Honored guests, First, I thank you for the honor you have shown me in inviting me. You have given me the power to speak, and so I may also speak on behalf of the dead. The city of my birth is Vienna, but Türkheim is the place of my rebirth. Rebirth after the first half of my life. A short while ago I turned eighty, and my fortieth birthday was spent in the concentration camp at Türkheim.
My birthday gift then was that after weeks of typhus fever, I became free of the fever for the first time. So my first greeting is to my dead companions. My first thanks, however, go to the high school students who had the memorial stone made. And I also thank them in the name of the dead, to whom it is dedicated.
But I must also say thank you to those who liberated us, who saved the lives of us survivors, and I want to tell you a little story. When a couple of years ago I was in the capital of Texas, giving a lecture at its university on the psychotherapy I founded, logotherapy as it is called, the mayor made me an honorary citizen.
I replied that rather than make me an honorary citizen of his town, I should really name him an honorary logotherapist. For if young men from Texas had not risked their lives and some of them also sacrificed their life to liberate us, then as of 27 April 1945 there would have been no Viktor Frankl, to say nothing of any logotherapy. Tears came to the mayor’s eyes.
Now I also have to thank the people of Türkheim! Whenever I gave the last lecture of the semester at the United States International University in California, I would show, at the request of the students, a series of slides: photos [of the camps] I had taken after the war.
And at the end I always showed them a slide that I had taken on the other side of the railway embankment there showing the front of a large farmhouse, in front of which I had gathered the large extended family that lived there.
These were the people who during the last days of the war risked their lives by hiding Hungarian Jewish girls who had escaped from the camp! With this slide I wanted to show what my deepest conviction is—and has been from the very first day after the war: namely, that there is no collective guilt! Let alone—if I may so call it—a retroactive collective guilt, in which someone is held responsible for what their parents’ or even grandparents’ generation may once have done.
Guilt can only be personal guilt—guilt for what one has done oneself or even not done, neglected to do. But even then we must have some understanding of the fears of those concerned—fear for their freedom, even their lives, and not least fear for the fate of their families.
Certainly, there have been those that have nonetheless preferred to let themselves be put in a concentration camp, rather than be unfaithful to their convictions. But actually one may only demand heroism of one person, and that person is oneself.
At the very least, a person is only really justified in asking heroism of others if that person has proved that they preferred to go into a concentration camp rather than conform or make compromises. But those who sat safely abroad, they cannot ask of others that they should prefer to go to their deaths rather than pursue opportunism.
And consider this: those who were in the camps judge in general much more mildly than, say, the émigrés who were able to secure their freedom, or those who were not even born until decades later. Finally, I cannot help but also thank a man who unfortunately could not attend this thanksgiving.
I mean the commandant of the Türkheim camp, Herr Hofmann. I can still see him standing in front of me, as we arrived from the camp of Kaufering III, in ragged clothes, freezing, without blankets, and hear as he began to curse most heartily because he was so appalled that we had been sent there in this state.
It was also he who secretly, as we later found out, bought medicines from his own pocket—for his Jewish prisoners. A few years ago I invited some Türkheim citizens who had helped camp inmates to a get-together at a local inn; I wanted Herr Hofmann to come too, but as it turned out he had died shortly before. From a certain local spiritual advisor whom you all surely know (he too has died
in the meantime) I now know that Herr Hofmann himself, he who should have had the very least need, was until the end of his life plagued by self-reproach. How willingly, and with what conviction, would I have eased his mind. Now you will surely object: that’s all well and good, but people like Herr Hofmann are exceptions.
Maybe. But they are what counts. At least when it comes to understanding, forgiveness, reconciliation! And I feel it legitimate to say this, for it was no lesser person than the famous, late Rabbi Leo Baeck, who back in 1945—just imagine, 1945!—wrote a “Prayer for Reconciliation,” in which he explicitly says: “Only goodness shall count!”
And if you point out to me that there was in fact so little goodness, then I can only answer with the words of another great Jewish thinker, namely the philosopher Benedictus de Spinoza, whose main work, Ethics, concludes with the words: sed omnia praeclara tam difficilia, quam rara sunt.
Everything that is great is as rare to find as it is difficult to do. In fact, I myself believe that decent people are in the minority, have always been and always will be. But that’s nothing new. There is an ancient Jewish legend, according to which the existence of the world depends on there always being thirty-six—no more than thirty-six!—righteous people in the world.
Well, I cannot tell you exactly how many there are, but I am convinced that in Türkheim there were, and certainly still are, a couple of righteous people. And when we now remember the dead of the Türkheim camp, I would like also to thank in the name of these dead the righteous people of the town of Türkheim.