Viktor Frankl
Frankl in 1965
Viktor Emil Frankl

(1905-03-26)26 March 1905
Died2 September 1997(1997-09-02) (aged 92)
Vienna, Austria
Resting placeZentralfriedhof, Vienna, Austria, Old Jewish Section
Alma materUniversity of Vienna (MD, 1930; PhD, 1948)
Occupation(s)Neurologist, psychiatrist
Known forLogotherapy
Existential analysis
Spouse(s)Tilly Grosser, m. 1941 – c. 1944–1945 (her death)
Eleonore Katharina Schwindt, m. 1947
Children1 daughter

Viktor Emil Frankl (26 March 1905 – 2 September 1997)[1] was an Austrian psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor,[2] who founded logotherapy, a school of psychotherapy that describes a search for a life's meaning as the central human motivational force.[3] Logotherapy is part of existential and humanistic psychology theories.[4]

Logotherapy was promoted as the third school of Viennese Psychotherapy, after those established by Sigmund Freud, and Alfred Adler.[5]

Frankl published 39 books.[6] The autobiographical Man's Search for Meaning, a best-selling book, is based on his experiences in various Nazi concentration camps.[7]

Early life

Frankl was born the middle of three children to Gabriel Frankl, a civil servant in the Ministry of Social Service, and Elsa (née Lion), a Jewish family, in Vienna, in what was then the Austro-Hungarian Empire.[1] His interest in psychology and the role of meaning developed when he began taking night classes on applied psychology while in junior high school.[1] As a teenager, he began a correspondence with Sigmund Freud upon asking for permission to publish one of his papers.[8][9] After graduation from high school in 1923, he studied medicine at the University of Vienna.

In 1924, Frankl's first scientific paper was published in The International Journal of Psychoanalysis.[10] In the same year, he was president of the Sozialistische Mittelschüler Österreich, the Social Democratic Party of Austria's youth movement for high school students. Frankl's father was a socialist who named him after Viktor Adler, the founder of the party.[1][11] During this time, Frankl began questioning the Freudian approach to psychoanalysis. He joined Alfred Adler's circle of students and published his second scientific paper, "Psychotherapy and Worldview" ("Psychotherapie und Weltanschauung"), in Adler's International Journal of Individual Psychology in 1925.[1] Frankl was expelled from Adler's circle[2] when he insisted that meaning was the central motivational force in human beings. From 1926, he began refining his theory, which he termed logotherapy.[12]



Between 1928 and 1930, while still a medical student, he organized youth counselling centers[13] to address the high number of teen suicides occurring around the time of end of the year report cards. The program was sponsored by the city of Vienna and free of charge to the students. Frankl recruited other psychologists for the center, including Charlotte Bühler, Erwin Wexberg, and Rudolf Dreikurs. In 1931, not a single Viennese student died by suicide.[14][unreliable source?]

After earning his M.D. in 1930, Frankl gained extensive experience at Steinhof Psychiatric Hospital, where he was responsible for the treatment of suicidal women. In 1937, he began a private practice, but the Nazi annexation of Austria in 1938 limited his opportunity to treat patients.[1] In 1940, he joined Rothschild Hospital, the only hospital in Vienna still admitting Jews, as head of the neurology department. Prior to his deportation to the concentration camps, he helped numerous patients avoid the Nazi euthanasia program that targeted the mentally disabled.[2][15]

In 1942, just nine months after his marriage, Frankl and his family were sent to the Theresienstadt concentration camp. His father died there of starvation and pneumonia. In 1944, Frankl and the surviving members of his family were transported to Auschwitz, where his mother and brother were murdered in the gas chambers. His wife Tilly died later of typhus in Bergen-Belsen. Frankl spent three years in four concentration camps.[7]

Following the war, he became head of the neurology department of the General Polyclinic Vienna hospital, and established a private practice in his home. He worked with patients until his retirement in 1970.[2]

In 1948, Frankl earned a PhD in philosophy from the University of Vienna. His dissertation, The Unconscious God, examines the relationship between psychology and religion,[16] and advocates for the use of the Socratic dialogue (self-discovery discourse) for clients to get in touch with their spiritual unconscious.[17]

