It sounds macabre, but for some reason I feel attracted to books about the Holocaust. It might be because I have some Jewish ancestry, so I am drawn to reading the stories of individuals with some kind of shared history, however tragic their experiences might have been.
Or perhaps it is the extremes of human spirit, suffering and cruelty that fascinated me. I find myself desperate to know how this could have happened, although the more I learn, the more inexplicable it seems.
However, Man’s Search for Meaning is different from many accounts of this time in history. It does not strive to understand how or why the Holocaust happened, but the reasons why some prisoners survived, physically and mentally, in the death camps.
While decisions about life or death often seemed to be made on the toss of a coin, some survivors, like author Viktor Frankl, a professor of neurology and psychiatry, believed that believing that life had meaning or purpose encouraged some prisoners to fight for survival during the darkest of times.
It was fascinating to read Frankl’s accounts of his own experience and that of other prisoners, some who gave up hope and some who found something to which they could cling that gave the reason to survive.
He also alluded to the way the lessons he learnt during his imprisonment could inform people living in more peaceful times. Frankl claims that it is crucial for people to find meaning for their lives, either in the work they produce, the community of which they are part or the people they love.
Man’s Search for Meaning is not a easy read, but it is a rewarding and important one.