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    Conversations About the End of Time and The National Gallery of Art – Part 2: Back to the Apocalypse – Jean Delumeau

          This is a follow-up to a previous journal entry which also features excerpts transcribed from the same book, Conversations About the End of Time supplemented by photographs of paintings on display at the National Gallery of Art in Washington D.C.  The other entry presented excerpts from a discussion that the book’s editor had with the late biologist-paleontologist Stephen Jay Gould.  The following excerpts are transcribed from an interview titled Back to the Apocalypse, in which French historian and theologian Jean Delumeau discusses, among other things, the role of Western religions in influencing the end of the world hysteria that intermittently manifest in civilizations and societies throughout history.  (To see Part 1 of this series, which features excerpts from an interview between the editors of the aforementioned book and the late biologist-paleontologist Stephen Jay Gould, click here.)


    If there hadn’t been any great fear in AD 1000, can you explain how and why eschatological fears recur from the end of the fifteenth century onwards?

    I believe this is the be connected to the series of misfortunes which befell the West from the fifteenth century onwards.  I shall list them.  The first, and indubitably the most important, was the Black Death of 1348, which was a veritable demographic disaster.   A quarter, perhaps even a third, of the population of Europe died in the space of three or four years – a truly vast number.  Second, a little later, there occurred the great schism (1378 – 1417), with two, and at times even three, concurrent popes.  The French theologian Jean Gerson was of the opinion that this could only be a punishment inflicted on sinning Christianity, and he even added that no one would enter paradise until the great schism was brought to an end.  The schism was repaired at the beginning of the fifteenth century, but a century later, the Protestant reformation broke out.  On this occasion, Christianity in the West was split in two and has remained thus divided to this day.  To all this must be added the many famines, the Hundred Years War, the War of the Rose and the Turkish threat: the conquest of Constantinople in 1453, that of Asia Minor and a large part of the Balkans, the fall of Egypt at the beginning of the sixteenth century, the Ottoman protectorate extending over the whole of North Africa with the protection being given to Barbary pirates who ravaged Christian shores, and so on.   And on top of that, wars of religion broke out in the sixteenth century.  It was in this dramatic context that the expectations and fears about the end of the world flourished again.  It was in the spirit of the age to look for guilty parties, since all these misfortunes had occurred.  And more rather than fewer were identified.

    Are you referring to the Inquisition and the witch hunts?

    Yes.  Throughout the 250 years during which these misfortunes were befalling the West, there was a constant search for scapegoats: Turks, Jews (it was the greatest age of anti-Semitism), heretics, witches.  One has to realize that the great age of the persecution of witches was not the Middle Ages, as is often believed, but a period stretching from the end of the fifteenth century to the beginning of the seventeenth: in other words, the Renaissance.  Think about Michelangelo’s tragic Last Judgement on the wall of the Sistine Chapel, or Durer’s series of fifteen etchings of the Apocalypse, which made it famous at a stroke.  People at this time did not have the notion of progress as part of their mental baggage.  They did not think that humanity could have a long future ahead of it, or any future at all.  They looked upon it as old and close to its end.  Christopher Columbus wrote in 1500 that the end of the world would occur in the 150 years at the very most.  Nicholas of Cusa declared that the victory over the Antichrist would happen between 1700 and 1734.  Luther stated that ‘We have reached the age of the pale horse of the Apocalypse… the world will not last another hundred years.’ I could give many other examples of quotations of this type.  Millenarians were in the minority; for most people, the end of time was close at hand; the world was rushing headlong towards the Last Judgement. 


    Isn’t there, at least in Christianity, a distinction between the particular judgement of a soul which occurs after death and the collective judgement of a soul which occurs after death and the collective judgement of humanity which will take place at the end of time?

    Traditional Christian theology, especially in the Middle Ages and during the modern era, indeed distinguished between the judgement of individuals, which takes place immediately after their death, from the general judgement of mankind.

    And this would occur after the end of time?

