatic cases. By means of this logotherapeutic technique, my staff at the Vienna
Poliklinik Hospital has succeeded in bringing relief even in obsessive-compulsive neuroses of a most
severe degree and duration. I refer, for instance, to a woman sixty-five years of age who had
suffered for sixty years from a washing compulsion. Dr. Eva Kozdera started logotherapeutic
treatment by means of paradoxical intention, and two months later the patient was able to lead a
normal life. Before admission to the Neurological Department of the Vienna Poliklinik Hospital, she
had confessed, “Life was hell for me.” Handicapped by her compulsion and bacteriophobic
obsession, she finally remained in bed all day unable to do any housework. It would not be accurate
to say that she is now completely free of symptoms, for an obsession may come to her mind.
However, she is able to “joke about it,” as she says; in short, to apply paradoxical intention.

Paradoxical intention can also be applied in cases of sleep disturbance. The fear of sleeplessness12
results in a hyper-intention to fall asleep, which, in turn, incapacitates the patient to do so. To
overcome this particular fear, I usually advise the patient not to try to sleep but rather to try to do
just the opposite, that is, to stay awake as long as possible. In other words, the hyper-intention to
fall asleep, arising from the anticipatory anxiety of not being able to do so, must be replaced by the
paradoxical intention not to fall asleep, which soon will be followed by sleep.

12 The fear of sleeplessness is, in the majority of cases, due to the patient’s ignorance of the fact that the organism
provides itself by itself with the minimum amount of sleep really needed.

Paradoxical intention is no panacea. Yet it lends itself as a useful tool in treating obsessive-
compulsive and phobic conditions, especially in cases with underlying anticipatory anxiety.
Moreover, it is a short-term therapeutic device. However, one should not conclude that such a
short-term therapy necessarily results in only temporary therapeutic effects. One of “the more
common illusions of Freudian orthodoxy,” to quote the late Emil A. Gutheil, “is that the durability of
results corresponds to the length of therapy.”13 In my files there is, for instance, the case report of a
patient to whom paradoxical intention was administered more than twenty years ago; the
therapeutic effect proved to be, nevertheless, a permanent one.

13 American Journal of Psychotherapy, 10 (1956), p. 134.

One of the most remarkable facts is that paradoxical intention is effective regardless of the
etiological basis of the case concerned. This confirms a statement once made by Edith Weisskopf-
Joelson: “Although traditional psychotherapy has insisted that therapeutic practices have to be
based on findings on etiology, it is possible that certain factors might cause neuroses during early
childhood and that entirely different factors might relieve neuroses during adulthood.”14

14 “Some Comments on a Viennese School of Psychiatry,” The Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, 51 (1955), pp.

As for the actual causation of neuroses, apart from constitutional elements, whether somatic or
psychic in nature, such feedback mechanisms as anticipatory anxiety seem to be a major pathogenic

factor. A given symptom is responded to by a phobia, the phobia triggers the symptom, and the
symptom, in turn, reinforces the phobia. A similar chain of events, however, can be observed in
obsessive-compulsive cases in which the patient fights the ideas which haunt him15 Thereby,
however, he increases their power to disturb him, since pressure precipitates counter pressure.
Again the symptom is reinforced! On the other hand, as soon as the patient stops fighting his
obsessions and instead tries to ridicule them by dealing with them in an ironical way—by applying
paradoxical intention—the vicious circle is cut, the symptom diminishes and finally atrophies. In the
fortunate case where there is no existential vacuum which invites and elicits the symptom, the
patient will not only succeed in ridiculing his neurotic fear but finally will succeed in completely
ignoring it.

15 This is often motivated by the patient’s fear that his obsessionsindicate an imminent or even actual psychosis; the
patient is not aware of the empirical fact that an obsessive-compulsive neurosis is immunizing him against a formal
psychosis rather than endangering him in this direction.

As we see, anticipatory anxiety has to be counteracted by paradoxical intention; hyper-intention as
well as hyper-reflection have to be counteracted by dereflection; dereflection, however, ultimately
is not possible except by the patient’s orientation toward his specific vocation and mission in life.16

It is not the neurotic’s self-concern, whether pity or contempt, which breaks the circle formation; the
cue to cure is self-transcendence!

16 This conviction is supported by Allport who once said, “As the focus of striving shifts from the conflict to selfless goals,
the life as a whole becomes sounder even though the neurosis may never completely disappear” (op. cit., p. 95).

