Beacon Press: Teacher's Guide: Man's Search for Meaning
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Man's Search for Meaning by Viktor FranklTeachers' Guide: Man's Search for Meaning



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 meaning
  • as an autobiographical account of survival during the Holocaust
  • as a critical analysis of life's meaning, whether philosophically, psychologically, or religiously
  • 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 narration
  • 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 up.


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:
  • 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)

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General Suggestions for Teaching Man’s Search For Meaning

    1. Provide students with the paragraph found on page 104 that begins “As for myself…” It offers background information for the manuscript and its significance to Frankl.

    2. Teach the history of the Holocaust prior to reading the book. It is crucial for even understanding the entirety of Frankl’s 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).

    3. Interact with text while reading: make notes, ask questions, mark key passages, etc.

    4. Keep a journal while reading for reactions and responses (whether as a class assignment or a private reflection).

    5. Make this book your singular focus in the classroom when studying it to offer time for its heavy “digestion.”

    6. Re-read the preface after finishing the book (see Questions for Comprehension, Discussion, Writing, or Research).

    7. Don’t be afraid to go through the book slowly to assure student understanding and appreciation.

    8. Read Parts I and II of the book out loud because of their more ‘clinical’ nature.

Questions for Classroom Discussion

    1. 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.

    2. Analyze and discuss the title of the book Man’s Search for Meaning.

    3. Trace the motif of death throughout this book.

    4. Identify various literary devices used within this book.

    5. Discuss the point of view and tone of Part One. How does it contrast with typical memoir writing?

    6. Explain what you think Frankl’s literary “style” might be and offer evidence through examples.

    7. Into what type of literature or genre does this book fit?

    8. Find and list paradoxical statements you find within the text.

    9. Trace references to religion or to Biblical scripture throughout this book.

    10. What do you think Frankl’s views of religion are and how are these reflected through his experiences and/or theories?

    11. Throughout the book, particularly Part One, Frankl does not identify himself as Jewish. Why do you think this is?

    12. Keep a list of ‘Frankl-isms’ that you find inspirational or with which you identify.

    13. Research “barbed wire sickness.” (p. 7)


    1. Explain Frankl’s theory of success. Do you agree or disagree with him?

    2. What is the significance of Frankl’s reasons for staying in Austria?

Part One

  1. 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?

  2. 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 style?

  3. What is the “ultimate freedom” according to Frankl?

  4. 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?

  5. 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?

  6. 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?

  7. What were the “phase 3” reactions to being released and liberated from a concentration camp? Explain your understanding of the gradual shift in reactions.

  8. Research Maslow’s hierarchy of needs and use to analyze the different phases of concentration camp life.

  9. What do you think Frankl’s definition of love is? Does it fit into Frankl’s philosophy of existentialism? Why or why not?

  10. How does Frankl’s wife give his life meaning? Explain.

  11. p. 37–41 passage about Frankl’s wife
    How do these passages explain or exemplify the separation of the mind from the body?

  12. p. 29 passage
    Compare and contrast to this famous passage from Elie Wiesel’s 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. Never."

  13. p. 86–87 passage questions the oversimplification of decent vs. indecent or good vs. evil among human beings in the Holocaust. Frankl’s discussion of this complexity can be supplemented with the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum’s Online Teacher Workshop and its responsibility exercise
    ( This can also be supplemented with discussion regarding historian Raul Hilberg’s separation of groups during the Holocaust: Victims, Perpetrators, and Bystanders.

  14. According to Frankl, how do suffering and death complete life and give it meaning?

  15. p. 77–78 passage
    Share Camus’ “The Myth of Sisyphus” with students for further discussion.

  16. Twice Frankl mentions the fear that “we were heading to Mauthausen.” Why? (See historical background information.)

  17. 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?

  18. What is Frankl’s advice to the hut/block for staying alive?

Part Two

    1. Explain Frankl’s theory of logotherapy.

    2. What is the difference between a psychoanalyst and a psychotherapist? How do both of these contrast with logotherapy/a logotherapist?

