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Prologue


"My God, that was close!" Viktor thought. "Iím not ready to die!" His right foot slipped a bit more, sending a scattering of rocks racing to the chasm below. He knew one wrong step, one miscalculation, could end both his rock climbing and his promising young life and medical practice.

The thing is, he knew full well that his Aryan guide, Hubert, was in even greater danger than he - even if they both made it safely up the sheer wall of Hohe Wand - simply for allowing Viktor Frankl, a Jew, the harmless joy of this little rock-climbing adventure. For in Hitlerís Austria, those citizens forced to wear a yellow Star of David in public were not allowed such liberties. Too good for the soul. It was certainly good for Viktorís. After all the tense buildup of Hitlerís impending annexation of Austria, it had been far too long since Viktorís last climb.

"For a true climber," he told his guide after hoisting himself to the top, "itís amazing how claustrophobic even the widest expanse of flatland can feel." Hubert nodded agreement, swiveling his thick neck around, both to survey the world below and to instinctively make sure they were alone and safe.

While Hubertís stocky build was as solid as the high wall they had just scaled, and his face was nearly as weathered as the rock all around them, king of the mountain was the last thing one would have thought while looking at Viktor Frankl. A thin man built precariously on two spindly legs, he was denied height every bit as he was bulk.

 
Yet, a mountain climberís most important attributes are, it turns out, neither legs nor bulbous flesh nor the shadow he sculpts on the ground below. They are, rather, a fiery heart and a nimble intellect. And Dr. Frankl was possessed of a combustible mixture of both.

Indeed, Franklís peers down in Vienna were beginning to acknowledge more and more the obvious truth: Under Franklís combed-back wavy blanket of black hair was one of the most brilliant minds of his day. And as his many female admirers in the city, and at Rothschild Hospital, recognized, this 30-something neurologist and psychiatrist not only had the potential to step out of the shadows of famed Viennese psychiatrists Freud and Adler, but he also had the beginnings of a stature large enough to cast his own powerful outline on his homeland and beyond.

Even in that short, bespectacled frame.

For the moment, as he once again basked in the cool sunlight of his beloved Rax mountains, he allowed himself to forget that, however bright his future might be, it was now clouded by the fog of hatred and oppression rolling in from Berlin. And that he had allowed his one chance of escape to slip through his fingers.

 
Itís not as if he hadnít seen it coming. Everyone had. Austria had reluctantly thrown down a red carpet for Adolf Hitler. But while many of the cityís Jews had already taken flight, Viktor had stayed. In the face of who knows what, he had stayed. In a moment trapped between pure fear and uncertain self-transcendence, he had opened his palms and let fly his freedom to the wind.

Viktorís eyes shot open. His thoughts returned to that fateful moment in the church like a boomerang, and he didnít like it. Not up here. Not where he should be at peace.

Hubert saw the whole thing. He noticed Viktorís slide into pangs of bitter memory, and his sudden return to reality. Hubert quickly turned to the panorama before them, lest Viktor realize that Hubert had been watching his every thought.

"Itís madness down there, my friend," Hubert drooped with uncharacteristic resignation. "Pure madness." "And here we are, in the safest place in the world!" beamed the ever-optimistic Viktor.

Hubert first smiled, then threw his head back and bellowed, "Yes, my friend. Here we are. The last two sane people on the face of the Earth - having climbed to rise above the insanity!"

"And so now we know the difference between sanity and insanity," added Viktor. "About 200 meters!"

 
When youíve had precious little to laugh about, you have a full store of it to let out at once. And thatís what these two friends did at this moment. Neither Freudís psychoanalysis, nor Adlerís individual psychology - not even Viktor Franklís own logotheraphy, which was just taking shape in his mind and in his writings and lectures - could have offered up a more therapeutic relief than this laugh, which shook them like an earthquake.

There they lay, alone above the strife, for untold moments - the Jew and the Aryan. Tied together by a lifesaving rope, yet connected by an even stronger cord that reaches through the umbilicus and straight into the soul. Humanity itself bonded them. Raw, open, real and, in its respects, divine. At this moment, though without an earthly audience - and, in fact, in spite of the fact that it could have brought both men severe punishment at the hands of the Nazis, had anyone seen them - the two men were sending a message to the heavens: a short story about manís humanity to man. The irony was as rich and warm as the late Vienna summer. And every bit as fleeting.

The setting sun would do so eventually, anyway, so Hubert broke the moment. "What shall come of us, Viktor?"

