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Dehumanization in Victor Frankl's Narrative
The notion of dehumanization tends to be one of the key issues that define the period of World War II and all its nightmares. The concentration camps, organized by Nazis on the occupied territories, served as means of dehumanizing the prisoners. Isolated people, deprived even of the normal conditions of existence, were constantly humiliated and used for the hard labor in quite an inhumane way. Victor Frankl, a witness and the person who used to experience all the power of the dehumanization machine of concentration camps explain the mechanism of the termination of the human matter, that reveals the inner side of an inmate's soul, and even helps a person to understand rather deep issues of existence.
As Gordon Allport (1992) suggests, the main intention of Frankl's narrative is to explain what a person usually does when he/she realizes that everything is lost and one possesses nothing but personal life. The life road narrows just to a pair of possible outcomes: either to accept the fate and float down the river of personal termination or to upraise (even within of itself), and oppose dehumanizing factors. According to Frankl (1992), the dreadful process of dehumanization started at the beginning of the inmate's existence within the camp, as the newly arrived person used to experience the tortures of other most painful emotions, all of which he tried to deaden (p. 32). The person, thus, found itself outside its comfort zone, as there were no common amenities, such as good (or at least, clean) clothes, adequate nutrition, living conditions, and hygiene level.
The absence of common amenities serves just as the second step of the person's dehumanizing. The suffering of prisoners leads them to narrow their outlook since the only thing they are bothered with is food, the major primitive instinct. This becomes the center of mental life (Frankl, 1992). These conditions lead to the depersonalization of human nature, the great part of it had to be deadened. As a result, a man asked himself, what was left both on the physical and mental levels, as the degrading nourished on this ground of what one day was considered as a human being.
The author, however, points that there were some ways of avoiding such a pathetic outcome, to keep the remnants of human essence. As he states, some prisoners usually longed to save themselves using spiritual and cultural experiences, ...it was possible... to retreat from terrible surroundings to a life of inner riches and spiritual freedom (Frankle, 1992, p. 47). According to the narrator, he himself experienced a vision of his beloved one, thus, realizing that love was the matter of humans' salvation. As a result, the reader comes to the understanding of the revitalizing power of love as the means of opposing utter humiliation. In the minutes of the worst despair, when nothing can save the man, his only goal might reside in enduring his suffering (Frankle, 1992, p. 49), and thus, with the sight of loving contemplation on his side, the suffering human being can achieve the highest point of fulfillment.
Another way out of the process of dehumanization is dealing with the fact of its occurrence. Frankl (1992) calls such cases becoming the part of a mass (p. 60), as the person just plunges into the inner world of itself, being unable and unwilling to cope with the burdens of living as the inmate, thus it joins other oppressed people and descends to the primitive form of living. The author also mentions Capos, privileged prisoners, who had lost all scruples in their fight for existence; they were prepared to use brutal force, theft, and betrayal of their friends, to save themselves (Frankl, 1992, p. 19). Some of them were on their way to losing the matter of humane, turning into violent beasts, who intended to spoil the life of prisoners in every possible way.
Frankl does not holistically judge his tormentors, what is more, he says that we must not try to simplify matters by saying that these men were angels and those were devils. (Frankl, 1992, p. 93), as the boundaries between the social groups in the camp were often overlapped. Here the reader may see that belonging of a single person to the group that was usually considered to treat the prisoners in an inhumane way (just like the SS guards or Capos), does not always mean that all of them resigned themselves to the issue of dehumanization.
In this way, it is possible to say that Frankl's view on the dreadful machine of concentration camps suggests that there are possible ways of escaping the dehumanizing outcomes of being the inmate within this structure. However, no matter how great the sufferings are, a person must remember that their own will to bear them with dignity defines the notion of a human being. Such an experience tends to be a forge, where a person refines oneself using suffering, cultivating and keeping the notions of spiritual and cultural matters. In the end, one becomes able to upraise, to ascend over his/her former existence and experience, and thus gaining this ultimate protection from turning into a human's shadow, the core issue of dehumanization.