Victor Frankl Man's Search for Meaning

The Viktor Frankl 5-a-Day Book Cult: Day 11 'One literally became a number: dead or alive - that was unimportant; the life of a "number" was completely irrelevant.'

Today’s pages (p60-64) start with the observation that, in the desperate fight for survival, the inmates could easily lose the feeling of being an individual with ‘inner freedom and personal value’.

He thought of himself then as only a part of an enormous mass of people; his existence descended to the level of animal life.

Viktor Frankl notices that the inmates started to behave like sheep, when herded from one place to another by the guards.

[W]e, the sheep, thought of two things only – how to evade the bad dogs and how to get a little food. Just like sheep that crowd timidly into the centre of a herd, each of us tried to get into the middle of our formations.

The crowd was protection. But constant submersion in the crowd is claustrophobic, and the prisoner also ‘yearned for privacy and solitude’.

Frankl was lucky enough to be transported to a so-called ‘rest camp’, where he acted as doctor to a hut full of dying invalids. Here he could find solitude for five minutes at a time, squatting on the wooden lid to a shaft outside his hut.

I just sat and looked out at the green flowering slopes and the distant blue hills of the Bavarian landscape, framed by the meshes of barbed wire.

Perched on this lid, Frankl was able to help conceal three fellow prisoners in the shaft below, saving them from transportation to the death camp of Dachau.

The process of dehumanisation was complete. Prisoners had no documentation, only their barely living bodies and their identification number.

One literally became a number: dead or alive – that was unimportant; the life of a “number” was completely irrelevant.

All the Days

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David Charles is co-writer of BBC radio sitcom Foiled. He also writes for The Bike Project, Thighs of Steel, and the Elevate Festival. He blogs at

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