I didn’t know much about this book going in except for references to it in other memoirs as a place to turn to for a connection to a meaningful understanding of life. It’s a Holocaust memoir written by a psychiatrist and so the second part of the book (the last third) is a set of principles of “logotherapy” a form of psychoanalysis in which instill a patient with a purpose and meaning in life (using the concept of logos — the word, or the meaning as the guiding principle).
I don’t know about the psychology, except that it’s probably too old and too out of date to read as anything other than a historical document looking to make meaning out of something completely unknowable. What’s additionally interesting about this section is that trauma and even the trauma of mass death is something that has been locked out of a lot of Western letters for millenia and 20th genocide coupled with 20th century psychological thought coupled with 20th century personal writing and memoir bears witness to phenomena that we’ve been locked out from in the past.
The memoir section, though, is the more meaningful reading experience. It’s not a narrative of escape, or adventure, or anything like that. Instead, it’s a narrative drudgery, luck, and survival that helps to remove the sense of agency from the things that keep people alive in stories. It is very very clear that survival is chance and fortune. It most reminds me though of two sources that taught similar lessons about keeping sanity (if a thing can even happen): Stefan Zweig’s Chess Story and scene from Nostalgia for the Light.