Grave of Viktor Frankl in Vienna

In 1955, Frankl was awarded a professorship of neurology and psychiatry at the University of Vienna, and, as visiting professor, lectured at Harvard University (1961), Southern Methodist University, Dallas (1966), and Duquesne University, Pittsburgh (1972).[12]

Throughout his career, Frankl argued that the reductionist tendencies of early psychotherapeutic approaches dehumanised the patient, and advocated for a rehumanisation of psychotherapy.[18]

The American Psychiatric Association awarded Frankl the 1985 Oskar Pfister Award for his contributions to religion and psychiatry.[18]

Man's Search for Meaning

While head of the Neurological Department at the general Polyclinic Hospital, Frankl wrote Man's Search for Meaning over a nine-day period.[19] The book, originally titled A Psychologist Experiences the Concentration Camp, was released in German in 1946. The English translation of Man's Search for Meaning was published in 1959, and became an international bestseller.[2] Frankl saw this success as a symptom of the "mass neurosis of modern times" since the title promised to deal with the question of life's meaningfulness.[20] Millions of copies were sold in dozens of languages. In a 1991 survey conducted for the Library of Congress and the Book of the Month Club, Man's Search for Meaning was named one of the ten most influential books in the US.[21]

Logotherapy and existential analysis

Frankl developed logotherapy and existential analysis, which are based on philosophical and psychological concepts, particularly the desire to find a meaning in life and free will.[22][23] Frankl identified three main ways of realizing meaning in life: by making a difference in the world, by having particular experiences, or by adopting particular attitudes.

The primary techniques offered by logotherapy and existential analysis are:[24][22][23]

His acknowledgement of meaning as a central motivational force and factor in mental health is his lasting contribution to the field of psychology. It provided the foundational principles for the emerging field of positive psychology.[27] Frankl's work has also been endorsed in the Chabad philosophy of Hasidic Judaism.[28]


"Auschwitz survivor" testimony

In The Missing Pieces of the Puzzle: A Reflection on the Odd Career of Viktor Frankl, Professor of history Timothy Pytell of California State University, San Bernardino,[29] conveys the numerous discrepancies and omissions in Frankl's "Auschwitz survivor" account and later autobiography, which many of his contemporaries, such as Thomas Szasz, similarly have raised.[30] In Frankl's Man's Search for Meaning, the book devotes approximately half of its contents to describing Auschwitz and the psychology of its prisoners, suggesting a long stay at the death camp, however his wording is contradictory and according to Pytell, "profoundly deceptive", when rather the impression of staying for months, Frankl was held close to the train, in the "depot prisoner" area of Auschwitz and for no more than a few days, he was neither registered there, nor assigned a number before being sent on to a subsidiary work camp of Dachau, known as Kaufering III, that together with Terezín, is the true setting of much of what is described in his book.[31][32][33]

Origins and implications of logotherapy

Frankl's doctrine was that one must instill meaning in the events in one's life, and that work and suffering can lead to finding meaning, with this ultimately what would lead to fulfillment and happiness. In 1982 the scholar and Holocaust analyst Lawrence L. Langer, critical of what he called Frankl's distortions of the true experience of those at Auschwitz,[34] and of Frankl's amoral focus on "meaning", that in Langer's assessment could just as equally be applied to Nazis "finding meaning in making the world free from Jews",[35] went on to write that "if this [logotherapy] doctrine had been more succinctly worded, the Nazis might have substituted it for the cruel mockery of Arbeit Macht Frei" ["work sets free", read by those entering Auschwitz].[36] In Pytell's view, Langer also penetrated through Frankl's disturbing subtext that Holocaust "survival [was] a matter of mental health." Langer criticized Frankl's tone as self-congratulatory and promotional throughout, so that "it comes as no surprise to the reader, as he closes the volume, that the real hero of Man's Search for Meaning is not man, but Viktor Frankl" by the continuation of the same fantasy of world-view meaning-making, which is precisely what had perturbed civilization into the holocaust-genocide of this era and others.[37]

