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JewishWikipedia.info



SPIRITUAL RESISTANCE DURING THE HOLOCAUST
MAINTAINING A “NORMAL” WAY OF LIFE IN AN ABNORMAL WORLD
Grades: 10 through 12
Yad Vashem

Duration: In this lesson plan, we have included a large selection of resources related to unarmed resistance during the Holocaust.
The teacher can decide how to utilize the subject matter
presented here in the time available.


The topic of resistance during the Holocaust signifies heroism in the face of evil. This lesson plan focuses on spiritual resistance, including examples of photographers, poets, historians, couriers, youth group members, and more. Unarmed and confined in ghettos and concentration camps, we cover some examples of Jews fighting to maintain their humanity and dignity in addition to their physical selves. This lesson plan will acquaint you with the topic and provide some ideas on how to teach the subject and its greater global theme in your classroom.

____________________________________________


SPIRITUAL RESISTANCE IN THE GHETTOS
Holocaust Encyclopedia


The deprivations of ghetto life and the constant fear of Nazi terror made resistance difficult and dangerous but not impossible. In addition to armed resistance, Jews engaged in various forms of unarmed defiance. These included organized attempts at escaping from the ghettos into nearby forests, non-compliance with Nazi demands on the part of certain Jewish community leaders, illegal smuggling of food into the ghettos, and spiritual resistance.

Spiritual resistance refers to attempts by individuals to maintain their humanity, personal integrity, dignity, and sense of civilization in the face of Nazi attempts to dehumanize and degrade them. Most generally, spiritual resistance may refer to the refusal to have one's spirit broken in the midst of the most horrible degradation. Cultural and educational activities, maintenance of community documentation, and clandestine religious observances are three examples of spiritual resistance.

CULTURE AND EDUCATION

 Throughout occupied Poland, hundreds of clandestine schools and classes were organized inside the ghettos. Going to and from class in various apartments and basements, students hid their books under their clothing. Jews smuggled books and manuscripts into many ghettos for safekeeping, and opened underground libraries in numerous ghettos. These underground libraries included the secret library at Czestochowa, Poland, which served more than 1,000 readers. Activists established a 60,000-volume library in the Theresienstadt ghetto, near Prague.

In the ghettos, Jews also engaged—insofar as possible—in a variety of cultural activities. Unlike the schools, these were not always forbidden by German authorities. Concerts, lectures, theatrical productions, cabarets, and art contests took place in many ghettos, despite the hardships of daily life.

DOCUMENTATION OF COMMUNITY LIFE

 Groups in many ghettos established secret archives and methodically wrote, collected, and stored reports, diaries, and documents about daily life in the ghettos. These efforts served to gather evidence on situation of Jews in occupied Europe and also sought to reaffirm a Jewish sense of community, history, and civilization in the face of both physical and spiritual annihilation.

The best known of these archives was that of the Warsaw ghetto, code-named Oneg Shabbat ("Joy of the Sabbath") and founded by historian Emanuel Ringelblum (1900-1944). Some of the containers holding the archives were dug up from the rubble of the Warsaw ghetto after the war. The papers found inside have provided valuable documentation of life and death inside the ghetto. In the Bialystok ghetto, activist Mordechai Tenenbaum, who had come to Bialystok from Warsaw in November 1942 to organize the resistance movement, established ghetto archives modeled after Oneg Shabbat. An archive was also kept in the Lodz ghetto, but unlike the Warsaw and Bialystok archives, it was not entirely clandestine and therefore operated under certain limitations. These and many other smaller collections document daily life in the ghettos.

RELIGIOUS ACTIVITIES

 The Germans forbade religious services in most ghettos, so many Jews prayed and held ceremonies in secret—in cellars, attics, and back rooms—as others stood guard. In Warsaw alone, in 1940, 600 Jewish prayer groups existed. Rabbinical authorities adjudicated religious disputes on the basis of religious law and attempted to adapt this law to the changed and difficult circumstances in which the community found itself. Prayer helped sustain morale, reaffirmed a cultural and religious identity, and supplied spiritual comfort. Many Orthodox Jews who opposed the use of physical force viewed prayer and religious observances as the truest form of resistance.