    Exactly, at the end of time, when God decides to stop the passage of time and bring history to a close.  According to the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke), what will then happen is a cosmic event called Parousia.  This is the return of the risen and glorious Christ who will come to judge the living and the dead.  Jesus proclaims this very explicitly:

    But in those days, after that tribulation, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken.  And then they will see the Son of man coming in clouds with great power and glory.  And then he will send his angels, and shall gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth tot ends of heaven (Mark 13:24 – 7).

    Who will the elect be?

    I have no authority to speak out on this matter.  But I think it is important to turn to Chapter 25 of Matthew, where we read that the criterion of judgement will not a theological criterion, or a criterion of faith or belief, but a criterion of love and service to one’s fellow human beings.  It is worth recalling this famous text, which lies at the heart of what we are talking about:

    When the Son of man comes in this glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne.  Before him will be gathered all the nations; and he shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd separates the sheep from goats, and he will place the sheep at his right hand, but the goats at the left.  Then the King will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come O blessed of the Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry, and you gave me food; I was thirsty, and you gave me drink; I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked, and you clothed me, I was sick, and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’  Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see thee hungry, and feed thee, or thirsty, and give thee drink?  And when did we see thee a stranger, and welcome thee, or naked, and clothe thee?  And when did we see thee stick, or in prison, and visit thee?’  And the King will answer them. ‘Truly I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me.’  (Matthew 25:31 – 40). 


    The Palisades Trail, Striking While the Iron’s Hot, and Regrets

    We are now faced with the fact, my friends, that tomorrow is today.  We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now.  In this unfolding conundrum of life and history, there is such a thing as being too late. Procrastination is still the thief of time.  Life often leaves us standing bare, naked, and dejected with a lost opportunity. The tide in the affairs of men does not remain at flood—it ebbs.  We may cry out desperately for time to pause in her passage, but time is adamant to every plea and rushes on. Over the bleached bones and jumbled residues of numerous civilizations are written the pathetic words, “Too late.”  There is an invisible book of life that faithfully records our vigilance or our neglect.  Omar Khayyam is right: “The moving finger writes, and having writ moves on.”

                                                                                                                             -Martin Luther King, Beyond Vietnam

    And I'm sorry for us
    The dinosaurs roam the earth
    The sky turns green
    Where I end and you begin 

                                                                                                                             -Radiohead, Where I End and You Begin


                The photographs featured in the slideshow below were taken along the Palisades Trail north of Calistoga in the Spring of 2015.   I’ve written about this trail before, and had planned for the journal entry in which the below photographs were to be included to be an all-around much cleverer one (it was originally supposed to be a fictitious letter written by Robert Louis Stevenson and to feature several of his drawings, including one of a giant bird snatching away his wife), but I never got around to it.  And it’s only because I expect to return to the trail this winter that I now feel compelled to post these pictures.  I realize it’s a first-world problem, but in relation to completing the first journal entry concept and as with so many other endeavors in my life, I wish I would have struck while the iron was hot and kept on striking until I saw the project through.   Alas, it was put on the back burner and eventually froze in the cryogenic chambers of my mind.  Of course, striking while the iron is hot also applies to those moments in life in which the window of time is rapidly closing and the iron can cool within seconds:  when you fail to stand up for yourself or others, when you don’t help someone in need, when you don’t tell someone the truth, when you let chances slip between your fingers because you weren’t on top of your game.   It’s hard to forget the times when you should have done something but failed to, because the possible alternate outcome of your intervention may haunt you.  (Clearly, I am no paragon of success, and am not suggesting that I am in a positon to give advice on how to get things done.)