Pytell later would remark on the particularly sharp insight of Langer's reading of Frankl's Holocaust testimony, stating that with Langer's criticism published in 1982 before Pytell's biography, the former had thus drawn the controversial parallels, or accommodations in ideology without the knowledge that Victor Frankl was an advocate/"embraced"[38] the key ideas of the Nazi psychotherapy movement ("will and responsibility"[39]) as a form of therapy in the late 1930s. When at that time Frankl would submit a paper and contributed to the Göring institute in Vienna 1937 and again in early 1938 connecting the logotherapy focus on "world-view" to the "work of some of the leading Nazi psychotherapists",[40] both at a time before Austria was annexed by Nazi Germany in 1938.[41][42] Frankl's founding logotherapy paper, was submitted to and published in the Zentrallblatt fuer Psychotherapie [sic] the journal of the Goering Institute, a psychotherapy movement, with the "proclaimed agenda of building psychotherapy that affirmed a Nazi-oriented worldview".[43]

The origins of logotherapy, as described by Frankl, were therefore a major issue of continuity that Pytell argues were potentially problematic for Frankl because he had laid out the main elements of logotherapy while working for/contributing to the Nazi-affiliated Göring Institute. Principally Frankl's 1937 paper, that was published by the institute.[42] This association, as a source of controversy, that logotherapy was palatable to Nazism is the reason Pytell suggests, Frankl took two different stances on how the concentration-camp experience affected the course of his psychotherapy theory. Namely, that within the original English edition of Frankl's most well known book, Man's Search for Meaning, the suggestion is made and still largely held that logotherapy was itself derived from his camp experience, with the claim as it appears in the original edition, that this form of psychotherapy was "not concocted in the philosopher's armchair nor at the analyst's couch; it took shape in the hard school of air-raid shelters and bomb craters; in concentration camps and prisoner of war camps." Frankl's statements however to this effect would be deleted from later editions, though in the 1963 edition, a similar statement again appeared on the back of the book jacket of Man's Search for Meaning.

Frankl over the years would with these widely read statements and others, switch between the idea that logotherapy took shape in the camps to the claim that the camps merely were a testing ground of his already preconceived theories. An uncovering of the matter would occur in 1977 with Frankl revealing on this controversy, though compounding another, stating "People think I came out of Auschwitz with a brand-new psychotherapy. This is not the case."[44]

Jewish relations and experiments on the resistance

In the post war years, Frankl's attitude towards not pursuing justice nor assigning collective guilt to the Austrian people for collaborating with or acquiescing in the face of Nazism, led to "frayed" relationships between Frankl, many Viennese and the larger American Jewish community, such that in 1978 when attempting to give a lecture at the institute of Adult Jewish Studies in New York, Frankl was confronted with an outburst of boos from the audience and was called a "nazi pig". Frankl supported forgiveness and held that many in Germany and Austria were powerless to do anything about the atrocities which occurred and could not be collectively blamed.[45][46][47]

In 1988 Frankl would further "stir up sentiment against him" by being photographed next to and in accepting the Great Silver Medal with Star for Services to the Republic of Austria as a Holocaust survivor, from President Waldheim, a controversial president of Austria who concurrent with the medal ceremony, was gripped by revelations that he had lied about his WWII military record and was under investigation for complicity in Nazi War crimes. It was later concluded that he was not involved in war crimes but had knowledge of them. Frankl's acceptance of the medal was viewed by many in the international Jewish community as a betrayal.[47]

In his "Gutachten" Gestapo profile, Frankl is described as "politically perfect" by the Nazi secret police, with Frankl's membership in the Austro-fascist "Fatherland Front" in 1934, similarly stated in isolation. It has been suggested that as a state employee in a hospital he was likely automatically signed up to the party regardless of whether he wanted to or not. Frankl was interviewed twice by the secret police during the war, yet nothing of the expected contents, the subject of discussion or any further information on these interviews, is contained in Frankl's file, suggesting to biographers that Frankl's file was "cleansed" sometime after the war.[48][49]

