Not only is Viktor Frankl's Man's Search for Meaning a significant
historical, literary, philosophical, psychological, and religious work of
eloquent depth, but it can also be a highly personal read for self-understanding.
So as to not lose its unique essence and because of the varied levels of
meaning and interpretation Man's Search for Meaning offers, teachers
must approach and present it to their students carefully. Consider that as
a result of reading this book, students may analyze their own life's meaning,
evaluating which way and where they are headed, while questioning for what,
to what, or to whom they are responsible. The goal of this study guide is
to offer teachers suggestions and ideas for teaching this powerful book; how
can it be used in the classroom?
- within the larger framework of studying and analyzing literature and its
- as an autobiographical account of survival during the Holocaust
- as a critical analysis of life's meaning, whether philosophically, psychologically,
- as a theory or example of existentialism
- as a reflective piece of thoughtful, historical literature
- to deepen students' understanding of the Holocaust through first-person
- as a partner piece with or an add-on to other literature
Note: Because its scope is limited, Man's Search for Meaning
should not be used as a stand-alone piece of literature for teaching about
the Holocaust. The Holocaust was more than just surviving concentration camps
to be liberated-if you lived that long.
Use in other content areas
Man's Search for Meaning is a book that can be used in almost all
content areas, depending on the teacher's objectives and rationale(s) which
should be thoroughly considered: English or language arts, philosophy, psychology,
religion, social studies or Holocaust studies courses. The book is a highly
intellectual, analytical, and stimulating read, so it is best used with older
or more advanced students, at least in their junior year of high school and
Strategies and tools
This teachers' guide offers a variety of ideas, approaches, and resources
to help educators, including a discussion for teaching the book within the
context of the Holocaust and understanding that period of time to better appreciate
Frankl's story. Also included in the guide:
back to contents
- A timeline of Viktor Frankl's life within the context of the chronology
of the Holocaust
- An overview of Holocaust history
- (Supplement with anti-Jewish restrictions within the Reich activity)
- (Supplement with concentration camps background information)
- Vocabulary of Man's Search for Meaning
- A glossary of significant references made within Man's Search for Meaning
- Questions for comprehension, discussion, writing, or research
- Additional resources (with web links included)
General Suggestions for Teaching Mans Search
- Provide students with the paragraph found on page 104 that begins As
It offers background information for the manuscript
and its significance to Frankl.
- Teach the history of the Holocaust prior to reading the book. It is crucial
for even understanding the entirety of Frankls book his experiences
(for example, the definition and chronology of the Holocaust, immigration
quotas in the world at that time, generalizations about who knew what when
about the Holocaust, and the idea of familial or collective responsibility).
- Interact with text while reading: make notes, ask questions, mark key
- Keep a journal while reading for reactions and responses (whether as a
class assignment or a private reflection).
- Make this book your singular focus in the classroom when studying it to
offer time for its heavy digestion.
- Re-read the preface after finishing the book (see Questions for Comprehension,
Discussion, Writing, or Research).
- Dont be afraid to go through the book slowly to assure student understanding
- Read Parts I and II of the book out loud because of their more clinical
Questions for Classroom Discussion
- Define each of the recommended vocabulary words. Find the page on which
each word is used, and then copy the sentence in which the word is used.
- Analyze and discuss the title of the book Mans Search for Meaning.
- Trace the motif of death throughout this book.
- Identify various literary devices used within this book.
- Discuss the point of view and tone of Part One. How does it contrast with
typical memoir writing?
- Explain what you think Frankls literary style might
be and offer evidence through examples.
- Into what type of literature or genre does this book fit?
- Find and list paradoxical statements you find within the text.
- Trace references to religion or to Biblical scripture throughout this
- What do you think Frankls views of religion are and how are these
reflected through his experiences and/or theories?
- Throughout the book, particularly Part One, Frankl does not identify himself
as Jewish. Why do you think this is?
- Keep a list of Frankl-isms that you find inspirational or
with which you identify.
- Research barbed wire sickness. (p. 7)
- Explain Frankls theory of success. Do you agree or disagree with
- What is the significance of Frankls reasons for staying in Austria?
- According to Frankl, An abnormal reaction to an abnormal situation
is normal. What is the paradox of this statement? How can you relate
it to a time in your own life?
- When Frankl mentions people by name in the book, he only refers to them
as Mr. P- or Dr. M-. Why do you think this is? How does it reflect his literary
- What is the ultimate freedom according to Frankl?
- Frankl says that to be alive in the camp meant that one had lost his scruples:
The best of us did not return. What are scruples? What does
he mean by this? How does the statement reflect life in the concentration
camps during the Holocaust?
