Today marks the twentieth anniversary of the passing of neurologist, psychiatrist, and Holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl. He left us an incredible gift, his book Man’s Search for Meaning, whose message of finding hope and greater meaning in the midst of suffering has touched the lives of many. Such celebrities as Jimmy Fallon, Michael Phelps, Chris Martin, Emma Watson, Jenny Slate, and Dan Rather have paid homage to the power the book has had on their lives.
With the original version and a young readers’ edition available to the public, his influence will continue to live on across the generational divide. In honor of the twentieth anniversary of his passing, we’d like to take the occasion to commemorate his life and legacy.
When Francine and David Wheeler lost their son Ben in the Sandy Hook tragedy nearly five years ago, one book they turned to for guidance was Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning. Speaking with Oprah Winfrey last year, David Wheeler said he connected with Frankl’s message because “so much of what he writes resonates with me . . . . Because man’s salvation—and he means that not only in the religious sense, but actual survival—is found in and through love.” The Wheelers were able to take that spirit of love, and turn it into force that nurtured them through immense grief. It is a story as powerful as it is familiar to followers of Frankl’s teachings.
Fifty-eight years after the original US publication of Man’s Search for Meaning, Frankl’s timeless wisdom has helped generations of readers cope with hardship and overcome adversity, and his life-affirming vision continues to resonate today. In 1991, the book was listed by the Library of Congress as one of the top ten most influential books in the US, while more recently, Amazon listed it as one of its 100 Books to Read in a Lifetime. Writing in The Atlantic, Emily Esfahani Smith notes that Frankl, an Austrian Jew who survived a prolonged ordeal in Auschwitz and other Nazi concentration camps, devised wisdom there, “in the middle of unimaginable human suffering, [that] is just as relevant now as it was then.”
Like the Wheelers and many others who come to Frankl’s writings, Frankl himself experienced devastating personal loss. In a letter written to friends shortly after his liberation, Frankl reveals the extent of his grief:
I have only sad news to communicate: shortly before my departure from Munich, I learned that my mother was sent to Auschwitz a week after me. What that means, you know all too well. And I had scarcely arrived in Vienna when I was told that my wife is also dead . . . . So now I’m all alone. Whoever has not shared a similar fate cannot understand me. I am terribly tired, terribly sad, terribly lonely. I have nothing more to hope for and nothing more to fear.
Remarkably in the same letter, Frankl not only finds a way to carry on, but reasserts his belief in attaining meaning at all cost:
I take nothing away from my former affirmation of life, when I experience the things I have described. On the contrary, if I had not had this rock-solid, positive view of life—what would have become of me in these last weeks, in those months in the camp? But I now see things in a larger dimension. I see increasingly that life is so very meaningful, that in suffering and even in failure there must still be meaning.
To celebrate Frankl’s enduring legacy, and the powerful impact his ideas still bear, we have collected several photographs that provide a glimpse into Frankl’s extraordinary life—both public and personal.
About Viktor Frankl
Born in Vienna in 1905, Viktor E. Frankl earned an MD and a PhD from the University of Vienna. He published more than thirty books on theoretical and clinical psychology and served as a visiting professor and lecturer at Harvard, Stanford, and elsewhere. Frankl died in 1997.
For further information on logotherapy and other works by Frankl, visit www.viktorfrankl.org.