Viktor Frankl Passes Away, 1997
On This Day in Jewish History: September 2, 1997
Born March 26, 1905 in Vienna, Austria, Viktor Frankl quickly became a prominent figure in the field of psychology, particularly after surviving the Holocaust. From an early age, Frankl showed an immense amount of interest in psychology, studying the subject in secondary school, and eventually at the University of Vienna Medical School. It was at university where Frankl developed a particular interest in depression and suicide and began to set up youth counseling centers in Vienna. These centers proved successful in their effort to decrease teen suicide in the city.
A few years after graduating, Frankl established a private practice but by 1938, the practice was shut down once Nazi Germany annexed Austria. 2 years later, in 1940, Frankl obtained an immigration visa to the US, however, he let it expire as he did not want to leave his aging parents behind. The family was subsequently sent to Theresienstadt concentration camp in 1942, where his father soon passed away.
Frankl was transported to multiple concentration camps, including Auschwitz where his mother and brother died, and Bergen-Belsen, where his wife died. As he observed the brutality that occurred in the camps, he began to theorize that those who had meaning in their life were more likely to survive. Thus, Frankl began to re-create a manuscript that he was writing before the war in an effort to further develop the theory. This also led to Frankl and other inmates counseling those with severe depression in the camps. In order to prevent suicide, Frankl tried to encourage these inmates to reflect on positive memories, scenes and thoughts.
Out of a context of extreme suffering, depression and sadness, logotherapy was born. The basis for the therapy was that the primary motivation of an individual is the search for meaning in life and therefore the primary purpose of psychotherapy should be to help the individual find that meaning. Frankl suggested that those who did not lose their sense of purpose or meaning in life survived much longer in camps such as Theresienstadt.
In 1945, Frankl’s camp was liberated and he quickly learned of the death of his immediate family members, except for his sister who had emigrated to Australia. One year later, in 1946, Frankl published “A Psychologist Experiences the Concentration Camp” or known in English as “Man’s Search for Meaning” an account of his experiences in the camps, alongside the development of logotherapy. Logotherapy was widely recognized as the 3rd school of Viennese psychotherapy, after Freud and Adler’s theories. In 1992, The Viktor Frankl Institute in Vienna was founded to further his work in psychology. A person of hope, persistence and intelligence, Frankl has been a leading figure in psychology and an inspiration in one’s search for meaning in their own life. May his memory be a blessing.