THE HUMAN SPIRIT IN THE SHADOW OF DEATH
Yad Vashem


While struggling to survive the horrors of the Holocaust, some Jews risked their lives for higher causes, including helping others, educating their children, maintaining religious values and traditions, and documenting their lives in the ghettos and camps.

During the war, European Jewry was faced with a constant struggle for its very survival. Yet even under such terrible conditions there were those whose acted in ways that went beyond the necessities of human existence: they risked their lives - deliberately and intentionally - for high causes, including educating their children, maintaining religious values and traditions and sustaining centuries-old cultural activities. Unfortunately, not all those who succeeded survived the hell that was the Holocaust, but their deeds themselves bear witness to power of the human spirit.

One phenomenon that testifies to an impressive level of spiritual survival is the effort made by Jews to document their lives in the ghettos and the camps. Artists and intellectuals, children and ordinary people, wrote and drew in order to document the fear and crisis that pervaded Jewish society. These activities were not only helpful in allowing many to rise above the humiliations and injuries they suffered, but also sometimes alerted the free world to the reality of their lives. Even in the camps themselves, one finds evidence of activity through which the prisoners could - if only in their imagination - transcend the barriers of their status and of the surrounding camp environment. While only a few took part in these activities, their importance lies not in their quantity but in the strength of spirit needed for their realization within the reality of persecution and humiliation.

Despite the predatory reality endured by the Jews of Eastern and Western Europe, many people mobilized to assist those weaker than themselves, establishing mutual aid and welfare organizations. In the camps, helping others often became a matter of life and death, accompanied by difficult moral dilemmas. By helping another person - whether with food, clothing or work - the individual potentially jeopardized his own ability to survive. However, many Jews placed themselves in grave danger in order to save the lives of others.


LOGOTHERAPY AND THE HOLOCAUST: UNITING HUMAN EXPERIENCE IN EXTREMITY AND NORMALITY
Inquiries, Ryan A. Piccirillo, 2010 Vol 2 No 09


The Holocaust created a new type of person en masse: survivors. Those who survived were forced to cope with a first-hand encounter with the human capacity for evil. For the Holocaust survivor, the struggle to live continued long after liberation. The extreme nature of their experiences separated them from the rest of the “normal” world; those who did not endure the camps could not seriously comprehend the pain of those who had.                                                   Viktor Frankl

For this reason, conventional psychological therapy can’t begin to wash away their emotional damage. Survivors are trailblazers of human coping, forced into a world of people with a separate psychological nature whose attempts to understand are fruitless. A common reply from former camp prisoners in response to inquiries about their experiences exemplifies this divide: “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” (Frankl 24).

For Dr. Viktor E. Frankl, the struggle which relates all men is man’s search for meaning, a notion ratified for him following his Holocaust experiences. For the Holocaust survivor, this meaning was buried beneath horror unrealized by those living in normality. As a man who experienced adult life as a psychiatrist both before and after his concentration camp experiences, Dr. Frankl was a unique authority in survival psychology who attempted to bridge this gap and unite all men in relative struggles to find meaning in life.

In his book Man’s Search for Meaning, Dr. Frankl outlines his distinctive experiences which helped him to develop his existential psychotherapy known as logotherapy. In studying the key concepts behind logotherapy and assessing their validity, application, and consequences, those living in normality can attempt relation with those who have endured extremity.

A BRIEF OVERVIEW OF LOGOTHERAPY

By the time he was deported with his wife from Vienna to Theresienstadt concentration camp in 1942, Dr. Viktor Frankl was already an accomplished doctor and therapist. His expertise served as a unique lens through which he viewed the suffering in the camp. What he experienced affirmed his belief in the Nietzschean theory that, “He who has a why to live can bear with almost any how” (Frankl 97).

