After the war he wrote what is now a classic, Man’s Search for Meaning which was based on his experiences. Out of the great horror of the death camps he wrote:
Our generation is realistic, for we have come to know man as he really is. After all, man is that being who invented the gas chambers of Auschwitz; however he is also that being who entered those gas chambers upright, with the Lord’s Prayer or the Shema Yisrael on his lips.
When we are faced today with what seems the unspeakable horror of ISIS, the collapse of our systems of morality and meaning, the threat of violence on every hand and what seems to be a crumbling into chaos we think that things might get worse. They can get worse–much worse, and all we need to do is contemplate the horrors of the twentieth century to see what is possible.
Nevertheless, Frankl’s beautiful book upholds the fact that it is within suffering love that mankind finds meaning. Nothing is wasted and the victim ultimately triumphs–even in his defeat the victim wins because the evil is therefore exposed.
Those who hold on to faith and to their own dignity as human beings, those who hold on to the meaning that love gives to the human heart will always triumph.
In perhaps his most moving and powerful passage Frankl voices a mystical moment of truth that came to him in the midst of the horror.
We stumbled on in the darkness, over big stones and through large puddles, along the one road leading from 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 mouth 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 up and onward, 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 was then 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 still may know bliss, be it only for a brief moment, in the contemplation of his beloved. In a position of utter desolation, when 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 meaning of the words, “The angels are lost in perpetual contemplation of an infinite glory.
When will we learn that force of arms and anger never produce anything but more violence and victims? When we we learn that revenge and bitterness only breed more revenge and bitterness?
This is why we come back to the cross of Christ. There is the answer to the world’s horror and there is the hope.
It is in the mysterious cross that the vicim defeats the oppressor. It is by embracing the horror that the horror is overcome. It is by gathering up the violence into his open arms that he defeats it through the power of love.
Christians must never, never let this central truth be lost. We must never, never allow ourselves to be caught up in the violence, the revenge, the hatred and the fear.
Instead sing the old hymn, “Nothing in my hands I bring. Simply to Thy cross I cling.”