None of Frankl's obituaries mention the unqualified and unskilled brain lobotomy and trepanation medical experiments approved by the Nazis that Frankl performed on Jews who had committed suicide with an overdose of sedatives, in resistance to their impending arrest, imprisonment and enforced labour in the concentration camp system. The goal of these experiments were to try and revive those who had killed themselves, Frankl justified this by saying that he was trying to find ways to save the lives of Jews. Operating without any training as a surgeon, Frankl would voluntarily request of the Nazis to perform the experiments on those who had killed themselves, and once approved – published some of the details on his experiments, the methods of insertion of his chosen amphetamine drugs into the brains of these individuals, resulting in, at times, an alleged partial resuscitation, mainly in 1942 (prior to his own internment at Theresienstadt ghetto in September, later in that year). Historian Günter Bischof of Harvard University, suggests Frankl's approaching and requesting to perform lobotomy experiments could be seen as a way to "ingratiate" himself amongst the Nazis, as the latter were not, at that time, appreciative of the international scrutiny that these suicides were beginning to create, nor "suicide" being listed on arrest records.[50][51][52][11]

Response to Timothy Pytell

Timothy Pytell's critique towards Viktor Frankl was used by Holocaust denier Theodore O'Keefe, according to Alexander Batthyány. [53] Alexander Batthyány was a researcher and member of staff of the Viktor Frankl Archive in Vienna. Throughout the first chapter of his book "Viktor Frankl and the Shoah", he reflects on Timothy Pytell's work about Viktor Frankl, and the flaws in it. Batthyány points out that Pytell never visited the archive to consult primary sources from the person about whom he was writing. Batthyány also critiques Pytell for not interviewing Viktor Frankl while Frankl was still alive. Pytell even explains in his book on Frankl that he had the opportunity to meet him – as a friend offered it, yet he decided that he could not meet Frankl.

Decorations and awards

Personal life

In 1941, Frankl married Tilly Grosser, who was a station nurse at Rothschild Hospital. Soon after they were married she became pregnant, but they were forced to abort the child.[54] Tilly died in the Bergen Belsen concentration camp.[2][1]

Frankl's father, Gabriel, originally from Pohořelice, Moravia, died in the Theresienstadt Ghetto concentration camp on 13 February 1943, aged 81, from starvation and pneumonia. His mother and brother, Walter, were both killed in Auschwitz. His sister, Stella, escaped to Australia.[2][1]

In 1947, Frankl married Eleonore "Elly" Katharina Schwindt. She was a practicing Catholic. The couple respected each other's religious backgrounds, both attending church and synagogue, and celebrating Christmas and Hanukkah. They had one daughter, Gabriele, who went on to become a child psychologist.[2][4][55] Although it was not known for 50 years, his wife and son-in-law reported after his death that he prayed every day and had memorized the words of daily Jewish prayers and psalms.[56][28]

Frankl died of heart failure in Vienna on 2 September 1997. He is buried in the Jewish section of the Vienna Central Cemetery.[57]


His books in English are:

