Frankl, Viktor E. (Viktor Emil), 1905-1997

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Viktor Frankl (1905-1997) was born in Vienna, Austria. While a medical student at the University, he began to develop a form of therapy based on existentialism which seeks to "wrest meaning from life" by turning "suffering into a human triumph" calling it logotherapy. He became a psychiatrist and worked in Vienna until 1942 when he was deported to the Nazi concentration camps. He survived and returned to Vienna in 1946. The same year he published From Death Camp to Existentialism later titled Man's Search for Meaning based on his experiences in the camps. He practiced logotherapy in Vienna, lecturing and writing extensively throughout the world for the remainder of his life. Robert C. Leslie was a student of Frankl's and was instrumental in teaching and writing on logotherapy and promoting Frankl's lectures and workshops in the United States. Joseph B. Fabry and Elisabeth S. Lukas were students of, then practiced, taught, and wrote extensively in logotherapy.

From the description of Viktor E. Frankl collection, 1924-1998. (Graduate Theological Union). WorldCat record id: 739735342

Biographical/Historical Description

Viktor Emil Frankl (1905 - 1997) was born in Vienna March 26, second child of Elsa and Gabriel Frankl (brother, Walter; sister, Stella). Gabriel was the Director of Austria's Ministry of Social Service. Viktor developed a lifelong love of mountain climbing and an interest in psychology in junior high school and began a correspondence with Freud. (All these letters were confiscated by the Gestapo during WWII.) It was Freud that sent Frankl's first article in for publication in the International Journal of Psychoanalysis, 1924. Shortly after, Alfred Adler began to influence Frankl and in 1925 got his second article published in the International Journal of Individual Psychology.

Frankl continued his reading, study and thought. While a medical student at the University of Vienna in the 1920's he helped organize the Academic Society for Medical Psychology. In a lecture before this group, he first spoke of logotherapy. By 1933, he had systematized his ideas. There are three possible ways to find meaning in life even up to the last breath: "1) a deed we do, a work we create; 2) an experience, a human encounter, a love; and 3) when confronted with an unchangeable fate, a change of attitude toward that fate." (pg. 64) We can "wrest meaning from life" by turning "suffering into a human triumph."

Frankl began to set up youth counseling centers in Austrian cities around 1930. He lectured extensively for organizations of the socialist youth movement in Austria, and as far as Berlin, Prague, and Budapest. During this time, Otto Potzl at the Vienna University Psychiatric Clinic became a lifelong friend. After Frankl's graduation from the University, he took a position under Potzl at the Clinic. He also worked four years at the Am Steinhof mental hospital. In 1937, Frankl opened a private practice, but after the Anschluss in March 1938, he had to close it taking a position at the Jewish Rothschild Hospital. He was allowed to treat only Jewish patients. He worked to save mentally ill patients from euthanasia by transferring them to the Jewish Home for the Aged.

When Frankl's number came up to get a visa for the United States, he refused it, choosing to stay with his family and his patients though he knew deportation to the concentration camps would be inevitable. He met and married Tilly Grosser, a nurse in the hospital in 1941. Nine months later, they were deported to the Theresienstadt concentration camp, later to Auschwitz. Tilly died in Bergen-Belsen after its liberation in 1945.

With deportation looming, Frankl wrote a manuscript of Arztliche Seelsorge (The Doctor and the Soul). He sewed the manuscript into the lining of his coat, but lost it at Auschwitz when they had to dump all their belongings. He began to reconstruct the manuscript with the gift of a pencil stubb and pilfered SS forms. The experience of the camps "enriched" his theories. He spent three years in four camps: Theresienstadt, Auschwitz, Kaufering III, and Turkheim. All of his family died in the camps except his sister Stella who had emigrated to Australia. Frankl survived and returned to Vienna in 1946. He met and married Eleonore Schwindt, Elly, in 1947. They had one daughter, Gabriele. He was given the p osition of Head of the Neurology Department at the Vienna Policlinic Hospital, 1946, which he held for 25 years. He worked on the third draft of Doctor and the Soul: "so much poured out of my heart every day." The same year he dictated Ein Psycholog erlebt das Konzentrationsleger (English translation by Ilse Lasch, From Death Camp to Existentialism later titled Man's Search for Meaning). These were brought to the attention of the American community through Randolph Sasnett and Gordon Allport who wrote the Foreword to the original English publication.

Frankl continued to live in Vienna. He taught and lectured all over the world, eventually receiving 28 honorary degrees. He published extensively on logotherapy through articles and 32 books many of which have been translated into several languages. Austria conferred on Frankl the highest honor of the Republic for scientific achievement. He continued mountain climbing well into his 80's. Viktor Frankl died in Vienna September 2, 1997.

Taken from Viktor Frankl Recollections: An Autobiography (New York: Insight Books, Plenum Press, 1997). GTU Library: RC489 L6 F69613 1997

From the guide to the Viktor E. Frankl Collection, 1924 - 1998, (The Graduate Theological Union.)

Archival Resources
Role Title Holding Repository
creatorOf Frankl, Viktor E. (Viktor Emil), 1905-1997. Viktor E. Frankl collection, 1924-1998. Graduate Theological Union, Flora Lamson Hewlett Library
referencedIn Rudolf Dreikurs Papers, 1911-1973, (bulk 1937-1972) Library of Congress. Manuscript Division
creatorOf Viktor E. Frankl Collection, 1924 - 1998 Graduate Theological Union
referencedIn Harvard University Archives Photograph Collection: Portraits, ca. 1852-ca. 2004 Harvard University Archives.
Role Title Holding Repository
Relation Name
correspondedWith Dreikurs, Rudolf, 1897-1972 person
associatedWith Fabry, Joseph B. person
associatedWith Fabry, Joseph B. person
associatedWith Holocaust survivors person
associatedWith Leslie, Robert C. (Robert Campbell), 1917- person
associatedWith Lieban-Kalmar, Vera. person
associatedWith Lukas, Elisabeth S. person
associatedWith Lukas, Elisabeth S. person
associatedWith Sasnett, J. Randolph, 1890-1978. person
Place Name Admin Code Country
Existential psychology
Holocaust, Jewish (1939-1945)
Holocaust survivors
Meaning (Psychology)


Birth 1905-03-26

Death 1997-09-02





Ark ID: w68w4392

SNAC ID: 51713932