Every age has its own collective neurosis, and every age needs its own psychotherapy to cope with
it. The existential vacuum which is the mass neurosis of the present time can be described as a
private and personal form of nihilism; for nihilism can be defined as the contention that being has no
meaning. As for psychotherapy, however, it will never be able to cope with this state of affairs on a
mass scale if it does not keep itself free from the impact and influence of the contemporary trends
of a nihilistic philosophy; otherwise it represents a symptom of the mass neurosis rather than its
possible cure. Psychotherapy would not only reflect a nihilistic philosophy but also, even though
unwillingly and unwittingly, transmit to the patient what is actually a caricature rather than a true
picture of man.

First of all, there is a danger inherent in the teaching of man’s “nothingbutness,” the theory that man
is nothing but the result of biological, psychological and sociological conditions, or the product of
heredity and environment. Such a view of man makes a neurotic believe what he is prone to believe
anyway, namely, that he is the pawn and victim of outer influences or inner circumstances. This
neurotic fatalism is fostered and strengthened by a psychotherapy which denies that man is free.
To be sure, a human being is a finite thing, and his freedom is restricted. It is not freedom from
conditions, but it is freedom to take a stand toward the conditions. As I once put it: “As a professor
in two fields, neurology and psychiatry, I am fully aware of the extent to which man is subject to
biological, psychological and sociological conditions. But in addition to being a professor in two fields
I am a survivor of four camps—concentration camps, that is— and as such I also bear witness to the
unexpected extent to which man is capable of defying and braving even the worst conditions

17 “Value Dimensions in Teaching,” a colour television film produced by Hollywood Animators, Inc., for the California
Junior College Association.

Psychoanalysis has often been blamed for its so-called pan-sexualism. I, for one, doubt whether this
reproach has ever been legitimate. However, there is something which seems to me to be an even
more erroneous and dangerous assumption, namely, that which I call “pan-determinism.” By that I
mean the view of man which disregards his capacity to take a stand toward any conditions
whatsoever. Man is not fully conditioned and determined but rather determines himself whether he
gives in to conditions or stands up to them. In other words, man is ultimately self-determining. Man
does not simply exist but always decides what his existence will be, what he will become in the next

By the same token, every human being has the freedom to change at any instant. Therefore, we can
predict his future only within the large framework of a statistical survey referring to a whole group;
the individual personality, however, remains essentially unpredictable. The basis for any predictions
would be represented by biological, psychological or sociological conditions. Yet one of the main
features of human existence is the capacity to rise above such conditions, to grow beyond them.
Man is capable of changing the world for the better if possible, and of changing himself for the
better if necessary.

Let me cite the case of Dr. J. He was the only man I ever encountered in my whole life whom I would
dare to call a Mephistophelean being, a satanic figure. At that time he was generally called “the mass
murderer of Steinhof” (the large mental hospital in Vienna). When the Nazis started their euthanasia
program, he held all the strings in his hands and was so fanatic in the job assigned to him that he
tried not to let one single psychotic individual escape the gas chamber. After the war, when I came
back to Vienna, I asked what had happened to Dr. J. “He had been imprisoned by the Russians in one
of the isolation cells of Steinhof,” they told me. “The next day, however, the door of his cell stood
open and Dr. J. was never seen again.”

Later I was convinced that, like others, he had with the help of his comrades made his way to South
America. More recently, however, I was consulted by a former Austrian diplomat who had been
imprisoned behind the Iron Curtain for many years, first in Siberia and then in the famous Lubianka
prison in Moscow. While I was examining him neurologically, he suddenly asked me whether I
happened to know Dr. J. After my affirmative reply he continued: “I made his acquaintance in
Lubianka. There he died, at about the age of forty, from cancer of the urinary bladder. Before he
died, however, he showed himself to be the best comrade you can imagine! He gave consolation to
everybody. He lived up to the highest conceivable moral standard. He was the best friend I ever met
during my long years in prison!”

This is the story of Dr. J., “the mass murderer of Steinhof.” How can we dare to predict the behaviour
of man? We may predict the movements of a machine, of an automaton; more than this, we may
even try to predict the mechanisms or “dynamisms” of the human psyche as well. But man is more
than psyche.

Freedom, however, is not the last word. Freedom is only part of the story and half of the truth.
Freedom is but the negative aspect of the whole phenomenon whose positive aspect is
responsibleness. In fact, freedom is in danger of degenerating into mere arbitrariness unless it is
lived in terms of responsibleness. That is why / recommend that the Statue of Liberty on the East
Coast be supplemented by a Statue of Responsibility on the West Coast.