See also


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h Frankl, Viktor Emil (2000). Viktor Frankl Recollections: An Autobiography. Basic Books. ISBN 978-0738203553. Archived from the original on 22 March 2015. Retrieved 24 May 2016.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h Haddon Klingberg (2001). When life calls out to us: the love and lifework of Viktor and Elly Frankl. Doubleday. p. 155. ISBN 978-0385500364. Archived from the original on 23 March 2017. Retrieved 24 May 2016.
  3. ^ Längle, Alfried (2015). From Viktor Frankl's Logotherapy to Existential Analytic psychotherapy; in: European Psychotherapy 2014/2015. Austria: Home of the World's Psychotherapy. Serge Sulz, Stefan Hagspiel (Eds.). p. 67.
  4. ^ a b Redsand, Anna (2006). Viktor Frankl: A Life Worth Living. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. ISBN 978-0618723430. Archived from the original on 22 March 2017. Retrieved 24 May 2016.
  5. ^ Corey, G. (2021). Theory and practice of counseling and psychotherapy (10th ed.). Cengage.
  6. ^ "Viktor Frankl – Life and Work". Viktor Frankl Institute Vienna. 2011. Archived from the original on 14 May 2020. Retrieved 2 August 2016.
  7. ^ a b Schatzmann, Morton (5 September 1997). "Obituary: Viktor Frankl". The Independent (UK). Archived from the original on 1 September 2020. Retrieved 21 April 2020.
  8. ^ "Viktor Frankl | Biography, Books, Theory, & Facts". Encyclopedia Britannica. Archived from the original on 16 June 2021. Retrieved 6 July 2021.
  9. ^ Hatala, Andrew (2010). "Frankl and Freud: Friend or Foe? Towards Cultural & Developmental Perspectives of Theoretical Ideologies" (PDF). Psychology and Society. 3: 1–25. Archived (PDF) from the original on 9 July 2021. Retrieved 6 July 2021.
  10. ^ "List of books and articles about Viktor Frankl". Archived from the original on 18 July 2019.
  11. ^ a b Pytell, T. (2000). The Missing Pieces of the Puzzle: A Reflection on the Odd Career of Viktor Frankl. Journal of Contemporary History, 35(2), 281–306. doi:10.1177/002200940003500208
  12. ^ a b "Viktor Frankl Biography". Viktor Frankl Institute Vienna. Archived from the original on 13 May 2020. Retrieved 24 April 2020.
  13. ^ Batthyány, Alexander, ed. (2016). Logotherapy and Existential Analysis. Proceedings of the Viktor Frankl Institute Vienna, Volume 1. Springer International. pp. 3–6. ISBN 978-3319805689.
  14. ^ Frankl, Viktor E. (Viktor Emil), 1905–1997 (2005). Frühe Schriften, 1923–1942. Vesely-Frankl, Gabriele. Wien: W. Maudrich. ISBN 3851758129. OCLC 61029472.((cite book)): CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link) CS1 maint: numeric names: authors list (link)
  15. ^ Neugebauer, Wolfgang (2002). Von der Zwangssterilisierung zur Ermordung. Zur Geschichte der NS-Euthanasie in Wien Teil II. Wien/Köln/Weimar: Böhlau. pp. 99–111. ISBN 978-3205993254.
  16. ^ Boeree, George. "Personality Theories: Viktor Frankl." Archived 3 November 2019 at the Wayback Machine Shippensburg University. Accessed 18 April 2014.
  17. ^ Lantz, James E. "Family logotherapy." Contemporary Family Therapy 8, no. 2 (1986): 124–135.
  18. ^ a b Frankl, Viktor (2000). Man's search for ultimate meaning. Perseus Pub. ISBN 978-0738203546. Archived from the original on 22 March 2017. Retrieved 24 May 2016.
  19. ^ "The Life of Viktor Frankl". Viktor Frankl Institute of America. Archived from the original on 6 August 2020. Retrieved 24 April 2020.
  20. ^ Frankl, Viktor (2010). The Feeling of Meaninglessness. Marquette University Press. ISBN 978-0874627589.
  21. ^ Fein, Esther B. (20 November 1991). "New York Times, 11-20-1991". The New York Times. Archived from the original on 28 April 2020. Retrieved 21 April 2020.
  22. ^ a b Frankl, Viktor (2014). The Will to Meaning: Foundations and Applications of Logotherapy. New York: Penguin/Plume. ISBN 978-0142181263.
  23. ^ a b "What is Logotherapy/Existential Analysis". Archived from the original on 13 May 2020. Retrieved 24 April 2020.
  24. ^ Frankl, Viktor (2019). The Doctor and the Soul. From Psychotherapy to Logotherapy. New York: Vintage Books. ISBN 978-0525567042.
  25. ^ Frankl, Viktor E. (1975). "Paradoxical intention and dereflection". Psychotherapy: Theory, Research & Practice. 12 (3): 226–237. doi:10.1037/h0086434.
