Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl

We’ve all heard various accounts of how life was like in the Nazi concentration camps; how millions perished in the gas chambers and how fear pulsed through all of the prisoners’ veins day and night. However, rarely do we hear about how everyday life was like for a prisoner in a concentration camp. Sometimes, it’s the smaller things, the things that seem to be less significant, that are really the most horrible. I’m not at all implying that the gas chambers weren’t horrible, they were unequivocally inhumane, but some of the things that Viktor Frankl describes in this book seem just as bad, and, in some cases, even worse. 

Viktor Frankl, a Viennese man, was taken captive initially to a concentration camp in Auschwitz. As a liberated victim, and through his knowledge and understanding of human psychiatry, he has been able to give a very accurate and detailed account of his time and experiences as a prisoner. 

He describes three stages of a prisoners’ mental state: shock, apathy, and coping with depersonalization after liberation (if they were lucky). As he explains each stage in detail, he gives anecdotes, which really helped me to gain a clear understanding of the psychiatry behind it all. 

What really struck me by surprise as I was reading this book was how utterly unjust it was for those who were held captive in the concentration camps. Of course, I knew prior to reading this that the prisoners were treated unfairly, but I suppose I never fully comprehended the extent to which it went. 

At the beginning of the book, Frankl recounts the first time he’d entered the camp. He recalls an SS guard standing by the gate who examined each prisoner carefully, deciding whether they’d be capable of the strenuous labor they’d be subject to if they were admitted to the camp. Anyone who appeared weak in any way was immediately sent to the gas chambers. This need to be “fit” plagued the prisoners throughout their time at camp as, at any time, if someone were to sustain an injury or grow ill, they’d be deemed “incapable” and were promptly sent to the chambers. This was but the first of many horrors that Frankl would encounter at the camp. 

Additionally, Frankl discusses logatherapy, a form of psychiatry, which can loosely be defined as “finding a will to meaning”. He describes it in the context of a concentration camp: along with a lot of luck, the one thing that kept Frankl alive at Auschwitz was his life’s work pertaining to psychiatry. 

I thought that this book was a very fascinating read. I definitely learned a lot more about how life was like in concentration camps, and the section on logatherapy also intrigued me–some of the concepts he discussed really made me think hard. This is a very powerful and inspiring book–Viktor Frankl is an extremely strong and willful individual. 

-Elina T. 

Man’s Search For Meaning by Viktor Frankl is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library.

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, by John Boyne

boyinthestripedpajamas_johnboyneTo Bruno, Out-With was not a good place. That was where his family moved, away from their perfect life in Berlin. It was all because of Father. Father soon got a pressed uniform and the title of Commandant, which Bruno’s grandmother despised. And then the Fury came to visit, and right after, they moved from Berlin to Out-With. Gretel, Bruno’s older sister who was a “Hopeless Case,” later said it wasn’t pronounced “Out-With” and the man people saluted wasn’t called the “Fury,” but Bruno knew he was correct nonetheless.

Bruno hated his new life at Out-With, being removed from his friends and confined to the general vicinity of the house. He had no friends here, since Gretel was too focused on her dolls and Lieutenant Kotler to pay Bruno any mind. Plus, the house was no longer a five-story structure like the house in Berlin had been. And soon, Mother and Father made Gretel and Bruno attend lessons under Herr Liszt, but they had to learn history, not art and poetry like Bruno wanted.

Bruno, however, began to learn other secrets about his new life, about Maria the maid, Pavel the server, about the people on the other side of the fence that he could see from his bedroom window. The people who all wore the same striped pajamas every day and who were never invited into his house, though the soldiers were somehow invited to the other side of the fence.

This novel was a poignant tale of the Holocaust. Told from the perspective of a naive nine-year-old, the whole situation was simplified to the greatest degree, which amplified the story in my opinion. This book has been on my “to-read” list for years now, and I am fortunate I finally got a chance to read it. In reality, it is a simple read, but the themes presented deal with the moral issues of the Holocaust and thus make this novel suitable to at least a middle school audience. That being said, as a junior in high school, I still found this book touching and would definitely recommend it.

– Leila S., 11th grade

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library. It can also be downloaded from Overdrive

The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak

bookthief_markuszusakThe Book Thief is a truly amazing story by Markus Zusak about a German girl named Liesel Meminger who lived in Nazi Germany during the Holocaust. Liesel travels to Himmel Street in Molching to meet her new family, Hans and Rosa Hubermann, and her will-be best and reliable friend, Rudy Steiner. Liesel also came with a book, A Grave Digger’s Handbook, and Hans decides to teach her how to read and write. After her first book stealing, she feels encouraged to steal more books.

One thing I like about this book is that it is narrated not by person, but by Death. It shows how Death thinks and his thoughts of collecting souls after a person dies. Death talks about his job and all of the colors he sees while picking up souls. He also mentions that he is interested by Liesel. I think that Death also begins to feel remorseful about collecting so many souls during World War II.

What I also like about this book is that the author tells this story in a straight-forward style. I believe it offers true thoughts of the Führer, aka Hitler, from those who didn’t really support him. This also shows the life of a Jew trying to stay alive and hide from the soldiers. There are some sad parts but there are heart-warming moments as well. I recommend this book for 12 years and older. If you choose to read this terrific book, I hope you will greatly enjoy it.

-Samantha S.

The Book Thief is available for check out from the Mission Viejo Public Library, Overdrive, and Axis360.