In other words, the quintessential human struggle is the search for meaning in life, a reason to live, to which all other actions and experiences are secondary. According to Dr. Frankl, “ logotherapy […] focuses on the meaning of human existence as well as on man’s search for such a meaning” (Frankl 121). He outlines the tenets of logotherapy through a subjective narrative of his Holocaust experiences and a causally related technical description of the theory.

During the Holocaust, Dr. Frankl witnessed extremes of human suffering. He watched men tackle fear, fear destroy men, and prisoners develop tricks to retain their humanity and hold onto hope. His psychological background compelled him to psychoanalyze not only his fellow prisoners, but himself as well. Of his most important observations, his assertion that “an abnormal reaction to an abnormal situation is normal behavior” (Frankl 38), is instrumental in helping the outsider understand concentration camp behavior. He explains that, “it is very difficult for an outsider to grasp how very little value was placed on human life in the camp” (Frankl 73).

He nevertheless uses anecdotal evidence to help the reader attempt empathy. Of Dr. Frankl’s more controversial claims is a belief that survival is linked to free will: “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 stress” (Frankl 86). Dr. Frankl observed that mental autonomy persisted within the camp. He ends his psychologically charged account with a description of how the camps “tore open the human soul and exposed its depths” (Frankl 108). This nude view of the human soul allowed Dr. Frankl an intimate look at how the good and evil in all humans affects their behavior in the most abysmal circumstances.

Logotherapy is based on theories Dr. Frankl formulated early in his life that were affirmed by what he witnessed during the Holocaust. It is a departure from traditional psychoanalysis which relies heavily on introspection and retrospection. Logotherapy instead asks the patient to look towards his/her future circumstances. “In logotherapy the patient is actually confronted and reoriented towards the meaning of his life” (Frankl 120). The central principle of logotherapy is what Dr. Frankl calls “the will to meaning;” accordingly, “man’s search for meaning is the primary motivation in his life and not a ‘secondary rationalization’ of instinctual drives” (Frankl 121).

The patient is helped not only by analyzing facts about his/her psyche, but also by helping him/her to grasp life’s meaning, it’s “existential realities” (Frankl 125). One of the most important aspects of logotherapy is its subjective adaptability; it doesn’t seek to provide universal truths for all humans, but as Dr. Frankl states, seeks to conclude what is “the specific meaning of a person’s life at a given moment” (Frankl 131).

There is not one abstract meaning of life which can be applied to all, but rather unique situations. Though this meaning is always changing from moment to moment, person to person, it is ever-present; there is always some meaning in a life. The patient, Dr. Frankl argues, is responsible for his/her own decisions, conclusions, and conscience. Furthermore, s/he is responsible for discovering his/her life’s meaning. Dr. Frankl offers three methods by which patients can make this discovery: “(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” (Frankl 133).

According to Dr. Frankl, the “only way to grasp another human being in the innermost core of his personality” (Frankl 134) is through love. The word here doesn’t have the romantic and sexual connotation it typically carries; it is intended to characterize a full understanding of another individual, by a realization of the potential within the beloved person, thereby allowing that person to “actualize these potentialities” (Frankl 134). Dr. Frankl’s discussion of “the meaning of suffering” is the most important aspect of logotherapy when considering the Holocaust. It is a clear demonstration of the method and attitude which helped him to survive his concentration camp nightmare. Dr. Frankl asserts the human ability to channel suffering into potential for achievement:

We must never forget that we may also find meaning in the 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. (Frankl 135)

This brave conclusion embodies an instinctive drive to survive which, when considered by the outsider, can lend itself to an understanding of what it means to have survived the Holocaust.

THE VALIDITY OF LOGOTHERAPY

Caution is appropriate when applying psychological theories to the Holocaust, for it was an abnormal situation. However, Nobel Prize laureate and Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel is mistaken in claiming that Logotherapy is unique and not easily dismissible. The fact that it was crafted by a Holocaust survivor whose horrific experiences confirmed his beliefs lends it credibility.