- Why do you think that cigarettes and smoking were the last pleasures enjoyed
before death? Why or how would they signal imminent death to other prisoners?
- What were the phase 1 reactions following admission
into the concentration camp scene? What were the phase 2 reactions
to being well-entrenched in the concentration camp routine?
- What were the phase 3 reactions to being released and liberated
from a concentration camp? Explain your understanding of the gradual shift
- Research Maslows hierarchy of needs and use to analyze the different
phases of concentration camp life.
- What do you think Frankls definition of love is? Does it fit into
Frankls philosophy of existentialism? Why or why not?
- How does Frankls wife give his life meaning? Explain.
- p. 3741 passage about Frankls wife
How do these passages explain or exemplify the separation of the mind from
- p. 29 passage
Compare and contrast to this famous passage from Elie Wiesels Night:
"Never shall I forget that night, the first night in camp, which has
turned my life into one long night, seven times cursed and seven times sealed.
Never shall I forget that smoke. Never shall I forget the little faces of
the children, whose bodies I saw turned into wreaths of smoke beneath a
silent blue sky. Never shall I forget those flames which consumed my faith
forever. Never shall I forget that nocturnal silence which deprived me,
for all eternity, of the desire to live. Never shall I forget those moments
which murdered my God and my soul and turned my dreams to dust. Never shall
I forget these things, even if I am condemned to live as long as God Himself.
- p. 8687 passage questions the oversimplification of decent vs. indecent
or good vs. evil among human beings in the Holocaust. Frankls discussion
of this complexity can be supplemented with the United States Holocaust
Memorial Museums Online Teacher Workshop and its responsibility exercise
This can also be supplemented with discussion regarding historian Raul Hilbergs
separation of groups during the Holocaust: Victims, Perpetrators, and Bystanders.
- According to Frankl, how do suffering and death complete life and give
- p. 7778 passage
Share Camus The Myth of Sisyphus with students for further
- Twice Frankl mentions the fear that we were heading to Mauthausen.
Why? (See historical background information.)
- p. 56 reference to the story of Death in Teheran
Why do you think that Frankl includes the Story of Death in Tehran? How
does it fit into his concentration camp experiences?
- What is Frankls advice to the hut/block for staying alive?
- Explain Frankls theory of logotherapy.
- What is the difference between a psychoanalyst and a psychotherapist?
How do both of these contrast with logotherapy/a logotherapist?
- Contrast the theories of Adler, Frankl, and Freud.
- How is responsibility a crucial component of logotherapy?
- p. 116 passage
Discuss the reasons for the contrast in societys reactions when confronting
human problems, then and now.
- How does Frankl explain survival in the camps with regard to logotherapy?
- The last paragraph of Part Two reflects another key theme of Frankls
book. What is it?
- Identify and define the three facets of mass neurotic syndrome.
- Do you agree or disagree with Frankl that this (mass neurotic syndrome)
is pervasive in the young generation of today? How can it be combated through
- p. 143 movie analogy: Discuss the relevance/analogy of this passage to
your own life. Do you think that the movie analogy is a good example for
Frankls view of existentialism?
- How do you know if or when any single situation or event in your life
has been actualized? How does this movie analogy force you to reflect upon
your own life?
- Create a timeline of your own lifes situations and events and their
- According to Frankl, there are three main avenues for reaching meaning
in life; what are they? Analyze and discuss these with regard to your own
- p. 148 footnote: How does this vignette shed light on resistance (both
spiritual and violent) during the Holocaust? Frankls pointing out
of this complexity can be supplemented with the United States Holocaust
Memorial Museums Online Teacher Workshop and its Why didnt
they fight back? exercise (http://www.ushmm.org/education/foreducators/guidelines/,
- p. 150 passage: Apply this analogy to other situations. How do the roots
of hypocrisy originate? What are the causes and effects of the generalizations
linked to hypocrisy? What are the dangers of such hypocrisies?
- Discuss the final two sentences of Frankls Postscript: To what is
he referring here? What are the ramifications of each, and how are those
reflected through Mans Search for Meaning?
- Reread the preface after you have finished the entire book: Why publish
this book anonymously? What could be gained from that?
- Frankl says in the Preface to his book that if hundreds of thousands
of people reach out for a book whose very title promises to deal with the
question of a meaning to life, it must be a question that burns under their
fingernails. Come back to this point after completing the book and
respond to it.
