How Viktor Frankl Survived the Holocaust


"The Holocaust" by George Segal

By James Mills, Associate Partner, Lighthouse International

“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of human freedoms - to choose one's attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one's own way.”

- Viktor E. Frankl

Recently we featured Stephen Covey introducing the habits and principles that can be found when you look at any failure or success of a legend. The first habit ‘Be Proactive’ is an incredibly powerful one - very much at the root of any legend’s success. It is a habit that the Holocaust survivor and psychologist Viktor Frankl exhibited during his time held captive in the Nazi concentration camps.

In the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Dr Covey gives us a deeper appreciation of what it means to be proactive by describing the principle of responsibility that sits at the heart of this habit. Viktor Frankl lost his entire family with the exception of his wife and sister. He shares how Viktor Frankl exercised responsibility, the ability to choose his response, in the most desperate and challenging of circumstances. Being truly proactive actually meant Mr Frankl was more free than his Nazi captors!

Stephen Covey says that we don’t need to experience the extreme suffering that Viktor Frankl went through in order to be proactive. The ability to choose our response to anything that happens to us is like a muscle that can be developed in our day-to-day lives; whether it is through a challenge at home or at work. The opposite of being proactive is being reactive; being a victim to circumstances and blaming other people or events for any negative situations. As with all the habits, this is easier said than done, but it is definitely possible with consistent attention and support…

“Our ultimate freedom is a function of our decisions, not our conditions.”

- Stephen R Covey

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     Image courtesy of  Cary Bass-Deschenes @ Flickr