             Failing to see a project through is sometimes an issues of time.  I often wish that I had a clone so that I could have him stay back at home and get things done here while I went off to work.  (And it is telling that in this imaginative scenario I would be the one going to work and my clone would be the one staying back to do creative tasks, which are harder than my physically laborious and monotonous job – to me this means that I’m too lazy to write.)   In the Japanese cartoon Dragonball-Z there is a portal in which the characters can enter into a different dimension where one second there translates to the equivalent of twenty-four hours in the real world, so they go inside to train to fight.   I wish that such a portal existed so that I could spend more time reading, writing, and drawing.  In the book Exploring the World of Lucid Dreaming, Dr. Stephen LaBerge and Howard Rheingold explain the downside of having to sleep, and how much more productive one could be if only they were able to practice lucid dreaming:

           Proverbially, and undeniably, life is short. To make matters worse, we must spend between a quarter and half of our lives asleep. Most of us are in the habit of virtually sleepwalking through our dreams. We sleep, mindlessly, through many thousands of opportunities to be fully aware and alive.  Is sleeping through your dreams the best use of your limited lifespan? Not only are you wasting part of your finite store of time to be alive, but you are missing adventures and lessons that could enrich the rest of your life. By awakening to your dreams, you will add to your experience of life and, if you use these added hours of lucidity to experiment and exercise your mind, you can also improve your enjoyment of your waking hours.

            For those of us who are not able to work in our dream-states but still have the luxury of free time, we must prioritize the tasks we set out to achieve, taking into consideration how much time we have left before we die.  In the epic book and television series Cosmos, Carl Sagan touches on this concept in relation to reading: “If I finish a book a week, I will read only a few thousand books in my lifetime, about a tenth of a percent of the contents of the greatest libraries of our time. The trick is to know which books to read.” 

           While I will never complete the overwhelming majority of projects that I have picked up but did not see through (those ships have sailed), at the end of the day they probably matter less than how I carry myself and treat others.  The Hawaiian practice of Ho'oponopono and Dave Isay of StoryCorps concur when it comes to how people should go about reconciliation and forgiveness in life.  In his March 2015 TED Talk Mr. Isay said:

         There's a hospice doctor named Ira Byock who has worked closely with us on recording interviews with people who are dying. He wrote a book called "The Four Things That Matter Most" about the four things you want to say to the most important people in your life before they or you die: thank you, I love you, forgive me, I forgive you. They're just about the most powerful words we can say to one another, and often that's what happens in a StoryCorps booth.

           Australian palliative care nurse Bronnie Ware identified five themes that regularly surfaced among end-of-life patients whom were asked about their regrets in life, these were:  

    1.  I wish I'd had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.
    2.  I wish I didn't work so hard.
    3.  I wish I'd had the courage to express my feelings.
    4.  I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends. 
    5.  I wish that I had let myself be happier.

          Perhaps this is linked to those regrets enumerated by Mrs. Ware, but I would add a sixth one: I wish that I had spent more time outside.  I intend to avoid having this sixth regret by maximizing my time outdoors.  As a matter of fact, if I can help it, I will not be confined to an indoor environment on my deathbed, for I would much rather pass away outside – under the sun, moon, or stars, on land or in water or in mid-air, or even in the jaws of an large animal.   I if I do end up immobile and confined to a hospital bed, I hope my friends and family have the sense enough to roll me out of there before my last moments and wheel me up to the top of a hill or into the forest, or place me face-up supine on kayak and send me out to sea so as to further alleviate the burden of dying in regret.   

    Roy’s no Mormon and not much a of a Christian, and does not honestly believe in an afterlife.  Yet the manner of death he fears does not sound bad to me; to me it seems like a decent, clean way of taking off, surely better than the slow rot in a hospital oxygen tent with rubber tubes stuck up your nose, prick, asshole, with blood transfusions and intravenous feeding, bedsores and bedpans and bad-tempered nurses’ aides – the whole nasty routine to which most dying men, in our time, are condemned.

