I found this book to be a beautiful journey towards grasping human meaning. Victor offers a truly insightful and utterly human account of his experiences in concentration camps.

The inmate's mental reactions to camp life

Throughout his account, Victor weaves a backbone of three psychological phases of man in these second world war nazi concentration camps; directly after arrival, when man has become entrenched in camp life, and the period following his release.

  1. Shock

    People experienced intense shock at the terrible conditions and the humiliating treatment. They experience a delusion of reprieve (hoping against all evidence that they will be spared). These hopes will be crushed and ultimately people will no longer fear death anymore.

  2. Emotional apathy

    Victor describes how any human reaction to a camp's circumstances (disgust, horror, pity, longing) were systematically punished. This had as effect that the deadening of these normal reactions was hastened, leading to a state of emotional apathy. Victor describes haunting scenarios throughout his writing.

  3. Depersonalization

    When man would finally be liberated, he had to go out into the world again and face the realities of his hopes that carried him through all horrors. Victor identifies two psychological consequences: bitterness and disillusionment.

Meaning and logotherapy

Just some notes from the second part of the book, where Victor introduces his field of logotherapy and discusses the question of the meaning of life.

You can take away everything, but a man will always be able to choose his attidue. This inner choice or achievement is a spiritual freedom that makes life meaningful and purposeful.

Victor quotes the same phrase by Nietzsche on multiple occassions throughout the book:

He who has a why to live for, can bear with almost any how.

From page 85:

We needed to stop asking about the meaning of life, and instead to think of ourselves as those who are being questioned by life--daily and hourly. Our answer must consist, not in talk and meditation, but in right action and right conduct. Life ultimately means taking the responsibility to find the right answers to its problems and to fulfill the tasks which it constantly sets for each indvidual.

Naturally, these tasks differ from man to man and from moment to moment, making it impossible to generally capture the meaning of life.

Part of logotherapy is the concept of existential vacuum; the feeling of the total and ultimate meaninglessness of one's life. This often springs from boredom. Man wishes to do what other people do (conformism), or what other people wish him to do (totalitarianism). Victor predicts that future progressive automation will lead to an increase of leisure hours, which might enlarge the impact of existential vacuums for many people. I myself have been thinking about how our work weeks should be shortened and more conscious effort should be put into activities that humans are proven to enjoy more. This makes me realize that it is really important that people are educated and inspired sufficiently to act on these insights and not get trapped in capitalistically-induced local minima.

The categorical imperative of logotherapy is beautiful:

Live as if you were living already for the second time and as if you had acted the first time as wrongly as you are about to act now!

According to logotherapy, we can discover meaning in life in three ways. Namely, by:

Victor elaborates on the meaning of love:

By his love he is enabled to see the essential traits and features in the beloved person; and even more, he sees that which is potential in him, which is not yet actualized but yet ought to be actualized. Furthermore, by his love, the loving person enables the beloved person to actualize these potentialities. By making him aware of what he can be and of what he should become, he makes these potentialities come true.