There is nothing conceivable which would so condition a man as to leave him without the slightest
freedom. Therefore, a residue of freedom, however limited it may be, is left to man in neurotic and
even psychotic cases. Indeed, the innermost core of the patient’s personality is not even touched by
a psychosis.

An incurably psychotic individual may lose his usefulness but yet retain the dignity of a human being.
This is my psychiatric credo. Without it I should not think it worthwhile to be a psychiatrist. For
whose sake? Just for the sake of a damaged brain machine which cannot be repaired? If the patient
were not definitely more, euthanasia would be justified.

For too long a time—for half a century, in fact—psychiatry tried to interpret the human mind merely
as a mechanism, and consequently the therapy of mental disease merely in terms of a technique. I
believe this dream has been dreamt out. What now begins to loom on the horizon are not the
sketches of a psychologised medicine but rather those of a humanized psychiatry.

A doctor, however, who would still interpret his own role mainly as that of a technician would
confess that he sees in his patient nothing more than a machine, instead of seeing the human being
behind the disease!

A human being is not one thing among others; things determine each other, but man is ultimately
self-determining. What he becomes—within the limits of endowment and environment—he has
made out of himself. In the concentration camps, for example, in this living laboratory and on this
testing ground, we watched and witnessed some of our comrades behave like swine while others
behaved like saints. Man has both potentialities within himself; which one is actualized depends on
decisions but not on conditions.

Our generation is realistic, for we have come to know man as he really is. After all, man is that being
who invented the gas chambers of Auschwitz; however, he is also that being who entered those gas
chambers upright, with the Lord’s Prayer or the Shema Yisrael on his lips.


The Case for a Tragic Optimism*

Dedicated to the memory of Edith Weisskopf-Joelson, whose pioneering efforts in logotherapy in the United States began
as early as 1955 and whose contributions to the field have been invaluable.

* This chapter is based on a lecture I presented at the Third World Congress of Logotherapy, Regensburg University, West
Germany, June 1983.

LET US FIRST ASK OURSELVES WHAT SHOULD BE understood by “a tragic optimism.” In brief it means that
one is, and remains, optimistic in spite of the “tragic triad,” as it is called in logotherapy, a triad
which consists of those aspects of human existence which may be circumscribed by: (1) pain; (2)
guilt; and (3) death. This chapter, in fact, raises the question, How is it possible to say yes to life in
spite of all that? How, to pose the question differently, can life retain its potential meaning in spite
of its tragic aspects? After all, “saying yes to life in spite of everything,” to use the phrase in which
the title of a German book of mine is couched, presupposes that life is potentially meaningful under
any conditions, even those which are most miserable. And this in turn presupposes the human
capacity to creatively turn life’s negative aspects into something positive or constructive. In other
words, what matters is to make the best of any given situation. “The best,” however, is that which in
Latin is called optimum—hence the reason I speak of a tragic optimism, that is, an optimism in the
face of tragedy and in view of the human potential which at its best always allows for: (1) turning
suffering into a human achievement and accomplishment; (2) deriving from guilt the opportunity to
change oneself for the better; and (3) deriving from life’s transitoriness an incentive to take
responsible action.

It must be kept in mind, however, that optimism is not anything to be commanded or ordered. One
cannot even force oneself to be optimistic indiscriminately, against all odds, against all hope. And
what is true for hope is also true for the other two components of the triad inasmuch as faith and
love cannot be commanded or ordered either.

To the European, it is a characteristic of the American culture that, again and again, one is
commanded and ordered to “be happy.” But happiness cannot be pursued; it must ensue. One must
have a reason to “be happy.” Once the reason is found, however, one becomes happy automatically.
As we see, a human being is not one in pursuit of happiness but rather in search of a reason to
become happy, last but not least, through actualizing the potential meaning inherent and dormant
in a given situation.

This need for a reason is similar in another specifically human phenomenon—laughter. If you want
anyone to laugh you have to provide him with a reason, e.g., you have to tell him a joke. In no way is
it possible to evoke real laughter by urging him, or having him urge himself, to laugh. Doing so would
be the same as urging people posed in front of a camera to say “cheese,” only to find that in the
finished photographs their faces are frozen in artificial smiles.

In logotherapy, such a behaviour pattern is called “hyper-intention.” It plays an important role in the
causation of sexual neurosis, be it frigidity or impotence. The more a patient, instead of forgetting
himself through giving himself, directly strives for orgasm, i.e., sexual pleasure, the more this pursuit
of sexual pleasure becomes self-defeating. Indeed, what is called “the pleasure principle” is, rather, a

Once an individual’s search for a meaning is successful, it not only renders him happy but also gives
him the capability to cope with suffering. And what happens if one’s groping for a meaning has been
in vain? This may well result in a fatal condition. Let us recall, for instance, what sometimes
happened in extreme situations such as prisoner-of-war camps or concentration camps. In the first,
as I was told by American soldiers, a behaviour pattern crystallized to which they referred as “give-
up-itis.” In the concentration camps, this behaviour was paralleled by those who one morning, at
five, refused to get up and go to work and instead stayed in the hut, on the straw wet with urine and
faeces. Nothing—neither warnings nor threats—could induce them to change their minds. And then
something typical occurred: they took out a cigarette from deep down in a pocket where they had
hidden it and started smoking. At that moment we knew that for the next forty-eight hours or so we
would watch them dying. Meaning orientation had subsided, and consequently the seeking of
immediate pleasure had taken over.

Is this not reminiscent of another parallel, a parallel that confronts us day by day? I think of those
youngsters who, on a worldwide scale, refer to themselves as the “no future” generation. To be
sure, it is not just a cigarette to which they resort; it is drugs.

In fact, the drug scene is one aspect of a more general mass phenomenon, namely the feeling of
meaninglessness resulting from a frustration of our existential needs which in turn has become a
universal phenomenon in our industrial societies. Today it is not only logotherapists who claim that
the feeling of meaninglessness plays an ever increasing role in the etiology of neurosis. As Irvin D.
Yalom of Stanford University states in Existential Psychotherapy: “Of forty consecutive patients
applying for therapy at a psychiatric outpatient clinic . . . twelve (30 percent) had some major
problem involving meaning (as adjudged from self-ratings, therapists, or independent judges).”1
Thousands of miles east of Palo Alto, the situation differs only by 1 percent; the most recent
pertinent statistics indicate that in Vienna, 29 percent of the population complain that meaning is
missing from their lives.

1 Basic Books, New York, 1980, p. 448.

As to the causation of the feeling of meaninglessness, one may say, albeit in an oversimplifying vein,
that people have enough to live by but nothing to live for; they have the means but no meaning. To
be sure, some do not even have the means. In particular, I think of the mass of people who are today
unemployed. Fifty years ago, I published a study2 devoted to a specific type of depression I had
diagnosed in cases of young patients suffering from what I called “unemployment neurosis.” And I
could show that this neurosis really originated in a twofold erroneous identification: being jobless
was equated with being useless, and being useless was equated with having a meaningless life.
Consequently, whenever I succeeded in persuading the patients to volunteer in youth organizations,
adult education, public libraries and the like—in other words, as soon as they could fill their
abundant free time with some sort of unpaid but meaningful activity—their depression disappeared
although their economic situation had not changed and their hunger was the same. The truth is that
man does not live by welfare alone.

2 “Wirtschaftskrise und Seelenleben vom Standpunkt des Jugend-beraters,” Sozialdrztliche Rundschau, Vol. 4 (1933), pp.

Along with unemployment neurosis, which is triggered by an individual’s socioeconomic situation,
there are other types of depression which are traceable back to psychodynamic or biochemical
conditions, whichever the case may be. Accordingly, psychotherapy and pharmacotherapy are
indicated respectively. Insofar as the feeling of meaninglessness is concerned, however, we should
not overlook and forget that, per se, it is not a matter of pathology; rather than being the sign and
symptom of a neurosis, it is, I would say, the proof of one’s humanness. But although it is not caused

by anything pathological, it may well cause a pathological reaction; in other words, it is potentially
pathogenic. Just consider the mass neurotic syndrome so pervasive in the young generation: there is
ample empirical evidence that the three facets of this syndrome—depression, aggression,
addiction—are due to what is called in logo-therapy “the existential vacuum,” a feeling of emptiness
and meaninglessness.

It goes without saying that not each and every case of depression is to be traced back to a feeling of
meaninglessness, nor does suicide—in which depression sometimes eventuates—always result from
an existential vacuum. But even if each and every case of suicide had not been undertaken out of a
feeling of meaninglessness, it may well be that an individual’s impulse to take his life would have
been overcome had he been aware of some meaning and purpose worth living for.

If, thus, a strong meaning orientation plays a decisive role in the prevention of suicide, what about
intervention in cases in which there is a suicide risk? As a young doctor I spent four years in Austria’s
largest state hospital where I was in charge of the pavilion in which severely depressed patients
were accommodated—most of them having been admitted after a suicide attempt. I once calculated
that I must have explored twelve thousand patients during those four years. What accumulated was
quite a store of experience from which I still draw whenever I am confronted with someone who is
prone to suicide. I explain to such a person that patients have repeatedly told me how happy they
were that the suicide attempt had not been successful; weeks, months, years later, they told me, it
turned out that there was a solution to their problem, an answer to their question, a meaning to
their life. “Even if things only take such a good turn in one of a thousand cases,” my explanation
continues, “who can guarantee that in your case it will not happen one day, sooner or later? But in
the first place, you have to live to see the day on which it may happen, so you have to survive in
order to see that day dawn, and from now on the responsibility for survival does not leave you.”

