Viktor Emil Frankl|
26 March 1905
Leopoldstadt, Vienna, Austria
2 September 1997 (aged 92)|
|Resting place||Zentralfriedhof, Vienna, Austria, Old Jewish Section|
|Education||Doctorate in Medicine, 1925, Doctorate in Philosophy, 1948|
|Alma mater||University of Vienna|
Tilly Grosser, m. 1941|
Eleonore Katharina Schwindt, m. 1947
|Parent(s)||Gabriel Frankl and Elsa Frankl|
Viktor Emil Frankl (26 March 1905 - 2 September 1997) 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, the "Third Viennese School of Psychotherapy". His best-selling book Man's Search for Meaning (published under a different title in 1959: From Death-Camp to Existentialism, and originally published in 1946 as Trotzdem Ja Zum Leben Sagen: Ein Psychologe erlebt das Konzentrationslager, meaning Nevertheless, Say "Yes" to Life: A Psychologist Experiences the Concentration Camp) chronicles his experiences as a concentration camp inmate, which led him to discover the importance of finding meaning in all forms of existence, even the most brutal ones, and thus, a reason to continue living. Frankl became one of the key figures in existential therapy and a prominent source of inspiration for humanistic psychologists.
Frankl was born in Vienna into a Jewish family of civil servants (Beamtenfamilie). His interest in psychology surfaced early. For the final exam (Matura) in Gymnasium, he wrote a paper on the psychology of philosophical thinking. After graduation from Gymnasium in 1923, he studied medicine at the University of Vienna. In practice he specialized in neurology and psychiatry, concentrating on the topics of depression and suicide. His early development was influenced by his contacts with Sigmund Freud and Alfred Adler, although he would diverge from their teachings.
Between 1928 and 1930, while still a medical student, he organized and offered a special program to counsel high school students free of charge. The program involved the participation of psychologists such as Charlotte Bühler, and it paid special attention to students at the time when they received their report cards. In 1931, 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, Frankl completed his residency in neurology and psychiatry at the Steinhof Psychiatric Hospital in Vienna. He was responsible for the so-called Selbstmörderpavillon, or "suicide pavilion". Here, he treated more than 3000 women who had suicidal tendencies. In 1937, he established an independent private practice in neurology and psychiatry at Alser Strasse 32/12 in Vienna.
Beginning with the Nazi takeover of Austria in 1938, he was prohibited from treating "Aryan" patients due to his Jewish identity. In 1940 he started working at the Rothschild Hospital, where he headed its neurological department. This hospital was the only one in Vienna to which Jews were still admitted. His medical opinions (including deliberately false diagnoses) saved several patients from being euthanised via the Nazi euthanasia program. In December 1941 he married Tilly Grosser.
On 25 September 1942, Frankl, his wife, and his parents were deported to the Nazi Theresienstadt Ghetto. There Frankl worked as a general practitioner in a clinic. When his skills in psychiatry were noticed, he was assigned to the psychiatric care ward in Block B IV, establishing a camp service of "psychohygiene" or mental health care. He organized a unit to help camp newcomers to overcome shock and grief. Later he set up a suicide watch, assisted by Regina Jonas.
On 29 July 1943, Frankl organized a closed event for the Scientific Society at Theresienstadt, and with the help of Leo Baeck, offered a series of open lectures, including "Sleep and Sleep Disturbances", "Body and Soul", "Medical Care of the Soul", "Psychology of Mountaineering", "How to keep my nerves healthy?", "Medical ministry", "Existential Problems in Psychotherapy", and "Social Psychotherapy". His father Gabriel died of pulmonary edema and pneumonia at Theresienstadt.
On 19 October 1944, Frankl and his wife Tilly were transported to the Auschwitz concentration camp, where he was processed. He was moved to Kaufering, a camp affiliated with Dachau, on 25 October, where he spent five months working as a slave laborer. In March 1945, he was offered a move to the so-called rest camp, Türkheim, also affiliated with Dachau, where he worked as a physician until 27 April 1945, when the camp was liberated by American soldiers.
