Viktor Frankl’s Choice to Enter the Concentration Camps with His Family
An Excerpt from Viktor Frank’s Autobiography Recollections
Context or Setting: Psychiatrist Viktor Frankl, while having an opportunity to leave Vienna and go to the United States, escaping from the Nazi concentration camps to which his father and mother were destined, decided to stay in Austria and enter the camps with his parents.
“… [S]hortly before Pearl Harbor, I was asked to come to the American Consulate to pick up my visa. Then I hesitated. Should I leave my parents behind? I knew what their fate would be: deportation to a concentration camp. Should I say goodbye, and leave them to their fate? The visa applied to me alone.
“Undecided, I left home, took a walk, and had this thought: ‘Isn’t this the kind of situation that requires some hint from heaven?’ When I returned home, my eyes fell on a little piece of marble lying on the table.
“‘What’s this’ I asked my father.
“‘This? Oh, I picked it out of the rubble of the synagogue they have burned down. It has on it part of the Ten Commandments. I can even tell you from which commandment it comes. There is only one commandment that uses the letter that is chiseled here.’
“‘And that is…?’ I asked eagerly.
“Then father gave me this answer: ‘Honor thy father and thy mother, that thy days may be long upon the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee.’
“Thus I stayed ‘upon the land’ with my parents, and let the visa lapse.”
Viktor E. Frankl, Viktor Frankl Recollections: An Autobiography, trans. Joseph and Judith Fabry (New York, N.Y.: Plenum Press, 1997), pp. 82-83. Note: In 1938, Hitler’s troops invaded Austria, deporting Jews to the Nazi concentration camps. In order to escape from deportation, and possibly death, Viktor Frankl applied for a visa to emigrate to the United States. In 1939, he was supposed to go to the American Consulate and pick up his visa. Thus, he had an opportunity to leave Vienna and go to the United States, but he never did. Not wanting to desert his elderly parents, he allowed the visa to lapse and remained with them. Gabriel and Elsa, Viktor Frankl’s parents; Tilly, his wife; Walter, his brother, and he were deported to the concentration camps. Viktor, in effect, chose to enter the camps with his family, preferring to die with them rather than live without them.