Regarding the second facet of the mass neurotic syndrome—aggression—let me cite an experiment
once conducted by Carolyn Wood Sherif. She had succeeded in artificially building up mutual
aggressions between groups of boy scouts, and observed that the aggressions only subsided when
the youngsters dedicated themselves to a collective purpose—that is, the joint task of dragging out
of the mud a carriage in which food had to be brought to their camp. Immediately, they were not
only challenged but also united by a meaning they had to fulfil3

3 For further information on this experiment, see Viktor E. Frankl, The Unconscious God, New York, Simon and Schuster,
1978, p. 140;and Viktor E. Frankl, The Unheard Cry for Meaning, New York, Simon and Schuster, 1978, p. 36.

As for the third issue, addiction, I am reminded of the findings presented by Annemarie von
Forstmeyer who noted that, as evidenced by tests and statistics, 90 percent of the alcoholics she
studied had suffered from an abysmal feeling of meaninglessness. Of the drug addicts studied by
Stanley Krippner, 100 percent believed that “things seemed meaningless.”4

4 For further information, see The Unconscious God, pp. 97-100; and The Unheard Cry for Meaning, pp. 26-28.

Now let us turn to the question of meaning itself. To begin with, I would like to clarify that, in the
first place, the logotherapist is concerned with the potential meaning inherent and dormant in all
the single situations one has to face throughout his or her life. Therefore, I will not be elaborating
here on the meaning of one’s life as a whole, although I do not deny that such a long-range meaning
does exist. To invoke an analogy, consider a movie: it consists of thousands upon thousands of
individual pictures, and each of them makes sense and carries a meaning, yet the meaning of the
whole film cannot be seen before its last sequence is shown. However, we cannot understand the
whole film without having first understood each of its components, each of the individual pictures.
Isn’t it the same with life? Doesn’t the final meaning of life, too, reveal itself, if at all, only at its end,

on the verge of death? And doesn’t this final meaning, too, depend on whether or not the potential
meaning of each single situation has been actualized to the best of the respective individual’s
knowledge and belief?

The fact remains that meaning, and its perception, as seen from the logotherapeutic angle, is
completely down to earth rather than afloat in the air or resident in an ivory tower. Sweepingly, I
would locate the cognition of meaning —of the personal meaning of a concrete situation—midway
between an “aha” experience along the lines of Karl Biihler’s concept and a Gestalt perception, say,
along the lines of Max Wertheimer’s theory. The perception of meaning differs from the classical
concept of Gestalt perception insofar as the latter implies the sudden awareness of a “figure” on a
“ground,” whereas the perception of meaning, as I see it, more specifically boils down to becoming
aware of a possibility against the background of reality or, to express it in plain words, to becoming
aware of what can be done about a given situation.

And how does a human being go about finding meaning? As Charlotte Buhler has stated: “All we can
do is study the lives of people who seem to have found their answers to the questions of what
ultimately human life is about as against those who have not.”5 In addition to such a biographical
approach, however, we may as well embark on a biological approach. Logotherapy conceives of
conscience as a prompter which, if need be, indicates the direction in which we have to move in a
given life situation. In order to carry out such a task, conscience must apply a measuring stick to the
situation one is confronted with, and this situation has to be evaluated in the light of a set of criteria,
in the light of a hierarchy of values. These values, however, cannot be espoused and adopted by us
on a conscious level—they are something that we are. They have crystallized in the course of the
evolution of our species; they are founded on our biological past and are rooted in our biological
depth. Konrad Lorenz might have had something similar in mind when he developed the concept of
a biological a priori, and when both of us recently discussed my own view on the biological
foundation of the valuing process, he enthusiastically expressed his accord. In any case, if a pre-
reflective axiological self-understanding exists, we may assume that it is ultimately anchored in our
biological heritage.

5 “Basic Theoretical Concepts of Humanistic Psychology,” American Psychologist, XXVI (April 1971), p. 378.