  26. ^ Ameli, M., & Dattilio, F. M. (2013). "Enhancing cognitive behavior therapy with logotherapy: Techniques for clinical practice". Psychotherapy. 50 (3): 387–391. doi:10.1037/a0033394. PMID 24000857.((cite journal)): CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  27. ^ Viktor Frankl’s Meaning-Seeking Model and Positive Psychology Archived 19 July 2021 at the Wayback Machine Chapter from book 'Meaning in Positive and Existential Psychology' (pp. 149–184)
  28. ^ a b Biderman, Jacob. "The Rebbe and Viktor Frankl".
  29. ^ Pytell, Timothy (2003). "Redeedming the Unredeemable: Auschwitz and Man's Search for Meaning". Holocaust and Genocide Studies. 17 (1): 89–113. doi:10.1093/hgs/17.1.89.
  30. ^ Szasz, T.S. (2003). The secular cure of souls: "Analysis" or dialogue? Existential Analysis, 14: 203-212 (July).
  31. ^ [Viktor Frankl's Search for Meaning: An Emblematic 20th-Century Life By Timothy Pytell pg 104]
  32. ^ List of inmates who were transferred to Kaufering III camp, 11/07/1944-16/04/1945
  33. ^ See Martin Weinmann, ed., Das nationalsozialistische Lagersystem (Frankfurt: Zweitausendeins, 1990), pp.195, 558.
  34. ^ [Suicide Prohibition: The Shame of Medicine By Thomas Szasz. pg 60-62]
  35. ^ [Suicide Prohibition: The Shame of Medicine By Thomas Szasz pg 62]
  36. ^ [Lawrence Langer, Versions of Survival: The Holocaust and the Human Spirit (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1982), p.24. [End Page 107]]
  37. ^ Lawrence Langer, Versions of Survival: The Holocaust and the Human Spirit (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1982) As "So nonsensically unspecific is this universal principle of being that one can imagine Heinrich Himmler announcing it to his SS men, or Joseph Goebbels sardonically applying it to the genocide of the Jews!"
  38. ^ Austrian Lives By Günter Bischof pg 241-242
  39. ^ Viktor Frankl's Search for Meaning: An Emblematic 20th-Century Life By Timothy Pytell pg 70-72, 111
  40. ^ Austrian Lives By Günter Bischof pg 242
  41. ^ Austrian Lives By Günter Bischof p.255
  42. ^ a b "What is perhaps most impressive about Langer's reading is that he was unaware of Frankl's 1937 article promoting a form of psychotherapy palatable to the Nazis".
  43. ^ "Is There a Fascist Impulse in All of Us? | Psychology Today".
  44. ^ Pytell, Timothy (3 June 2003). "Redeedming the Unredeemable: Auschwitz and Man's Search for Meaning". Holocaust and Genocide Studies. 17 (1): 89–113. doi:10.1093/hgs/17.1.89. ISSN 1476-7937.
  45. ^ Austrian Lives By Günter Bischof p.255
  46. ^ "Psychotherapie: Wille zum Sinn - Viktor Frankl wäre am 26. März 100 geworden". 5 March 2005.
  47. ^ a b [Freud's World: An Encyclopedia of His Life and Times, By Luis A. Cordón. pg 147]
  48. ^ "Austrian Jews Respond to Nazism, Part 2 | Psychology Today".
  49. ^ Pytell, Timothy (2015). Viktor Frankl's Search for Meaning: An Emblematic 20th-Century Life. Berghahn Books. p. 62.
  50. ^ Pytell, Timothy (3 June 2003). "Redeedming the Unredeemable: Auschwitz and Man's Search for Meaning". Holocaust and Genocide Studies. 17 (1): 89–113. doi:10.1093/hgs/17.1.89. ISSN 1476-7937.
  51. ^ Austrian Lives By Günter Bischof 241 to 255
  52. ^ [Suicide Prohibition: The Shame of Medicine By Thomas Szasz. pg 60-62]
  53. ^ Batthyány, Alexander (15 October 2021). Viktor Frankl and the Shoah. SpringerBriefs in Psychology. Springer Cham. pp. 3–12. doi:10.1007/978-3-030-83063-2. ISBN 978-3-030-83062-5. ISSN 2192-8363. S2CID 244573650.
  54. ^ Bushkin, Hanan; van Niekerk, Roelf; Stroud, Louise (31 August 2021). "Searching for meaning in chaos: Viktor Frankl's story". Europe's Journal of Psychology. 17 (3): 233–242. doi:10.5964/ejop.5439. ISSN 1841-0413. PMC 8763215. PMID 35136443.
  55. ^ Scully, Mathew (1995). "Viktor Frankl at Ninety: An Interview". First Things. Archived from the original on 1 May 2012.
  56. ^ Klingberg 2001[page needed]
  57. ^ Noble, Holcomb B. (4 September 1997). "Dr. Viktor E. Frankl of Vienna, Psychiatrist of the Search for Meaning, Dies at 92". The New York Times. p. B-7. Archived from the original on 12 October 2009. Retrieved 6 September 2009.