Viktor Frankl

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Viktor Emil Frankl

March 26 1905
September 2 1997

Viktor Emil Frankl, M.D., Ph.D., (March 26, 1905 - September 2, 1997) was an Austrian neurologist and psychiatrist as well as a Holocaust survivor. Frankl was the founder of logotherapy and Existential Analysis, the "Third Viennese School" of psychotherapy. 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.

Life before 1945

Frankl was born in Vienna into a Jewish family of civil servants (Beamtenfamilie). His interest for psychology surfaced early. For the final exam (Matura) in Gymnasium, 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.

Doctor, Therapist

In 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 (Zeugnis). 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. He has been doing surgery on the brains of patients, too. [1]. 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.

Prisoner, Therapist

In the Autumn of 1942, the 25th of September, he, his wife, and his parents were deported to the concentration camp of Theresienstadt. It is here that his father died in 1943. 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 at Theresienstadt also gave lectures on topics like Sleep and Its Disturbances, Body and Soul, Medical Care of Soul, Psychology of Mountaineering, Rax and Schneeberg, How I keep my nerves healthy, Existential Problems in Psychotherapy, Social Psychotherapy. On 29/07/43 he organized a closed event of the Scientific Society entitled Life-Exhaustion & Life-Courage in Terezin. The title of his lecture on 25/01/44 was "Of special persons: Experiences of a Neurologist", and his last lecture known about in Terezin on 14/06/44 he had called "Protection of Mental Health". Additionally he described The "mental health service" of Terezin in a "Yearly Report", the first one from October 1942-October 1943. [2] He writes in section Sick People's Care Service

Preventive and hospital care. Based on the advice of a Terezin veteran psychiatrist and neurologist, a center for "psychic hygiene" or "mental health" was established under the auspices of the Social Care Dept. It was hoped that it would began functioning as early as spring 1942, but it only became reality in the beginning of November as the "Sick People's Care Service"<...>

Since it was forbidden to actively intervene in a suicide attempt, such activity had to be both preventative and clandestine [3] . Then, in 1944, the 19th of October, he was transported to Auschwitz, where his mother died, and some days later to Türkheim, a concentration camp not far from Dachau where he arrived the 25th of October 1944. [4] Meanwhile, his wife had been transferred to the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp, where she died.

On April 27, 1945, Frankl was liberated. 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:

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.
Man in Search of Meaning, p. 123

Life after 1945

Liberated after three years of life in concentration camps, he returned to Vienna. During 1945 he wrote his world-famous book titled ...trotzdem ja zum Leben sagen (Ein Psychologe erlebt das Konzentrationslager) (literally: "...saying yes to life regardless; A Psychologist Experiences the Concentration Camp)", 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 2nd, 1997 in Vienna.


  • Frankl often said that even within the narrow boundaries of the concentration camps he found only two races of men to exist: decent and non-decent ones. These were to be found in all classes, ethnicities, and groups.
  • Frankl once recommended that the Statue of Liberty on the East coast of the US be complemented by a Statue of Responsibility on the West coast, and there are plans to construct such a statue by 2010.
  • In Theresienstadt concentration camp, he worked as a general practitioner in a clinic until his skill in psychiatry was noticed, when he was asked to establish a special unit to help newcomers to the camp overcome shock and grief. He later set up a suicide watch unit, and all intimations of suicide were reported to him. To maintain his own feeling of being worthy of his sufferings in the dismal conditions, he would frequently march outside and deliver a lecture to an imaginary audience about "Psychotherapeutic Experiences in a Concentration Camp", believing that by fully experiencing the suffering objectively, he would thereby end it.
  • Frankl is thought to have coined the term Sunday Neurosis referring to a form of depression resulting from an awareness in some people of the emptiness of their lives once the working week is over. [5]


  • Man's Search for Ultimate Meaning. (A revised and extended edition of The Unconscious God; with a Foreword by Swanee Hunt). Perseus Book Publishing, New York, 1997; ISBN 0-306-45620-6. Paperback edition: Perseus Book Group; New York, July 2000; ISBN 0-7382-0354-8.
  • "Dr. Viktor E. Frankl of Vienna, Psychiatrist of the Search for Meaning, Dies at 92," New York Times September 4, 1997


  2. Elena Makarova, Sergei Makarov, Victor Kuperman: University Over the Abyss, The story behind 520 lecturers and 2,430 lectures in KZ Theresienstadt 1942-1944, Second edition, Verba Publishers Ltd., Jerusalem 2004, ISBN 965-424-049-1
  3. "The Nazis sought to prevent Jewish suicides. Wherever Jews tried to kill themselves - in their homes, in hospitals, on the deportation trains, in the concentration camps - the Nazi authorities would invariably intervene in order to save the Jews' lives, wait for them to recover, and then send them to their prescribed deaths."66 [1] quotation from Kwiet, K.: "Suicide in the Jewish Community," in Leo Baeck Yearbook, vol. 38. 1993.
  4. quotation: "...the prisoner's log of the Dachau sub-camp Kaufering III records Frankl's arrival on October 25, 1944. Indeed, Frankl himself told the American evangelist Robert Schuller, in an interview published in Schuller's magazine Possibilities (March-April 1991): "I was in Auschwitz only three or four days ... I was sent to a barrack and we were all transported to a camp in Bavaria."
  5. [2]

See also

External links

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