 
"I donít know, my friend," Viktor whispered, keeping his eyes fixed on infinity. He thought for a few moments, and Hubert let him. "I have so much I want to do. Need to do. I will publish a book, if the Nazis donít stop me. I have a beautiful young wife - and I must provide for her, regardless of what the Nazis say. My parents are getting older and more frightened by the moment. But I worry most about my patients. They need me. Likewise, I need them."

Looking over at Hubert, reading the unabated worry in his downy brow, Viktor smiled.

"We must use our wits to survive, Hubert. Like when I was 12." Viktor propped himself up on his elbows for emphasis, and Hubert took notice. "I was crossing a bridge when I was approached by a gang of youths coming the other way. ĎAre you a Jew?í they asked me in an angry tone. ĎYes,í I said proudly. ĎBut am I not also human?í And you know what, Hubert? They left me alone and walked away. How could they argue with me then? How could they violate the line I had just drawn for them - a line that separates humanity from inhumanity?"

Both men knew - and each one knew that the other one knew - that it was a line that, in Austria and elsewhere, was being erased at that very moment.

Viktor looked over at his Aryan friend wearing his German armed forces uniform, and realized that he was preaching to the choir. Imagining a more wanting audience on the horizon, Viktor jumped up, gesturing toward the vista with his right fist as high as his small frame could lift it.

"Did you hear that, Adolf? I am also human! I am also human!"

 
Chapter 1


Lord, how he hated heights.

To be sure, Roger Murphy would never have ventured out on the Golden Gate Bridge himself. He didnít much care for crossing it in a car, much less on foot and, heaven knows, stopping for any amount of time. For any reason. Not even to save his life.

But as it happens, he wasnít pulling his car over and stopping on the bridge to save his life. It all started with that phone call ...

*      *      *

"Is this Roger Murphy?" a sudden, nervous male voice insisted more than asked.

"Speaking. What can I do for you?" Roger was a little annoyed by both the strangerís intrusion so late in the afternoon, as well as the volume of the intrusion.

"The Roger Murphy?"

Roger shifted in his broken-down, outdated and nowhere-near-ergonomic 30-year-old newsroom chair and poked his wire rim glasses back up the gentle slope of his nose. "The one and only. Now what can I...?"

"You need to come interview me," the voice quivered, a little pleading and a lot agitated.

 
"Oh yes?" Roger was audibly unimpressed. "And pray tell me, why should I do that?"

"Because," the man fired back insistently, "Iím about to kill myself and I want you to tell the world why."

Roger Murphy was never at a loss for words. But now he was speechless, and a captive audience, pressing the phone nearly inside his ear.

He sat up in his chair, leaned both his elbows on the piles of assorted papers on his desk, and ran his free hand through his thick black hair parted precisely in the middle.

"Hello?" the voice on the phone flailed.

"Iím here," Roger registered meekly, again breaking new ground for him.

"Youíre my hero. Youíre the best writer at the Chronicle - the best writer in the bay area, period.

That column you did on Mayor Agnos last week was incredible."

"Uh, thanks. Thank you," Roger managed with genuine gratitude - especially genuine since the compliment came from an apparently dying man.

"Iíd be extremely honored," the voice continued, "and - uh, eternally grateful - if you would tell my story. Itís not the most exciting story youíll ever tell, Iím sure. But at least," a long pause, "itís short and to the point."

 
Roger was still trying to clear his head. He was used to dealing with nutty callers.

You canít be a journalist of 20 years, and certainly not in San Francisco, without getting all kinds of off-the-wall calls.

His favorite, of many years ago, was the lady who kept him on the phone for 20 minutes telling him her theory that thick carpet is a conspiracy against women.

It seems thick carpet makes women dig their high heels into it, tripping them, causing them to fall and sustain brain damage.

Though not necessarily a terribly patient man, Roger was seasoned by hard experience and pain, particularly in Vietnam, and had therefore developed a patient ear.

Listening is also good for business when one is a journalist, he figured. So, he usually just listened the poor souls out until they were through and gently lied, "OK, weíll get a reporter right on it."

It was always a lie, of course - a white lie intended not just to shorten the occasion but also to leave the poor caller with the warm feeling that, indeed, the media were looking into the presence of aliens in area restaurants, the chance that the president could be sending radio signals through a callerís tooth filling, or the distinct possibility that insects are set to take over the Earth.

He never gave the fringe callers a second thought. But then, he never imagined a life might be riding on his promise to "get a reporter right on it."

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