His aim was to assess how life in the concentration camp reflected in the mind of the average prisoner and this assessment confirmed the theories he posits. It is from his first hand experiences and his study of his fellow prisoners, not as objects but as patients, that he concludes that when he is stripped to his very core, man’s primal purpose is a search for meaning in life. To dismiss this simply because it is a  is a mistake, as Dr. Frankl is not a third-party observer but a first-hand witness who himself is evidence for his theory.

The fact that people of strong moral character and unbreakable will perished in the atrocities is a possible counterexample; however Dr. Frankl never claimed that the will to survive will necessarily lead to survival, only that  (Frankl 87). This inner decision is only related to survival insofar as the person isn’t murdered or otherwise physically inhibited. Dr. Frankl understood how luck sometimes determined one’s survival.

He remarks that one’s life retains meaning up until the final moments: (Frankl 137). This accounts for the many anomalous victims who, despite strong moral resolve, perished.

Some may object to psychological theories being applied to the Holocaust because most are developed to explain the “normal” world. However, the universality of its principle assertion does not lessen logotherapy’s credibility. Dr. Frankl admits that though each life has meaning, that meaning is relative to each person. He understood that the meaning of the life of a condemned concentration camp inmate is different from that of a free man.

The inmate has limited resources and opportunities, unlike the autonomous free man. According to Dr. Frankl,  (Frankl 131). He later asserts that life’s meaning can even be found in suffering, a stipulation of great importance for Holocaust application.

Dr. Frankl built the credibility and universality of his theory by examining the naked core of human nature he witnessed in the concentration camps. Unlike traditional psychoanalytical methods, he did not rely on outside experience to explain what he witnessed. The latter would have been a mistake, but the former lends validity to logotherapy in application to extremity and the Holocaust.

PRACTICAL APPLICATION OF LOGOTHERAPY

Whether or not a psychoanalytical method born from a Holocaust survivor can be practically applied to people living in normality is another question for logotherapy. Though Dr. Frankl affirmed his theories based on the mental reaction of camp inmates to extremity, his purpose was not so specific. Dr. Frankl’s philosophy on the meaning of life is as applicable to those living in normality as it is to those living in extremity; the theory, while subjectively adaptable, is universally applicable.

To assess logotherapy’s application in normality, one must examine the truth in its principle assertion, that man’s primary source of motivation is a perpetual search for meaning. Aristotle believed that happiness is a rational activity of the soul in conformity with virtue or excellence. The search for such an activity can be likened to Dr. Frankl’s search for meaning. It is in the meaning in one’s life, in performing one’s proper rational function, that one can find happiness.

Like Dr. Frankl, Aristotle believed that this happiness, this meaning, is subjective and individual to each person at each moment. In the concentration camps, the search for meaning was fraught with suffering, and one’s success in finding meaning was severely limited by one’s circumstances and opportunities. Dr. Frankl prescribes three earlier mentioned methods for finding this meaning: creativity and good deeds, human interaction or love, and suffering. In the concentration camps, all three were possible, but not nearly as easily achieved as in normality. Scenarios of human experience affirm the applicability of these three methods for finding meaning in normality.

Though a departure from Holocaust application, a college graduate unsure of his purpose in life also faces a search for meaning. Through creative work, he can define and develop his talents; through human interactions he can form the relationships necessary to succeed in the professional and social world; and by his attitude towards suffering, this graduate can make himself a stronger individual, more prepared for life’s challenges.

Through these three methods, the college graduate will eventually find life’s purpose; this may be a high-paying job in business or a life of creative fulfillment as an artist. Each purpose is suited to the circumstances of the individual searching for it. It is clear that the primary motivation of a recently graduated college student is a search for meaning, and equally so that the methods prescribed by logotherapy are applicable to such a situation.