As logotherapy teaches, there are three main avenues on which one arrives at meaning in life. The
first is by creating a work or by doing a deed. The second is by experiencing something or
encountering someone; in other words, meaning can be found not only in work but also in love.
Edith Weisskopf-Joelson observed in this context that the logo-therapeutic “notion that experiencing
can be as valuable as achieving is therapeutic because it compensates for our one-sided emphasis on
the external world of achievement at the expense of the internal world of experience.”6

6 “The Place of Logotherapy in the World Today,” The International Forum for Logotherapy, Vol. 1, No. 3 (1980), pp. 3-7.

Most important, however, is the third avenue to meaning in life: even the helpless victim of a
hopeless situation, facing a fate he cannot change, may rise above himself, may grow beyond
himself, and by so doing change himself. He may turn a personal tragedy into a triumph. Again it was
Edith Weisskopf-Joelson who, as mentioned on, once expressed the hope that logotherapy “may
help counteract certain unhealthy trends in the present-day culture of the United States, where the
incurable sufferer is given very little opportunity to be proud of his suffering and to consider it
ennobling rather than degrading” so that “he is not only unhappy, but also ashamed of being

For a quarter of a century I ran the neurological department of a general hospital and bore witness
to my patients’ capacity to turn their predicaments into human achievements. In addition to such

practical experience, empirical evidence is also available which supports the possibility that one may
find meaning in suffering. Researchers at the Yale University School of Medicine “have been
impressed by the number of prisoners of war of the Vietnam war who explicitly claimed that
although their captivity was extraordinarily stressful—filled with torture, disease, malnutrition, and
solitary confinement—they nevertheless . . . benefited from the captivity experience, seeing it as a
growth experience.”7

7 W. H. Sledge, J. A. Boydstun and A. J. Rabe, “Self-Concept Changes Related to War Captivity,” Arch. Gen. Psychiatry, 37
(1980), pp. 430-443-

But the most powerful arguments in favour of “a tragic optimism” are those which in Latin are called
argumenta ad hominem. Jerry Long, to cite an example, is a living testimony to “the defiant power of
the human spirit,” as it is called in logotherapy8 To quote the Texarkana Gazette, “Jerry Long has
been paralyzed from his neck down since a diving accident which rendered him a quadriplegic three
years ago. He was 17 when the accident occurred. Today Long can use his mouth stick to type. He
‘attends’ two courses at Community College via a special telephone. The intercom allows Long to
both hear and participate in class discussions. He also occupies his time by reading, watching
television and writing.” And in a letter I received from him, he writes: “I view my life as being
abundant with meaning and purpose. The attitude that I adopted on that fateful day has become my
personal credo for life: I broke my neck, it didn’t break me. I am currently enrolled in my first
psychology course in college. I believe that my handicap will only enhance my ability to help others. I
know that without the suffering, the growth that I have achieved would have been impossible.”

8 “The Defiant Power of the Human Spirit” was in fact the title of a paper presented by Long at the Third World Congress of
Logotherapy in June 1983.

Is this to say that suffering is indispensable to the discovery of meaning? In no way. I only insist that
meaning is available in spite of—nay, even through—suffering, provided, as noted in Part Two of this
book, that the suffering is unavoidable. If it is avoidable, the meaningful thing to do is to remove its
cause, for unnecessary suffering is masochistic rather than heroic. If, on the other hand, one cannot
change a situation that causes his suffering, he can still choose his attitude9 Long had not chosen to
break his neck, but he did decide not to let himself be broken by what had happened to him.

9 I won’t forget an interview I once heard on Austrian TV, given by a Polish cardiologist who, during World War II, had
helped organize the Warsaw ghetto upheaval. “What a heroic deed,” exclaimed the reporter. “Listen,” calmly replied the
doctor, “to take a gun and shoot is no great thing; but if the SS leads you to a gas chamber or to a mass grave to execute
you on the spot, and you can’t do anything about it—except for going your way with dignity—you see, this is what I would
call heroism.” Attitudinal heroism, so to speak.

As we see, the priority stays with creatively changing the situation that causes us to suffer. But the
superiority goes to the “know-how to suffer,” if need be. And there is empirical evidence that—
literally—the “man in the street” is of the same opinion. Austrian public-opinion pollsters recently
reported that those held in highest esteem by most of the people interviewed are neither the great
artists nor the great scientists, neither the great statesmen nor the great sports figures, but those
who master a hard lot with their heads held high.