Vocabulary and Glossary of Significant References
Caisson: A horse-drawn vehicle, usually two-wheeled, used to carry
artillery ammunition and coffins at military funerals
Capo: The head of a branch of an organized crime syndicate
Existentialism: A philosophy emphasizing the uniqueness and isolation
of individual experience in a hostile or indifferent universe; regards human
existence as unexplainable, and stresses freedom of choice and responsibility
for the consequences of one's acts; to live is to suffer; to survive is to
find meaning in the suffering; must find out for yourself and accept that
responsibility; hints at pessimism and anti-religion
Moslem: Submission to God and to Muhammad as the chief and last prophet
Nihilism: An extreme form of skepticism that denies all existence;
the belief that destruction of existing political or social institutions is
necessary for future improvement
Shema Yisrael: In Judaism, the Shema is a declaration of faith, a
pledge of allegiance to one God, and a symbol of the ultimate manifestation
of faith even in the gravest of situations ("Hear O Israel, the Lord
our God, the Lord is One")
Alfred Adler (18701937): Austrian psychologist and the founder
of the school of individual psychology whose theory focused on social forces;
his therapy concerned the analysis of early childhood and overcoming inferiority
complexes through positive social interactio
Fyodor Dostoevsky (18211881): Russian novelist whose work is
characterized by scenes of confrontation where the most profound religious,
metaphysical, and moral problems are explored
- p. 18 reference
My definition of a man is this: a being who can get used to anything. ~
- p. 66 reference
There is only one thing that I dread: not to be worthy of my sufferings.
Albrecht Dürer (1471-1528): German northern Renaissance painter,
engraver, and theoretician; most influential artist of the German school
Sigmund Freud (18561939): Austrian psychiatrist and the founder
of psychoanalysis (allowing emotionally charged material that the individual
had repressed in the unconscious to emerge to conscious recognition)
Gustave Le Bon (18411931): French philosopher, politician, psychologist
and sociologist whose theories included those of national traits and racial
superiority. He wrote The Crowd in 1885 but it was not published until 1897.
It explains how speculators and investors who fail to analyze and think for
themselves when they become involved in a group or crowd lose their ability
to objectively evaluate decisions.
- Quote reference
Crowds are somewhat like the sphinx of ancient fable: It is necessary to
arrive at a solution of the problems offered by their psychology or to resign
ourselves to being devoured by them. ~ Le Bon
Gotthold Lessing (172981): German philosopher, dramatist, and
critic; one of the most influential figures of the Enlightenment
- p. 20 reference
There are things which must cause you to lose your reason or you have none
to lose. ~ Lessing
Friedrich Nietzsche (18441900): German philosopher who regarded
Christian civilization as decadent. Iin place of its slave morality he looked
to the superman, the creator of a new heroic morality that would consciously
affirm life and life values. That superman would represent the highest passion
and creativity and would live at a level of experience beyond the conventional
standards of good and evil.
Arthur Schopenhauer (17881860): German philosopher who developed
the philosophy of pessimism; his stress on the strength of the impelling will
influenced Friedrich Nietzsche and the psychology of Sigmund Freud.
- p. 76 reference
He who has a why to live can bear almost any how. ~ Nietzsche
- p. 82 reference
That which does not kill us makes us stronger. ~ Nietzsche
Leo Tolstoy (1828-1910): Russian author
- p. 47 reference
Satisfaction consists in freedom from pain, which is the positive element
of life. ~ Schopenhauer
- p. 68 Resurrection (reference to the film) Voskresenia
(1899, Resurrection) was Tolstoy's last major novel. Prince Dmitrii
Ivanovich Nekhliudov has abandoned the prostitute Ekaterina Maslova with
their child as a young man. The novel begins when Maslova is called to court
on charges of murdering a client. Nekhliudov, a member of the jury, realizes
that he also is accused, but in the court of his own conscience. Maslova
is wrongly sentenced to four years' penal service in Siberia. Nekhliudov
follows her convoy to Siberia and manages to get her sentence changed from
hard labor with common criminals to exile with the "politicals".
The novel affirmed Tolstoy's belief in the primacy of the individual conscience
over the collective morality of the group.
Timeline Of Viktor Frankl's Life and the Holocaust
back to content
||Viktor Frankl was born in Vienna,
||Frankl graduates from high school
||Frankl meets Freud in person
|1928 - 1929
||Frankl organizes cost-free counseling
centers for teenagers in Vienna and six other cities and begins working
at the Psychiatric University Clinic
||Frankl earns his doctorate in medicine
Frankl put in charge of the ward for suicidal
women at the psychiatric hospital
January 30: Adolf Hitler was appointed
chancellor of Germany.
