During the Reign of Adolf Hitler, Essay Example
During the reign of Adolf Hitler, the German state sought to exert its racial superiority over the growing Jewish population in Europe. Hitler perceived the Jewish race as a blot in the purity of nature and sought to extinguish them. Psychologist Victor Franklin accounts life in these concentrations camps, concentration on the psychological effects of the treatments and conditions that Jewish prisoners were exposed to. His literary work depicts his journey through 4 concentration camps. He highlights life before the concentration camps, drawing comparison and large contrast to the life in the camps and after gaining freedom. He depicts three mental phases that the prisoners went through from arrival in the concentration camps to freedom.
Mental Phases in Concentration Camps
Inmates have different reactions towards life in concentration camps. From the moment of their capture to their freedom, individuals went through 3 stages of psychological states and transformations, ultimately influencing their quality of life. Victor Frankl identifies these stages through his experiences in the concentrations camps, citing three main psychological stages and states.
Phase I: Shock upon Admission
As prisoners were transported into the concentration camps, they had no clue of the kind of life that awaited them. Because by the time the protagonist, Frankl, is taken prisoner, most of the concentration camps had been in existence for a considerable while. New prisoners that came after the camps existence were not sure of what to expect in these concentration camps. As they got closer to the camps, they were overcome with overwhelming sense of shock at the sight of the life and state of the concentration camps. Some of the most alarming things these new prisoners found overwhelming were the structures that had been put in place to contain the prisoners. Most notable were the long rows of barbed wire demarcating boundaries and the tall searchlights to ensure visibility at night. Some of the utility structures were the huge water towers. However, the most overwhelming sight was that of long lines of raged human figures. These events occurred during his first experience entering Auschwitz concentration camp together with his wife Tilly on October 19th, 1944. His entry into this camp marked the beginning of his struggle to survive. Josef Mengele, the camp doctor directed prisoners to form two lines as they entered the camp. The left line was directed to the gas chambers to be killed. Frankl happened to be on the line to the left but managed to escape death by slipping into the right line unnotied.
Upon entry into the concentration camps, prisoners were received by prisoners who appeared to be of good health. This provided the prisoners with a temporary disenchantment of absolution. These created the perception of a potentially different life from the fate that had befallen the ragged human figures in the long lines they had seen as they moved into camp. Prisoners came to realize the social order that existed in the concentration camps. Generally, two classes characterized the concentration camps. The Capos were the supervisors appointed by the SS Guard. They were in charge of organizing labor. The commoners were the prisoners who were subjected to and manual labor and poor living conditions. During this process of entry, prisoners were stripped of all personal belongings and any material link to their lives prior to the concentration camps. Some prisoners were overwhelmed with the shock, they could not survive the first two months.
Phase II: Apathy and Emotional Death
After surviving the initial shock of life in the concentration camps, prisoners soon became number to the atrocities and suffering happening around them. Prisoners no longer held on to emotions of pity, disgust or horror. These feelings would lead to considerable emotional and psychological torture and instability. Because all prisoners’ names were replaced with numbers, they soon started creating an alternate identity to help cope with the disturbing scenes that went on around them. The life of a number was insignificant and as such had no meaning.
The Capos received good treatment as compared to the other prisoners. They could eat whatever they wanted, whenever they wanted. Furthermore, they lived in reserved sections of the concentration camps where basic utilities such as water and heating were available. They were in charge of supervising manual labor and exerted the rule of authority with an iron fist. They tortured and even killed prisoners, of similar race, for personal gain and survival. This was largely meant to break the spirits of the prisoners, driving them towards emotional death. The sight of a fellow brother exerting the ruthless law of the SS guard broke their spirits. This was most rampant in Kaufering concentration camp. He was moved here from Auschwitz concentration camp in October 25th, 1944.
Emotional attachment and virtue was seen as elements of weakness that would only increase the chances of death. This is evident in one of the most painful scenes described by the protagonist. He accounts witnessing several instances where inmates would quickly rip off all the belongings of an inmate upon death. Items such as wooden shoes and their meal would quickly be looted upon a prisoner’s demise. At this time, apathy appeared the only sure way to survival. Most prisoners held on to the hope of seeing their loved one’s one day. This was the only aspect of a prisoner’s freedom that could not be taken. Apathy and emotional death was used as a shield to protect this aspect of their identity. To cultivate this emotional state, prisoners would secretly congregate to seek spiritual guidance and reprieve, while other engaged in skits and cracking jokes about the atrocities they experienced in the concentration camps (Frankl, 2006, p. 115).
The protagonist explains how during this stage, prisoners were at the highest risk of death. This is because, as some prisoners cold not make use of mental and emotional resources to create the distinct mental and emotional boundaries in their experiences so as to draw meaning in life. This caused significant deterioration in their immune system, making them susceptible to natural forces and the emotional and physical torment they experienced inside the concentration camp. However, the author highlights how he helps numerous prisoners refocus their emotional and mental resources by concentrating on the life that awaited them after the concentration camps. He helps them realize of a possibility of an alternate life after the concentration camps. This rejuvenation in emotional and mental strength helped them find purpose in life and their obligation to survive and live beyond the concentration camps. This mainly occurred in the Türkheim concentration camp where he worked as a physician. He had been moved to Türkheim from Kaufering in March 1945.
