Today’s pages mark Viktor Frankl’s transition from naive optimism to the moment he ‘struck out’ the whole of his former life and started his bare fight for survival from Auschwitz.
Those who had survived the initial cull were stripped of all their belongings and shaved bare with not a hair left on their bodies.
While we were waiting for the shower, our nakedness was brought home to us: we really had nothing now except our bare bodies: all we possessed, literally, was our naked existence’.
This second phase of his adjustment to camp life was characterised by three states of mind: a grim sense of humour, cold curiosity and finally surprise.
Surprise that he didn’t catch a cold after standing around outside in the cold, still wet from the showers. Surprise that he could sleep huddled up like sardines, 9 men to a 2m wooden bunk, without pillows. Surprise that, despite not being able to brush his teeth and suffering severe vitamin deficiency, his gums grew healthier than ever.
If someone now asked of us the truth of Dostoevski’s statement that flatly defines man as a being who can get used to anything*, we would reply, “Yes, a man can get used to anything, but do not ask us how.”
The last passage for today concerns suicide. It doesn’t remotely surprise me that the inmates at Auschwitz contemplated suicide. What is slightly surprising – and oddly life-affirming – is that many like Frankl made the firm and positive decision that they would never ‘run into the wire’. If only because it simply wasn’t worth the hassle!
There was little point in committing suicide, since, for the average inmate, life expectation, calculating objectively and counting all likely chances, was very poor. … Even the gas chambers lost their horrors for him after the first few days – after all, they spared him the act of committing suicide.
I find that thought comforting: even the most horrific end conceivable can seen as a convenience.
Share your thoughts in the comments. We will continue next week…
* This is from Dostoyevski’s The House of the Dead: “Man is a creature who can get used to anything, and I believe that is the very best way of defining him.”