April 1: The Nazis organized a nationwide
boycott of Jewish-owned businesses in Germany.
May 10: Nazi party members, students,
teachers, and others burned books written by Jews, political opponents
of Nazis, and the intellectual avant-garde during public rallies across
September 15: The Nazi government decreed
the Reich Citizenship Law and the Law for the Protection of the German
Blood and Honor. These Nuremberg "racial laws" made Jews second-class
citizens. They prohibited sexual relations and intermarriage between
Jews and "persons of German or related blood."
||Frankl opens his own practice in neurology
German troops invaded Austria, and Germany incorporated Austria into
the German Reich in what was called the Anschluss.
July 6-15: Delegates from 32 countries
and representatives from refugee aid organizations attended the Evian
Conference at Evian, France, to discuss immigration quotas for refugees
fleeing Nazi Germany. Most countries were unwilling to ease their immigration
November 9-10: In a nationwide pogrom
called Kristallnacht ("Night of Broken Glass"), the
Nazis and their collaborators burned synagogues, looted Jewish homes
and businesses, and killed at least 91 Jews. Approximately 30,000 Jewish
men were arrested and imprisoned in the Dachau, Sachsenhausen, Buchenwald,
and Mauthausen concentration camps.
Frankl obtains a visa to the United States but
concerned for his elderly parents, lets it expire
March 15: German troops occupied the Czech
lands and established the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia.
May 13-June 17: Cuba and the United States
refused to accept more than 900 refugees-almost all of whom were Jewish-aboard
the ocean liner St.Louis, forcing its return to Europe.
September 1: German troops invaded Poland,
marking the beginning of World War
Frankl is made head of the neurological department
of Rothschild Hospital, the only hospital for Jews in Vienna during
the Nazi regime, for the next two years
May 20: SS authorities established the Auschwitz
concentration camp (Auschwitz I) outside the Polish city of Oswiecim.
Frankl marries his first wife, Tilly Grosser
June 22: Germany and its Axis forces invaded
the Soviet Union. German mobile killing squads called Einsatzgruppen
were assigned to identify, concentrate, and kill Jews behind the front
September 3: At the Auschwitz concentration
camp, SS functionaries performed their first gassing experiments using
September 15: The Nazi government decreed
that Jews over the age of six who resided in Germany had to wear a yellow
Star of David on their outer clothing in public at all times.
November 24: German authorities established
the Theresienstadt (also Terezin) ghetto, in the German controlled Protectorate
of Bohemia and Moravia.
November 26: SS authorities established
a second camp at Auschwitz, called Auschwitz-Birkenau or Auschwitz II
which was later used as a killing center.
Frankl is arrested with his wife, father, mother,
and brother and brought to the concentration camp at Theresienstadt
in Bohemia. His father dies there of starvation/exhaustion.
January 20: Senior Nazi officials met at a villa
in the outskirts of Berlin at the Wannsee Conference to discuss and
coordinate implementation of the "Final Solution."
||Organized arrests of Jews occur in
workplaces for the purposes of deportation
||Frankl is transported with Tilly and
his 65-year-old mother to the extermination camp Auschwitz. His mother
is immediately murdered in the gas chamber, and Tilly is moved to Bergen-Belsen,
where she dies at the age of 24. His brother and his brother's wife also
die in the gas chambers of Auschwitz. Frankl is later transported by cattle
car, via Vienna, to Kaufering and Türkheim (subsidiary camps of Dachau)
Frankl's camp is liberated, and he returns to
Vienna, only to discover the deaths of his loved ones
January 17: As Soviet troops approached,
SS units evacuated prisoners in the Auschwitz camp complex, marching
them on foot toward the interior of the German Reich. The forced evacuations
came to be called "death marches."
January 27: Soviet troops liberated about
8,000 prisoners left behind at the Auschwitz camp complex.
April 29: U.S. troops liberated approximately
32,000 prisoners at Dachau.
April 30: Hitler committed suicide in
his bunker in Berlin.
May 7-9: German armed forces surrendered
unconditionally in the West on May 7 and in the East on May 9.
Allied and Soviet forces proclaimed May 8, 1945, to be Victory in Europe
Day (V-E Day).
September 2: World War II officially ended.
November 20: The International Military
Tribunal, made up of United States, British, French, and Soviet judges,
began a trial of 21 major Nazi leaders at Nuremberg, Germany.