Man’s search for meaning does not end when one has found one’s career or passion. Life extends far beyond one’s youth and adult life, as do the success, failure, suffering, and happiness that accompany living. Consider an old man or woman whose life is coming to an end. Despite the realization life’s meaning during one’s younger years, life in death retains purpose. This purpose may be more subdued on one’s death bed, as the opportunities once had are now restricted by one’s physical condition.

However, one retains the ability to love, to continue helping others to realize their hidden potentials and by using one’s own life as a model for man’s search for meaning. Dr. Frankl also observed that there is value in facing death and suffering with dignity and poise. Even in death, one can find meaning.

Logotherapy is not limited to situations of extremity. In everyday experience, one can see logotherapy in action; billions of people around the world are living their lives, all searching for the same relative end: meaning in life.

THE CONSEQUENCES OF LOGOTHERAPY

While interned at Auschwitz, Dr. Frankl observed that his fellow prisoners believed that giving meaning to their suffering was contingent upon their survival; they reasoned that their suffering would have meaning only if they survived. However, Dr. Frankl found solace in the opposing belief that meaning came before survival:

“If [all this suffering, this dying around us has no meaning], then ultimately there is no meaning in 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” (Frankl 138).

This bold claim is not of negative consequence for the survivors of the Holocaust, but rather corroborates their perseverance.

Dr. Frankl’s intention was not to suggest that survival is unimportant. However, he believed that one’s life always has some meaning that is not contingent upon survival. In the concentration camps, seemingly menial acts of resistance demonstrate this fact. With the limited opportunity had by prisoners, life’s meaning was obscure, but present. In tories of resistance, the prisoners leave evidence that life retained meaning.

Though most choices did not guarantee one’s survival, a noble cause made life worth living. In the face of brutal dehumanization, a multitude of prisoners refused to be stripped of their identity. Through mental fortitude and small, such as the pilfering of food or the singing of songs, prisoners retained their personalities. The retention of personality, in and of itself, gives life meaning, regardless of survival.

One can also examine the lives of survivors following their liberation to affirm Dr. Frankl’s positions. Survivors’ lives demonstrate that survival is only useful insofar as it allows for new purpose and meaning. Those who survived faced the struggle to transition back into normality. The suffering in the camps could be used to strengthen one’s character. Dr. Bernice Lerner observes of survivors she has interviewed,

“Though I know not how long each was plagued by the aftereffects of depravity, psychosomatic repercussions, if they did or still exist, have not stopped these individuals from living extraordinarily productive lives” (Lerner 4).

Survival’s importance lies in the “extraordinarily productive lives” they led. Additionally, many survivors went to tell the world of the atrocities to ensure that they are not repeated. In The Survivor, Terrence Des Pres concludes that, “the stories survivors tell are limited […] but they possess the kind of certainty, wholly human and involved, that moral resistance needs. And in these ways survivors do have influence” (Des Pres 49).

At the heart of survival is not a simple desire to continue living. Living for the sake of living is a fruitless endeavor. Holocaust survivors survived not to idly await death, but to actively pursue the meaning in their life that was so nearly robbed of them. Survival for the sake of finding and retaining meaning in life is the story of Holocaust survival.

Those who have lived their entire lives in normality have a curious desire to relate to victims of the Holocaust. This desire always leads one to a fundamental gap in human experience which can’t easily be bridged by psychoanalysis. However, as one who has lived life both in and out of extremity with a unique wisdom, Dr. Viktor Frankl was able to unite these two camps of humanity under one common principle motivation: a search for meaning in life. Through logotherapy, Dr. Frankl presents humanity with a uniting factor which transcends differences in experience.

__________________________________________________________________


REFERENCES

Des Pres, Terence. The Survivor: Anatomy of Life in the Death Camps. New York: Oxford University Press, 1976.

Frankl, Dr. Viktor E. Man's Search for Meaning. New York: Pocket Books, 1984.

Lerner, Bernice. The Triumph of Wounded Souls: Seven Holocaust Survivors' Lives. Notre Dame, Indiana: University of Notre Dame Press, 2004.