    3. Contrast the theories of Adler, Frankl, and Freud.

    4. How is responsibility a crucial component of logotherapy?

    5. p. 116 passage
      Discuss the reasons for the contrast in society’s reactions when confronting “human” problems, then and now.

    6. How does Frankl explain survival in the camps with regard to logotherapy?

    7. The last paragraph of Part Two reflects another key theme of Frankl’s book. What is it?


    1. Identify and define the three “facets” of mass neurotic syndrome.

    2. 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 logotherapy then?

    3. 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 Frankl’s view of existentialism?

    4. 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?

    5. Create a timeline of your own life’s situations and events and their actualizations.

    6. 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 life.

    7. p. 148 footnote: How does this vignette shed light on resistance (both spiritual and violent) during the Holocaust? Frankl’s pointing out of this complexity can be supplemented with the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum’s Online Teacher Workshop and its “Why didn’t they fight back?” exercise (, sample lessons).

    8. 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?

    9. Discuss the final two sentences of Frankl’s Postscript: To what is he referring here? What are the ramifications of each, and how are those reflected through Man’s Search for Meaning?

    10. Reread the preface after you have finished the entire book: Why publish this book anonymously? What could be gained from that?

    11. 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 of God

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 (1870–1937): 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 (1821–1881): 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. ~ Dostoevsky

  • p. 66 reference
    There is only one thing that I dread: not to be worthy of my sufferings. ~ Dostoevsky

Albrecht Dürer (1471-1528): German northern Renaissance painter, engraver, and theoretician; most influential artist of the German school

Sigmund Freud (1856–1939): 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 (1841–1931): 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 (1729–81): 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 (1844–1900): 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.

  • 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

Arthur Schopenhauer (1788–1860): 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. 47 reference
    Satisfaction consists in freedom from pain, which is the positive element of life. ~ Schopenhauer

Leo Tolstoy (1828-1910): Russian author

  • 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

1905 Viktor Frankl was born in Vienna, Austria
1924 Frankl graduates from high school
1925 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
1930 Frankl earns his doctorate in medicine
1933 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 Germany
1935 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."
1937 Frankl opens his own practice in neurology and psychiatry
1938 March 12-13: 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 restrictions.

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.
1939 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.
1941 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 lines.

September 3: At the Auschwitz concentration camp, SS functionaries performed their first gassing experiments using Zyklon B.

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.
1942 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."
1943 Organized arrests of Jews occur in workplaces for the purposes of deportation
1944 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.

1946 Frankl given the position of director of the Vienna Neurological Policlinic where he stays for 25 years.
1947 Frankl marries Eleonore Schwindt -- "Elly"--and has a daughter, Gabriele, in December of that year
1946 Frankl publishes his book Man's Search for Meaning
1948 Frankl receives his Ph.D. in philosophy and made associate professor of neurology and psychiatry at the University of Vienna
1950 Frankl founded and became president of the Austrian Medical Society for Psychotherapy
1997 Frankl dies of heart failure

The Frankl Institute,

The complete Chronology of the Holocaust (used here with the permission of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum) can be found at
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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:
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Concentration Camps

  • Theresienstadt (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.
  • 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.
  • Dachau: 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.
  • Mauthausen: 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 Encyclopedia,
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Anti Jewish Restrictions

For information and exercises on Anti Jewish restrictions, the Oregon Holocaust Resource Center,, Berlin Memorial Law exercise.
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Additional Resources

Other Existential Literature

  • Camus, Albert: "The Myth of Sisyphus"(, 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

Holocaust Literature:

  • 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

Reference/Primary Source:


  • "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 resources:

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Author Biography

This Teacher’s Guide was developed by Aimee Young

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 NEA’s Student Connections Conference in Miami, FL (2004), the Alabama State Student Education Association’s spring conference (2005), and the Ohio State Student Education Association’ spring conference (2005). She was the keynote speaker for the Pennsylvania State Student Education Association’s spring conference (2005).

Aimee has been published by the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and Teaching Tolerance Magazine (in print and online).
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