Bruno Bettelheim (review date Autumn 1959)
SOURCE: "A Note on the Concentration Camps," in Chicago Review, Vol. 13, No. 3, Autumn, 1959, pp. 113-14.
[Bettelheim was an Austrian-born American psychologist, psychoanalyst, and educator whose works include A Good Enough Parent: A Book on Child Rearing (1987). In the following review of From Death-Camp to Existentialism, he examines the relationship between Frankl's concentration camp experiences and the development of logotherapy.]
This small book [From Death-Camp to Existentialism] consists of two parts, quite unequal in size. In the first 90 pages the author presents personal reactions to his experiences in German concentration camps. This is followed by barely 14 pages of sketchy comment on the particular type of existential psychoanalysis he practices, which he calls logotherapy. Both subjects—the concentration camp and existential psychoanalysis—have been dealt with much more adequately by other authors. The merit of this volume lies in the important connection he establishes between these two seemingly disconnected phenomena. Existentialism, in line with the author's profession (he is professor of neurology and psychiatry at the University of Vienna), is discussed mainly in terms of its influence on psychotherapy.
That the impact of the concentration camp can, as the author puts it, "strike out" the prisoner's "whole former life" is the experience that is crucial for understanding the connection between the camps and existential philosophy. For those who permitted themselves to respond to the experience rather than deny it, it soon transcended their own personal lives and led to the realization that the verities they had lived by up to that shock experience of "nothingness" were false gods. Whatever the person's calling had been, that is where the realization struck home most forcefully. Those active in...
(The entire section is 786 words.)