In turning to the second aspect of the tragic triad, namely guilt, I would like to depart from a
theological concept that has always been fascinating to me. I refer to what is called mysterium
iniquitatis, meaning, as I see it, that a crime in the final analysis remains inexplicable inasmuch as it
cannot be fully traced back to biological, psychological and/or sociological factors. Totally explaining
one’s crime would be tantamount to explaining away his or her guilt and to seeing in him or her not
a free and responsible human being but a machine to be repaired. Even criminals themselves abhor
this treatment and prefer to be held responsible for their deeds. From a convict serving his sentence

in an Illinois penitentiary I received a letter in which he deplored that “the criminal never has a
chance to explain himself. He is offered a variety of excuses to choose from. Society is blamed and in
many instances the blame is put on the victim.” Furthermore, when I addressed the prisoners in San
Quentin, I told them that “you are human beings like me, and as such you were free to commit a
crime, to become guilty. Now, however, you are responsible for overcoming guilt by rising above it,
by growing beyond yourselves, by changing for the better.” They felt understood.10 And from Frank
E.W., an ex-prisoner, I received a note which stated that he had “started a logotherapy group for ex-
felons. We are 27 strong and the newer ones are staying out of prison through the peer strength of
those of us from the original group. Only one returned— and he is now free.”11

10 See also Joseph B. Fabry, The Pursuit of Meaning, New York, Harper and Row, 1980.

11 Cf. Viktor E. Frankl, The Unheard Cry for Meaning, New York, Simon and Schuster, 1978, pp. 42-43.

As for the concept of collective guilt, I personally think that it is totally unjustified to hold one person
responsible for the behaviour of another person or a collective of persons. Since the end of World
War II I have not become weary of publicly arguing against the collective guilt concept.12 Sometimes,
however, it takes a lot of didactic tricks to detach people from their superstitions. An American
woman once confronted me with the reproach, “How can you still write some of your books in
German, Adolf Hitler’s language?” In response, I asked her if she had knives in her kitchen, and when
she answered that she did, I acted dismayed and shocked, exclaiming, “How can you still use knives
after so many killers have used them to stab and murder their victims?” She stopped objecting to my
writing books in German.

12 See also Viktor E. Frankl, Psychotherapy and Existentialism, New York, Simon and Schuster, 1967.

The third aspect of the tragic triad concerns death. But it concerns life as well, for at any time each
of the moments of which life consists is dying, and that moment will never recur. And yet is not this
transitoriness a reminder that challenges us to make the best possible use of each moment of our
lives? It certainly is, and hence my imperative: Live as if you were living for the second time and had
acted as wrongly the first time as you are about to act now.

In fact, the opportunities to act properly, the potentialities to fulfil a meaning, are affected by the
irreversibility of our lives. But also the potentialities alone are so affected. For as soon as we have
used an opportunity and have actualized a potential meaning, we have done so once and for all. We
have rescued it into the past wherein it has been safely delivered and deposited. In the past, nothing
is irretrievably lost, but rather, on the contrary, everything is irrevocably stored and treasured. To be
sure, people tend to see only the stubble fields of transitoriness but overlook and forget the full
granaries of the past into which they have brought the harvest of their lives: the deeds done, the
loves loved, and last but not least, the sufferings they have gone through with courage and dignity.
From this one may see that there is no reason to pity old people. Instead, young people should envy
them. It is true that the old have no opportunities, no possibilities in the future. But they have more
than that. Instead of possibilities in the future, they have realities in the past—the potentialities they
have actualized, the meanings they have fulfilled, the values they have realized—and nothing and
nobody can ever remove these assets from the past.

In view of the possibility of finding meaning in suffering, life’s meaning is an unconditional one, at
least potentially. That unconditional meaning, however, is paralleled by the unconditional value of
each and every person. It is that which warrants the indelible quality of the dignity of man. Just as
life remains potentially meaningful under any conditions, even those which are most miserable, so
too does the value of each and every person stay with him or her, and it does so because it is based

on the values that he or she has realized in the past, and is not contingent on the usefulness that he
or she may or may not retain in the present.

More specifically, this usefulness is usually defined in terms of functioning for the benefit of society.
But today’s society is characterized by achievement orientation, and consequently it adores people
who are successful and happy and, in particular, it adores the young. It virtually ignores the value of
all those who are otherwise, and in so doing blurs the decisive difference between being valuable in
the sense of dignity and being valuable in the sense of usefulness. If one is not cognizant of this
difference and holds that an individual’s value stems only from his present usefulness, then, believe
me, one owes it only to personal inconsistency not to plead for euthanasia along the lines of Hitler’s
program, that is to say, “mercy” killing of all those who have lost their social usefulness, be it
because of old age, incurable illness, mental deterioration, or whatever handicap they may suffer.