Phase III: Post Liberation
Numerous prisoners survived the concentration camps and realized freedom as a surprise. All prisoners had fantasized about their release, freedom and the life that awaited them. However, for most, this fantasy never became a reality. They had pegged their happiness and freedom on seeing loved ones, hoping they had survived the holocaust. However, many people died during the holocaust, leaving this people without the emotional anchor upon which they could draw meaning in life. Frankl accounts how difficult he found it to overcome these emotions when he found out his wife died in the Belsen concentration camp. She had been transferred from the Auschwitz concentration camp.
For most of the survivors, they could not understand and accept the concept of freedom (Frankl, 2006, p. 88). They found it increasing difficult to realize that they were free. The life they believed awaited them turned out to be an anti-climax of their hopes and dreams. This phase was characterized by three distinct stages.
This stage was experienced upon trialing freedom. Prisoners readjusted to life outside the concentration camps. Owing to the state of emotional death they had experienced in the camps, prisoners found it difficult to grasp the concept of freedom. This stage was characterized by the body breaking out, i.e. an increased appetitive for food, and sleep. This physical outbreak is essential to set up the mental outbreaks
- Mental Outbreak
During this stage, the mind is unlocked and can process the experiences realized during life in the concentration camps. Survivors were at the highest risk of experiencing mental degradation as the mind is finally released from the pressure imposed by the living conditions inside the concentration camps.
- Bitterness and Emotional Detachment
The mind becomes unlocked from the restraints that held back processing emotional feelings (Frankl, 2006, p. 111). During this stage, ex-prisoners can processes the emotions of bitterness, resentment and anger for the experiences they underwent in the concentration camps. This bitterness drove some survivors to become fixated with the need and urge to dispense the same kind of cruelty they received in the hands of the SS guard and the Capos. Survivors in this stage perceived human beings as in the world as animate objects. This feeling was compounded by the realization of the never ending suffering. This was particularly evident in those prisoners whose came home to find their loved ones had died as a result of the holocaust (Frankl, 2006, p. 92). Overcoming the feelings of despair was considerably difficult driving most survivors to a life of bitterness and despondence.
Frankl highlights the use of logotherapy to help survivors from the concentration camps. This therapy is meaning centered and future oriented, making it an effective tool in helping survivors from the concentration camps. The foundations of logo therapy are highlighted in his account as mental and emotional acceptance. Most of the prisoners who failed to accept their situation and surroundings founding it increasingly difficult to survive and eventually succumbed to natural forces such as the bad weather and the emotional and physical trauma at the hands of the SS Guard and the capos. Through acceptance, an inmate had the opportunity to grow spiritually. This largely inhibited their perception of a future life beyond the concentration camps, making them despise their own existence, perceiving it as an endless and meaningless experience of suffering.
Logotherapy helped prisoners in their search for meaning in life. This is because the search for meaning in life was linked to their response to the cruel conditions within which they existed. As such, most of the prisoners accepted this fate as their own true identity. This formulates the foundation of this conceptual framework for helping prisoners.
In the development and application of logotherapy, the most important factor that is recognized is that all life has meaning. It is an individual’s responsibility to drive themselves towards finding the meaning to their life. Aspects of Frankl’s life after the concentration camps was considerably employed in developing the theory. One of the most significant applications is the general elimination of the past. Logotherapy helps a patient focus on the future and eliminate the past. This is because past events have a tendency of creating emotional and mental stability. This form of therapy is integral in helping the patient create a drive forward towards finding and deriving meaning and purpose.
This literary work is a vital and key component to the field of psychology as well as human history. The holocaust was an important and tragic event in human history that shaped and affected numerous lives across Europe and the world. Most of the victims, Jewish captives and prisoners were subjected to inhuman conditions and treatment significantly affected their psychological wellbeing.
The author’s depictions of the concentration camps is an important foundation for understanding the motivation behind the treatments employed by the SS guard, their functions and the general effects on the prisoners. While the SS Guard was largely regarded as a ruthless and mindless outfit that exerted atrocities on Jewish prisoners, they appear to employ a significantly superior tactic to break down their foes and achieve their goals with relative ease. By using fellow Jews to exert their will, the SS guard manages to drive its prisoners to the point of disillusionment and utter submission.
The work on logotherapy is an integral advancement in the field of psychology. This type of psychology is particularly effective as it helps a patient realize and find meaning through life by first letting go of the past. This therapy especially discourages focusing on the past as the patient will have tendencies of comparing the quality of life before and after experiencing a major traumatic event in their life. By striving to find meaning, Frankl depicts the classical struggle in human life after experiencing major traumatic events. Major traumatic events almost always create an existential vacuum that could lead to significant negative effects on the physical and psychological well-being of a patient.
Frankl, V. E. (2006). Man’s Search for Meaning. Boston: Beacon Press.
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