I read a lot of books about WWII, mostly non-fiction. I sometimes feel the need to apologise for this to others when we come to that topic, because it may seem perverse. My family isn't Jewish or German and even though my families live so close to the German border that soldiers marched through their streets and fields daily, nobody got killed or imprisoned, even though the fear must have been there.
For me, WWII is humanity and life in a nutshell. There's the oppressor, the oppressed, those that have to choose a side, moral. There's the guard and the prisoner, and naked life - an unhidden fear of dying. Viktor E. Frankl describes in the first half of Man's Search for Meaning
the psychology of the prisoner, suffering under the constant fear to die soon. Your family may have already died, you were separated from your husband or wife right at the beginning, next week could be the week your number gets put on the list - how does one keep oneself from committing suicide in such a hopeless situation? Frankl, a Viennese psychiatrist explores this "psyche of the prisoner" in quite an objective manner, considering he was a prisoner himself and lost everything besides his own body. The suicide watch Frankl describes was a whole new realisation for me and is an example of the things he describes. The moment the camp gets freed, he describes this so hauntingly. Instead of happiness there's the realisation one has to learn to be happy and free again.
" 'Freedom' - we repeated to ourselves, and yet we could not grasp it. We had said this word so often during all the years we dreamed about it, that it had lost its meaning. Its reality did not penetrate in our consciousness. We could not grasp the fact that freedom was ours."
In the second half Frankl describes logotherapy, an existential response to Freud's psychoanalysis. He quotes Nietzsche several times: "Those who have a 'why' to live, can bear with almost any 'how'.”
He helped people in the camp to find a 'why' again (suicides amongst them was punished by the guards) and for himself, perhaps having lost hope of ever seeing his wife again, the idea of rewriting his manuscript about the prisoner's psyche kept him afloat.
This book to me touched the very core of why wars are so important to reflect upon. Besides the politics that lead to it, there's the struggle with our own mortality, something that Frankl, no matter what your beliefs are, gives a very practical response to.