Viktor Frankl was born 26 March 1905 in Vienna, Austria, to Gabriel and Elsa (Lion) Frankl. Gabriel was a civil servant.
Frankl’s interest in psychology developed early. During his youth he began corresponding with Sigmund Freud.
After earning his medical degree from the University of Vienna in 1930, Frankl began treating suicidal women with various forms of depression.
In December of 1941, Frankl married Mathilde Grosser. Mathilde would die in 1945, as World War II was ending.
World War II
As Hitler was beginning military actions, Frankl was appointed director of neurology at the Rothschild Hospital, a “Jewish” facility, in Vienna. Sadly, it was only a few months before Frankl and most of his family were deported to various concentration camps. Frankl, deported in 1942, was held by the Nazis in four camps, including the infamous Auschwitz and Dachau.
Both a doctor and natural leader, Frankl took it as his duty to help other inmates dealing with both medical and emotional needs. Frankl worked with suicidal prisoners, in particular. The Jewish prohibition against suicide, as well as a desire to resist Nazi oppression, helped many of these prisoners deal with horrendous conditions.
Before his deportation, Frankl had started writing a book to explain his observations on mental illness. His wife, Mathilde, had sewn the text’s notes and outline into the lining of Frankl’s coat to sneak the work past Nazi guards. Unfortunately, the guards confiscated his coat and Frankl’s original notes were forever lost. During his internment, Frankl used scraps of paper to write a new version of the text.
During the war, Frankl’s parents, brother, and Mathilde were killed. Mathilde had been pregnant when the Nazis killed her.
Despite his suffering, Frankl completed the text he had composed in the camps. The finished work was Man’s Search for Meaning: An Introduction to Logotherapy. After World War II the text would be published in more than two-dozen langauges, with more than seventy printings, making the work on of the most influential psychology texts ever published.
After the War
Following World War II, Frankl married Eleonore Katharina Schwindt on 18 July 1947. The couple had one daughter, Gabrielle.
Frankl returned to the University of Vienna as a professor of neurology and psychiatry. He would remain a professor at the university until he was 85 years old. He did take several leaves to serve as a visiting professor at Harvard, Southern Methodist, Duquesne, and Standford Universities. He lectured throughout the world during his teaching career. Frankl was also the director of the department of neurology at Vienna Polyclinic (Poliklinik) Hospital from 1946 until 1970.
Driven to live life to its fullest potential, Frankl enjoyed mountain climbing and even obtained a pilot’s license in his sixties.
Frankl died of cardiac arrest on 2 September 1997, in Vienna, Austria.