Currently, I am reading an extraordinary book by Wendy Holden about three women who hid their pregnancies and survived the horrors of living and working in the Reich’s concentration camps, namely Auschwitz and Mauthausen— Born Survivors: Three Young Mothers and Their Extraordinary Story of Courage, Defiance, and Hope.” Anka, Priska and Rachel did not know each other during the war but met when brought together by Holden for the writing of her book. Miracles surrounded the three women during the holocaust even though they were starving (one weighing a mere 77 pounds) and worked almost to their deaths. The courage and kindness from strangers helped them and their newborn babies to survive.
As Victor Frankl quotes German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche in Man’s Search For Meaning, “He who has a why to live for can bear with almost any how” is demonstrated by each of these women who had “something” for which to live. Striving to live so they could raise their babies almost certainly helped these three women survive the brutalities they endured. Sadly, each baby’s father died from the cruelties they encountered during their time in the concentration camps.
In Anne Frank; The Diary of a Young Girl, Anne, her family, and some family friends hid from the Nazis in her father’s office/warehouse, upstairs in the “secret annexe” They moved around at night and quietly occupied themselves during the day. Their friends, in the office below, kept their secret and helped provide for their needs. When the Franks went into hiding, Germany was at the height of its invasions.
On February 23, 1944, Anne (age 15) wrote in her journal:
“The best remedy for those who are afraid, lonely, or unhappy is to go outside, somewhere where they can be quite alone with the heavens, nature, and God. Because only then does one feel that all is as it should be and God wishes to see people happy, amidst the simple beauty of Nature. As long as this exists, and it certainly always will, I know that then there will always be comfort for every sorrow, whatever the circumstances may be. And I firmly believe that nature brings solace in all troubles…” pg. 158
April 11, 1944
“Be brave. Let us remain aware of our task and not grumble, a solution will come. God has never deserted our people. Right through the ages there have been Jews, through all the ages they have had to suffer, but it has made them strong too; the weak fall, but the strong remain and never go under!” pg. 207
May 3, 1944
“I have often been downcast, but never in despair; I regard our hiding as a dangerous adventure, romantic and interesting at the same time…My start has been so very full of interest, and that is the sole reason why I have to laugh at the humorous side of the most dangerous moments.” pg. 223
“…I am young and strong and am living a great adventure; I am still in the midst of it and can’t grumble the whole day long. I have been given a lot, happy nature, a great deal of cheerfulness and strength. Every day I feel that I am developing inwardly, that the liberation is drawing nearer and how beautiful nature is, how good the people are about me, how interesting this adventure is! Why, then, should I be in despair?” pg. 223-224
Even in dire circumstances, hiding and hardly eating, Anne holds on to hope and positivity. This then 15-year-old has been an inspiration to many for decades on how to stay positive amidst trials.
Journaling her days helped her through them, one by one.
Journaling through our days of quarantine from COVID-19 may help us gain insight and bring solace from anxiety.
Psychotherapist and survivor of the holocaust, Viktor E. Frankl, M.D, Ph.D., in his book Psychotherapy and Existentialism, wrote:
“As a human phenomenon, however, freedom is all too human. Human freedom is finite freedom. Man is not free from conditions. But he is free to take a stand in regard to them. The conditions do not completely condition him. Within limits it is up to him whether or not he succumbs and surrenders to the conditions. He may as well rise above them and by so doing open up and enter the human dimension…. Ultimately, man is not subject to the conditions that confront him; rather, these conditions are subject to his decision. Wittingly or unwittingly, he decides whether he will face up or give in, whether or not he will let himself be determined by the conditions.” (V. Frankl, Psychotherapy and Existentialism, 3.)
Regarding the above quote from Frankl, two authors respond in their book Prisoners of Our Thoughts:
“Although human beings may not be in control of the conditions or situations that confront us, the important thing is that we can choose how we respond, at least through our choice of attitude. According to Frankl, this is not only our right as human beings, it is our full human beingness to be free in this manner. All we have to do is resist the temptation of remaining prisoners of our thoughts and choose this freedom, no matter what.” (Alex Pattakos, Ph.D. and Elaine Dundon, Prisoners of Our Thoughts, 44).
Pattakos and Dundon give Meaning Moment Exercises in their book to help us think about how not to be imprisoned by negative thinking. One example I’d like to share: “Think of a situation that is particularly challenging for you. Now write down ten positive things about this situation. Review and use your list to shift your attitude by identifying new thoughts or perspectives that will open the door to novel solutions to your challenge.”
Find a journal around your house and fill its pages during this time of quarantine. One day you’ll look back and remember all the positives you learned that you might not have otherwise. Find and embrace the positives; they are there.