Man's Search for Meaning (Frankl)

Author Bio 
Birth—March 26, 1905
Where—Vienna, Austria
Death—September 2, 1997
Where—Austria, Austria
Education—M.D., Ph.D., University of Vienna

Viktor E. Frankl was a professor of neurology and psychiatry at the University of Vienna Medical School until his death in 1997. His 29 books have been translated into 21 languages. During World War II, he spent three years as Auschwitz, Dachau, and other concentration camps. (From the publisher.)

Viktor Emil Frankl was an Austrian neurologist and psychiatrist as well as a Holocaust survivor. Frankl was the founder of logotherapy, which is a form of Existential Analysis. His book Man's Search for Meaning (first published in 1946) chronicles his experiences as a concentration camp inmate and describes his psychotherapeutic method of finding meaning in all forms of existence, even the most sordid ones, and thus a reason to continue living. He was one of the key figures in existential therapy.

Frankl was born in Vienna into a Jewish family of civil servants. His interest in psychology surfaced early. For the final exam in Gymnasium (secondary school), he wrote a paper on the psychology of philosophical thinking. After graduating from Gymnasium in 1923, he studied medicine at the University of Vienna and later specialized in neurology and psychiatry, concentrating on the topics of depression and suicide. He had personal contact with Sigmund Freud and Alfred Adler.

1924 he became the president of the Sozialistische Mittelschüler Österreich. In this position he offered a special program to counsel students during the time they were to receive their grades. During his tenure, not a single Viennese student committed suicide. The success of this program grabbed the attention of the likes of Wilhelm Reich who invited him to Berlin.

From 1933 to 1937 he headed the so-called Selbstmörderpavillon, or "suicide pavilion", of the General Hospital in Vienna. Here, he treated over 30,000 women prone to suicide. Yet, starting in 1938, he was prohibited from treating Aryan patients due to his Jewish ethnicity.

He moved into private practice until starting work in 1940 at the Rothschild Hospital, where he headed its neurological department, and practiced as a brain surgeon. This hospital, at the time, was the only one in Vienna in which Jews were still admitted. Several times, his medical opinions saved patients from being euthanised via the Nazi euthanasia program. In December 1941 he married Tilly Grosser.

The Holocaust
On September 25, 1942 he, along with his wife and his parents were deported to the Theresienstadt concentration camp. Though assigned to ordinary labor details until the last few weeks of the war, Frankl (assisted by Dr. Leo Baeck and Regina Jonas among others) tried to cure fellow prisoners from despondency and prevent suicide.

He worked in the psychiatric care ward, headed the neurological clinic in block B IV, established and maintained a camp service of psychic hygiene and mental care for sick and those who were weary of life. Frankl also gave lectures on topics like "Sleep and Its Disturbances," "Body and Soul," and "Medical Care of Soul".

Since it was forbidden to actively intervene in a suicide attempt, such activity had to be both preventative and clandestine. Then, on October 19, 1944, he was transported to Auschwitz, and some days later to Türkheim, a concentration camp not far from Dachau where he arrived the 25th of October 1944. Meanwhile, his wife had been transferred to the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp, where she died; his father and mother had been sent to Auschwitz from Theresienstadt and died there as well.

On April 27, 1945, Frankl was liberated by the Americans. Among his immediate relatives, the only survivor was his sister, who had escaped by emigrating to Australia.

It was due to his and others' suffering in these camps that he came to his hallmark conclusion that even in the most absurd, painful and dehumanized situation, life has potential meaning and that therefore even suffering is meaningful. This conclusion served as a strong basis for Frankl's logotherapy. Another important conclusion of Frankl was that...

...if a prisoner felt that he could no longer endure the realities of camp life, he found a way out in his mental life—an invaluable opportunity to dwell in the spiritual domain, the one that the SS were unable to destroy. Spiritual life strengthened the prisoner, helped him adapt, and thereby improved his chances of survival.

Liberated after three years of life in concentration camps, he returned to Vienna. During 1945 he wrote his world-famous book, known in English by the title Man's Search for Meaning. In this book, he described the life of an ordinary concentration camp inmate from the objective perspective of a psychiatrist.

In 1946 he was appointed to run the Vienna Poliklinik of Neurology. He remained there until 1971. In 1947 he married his second wife Eleonore Katharina Schwindt. She gave birth to one daughter, Gabriele. In 1955 he was awarded a professorship of neurology and psychiatry at the University of Vienna, and as visiting professor, he resided at Harvard University.

In the post-war years, Frankl published more than 32 books (many were translated into 10 to 20 languages) and is most notable as the founder of logotherapy. (Logos, λόγος, is Greek for word, reason, principle; therapy, Θεραπεύω, means I heal.) He lectured and taught seminars all over the world and received 29 honorary doctorate degrees. Frankl died September 2, 1997, in Vienna. (From Wikipedia.)

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