Viktor E. Frankl's Devastating Letter On The Death Of His Wife And Mother In Auschwitz

UNSPECIFIED - CIRCA 1948:  Portrait of austrian psychologist Viktor Frankl, Photograph, 1948  (Photo by Imagno/Getty Images)
UNSPECIFIED - CIRCA 1948: Portrait of austrian psychologist Viktor Frankl, Photograph, 1948 (Photo by Imagno/Getty Images) [Portr?t Viktor Frankl, Photographie, 1948]

Excerpted from Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor E. Frankl with selected letters, speeches, and essays translated by Helen Pisano. Copyright 2014. Excerpted with permission by Beacon Press.

Letter to Wilhelm and Stepha Börner
September 14, 1945
My dears!

I’ve been in Vienna for four weeks now. Finally there is an opportunity to write you. But 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. She was sent from Auschwitz to work in the trenches at Trachtenberg in Breslau, and then on to the infamous concentration camp of Bergen-Belsen. There, the women endured “terrible, indescribable suffering,” as it was put in a letter from a former colleague of Tilly’s, in which Tilly’s name is listed as one of those who died of typhus (the letter comes from the only survivor of the former hospital nurses, such as they were, in Bergen-Belsen). I have had the “indescribable” depicted to me by a survivor of Bergen-Belsen. I cannot repeat it.

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. I have no pleasure in life, only duties, and I live out of conscience. . . . And so I have re-established myself, and now I’m re-dictating my manuscript, both for publication and for my own rehabilitation. A couple of well-placed old friends have taken on my cause in the most touching way.3 But no success can make me happy, everything is weightless, void, vain in my eyes, I feel distant from everything. It all says nothing to me, means nothing. The best have not returned (also, my best friend [Hubert Gsur] was beheaded) and they have left me alone. In the camp, we believed that we had reached the lowest point—and then, when we returned, we saw that nothing has survived, that that which had kept us standing has been destroyed, that at the same time as we were becoming human again it was possible to fall deeper, into an even more boundless suffering. There remains perhaps nothing more to do than cry a little and browse a little through the Psalms.

Perhaps you will smile at me, maybe you will be angry with me, but I do not contradict myself in the slightest, 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. And my only consolation lies in the fact that I can say in all good conscience, that I realized the opportunities that presented themselves to me, I mean to say: that I turned them into reality. This is the case with respect to my short marriage to Tilly. What we have experienced cannot be undone, it has been, but this Having-been is perhaps the most certain form of being.

To finish, some happy news: Vally Laufer is alive and well in Vienna, stayed here in hiding as a “U-Boat” (an illegal)! I leave it to you to let Stella and my father-in-law, as well as my brother-in-law Gustav D. Grosser, gradually know the truth. Sadly Walter also probably died at Auschwitz. And Tilly’s aunt, Hertha Weiser, lost her husband in a shootout in the final days of fighting in Vienna. Are you in contact with Eugen Hofmann, Elsie Kupferberg, Thea Kissmann? Have you received my second letter via Berman? Forgive these disjointed scribblings but I have to write bit by bit during my surgery hours.

With warmest greetings!

Your Viktor



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