The Holocaust created a new type of person en masse: survivors. Those who survived were forced to cope with a first-hand encounter with the human capacity for evil. For the Holocaust survivor, the struggle to live continued long after liberation. The extreme nature of their experiences separated them from the rest of the “normal” world; those who did not endure the camps could not seriously comprehend the pain of those who had.                                                       Viktor Frankl

For this reason, conventional psychological therapy can’t begin to wash away their emotional damage. Survivors are trailblazers of human coping, forced into a world of people with a separate psychological nature whose attempts to understand are fruitless. A common reply from former camp prisoners in response to inquiries about their experiences exemplifies this divide: “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” (Frankl 24).

For Dr. Viktor E. Frankl, the struggle which relates all men is man’s search for meaning, a notion ratified for him following his Holocaust experiences. For the Holocaust survivor, this meaning was buried beneath horror unrealized by those living in normality. As a man who experienced adult life as a psychiatrist both before and after his concentration camp experiences, Dr. Frankl was a unique authority in survival psychology who attempted to bridge this gap and unite all men in relative struggles to find meaning in life.

In his book Man’s Search for Meaning, Dr. Frankl outlines his distinctive experiences which helped him to develop his existential psychotherapy known as logotherapy. In studying the key concepts behind logotherapy and assessing their validity, application, and consequences, those living in normality can attempt relation with those who have endured extremity.

A BRIEF OVERVIEW OF LOGOTHERAPY

By the time he was deported with his wife from Vienna to Theresienstadt concentration camp in 1942, Dr. Viktor Frankl was already an accomplished doctor and therapist. His expertise served as a unique lens through which he viewed the suffering in the camp. What he experienced affirmed his belief in the Nietzschean theory that, “He who has a why to live can bear with almost any how” (Frankl 97).

In other words, the quintessential human struggle is the search for meaning in life, a reason to live, to which all other actions and experiences are secondary. According to Dr. Frankl, “ logotherapy […] focuses on the meaning of human existence as well as on man’s search for such a meaning” (Frankl 121). He outlines the tenets of logotherapy through a subjective narrative of his Holocaust experiences and a causally related technical description of the theory.

During the Holocaust, Dr. Frankl witnessed extremes of human suffering. He watched men tackle fear, fear destroy men, and prisoners develop tricks to retain their humanity and hold onto hope. His psychological background compelled him to psychoanalyze not only his fellow prisoners, but himself as well. Of his most important observations, his assertion that “an abnormal reaction to an abnormal situation is normal behavior” (Frankl 38), is instrumental in helping the outsider understand concentration camp behavior. He explains that, “it is very difficult for an outsider to grasp how very little value was placed on human life in the camp” (Frankl 73).

He nevertheless uses anecdotal evidence to help the reader attempt empathy. Of Dr. Frankl’s more controversial claims is a belief that survival is linked to free will: “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 stress” (Frankl 86). Dr. Frankl observed that mental autonomy persisted within the camp. He ends his psychologically charged account with a description of how the camps “tore open the human soul and exposed its depths” (Frankl 108). This nude view of the human soul allowed Dr. Frankl an intimate look at how the good and evil in all humans affects their behavior in the most abysmal circumstances.

Logotherapy is based on theories Dr. Frankl formulated early in his life that were affirmed by what he witnessed during the Holocaust. It is a departure from traditional psychoanalysis which relies heavily on introspection and retrospection. Logotherapy instead asks the patient to look towards his/her future circumstances. “In logotherapy the patient is actually confronted and reoriented towards the meaning of his life” (Frankl 120). The central principle of logotherapy is what Dr. Frankl calls “the will to meaning;” accordingly, “man’s search for meaning is the primary motivation in his life and not a ‘secondary rationalization’ of instinctual drives” (Frankl 121).

