Today’s pages (p88-91, a wee bit shorter) are recollections of a speech that Viktor Frankl gave to his fellow prisoners at the end of a particularly hard day. The prisoners had chosen to go without food rather than give up one of their number to the guards, and so were particularly hungry, tired, cold and irritable.
Frankl was called upon to give some words of encouragement, and he began with a very Stoic observation, that ‘our situation was not the most terrible we could think of’. Losses of health, family, happiness and fortune were all replaceable in the future. He quoted from Nietzsche: ‘That which does not kill me, makes me stronger.’
Although Frankl estimated his chances of survival at only one in twenty, he also pointed out that ‘no man knew what the future would bring, much less the next hour’. So there is no reason to lose all hope.
Frankl also gave the prisoners comfort by reminding them of the past. He quotes from a poet: ‘What you have experienced, no power on earth can take from you.’
Not only our experiences, but all we have done, whatever great thoughts we may have had, and all we have suffered, all this is not lost, though it is past; we have brought it into being. Having been is also a kind of being, and perhaps the surest kind.
Meaning is also to be found in the present: ‘the hopelessness of our struggle did not detract from its dignity and its meaning’. Whoever it was looking down on the men, whether a friend, wife or a God, ‘would hope to find us suffering proudly – not miserably – knowing how to die’.