I have read many books in my life and have often wondered which one I would choose for required reading for seniors in high school. Surely one of these is Dr. Victor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning. This remarkable man was a survivor of the Holocaust and in this beautiful book we learn how he endured and created and loved, in spite of the inhumanity.
To quote from the Preface by Dr. Gordon Allport: “Hunger, humiliation, fear and deep anger at injustice are rendered tolerable by closely guarded images of beloved persons, by religion, by a grim sense of humor, and even by glimpses of the healing beauties of nature a tree or a sunset.”
Another quote: “In the concentration camp every circumstance conspires to make the prisoner lose his hold. All the familiar goals in life are snatched away. What alone remains is ‘the last of human freedoms’ -- the ability to ‘choose one’s attitude in a given set of circumstances.’”
I have been a student of the Holocaust for many years, and have had the privilege of meeting people involved in it. I typed and edited Return to the Hiding Place for Hans Poley, who was the first person to enter the Hiding Place. Hans stayed with the ten Booms for about nine months, then went into the underground and was eventually arrested and sent to a concentration camp himself. It is a remarkably Christian book by a true hero. I’ll never forget a statement Hans made, that those who knew nothing about what it was to deal with such horror could never understand what it was to “become Christian again.”
The one sentence that summed up Dr. Frankl’s book is from the preface, “[T]he ability to choose one’s attitude in a given set of circumstances….” I am tired of reading about the frivolous lawsuits and incessant complaining about molehills. The world does not owe us a living, nor a life! When we read of these survivors and liberators and the absolute hell they went through, how in the world can we complain about another thing?
Thoughts from Dr. Frankl:
We stumbled on in the darkness, over big stones and through large puddles, along the one road running through the camp. The accompanying guards kept shouting at us and driving us with the butts of their rifles. Anyone with very sore feet supported himself on his neighbor's arm. Hardly a word was spoken; the icy wind did not encourage talk. Hiding his hand behind his upturned collar, the man marching next to me whispered suddenly: "If our wives could see us now! I do hope they are better off in their camps and don't know what is happening to us."
That brought thoughts of my own wife to mind. And as we stumbled on for miles, slipping on icy spots, supporting each other time and again, dragging one another on and upward, nothing was said, but we both knew: each of us was thinking of his wife. Occasionally I looked at the sky, where the stars were fading and the pink light of the morning was beginning to spread behind a dark bank of clouds. But my mind clung to my wife's image, imagining it with an uncanny acuteness. I heard her answering me, saw her smile, her frank and encouraging look. Real or not, her look then was more luminous than the sun which was beginning to rise.
A thought transfixed me: for the first time in my life I saw the truth as it is set into song by so many poets, proclaimed as the final wisdom by so many thinkers. The truth--that love is the ultimate and the highest goal to which man can aspire. Then I grasped the meaning of the greatest secret that human poetry and human thought and belief have to impart: The salvation of man is through love and in love. I understood how a man who has nothing left in this world may still know bliss, be it only for a brief moment, in the contemplation of his beloved. In a position of utter desolation, when a man cannot express himself in positive action, when his only achievement may consist in enduring his sufferings in the right way--an honorable way--in such a position man can, through loving contemplation of the image he carries of his beloved, achieve fulfillment. For the first time in my life, I was able to understand the words, "The angels are lost in perpetual contemplation of an infinite glory."
In front of me a man stumbled and those following him fell on top of him. The guard rushed over and used his whip on them all. Thus my thoughts were interrupted for a few minutes. But soon my soul found its way back from the prisoners existence to another world, and I resumed talk with my loved one: I asked her questions, and she answered; she questioned me in return, and I answered...
My mind still clung to the image of my wife. A thought crossed my mind: I didn't even know if she were still alive, and I had no means of finding out (during all my prison life there was no outgoing or incoming mail); but at that moment it ceased to matter. There was no need to know; nothing could touch the strength of my love, and the thoughts of my beloved. Had I known then that my wife was dead, I think that I still would have given myself, undisturbed by that knowledge, to the contemplation of that image, and that my mental conversation with her would have been just as vivid and just as satisfying. "Set me like a seal upon thy heart, love is as strong as death."
Yes, Father, set us as seals on Your heart, and help us to see the beautiful and noble--and to be grateful!