“We who lived in concentration camps can remember the men who walked through the huts comforting others, giving away their last piece of bread. They may have been few in number, but they offer sufficient proof that everything can be taken away from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.” (Viktor Frankl in Man’s Search for Meaning).
When I came across this statement by Viktor Frankl again after many years, I was instantly reminded of a story and a picture. The story is about my father, an Army chaplain who was taken prisoner in Germany during WWII while serving as a medic and placed in a prisoner of war camp. Accounts from several prisoners mentioned that Chaplain Koskamp saved his rations for men who were weaker.
The picture is this one. Hundreds of current refugees standing behind a barbed wire fence in Europe, hoping to be allowed to continue their journey to a new life. These people are prisoners of war in nearly every sense of the word. Many stories are being told about how private citizens in European countries are bringing food and blankets to the “least of these.”
Frankl says that the lesson of the concentration camps (and POW camps) is that we can choose our own attitudes and our own way. What lesson will we as individuals and as Americans learn from the mass migration of millions of people from their war-torn homes to freedom?
Will our instinct be to guard ourselves or to help others? Will we save our bread so we can share it? Or will we hoard that bread for ourselves? Will our instinct be to liberate these men, women, and children? Or will we conveniently turn our heads and shut them out of our minds? How will we use our last human freedom: choice?