Frankl's mother Elsa and brother Walter were murdered at Auschwitz. His wife was moved to Bergen-Belsen, where she was murdered. The only other survivor of the Holocaust among Frankl's immediate family was his sister, Stella, who had emigrated from Austria to Australia.
Liberated after several months in concentration camps, Frankl returned to Vienna, where he developed and lectured about his own approach to psychological healing. Frankl believed that people are primarily driven by a "striving to find meaning in one's life," and that it is this sense of meaning that enables people to overcome painful experiences. Frankl wrote his world-famous book entitled, Trotzdem Ja Zum Leben Sagen: Ein Psychologe Erlebt das Konzentrationslager ("Saying Yes to Life in Spite of Everything: A Psychologist Experiences the Concentration Camp"), known in English by the title Man's Search for Meaning (1959 title: From Death-Camp to Existentialism). In this book, he described the life of an ordinary concentration camp inmate from the objective perspective of a psychiatrist.
After enduring the suffering in these camps, Frankl concluded 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 basis for his logotherapy and existential analysis, which Frankl had described before World War II. He said, "What is to give light must endure burning."
An example of Frankl's idea of finding meaning in the midst of extreme suffering is found in his account of an experience he had while working in the harsh conditions of the Nazi concentration camps:
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 neighbor'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 honorable way - in such a position Man can, through loving contemplation of the image he carries of his beloved, achieve fulfillment. 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."
Frankl's concentration camp experiences shaped both his therapeutic approach and philosophical outlook, as reflected in his seminal publications.
He often said that even within the narrow boundaries of the concentration camps he found only two races of Men to exist: decent ones and unprincipled ones. These were to be found in all classes, ethnicities, and groups. "Under such conditions, who could blame them for trying to dope themselves?" "These were the men who were employed in the gas chambers and crematoriums, and who knew very well that one day they would have to leave their enforced role of executioner and become victims themselves."
In 1946, he was appointed to run the Vienna Polyclinic of Neurology. He remained there until 1971. In 1947 he married his second wife Eleonore Katharina Schwindt. She was a practicing Catholic and the couple respected each other's religious backgrounds, going to both church and synagogue, and celebrating Christmas and Hanukah. They had one daughter, Gabriele, who went on to become a child psychologist.
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 (1961), at Southern Methodist University, Dallas (1966), and at Duquesne University, Pittsburgh (1972). He lectured and taught seminars all over the world and received 29 honorary doctoral degrees. Frankl published 39 books, which were translated into as many as 40 languages.
Frankl died of heart failure on 2 September 1997. He was survived by his wife Eleonore, one daughter, two grandchildren and one great-granddaughter.
In The Missing Pieces of the Puzzle: A Reflection on the Odd Career of Viktor Frankl, Timothy Pytell of California State University, conveys the numerous discrepancies and omissions in Frankl's "Auschwitz survivor" account and later autobiography, which many of his contemporaries, such as Thomas Szasz, similarly have raised. In Frankl's Search for meaning the book devotes approximately half its contents to describing Auschwitz and the psychology of its prisoners, suggesting a long stay at the death camp, however his wording is contradictory and to Pytell, deceptive, when rather the impression of staying for months, Frankl was held close to the train, in the "depot prisoner" area of Auschwitz for no more than a few days, he was neither registered there, nor assigned a number before being sent on to a subsidiary work camp of Dachau, known as Kaufering III, the true setting of much of what is described in his book.
On Frankl's doctrine that one must instill meaning in the events in ones life, that work and suffering to find meaning, will ultimately lead to fulfillment and happiness. In 1982 the highly cited scholar and holocaust analyst Lawrence L. Langer, who while also critical of Frankl's distortions on the true experience of those at Auschwitz, and Frankl's amoral focus on "meaning" that could just as equally be applied to Nazis "finding meaning in making the world free from Jews", would go on to write: "If this doctrine had been more succinctly worded, the Nazis might have substituted it for the cruel mockery of Arbeit Macht Frei [which was the sign chosen to be placed over the entry to Auschwitz]".
Pytell later would remark on the penetrating insight of Langer's reading of Frankl, with Langer's criticism published in 1982 before Pytell's biography, the former had thus drawn the parallels in ideology without the knowledge that Victor Frankl had prior to the writing of Man's search for Meaning, become an advocate of the key ideas of the Nazi psychotherapy movement ("will and responsibility") as a form of therapy in the late 1930s. When at that time Frankl voluntarily worked at the Göring institute in Vienna 1936, two years before Austria was annexed by Nazi Germany in 1938.
The origins of logotherapy, as described by Frankl, were and remain a major issue of continuity that Biographer Pytell argues were potentially problematic for Frankl because he had laid out the main elements of logotherapy while working for the Nazi-affiliated Göring Institute. Principally Frankl's 1937 paper, penned while employed at the institute. This association, as a source of controversy, that logotherapy was palatable to National Socialism is the reason Pytell suggests, Frankl took two different stances on how the concentration-camp experience affected the course of his psychotherapy theory. While in the original English edition of Frankl's most well known book, the suggestion is made and still largely held that logotherapy was itself derived from his camp experience, with the claim that this form of psychotherapy was "not concocted in the philosopher's armchair nor at the analyst's couch; it took shape in the hard school of air-raid shelters and bomb craters; in concentration camps and prisoner of war camps." Frankl's statements to this effect would however be deleted from later editions, though in the 1963 edition, a similar statement again appeared on the back of the book jacket of Man's Search for Meaning. Frankl would over the years switch between the claim that logotherapy took shape in the camps and the claim that the camps merely justified his already preconceived theories, though as the definitive word on the matter, in 1977 Frankl himself began to clarify the controversy, stating "People think I came out of Auschwitz with a brand-new psychotherapy. This is not the case."
In the post war years, Frankl's attitude towards not pursuing justice nor assigning collective guilt to the Austrian people for collaborating with or acquiescing in the face of Nazism, led to "frayed" relationships between Frankl many Viennese and the larger American Jewish community, such that in 1978 when attempting to give a lecture at the institute of Adult Jewish Studies in New York, Frankl was confronted with an outburst of boos from the audience and was called a "nazi pig".
In 1988 Frankl would further "stir up sentiment against him" by being photographed next to and in accepting a holocaust survivor medal from President Waldheim, a controversial president of Austria who during the ceremony, was gripped by revelations that he had lied about his WWII military record and was under investigation for complicity in Nazi War crimes. Frankl's acceptance of the medal was viewed by a large segment of the international Jewish community as a betrayal and by a disparate group of commentators, that its timing was politically motivated to rehabilitate Waldheim's reputation on the world stage.
Frankl's logotherapy and existential analysis is considered the third Viennese School of Psychotherapy, among the broad category that comprises existentialists. For Irvin Yalom, Frankl, "who has devoted his career to a study of an existential approach to therapy, has apparently concluded that the lack of meaning is the paramount existential stress. To him, existential neurosis is synonymous with a crisis of meaninglessness".
He has coined the term noogenic neurosis, and illustrated it with the example of Sunday neurosis. It refers to a form of anxiety resulting from an awareness in some people of the emptiness of their lives once the working week is over. Some complain of a void and a vague discontent. This arises from an existential vacuum, or feeling of meaninglessness, which is a common phenomenon and is characterised by the subjective state of boredom, apathy, and emptiness. One feels cynical, lacks direction, and questions the point of most of life's activities..
People without a meaning in their life are exposed to aggression, depression and addiction.
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 I recommend that the Statue of Liberty on the East Coast be supplemented by a Statue of Responsibility on the West Coast.
His books in English are: