Mark Palermo

Remembering Viktor Frankl

He Was Our S.O.B.
Long Ago Saturday Nights at the Circle 9
The Dark Side of Vaccinations
Wine: Where Ignorance and Pretension Find their Loudest Voice
A 1976 Journey in Search of Self
The Machinery of Mass Dreams
The Outlaw Georgie Bush
Sex Offender Registries Out of Control
Extreme Makeover for Airheads
The Fault Lies not in the Stars, but in Ourselves
Reconsidering George Carlin
If You Think Liberals Are Jerks...
She Couldn't Do Her Chores
Remembering Viktor Frankl
One Day on the Farm-1977
A Fresh Look at Meat
How the Real World Works: A Lesson
30 Bucks for the Human Touch
1929 All Over Again
An Old Man's War, A Young Man's Fight
More Things in Heaven and Earth...
Our Dumbed-down Public Discourse
Bread, But No Roses
Earth's the Right Place for Love
Read This Before Enlisting
Poison Is Good for You: The Fluoridation Scam
Ron Paul:He Makes Too Much Sense
War Is a Racket
Brazil's National Orgasm Day
Calling all Liberals!
Why I Don't Get Flu Shots
What is Community?
Haverhillicus Homocrisicum
If You Wanna Be a Junkie, Why?
Do We Know His Family?
Scam: Youth Sports
A Subsidy for the Human Touch?
How Not to Be Boring
If the Bread and Roses Strike Were NOW
America's Problem with the Body
Columbus Day? or Renaissance Day?
Depleted Uranium Weapons
Mitt Romney: A Clintonian Republican
A Checklist for Conservatives
On Torture and Torturers
Pimp of the Nation
Romney is a Jerk
Hypocrisy and its Champions
The Dumb Society
The Men's Taverns of Yesteryear
On Dittoheads!
Let China Sleep
2004 McDebates
Animal Rights Page
US Wealth Distribution Chart
Public Grief, Private Lives


Ten years ago this month, with the world’s attention focused upon the deaths of  Mother Teresa and Princess Diana, a third great figure died in Europe, his death largely unnoticed and his life’s work seemingly forgotten.


Viktor Frankyl was a Viennese psychiatrist who once worked with Freud. A survivor of Auschwitz and Dachau, he drew heavily from his concentration camp experiences in his classic book “Man’s Search for Meaning.” Unlike many Holocaust writers, who have catalogued the cruelty and inhumanity of which people are capable, Frankyl took the long view, using his Holocaust experiences as an existential laboratory to analyze how some people held themselves together under the most dehumanizing conditions imaginable. Having experienced that, he would write, “They can take away everything except the last of the human freedoms: Man’s ability to change his own attitude in any given circumstance.” Frankyl’s message to the world was that human freedom is indeed possible even under the most wretched conditions. It is notable that Frankyl died of natural causes at the age of 92, while a number of lesser known Holocaust writers have taken their own lives.


  Frankyl’s observations of the concentration camp system are an interesting take on human nature. For example those prisoners whose job it was to run the crematoriums and gas chambers were granted one special privilege normally reserved only for the highest levels of the Gestapo: they were allowed as much alcohol as they wanted.


While it is widely believed that the camp experiences had a uniformly degrading effect upon all prisoners, Frankyl writes that it wasn’t that way at all. Some of the prisoners ingratiated themselves into favorable positions as cooks, storekeepers, capos, and camp security. The capos in particular were selected by the Gestapo for their brutish nature and low level of consciousness. These favored elite prisoners “did not feel degraded at all- like the majority of prisoners, but on the contrary- promoted. Some even developed miniature delusions of grandeur.” Having advanced in status, something they had not previously been able to do, many of these men actually felt fulfilled and self-important for the first time. They were often harder on their fellow prisoners than even the Gestapo, a phenomenon which was a source of bitterness and cynical humor to the other prisoners.


The camps were rife with betrayals, theft, subterfuge and ruthless competition, but saintly and heroic people were present as well. Frankyl tells of a noble class of men who gave away their last meager rations of bread to the sick or took dangerous risks for the sake of others. Of survival he writes, “We who have come back, we know- the best of us did not return.”


Man’s Search for Meaning has been called the first and the best self-help book. While most current approaches to mental health delve into the psychology of the unconscious, Frankyl’s is a no-nonsense approach to growing up and viewing the world as an emotionally and spiritually mature being. Frankyl would say that we cannot escape suffering. We will all suffer the loss of loved ones, feel the world’s cruelty and prejudices, be sick or lonesome, we must all in time grow old and feeble, and we must all die. But the greatest tragedy is to lose one’s sense of meaning in life.


Lest we lose faith in our fellow man, Frankyl wrote, “Man is that being who invented the gas chambers of Auschwitz, however, he is also that being who entered them upright with the Lord’s Prayer or the Schema Israel on his lips.”


Frankyl was an outspoken and opinionated man. He hated mass media spectacles; especially the public’s insatiable demand for scandals, titillation and celebrity gossip. He deplored the movement of mass culture toward vicarious living, a phenomenon he would see as evidence of a growing spiritual void, not only in America, but increasingly in Europe. Eulogizing Frankyl in the Wall Street Journal, Matthew Scully wrote, “Frankyl was perhaps the most acute analyst of secular culture, that modern way of swearing devotion to faraway people, causes, and ideals while letting one’s own life unravel.”


Frankyl was popular on the lecture circuit in the 1950’s and 60’s. He visited the United States for the last time in 1990 where -to his dismay- no major network was interested in interviewing him, an indicator of the skewed, dumbed-down priorities of network television. Nevertheless, Man’s Search for Meaning has sold five million copies, been translated into 32 languages, and continuously in print since 1946, so people are indeed still interested.


Matthew Scully wrote, “It’s a safe bet we won’t be seeing Viktor Frankyl on the cover of Time or People. But his passing reminds us why we should prize wisdom at least as much as beauty: We need it more and it lasts a lot longer.”


August 2007