Confounding the dignity of man with mere usefulness arises from a conceptual confusion that in
turn may be traced back to the contemporary nihilism transmitted on many an academic campus
and many an analytical couch. Even in the setting of training analyses such an indoctrination may
take place. Nihilism does not contend that there is nothing, but it states that everything is
meaningless. And George A. Sargent was right when he promulgated the concept of “learned
meaninglessness.” He himself remembered a therapist who said, “George, you must realize that the
world is a joke. There is no justice, everything is random. Only when you realize this will you
understand how silly it is to take yourself seriously. There is no grand purpose in the universe. It just
is. There’s no particular meaning in what decision you make today about how to act.”13 One must
not generalize such a criticism. In principle, training is indispensable, but if so, therapists should see
their task in immunizing the trainee against nihilism rather than inoculating him with the cynicism
that is a defence mechanism against their own nihilism.

13 “Transference and Counter transference in Logotherapy,” The International Forum for Logotherapy, Vol. 5, No. 2
(Fall/Winter 1982),pp. 115-18.

Logotherapists may even conform to some of the training and licensing requirements stipulated by
the other schools of psychotherapy. In other words, one may howl with the wolves, if need be, but
when doing so, one should be, I would urge, a sheep in wolf’s clothing. There is no need to become
untrue to the basic concept of man and the principles of the philosophy of life inherent in
logotherapy. Such a loyalty is not hard to maintain in view of the fact that, as Elisabeth S. Lukas once
pointed out, “throughout the history of psychotherapy, there has never been a school as
undogmatic as logotherapy.”14 And at the First World Congress of Logotherapy (San Diego,
California, November 6-8, 1980) I argued not only for the rehumanisation of psychotherapy but also
for what I called “the degurufication of logotherapy.” My interest does not lie in raising parrots that
just rehash “their master’s voice,” but rather in passing the torch to “independent and inventive,
innovative and creative spirits.”

14 Logotherapy is not imposed on those who are interested in psychotherapy. It is not comparable to an Oriental bazaar
but rather to a supermarket. In the former, the customer is talked into buying something. In the latter, he is shown, and
offered, various things from which he may pick what he deems usable and valuable.

Sigmund Freud once asserted, “Let one attempt to expose a number of the most diverse people
uniformly to hunger.

With the increase of the imperative urge of hunger all individual differences will blur, and in their
stead will appear the uniform expression of the one unstilled urge.” Thank heaven, Sigmund Freud
was spared knowing the concentration camps from the inside. His subjects lay on a couch designed
in the plush style of Victorian culture, not in the filth of Auschwitz. There, the “individual differences”

did not “blur” but, on the contrary, people became more different; people unmasked themselves,
both the swine and the saints. And today you need no longer hesitate to use the word “saints”: think
of Father Maximilian Kolbe who was starved and finally murdered by an injection of carbolic acid at
Auschwitz and who in 1983 was canonized.

You may be prone to blame me for invoking examples that are the exceptions to the rule. “Sed
omnia praeclara tarn difficilia quam rara sunt” (but everything great is just as difficult to realize as it
is rare to find) reads the last sentence of the Ethics of Spinoza. You may of course ask whether we
really need to refer to “saints.” Wouldn’t it suffice just to refer to decent people? It is true that they
form a minority. More than that, they always will remain a minority. And yet I see therein the very
challenge to join the minority. For the world is in a bad state, but everything will become still worse
unless each of us does his best.

So, let us be alert—alert in a twofold sense: Since Auschwitz we know what man is capable of. And
since Hiroshima we know what is at stake.

About the Author

Viktor E. Frankl is Professor of Neurology and Psychiatry at the University of Vienna Medical School.
He is the founder of what has come to be called the Third Viennese School of Psychotherapy (after
Freud’s psychoanalysis and Adler’s individual psychology)—the school of logotherapy. His work has
been called “perhaps the most significant thinking since Freud and Adler” by the American Journal of

Born in 1905, Dr. Frankl received the degrees of Doctor of Medicine and Doctor of Philosophy from
the University of Vienna. During World War II he spent three years at Auschwitz, Dachau, and other
concentration camps.

Dr. Frankl first published in 1924 in the International Journal of Psychoanalysis and has since
published thirty books, which have been translated into twenty-three languages, including Japanese
and Chinese. He has been a visiting professor at Harvard, as well as at universities in Pittsburgh, San
Diego, and Dallas. Honorary doctoral degrees have been conferred upon him by twenty-seven
universities, and the American Psychiatric Association has honoured him with the Oskar Pfister
Award. He has been a guest lecturer at universities throughout the world and has made more than
ninety lecture tours throughout the United States alone.

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