Official acts documenting anti-Jewish actions
are to be destroyed.
||Frankl given the position
of director of the Vienna Neurological Policlinic where he stays for 25
||Frankl marries Eleonore
Schwindt -- "Elly"--and has a daughter, Gabriele, in December
of that year
||Frankl publishes his book
Man's Search for Meaning
||Frankl receives his Ph.D.
in philosophy and made associate professor of neurology and psychiatry
at the University of Vienna
||Frankl founded and became
president of the Austrian Medical Society for Psychotherapy
||Frankl dies of heart failure
The Frankl Institute, http://logotherapy.univie.ac.at/e/lifeandwork.html.
The complete Chronology of the Holocaust (used here with the permission of
the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum) can be found at www.ushmm.org.
Teaching About the Holocaust
See the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum's Teaching about the Holocaust:
A Resource Book for Educators, which can be found in its entirety at:
back to content
(Terezin): Jewish ghetto established on November 24, 1941. Known by its German
name, Theresienstadt, until its liberation on May 8, 1945, it functioned as
a ghetto and transit camp on the route to Auschwitz.
the largest of its kind established by the Nazi regime, with three main camps
near the Polish city of Oswiecim: Auschwitz I in May 1940; Auschwitz II in
early 1942; and Auschwitz III in October 1942.
Established in March 1933, the Dachau concentration camp was the first regular
concentration camp created by the National Socialist (Nazi) government, near
the northeastern part of the town of Dachau, about 10 miles northwest of Munich
in southern Germany.
Established shortly after Germany annexed Austria in March 1938, about three
miles from the town of Mauthausen in Upper Austria
For more information on these and other concentration camps, see The Holocaust
back to content
Anti Jewish Restrictions
For information and exercises on Anti Jewish restrictions, the Oregon Holocaust
Resource Center, http://ohrc.pacificu.edu/,
Berlin Memorial Law exercise.
back to content
back to content
Other Existential Literature
- Camus, Albert: "The Myth of Sisyphus"(http://22.214.171.124:8080//sisyphus.htm,
online text); The Stranger; The Plague
- Dostoevsky, Fyodor: Crime and Punishment
- Ellison, Ralph: The Invisible Man
- Heller, Joseph: Catch-22
- Ibsen, Henrik: "A Doll's House"
- Kafka, Franz: Metamorphosis
- Palahniuk, Chuck: Fight Club
- Stoppard, Tom: Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead
- Wright, Richard: Native Son
Other Existential / Holocaust Literature
- Kertesz, Imre: Fatelessness
- Kosinski, Jerzy: The Painted Bird
Other Literature (not existential, but good to pair)
- Atwood, Margaret: The Handmaid's Tale
- Chopin, Kate: The Awakening
- Golding, William: Lord of the Flies
- Salinger, J.D.: The Catcher in the Rye
- Appleman-Jurman, Alicia: Alicia: My Story
- Klein, Gerda: All But My Life
- Kornreich Gelissen, Rena and Heather Dune Macadam: Rena's Promise:
A Story of Sisters in Auschwitz
- Schiff, Hilda: Holocaust Poetry
- Volavkova, Hana: I Never Saw Another Butterfly
- Wiesel, Elie: Night
- Wiesenthal, Simon: The Sunflower
- "The Last Days," 1998 testimony documentary
- "One Survivor Remembers," 1995 testimony documentary
- "Survivors of the Holocaust," 1995 testimony documentary
- "There Once Was A Town," 2000 documentary
Activities with web link:
The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum's online exhibitions/teacher
This Teachers Guide was developed by Aimee Young
back to content
Aimee Young is in her fifteenth year of teaching high school English in Loudonville,
OH, where she has been also teaching a Holocaust studies elective that she
created for the past ten years. In 2004 Aimee was honored as a DisneyHand
American Teacher Awards Winner, one of three top teachers in the nation
in the High School Humanities category. She is a Regional Museum Educator
for the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and a 2001 USHMM teacher fellow.
Aimee has presented different aspects of Holocaust education to a variety
of audiences across the nation, including the National Council Teachers of
English annual convention, the Belfer National Conference for educators at
the USHMM, and the Northern California Forum on Holocaust Education at Stanford
University; regionally, she has presented for Columbus City Public School
(OH), the Muskegon Museum of Art (MI), and the Association of Michigan Independent
Schools in Detroit (MI). Aimee has also presented to large audiences of future
teachers regarding making their passion part of their classroom at the NEAs
Student Connections Conference in Miami, FL (2004), the Alabama State Student
Education Associations spring conference (2005), and the Ohio State
Student Education Association spring conference (2005). She was the
keynote speaker for the Pennsylvania State Student Education Associations
spring conference (2005).
Aimee has been published by the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum
and Teaching Tolerance Magazine (in print and online).