                                                                                                                                                                       -Edward Abbey, Desert Solitaire


    The Fall

                             I have a terribly lovely habit of working hard and playing harder, and while a greater emphasis should be placed on the former if I am to increase my chances of success, I am a selfish bastard who is living life as though I were just informed I have cancer and have only two more months to live.  I try to be as honest as possible about my selfishness and hypocrisy (so when others call me out on it I can refer them to the fact that I’ve already acknowledged this contradiction).  There’s no need to get into the details of how my actions (transportation, consumption, waste, willful ignorance, technological dependency, not caring to learn about solutions) contribute to war, poverty, and environmental destruction, and I would not be able to argue with a person if they were to accuse me of being cut from same selfish moral cloth as those who would like to make of this world their playground and that I’m just trying to get my piece of the pie.  But I would like to think that there is a slight difference between those at the top and myself:  even in my actions of excessive energy and material consumption and neglect to my perceived responsibility for service to others and the natural world, I at least try to tread lightly – remaining conscious of the deleterious impacts of my decisions – and not hurt anyone or anything along the way.  Not a day passes that I do not thank my lucky stars that I am alive and free.  Not a day passes that I am not grateful to whom (my ancestors) and what (the rest of nature) has given me this opportunity to be alive.  By the same token, not a day passes that I do not remind myself of those in this world whose lives have been destroyed as a result of the policies carried out by the government and military of my country and their inter-governmental and corporate accomplices, subsidized by my taxpayer dollars, and for whose livelihoods I've failed to fight for.  

                    I believe that one way to avert a regrettable experience of one’s death is to position yourself well beforehand.  That is to say when you die, you may have a chance to glance at what you have done and who you have become and compare that to your unfulfilled dreams, and while you may not have had the opportunities to fulfill your goals, if you can say that you’ve tried to do the things you set out to do then you’ll be alright, even if you weren’t able to see everything through.  But, if at the moment of your death you look back and say that you did not try, then you shall die in regret and with a heavy weight bearing down upon your broken soul.   Having said that, here are some photographs of my friend’s farm in Northern California, where I go to pick persimmons to send to my mom every fall.  This slideshow is followed by some of an autumnal motorcycle ride to the Mendocino Coast.  I failed to adequately capture the beauty of the fall along this ride because I had other things on my mind than taking pictures, but I thought to myself today:  you should have taken the time to take more pictures, autumn is but once a year, and there will come a time for both you and the fall to come to an end. 



    2016 Monthly Goals Calendar 

           The 2016 Monthly Goals Calendar is a tool that you may find useful in mapping out your goals for this year.  I've pasted a screenshot of what it looks like below.  If you want to open this file as a Microsoft Word document that you can download and edit, click here.  You can print it out, cut it up, and hang it on your wall as a reminder of the things you seek to accomplish (or have not accomplished, which is often my case*.  If you want an example of what a portion of mine looked like last year, click here.)   I'm also including another PDF of a yearly calendar that can be printed out, cut up, and put above its corresponding month (a screenshot of this calendar is below).  I understand that this type of extreme planning ahead is slightly crazy, possibly counterproductive, and is not for everyone. 



    Screenshot of the supplementary yearly calendar, the PDF link for which is above:



    *I like to aim high because I'll either end up somewhere in the middle or, more likely, toward the bottom of the target.   I probably succeed in less than 25% of the things I set out to achieve, and set out to achieve less than 5% of the things that I would like to try to attempt.  Meaning, of the projects I pick-up, I'll complete 25% of them.  Of the places I want to go, books I want to read, things I want to draw, and other things I want to do, I'll embark on the path to attempt 5% of these things.   C'est la vie.  Not one day passes that I do not thank my lucky stars for my existence and life and being who I am.   I hope you feel the similarly about your own life.


    Twirling round with this familiar parable
    Spinning, weaving round each new experience
    Recognize this as a holy gift
    And celebrate this chance to be alive and breathing
    A chance to be alive and breathing...

    Tool, Parabola



    Dachau Concentration Camp and Man’s Search for Meaning

    I approached another skeleton, this one too afraid to talk, turning away after whispering a single word, “Dachau.”

                                                      -Love Thy Neighbor, A Story of War, About the war in former Yugoslavia, Peter Maass, 1996

    This was but a prelude; where books are burnt, human beings will be burnt in the end.

                                                                                   -German poet Heinrich Heine, 1820

    For the liberation of a people more is needed than economic policy, more than industry: if a people is to become free, it needs pride and willpower, defiance, hate, hate and once again hate!