The patient is helped not only by analyzing facts about his/her psyche, but also by helping him/her to grasp life’s meaning, it’s “existential realities” (Frankl 125). One of the most important aspects of logotherapy is its subjective adaptability; it doesn’t seek to provide universal truths for all humans, but as Dr. Frankl states, seeks to conclude what is “the specific meaning of a person’s life at a given moment” (Frankl 131).

There is not one abstract meaning of life which can be applied to all, but rather unique situations. Though this meaning is always changing from moment to moment, person to person, it is ever-present; there is always some meaning in a life. The patient, Dr. Frankl argues, is responsible for his/her own decisions, conclusions, and conscience. Furthermore, s/he is responsible for discovering his/her life’s meaning. Dr. Frankl offers three methods by which patients can make this discovery: “(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” (Frankl 133).

According to Dr. Frankl, the “only way to grasp another human being in the innermost core of his personality” (Frankl 134) is through love. The word here doesn’t have the romantic and sexual connotation it typically carries; it is intended to characterize a full understanding of another individual, by a realization of the potential within the beloved person, thereby allowing that person to “actualize these potentialities” (Frankl 134). Dr. Frankl’s discussion of “the meaning of suffering” is the most important aspect of logotherapy when considering the Holocaust. It is a clear demonstration of the method and attitude which helped him to survive his concentration camp nightmare. Dr. Frankl asserts the human ability to channel suffering into potential for achievement:

We must never forget that we may also find meaning in the 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. (Frankl 135)

This brave conclusion embodies an instinctive drive to survive which, when considered by the outsider, can lend itself to an understanding of what it means to have survived the Holocaust.

THE VALIDITY OF LOGOTHERAPY

Caution is appropriate when applying psychological theories to the Holocaust, for it was an abnormal situation. However, Nobel Prize laureate and Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel is mistaken in claiming that Logotherapy is unique and not easily dismissible. The fact that it was crafted by a Holocaust survivor whose horrific experiences confirmed his beliefs lends it credibility.

His aim was to assess how life in the concentration camp reflected in the mind of the average prisoner and this assessment confirmed the theories he posits. It is from his first hand experiences and his study of his fellow prisoners, not as objects but as patients, that he concludes that when he is stripped to his very core, man’s primal purpose is a search for meaning in life. To dismiss this simply because it is a  is a mistake, as Dr. Frankl is not a third-party observer but a first-hand witness who himself is evidence for his theory.

The fact that people of strong moral character and unbreakable will perished in the atrocities is a possible counterexample; however Dr. Frankl never claimed that the will to survive will necessarily lead to survival, only that  (Frankl 87). This inner decision is only related to survival insofar as the person isn’t murdered or otherwise physically inhibited. Dr. Frankl understood how luck sometimes determined one’s survival.

He remarks that one’s life retains meaning up until the final moments: (Frankl 137). This accounts for the many anomalous victims who, despite strong moral resolve, perished.

Some may object to psychological theories being applied to the Holocaust because most are developed to explain the “normal” world. However, the universality of its principle assertion does not lessen logotherapy’s credibility. Dr. Frankl admits that though each life has meaning, that meaning is relative to each person. He understood that the meaning of the life of a condemned concentration camp inmate is different from that of a free man.

The inmate has limited resources and opportunities, unlike the autonomous free man. According to Dr. Frankl,  (Frankl 131). He later asserts that life’s meaning can even be found in suffering, a stipulation of great importance for Holocaust application.

Dr. Frankl built the credibility and universality of his theory by examining the naked core of human nature he witnessed in the concentration camps. Unlike traditional psychoanalytical methods, he did not rely on outside experience to explain what he witnessed. The latter would have been a mistake, but the former lends validity to logotherapy in application to extremity and the Holocaust.




THE

INCREDIBLE

STORY OF THE JEWISH PEOPLE



JEWISH SPIRITUAL RESISTANCE DURING THE HOLOCAUST



Spiritual
Resistance
During
the
Holocaust

Spiritual Resistance
in
the Ghettos


The Human Spirit in the
Shadow of Death

Logotherapy
and
the Holocaust: