Dachau Concentration Camp, 1945. A place of unrelenting suffering and death. More than 25,000 “enemies of the state” lost their lives in this hellish place during the Holocaust. Every prisoner trapped behind the wire jumped at the chance of escape.
Every prisoner except Viktor Frankl.
Dr. Frankl, was an Austrian-born neurologist who was internationally renowned for his specialized treatment of patients. But his care and expertise didn’t exempt him from suffering the fate of so many of his fellow Jews. In the fall of 1942, he and his wife Tilly were sent to the Ghetto and in the fall of 1944, they were sent to Auschwitz.
Tilly wouldn’t survive imprisonment, but Viktor did…barely. He grew unimaginably weak due to starvation, beatings, cruelly horrific forced labor, and typhus outbreaks. When he was transported to Dachau, his captors discovered his medical abilities, so Frankl was assigned to care for his fellow prisoners in the sick wards.
But the war was drawing to a close by that time. Prisoners saw Allied planes flying overhead and heard skirmishes of gunfire all around. Were they going to be liberated soon? Or would they all be exterminated to bury the horrible crimes committed against them? Most prisoners weren’t content to wait and find out. Escapes were being planned and executed on a regular basis.
In the spring of 1945, Dr. Frankl was given the opportunity to escape. Everything had been arranged on his behalf. Here’s how he described what happened just before the plan was to be put into action:
I ran back to my hut to collect all my possessions: my food bowl, a pair of torn mittens “inherited” from a dead typhus patient, and a few scraps of paper covered with shorthand notes. I made a quick last round of my patients, who were lying huddled on the rotten planks of wood on either side of the huts. I came to my only countryman, who was almost dying, and whose life it had been my ambition to save in spite of his condition. I had to keep my intention to escape to myself, but my comrade seemed to guess that something was wrong. In a tired voice he asked me, “You, too, are getting out?” I denied it, but I found it difficult to avoid his sad look. After my round I returned to him. Again a hopeless look greeted me and somehow I felt it to be an accusation. The unpleasant feeling that had gripped me as soon as I had told my friend I would escape with him became more intense. Suddenly I decided to take fate into my own hands for once. I ran out of the hut and told my friend that I could not go with him. As soon as I had told him with finality that I had made up my mind to stay with my patients, the unhappy feeling left me. I did not know what the following days would bring, but I had gained an inward peace that I had never experienced before. I returned to the hut, sat down on the boards at my countryman’s feet and tried to comfort him; then I chatted with the others, trying to quiet them in their delirium.
During his imprisonment, Viktor Frankl saw the worst that humanity could wield against itself. But in spite of the unchecked evil, he chose to be sacrificial in his care for others.
Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl. Buccaneer Books, 1992, Pages 67-68.
Topics Illustrated Include:
World War II
(Resource cataloged by David R Smith)