                                                                                   -Adolf Hitler, Munich speech, April 10, 1923

    Haven’t you heard the fatwas that have filled our streets and mosques by permitting people to eat cats, dogs and other animals that have already been killed by the bomb attacks?  Are you waiting for us to eat the flesh of our martyrs and our dead after fearing our lives?

                                                                    -Syrian Imam pleading for help after the lifting of religious bans on eating dogs, 2013 


               Man’s Search for Meaning is a powerful pocketbook which examines how it is possible for a person to find purpose in life when the surrounding world has fallen apart and one becomes a concentration camp prisoner during the Nazi Holocaust.  The author, Viktor E. Frankl (1905 – 1997), was Austrian psychiatrist working as the head of neurology at the Rothschild Hospital (the only Jewish hospital) in Vienna during the start of WWII.  After the National Socialist government shut down the hospital, the American consulate offered Frankl a U.S immigration visa, which would have allowed him to leave.  He declined the offer for the sake of his aging parents, and in 1942 he and his family were arrested and deported.  Viktor Frankl spent the next three years of his life in four different extermination camps.  “The odds of surviving the camp were no more than one in twenty-eight, as can easily be verified by exact statistics,” writes Frankl. 

            Below you will find important excerpts I have transcribed from the book, a slideshow of the afterward to the book (which is good to read to obtain an overview of Dr. Frankl’s life), a slideshow of scanned excerpts from the book (which I would highly encourage you to read in full), and then a slideshow of a separate book that my father purchased for my brother and me on a visit to Dachau in the mid-1990s.  The book is called, Concentration Camp Dachau, 1933 – 1945, and was published in 1978 by the International Dachau Committee.  The introduction states:

             This catalogue is intended to accompany the visitor to the Dachau Memorial Museum… Although Dachau was not intended as a “mass extermination camp,” hunger and illness, arbitrary killings and mass executions along with the SS doctors’ pseudo-scientific experiments, resulted in the continual “extermination” of prisoners… Originally planned to accommodate 5,000 prisoners, the camp was primarily intended to eliminate all political opposition.  In the course of time, in addition to Jews, gypsies and anti-Nazi clergymen, any citizens who made themselves unpopular with the regime were imprisoned here… On April 29, 1945, the liberators of the Dachau camp found more than 30,000 survivors of 31 different nationalities in the disastrously overcrowded barracks, and as many again the subsidiary camps attached to Dachau.  During its 12 year of existences, 206,000 prisoners were registered in Dachau.  The number of “non-registered” arrivals can no longer be ascertained.  During this period of time 31, 951 deaths were registered.  However, the total number of deaths in Dachau, including the victims of individual and mass executions and the final death marches will never be known.  


    Man's Search for Meaning, Afterward (right-click to view image in full):


    Excerpts from Man’s Search for Meaning


               As I have already mentioned, the process of selecting Capos was a negative one; only the most brutal of the prisoners were chosen for this job (although there were some happy exceptions).  But apart from the selection of Capos which was undertaken by the SS, there was a sort of self-selecting process going on the whole time among all of the prisoners.  On the average, only those prisoners could keep alive who, after years of trekking from camp to camp, had lost all scruples in their fight for existence; they were prepared to use every means, honest and otherwise, even brutal force, theft, and betrayal of their friends, in order to save themselves.  We who have come back, by the aid of many lucky chances or miracles – whatever one may choose to call them – we know: the best of us did not return.  (Pg. 5)

              The significance of the finger game was explained to us in the evening.  It was the first selection, the first verdict made on our existence or non-existence.  For the great majority of our transport, about 90 percent, it meant death.  Their sentence was carried out within the next few hours.  Those who were sent to the left were marched from the station straight to the crematorium.  This building, as I was told by someone who worked there, had the word “bath” written over its doors in several European languages.  On entering, each prisoner was handed a piece of soap, and then – but mercifully I do not need to describe the events which followed.  My accounts of have been written about this horror.
                We who were saved, the minority of our transport, found out the truth in the evening.  I inquired from prisoners who had been there for some time where my colleague and friend P---- had been sent.
                “Was he sent to the left side?”
                “Yes,” I replied.
                “then you can see him there,” I was told.
                “Where?”  A hand pointed to the chimney a few hundred yards off, which was sending a colum of flame up into the grey sky of Poland.  It dissolved into a sinister cloud of smoke.
              “That’s where your friend is, floating up to Heaven,” was the answer.  But I still did not understand until the truth was explained to me in plain words.  (Pgs. 12 – 13)

               Strangely enough, a blow which does not even find its mark can, under certain circumstances, hurt more than one that finds its mark.  Once I was standing on a railway track in a snowstorm.  In spite of the weather our party had to keep on working.  I worked quite hard at mending the track with gravel, since that was the only way to keep warm.  For only one moment I paused to get my breath and to lean on my shovel.  Unfortunately the guard turned around just then and thought I was loafing.  The pain he caused me was not from any insults or blows.  That guard did not think it worth his while to say anything, nor even a swear word, to the ragged, emaciated figure standing before him, which probably reminded him only vaguely of a human form.  Instead, he playfully picked up a stone and threw it at me.  That, to me, seemed the way to attract the attention of a beast, to call a domestic animal back to its job, a creature with which you have so little in common that you do not even punish it.  (Pg. 24)

               I shall never forget how I was roused one night by the groans of a fellow prisoner, who threw himself about in his sleep, obviously having a horrible nightmare.  Since I had always been especially sorry for people who suffered from fearful dreams of deliria, I wanted to wake the poor man.  Suddenly I drew back the hand which was ready to shake him, frightened at the thing I was about to do.  At that moment I became intensely conscious of the fact that no dream, no matter how horrible, could be as bad as the reality of the camp which surrounded us, and to which I was about to recall him.   (Pg. 29)

               In spite of all the enforced physical and mental primitiveness of the life in a concentration camp, it was possible to spiritual life to deepen.  Sensitive people who were used to a rich intellectual life may have suffered much pain (they were often of a delicate constitution), but the damage to their inner selves was less.  They were able to retreat from their terrible surroundings to a life of inner riches and spiritual freedom.  Only in this way can one explain the apparent paradox that some prisoners of a less hardy make-up often seemed to survive camp life better than did those of a robust nature. (Pg. 36)

             In other work parties the foremen maintained an apparently local tradition of dealing out numerous blows, which made us talk of the relative luck of not being under their command, or perhaps of being under it only temporarily.  If an air raid alarm had not interrupted us after two house (during which time the foreman had worked on me especially), making it necessary to regroup the workers after, I think that I would have returned to camp on one of the sledges which carried those who had died or were dying from exhaustion.  No one can understand the relief that the siren can bring in such a situation; not even a boxer who has heard the bell signifying the finish of a round and who is thus saved at the last minute from the danger of a knock out.   (Pg. 46)

               Those who had pitied me remained in a camp where famine was to rage even more fiercely than in our new camp.  They tried to save themselves but they only sealed their own fates.  Months later, after liberation, I met a friend from the old camp.  He related to me how he, as camp policeman, had searched for a piece of human flesh that was missing from a pile of corpses.  He confiscated it from a pot in which he found it cooking.  Cannibalism had broken out.  I had left just in time. (Pg. 56)

               And so the last day in camp passed in anticipation of freedom.  But we had rejoiced too early.  The Red Cross delegate had assured us that an agreement had been signed, and that the camp must not be evacuated.  But that night the SS arrived with trucks and brought an order to clear the camp.  The last remaining prisoners were to be taken to a central camp, from which they would be sent to Switzerland within forty-eight hours – to be exchanged for some prisoners of war.  We scarcely recognized the SS.  They were so friendly, trying to persuade us to get in the trucks without fear, telling us that we should be grateful for our good luck. (Pgs. 60 – 61)

              Many weeks later we found out that even in those last hours fate had toyed with us few remaining prisoners.  We found out just how uncertain human decisions are, especially in matters of life and death.  I was confronted with photographs which had been taken in a small camp not far from ours.  Our friends who had thought they were travelling to freedom that night had been taken in the trucks to this camp, and there they were locked in the huts and burned to death.  Their partially charred bodies were recognizable on the photograph.  I thought again of Death in Teheran.  (Pg. 62). 

                An active life serves the purpose of giving man the opportunity to realize values in creative work, while a passive life of enjoyment affords him the opportunity to obtain fulfillment in experiencing beauty, art, or nature.  But there is also purpose in that life which is almost barren of both creation and enjoyment and which admits of but one possibility of high moral behavior: namely, in man’s attitude to his existence, an existence restricted by external forces.  A creative life and a life of enjoyment are banned to him.  But not only creativeness and enjoyment are meaningful.  If there is a meaning in life at all, then there must be a meaning in suffering.  Suffering is an ineradicable part of life, even as fate and death.  Without suffering and death human life cannot be complete. (Pg. 67)

                The prisoner who had lost faith in the future – his future – was doomed.  With his loss of belief in the future, he also lost his spiritual hold; he let himself decline and became subject to mental and physical decay.  Usually this happened quite suddenly, in the form of a crisis, the symptoms of which were familiar to the experienced camp inmate.  We all feared this moment – not for ourselves, which would have been pointless, but for our friends.  Usually it began with the prisoner refusing one morning to get dressed and wash or go out on the parade grounds.  No entreaties, no blows, no threats had any effect.  He just lay there, hardly moving.  If this crisis was brought about by an illness, he refused to be taken to the sickbay or to do anything to help himself.  He simply gave up.  (Pg. 74)

                Once an individual’s search for a meaning is successful, it not only renders him happy but also gives him the capability to cope with suffering.  And what happens if one’s groping for a meaning has been in vain? This may well result in a fatal condition.  Let us recall, for instance, what sometimes happened in extreme conditions such as prisoner-of-war camps or concentration camps.  In the first, as I was told by American soldiers, a behavior pattern crystallized to which they referred as “give-up-it is.”  In the concentration camps, this behavior was paralleled by those who one morning, at five, refused to get up and go to work and instead stayed in the hut, on the straw wet with urine and feces.  Nothing – neither warnings nor threats – could induce them to change their minds.  And then something typical occurred: they took out a cigarette from deep down in a pocket where they had hidden it and started smoking.  At that moment we knew that for the next forty-eight hours or so we would watch them dying.  Meaning orientation had subsided, and consequently the seeking of immediate pleasure had taken over.  (Pg. 139)

               It is apparent that the mere knowledge that a man was either a camp guard or a prisoner tells us almost nothing.  Human kindness can be found in all groups, even those which as a whole it would be easy to condemn.  The boundaries between groups overlapped and we must not try to simplify matters by saying that these men were angels and those were devils.  Certainly, it was a considerable achievement for a guard or foreman to be kind to the prisoners in spite of all the camp’s influences, and, on the other hand, the baseness of a prisoner who treated his own companions badly was exceptionally contemptible.  Obviously the prisoners found the lack of character in such men especially upsetting, while they were profoundly moved by the smallest kindness received from any of the guards.  I remember how one day a foreman secretly gave me a piece of bread which I knew he must have saved from his breakfast ration.  It was far more than the small piece of bread which moved me to tears at that time.  It was the human “something” which h this man also gave to me – the word and look which accompanied the gift.
               From all this we may learn that there are two races of men in this world, but only these two – the “race” of the decent man and the “race” of the indecent man.  Both are found everywhere; they penetrate into all groups of society.  No group consists entirely of decent or indecent people.  In this sense, no group is of “pure race” – and therefore one occasionally found a decent fellow among the camp guards.
               Life in a concentration camp tore open the human soul and exposed its depths.  It is surprising that in those depths we again found only human qualities which in their very nature were a mixture of good and evil?  The rift dividing good from evil, which goes through all human beings, reaches into the lowest depths and becomes apparent even on the bottom of the abyss which is laid open by the concentration camp.  (Pgs. 86 – 87)

    Man's Search for Meaning
    (right-click to view image in full):


    Concentration Camp Dachau (right-click to view image in full):


    Viktor E. Frankl