A Survivor’s Compassionate Wisdom

by Sharon Rosen Leib April 25, 2018
 

 

photo-by-ethan-segal-courtesy-jewish-book-councilWhen an American G.I. extricated Edith Eva Eger from a pile of corpses in 1945 she was 17 years old and barely clinging to life. Now, at 90, she’s an acclaimed La Jolla psychologist, proud great-grandmother and first-time author. Her 2017 book “The Choice: Embrace the Possible” may become the last professionally published memoir written by a living Holocaust survivor. This fact alone should make her book required reading.

But there’s so much more to “The Choice.” Eger takes us far beyond descriptions of her horrific degradations at Auschwitz and on the infamous 1945 Death March. She guides us through a searing explanation of what being a survivor feels like – the all-consuming guilt of “Why me? Did I deserve to survive?”; the profound lifelong grief at losing her parents to pure evil; and the debilitating anxiety of post-traumatic stress caused by witnessing Dr. Mengele send her mother and many others to the gas chambers. Then she goes to the next level, a higher plane removed from the daily torment of Holocaust horror, by challenging readers to break free of inner demons and mental constraints to become our best selves. She urges us to love ourselves above all else so that we can love others.

Dr. Eger movingly describes her journey from traumatized Holocaust victim who internalized her suffering, to psychology student who learned to express and embrace her wounds, and her ultimate emergence as a practicing psychologist and lecturer who transformed her profound pain into a tool to heal damaged psyches.

She describes her therapeutic method as CHOICE – choosing Compassion, Humor, Optimism, Intuition, Curiosity and self-Expression. Throughout the book, she scatters stories demonstrating how her own long road to recovery enabled her to offer love and acceptance to her patients that in turn helped them process their suffering. Reading these moving accounts of her ability to channel her devastating Holocaust experiences into transformative empathy made me cry more than once. She sheds her victimhood and prevails by turning the horrific traumas she endured into the gift of effective therapy.

Dr. Eger tells readers of this miraculous survival tale, “I want you to hear my story and say: ‘If she can do it, then so can I!’” She explains how her childhood training as a dancer and gymnast saved her more than once –she performed ballet to entertain Dr. Mengele, cartwheeled her sister Magda to safety and used her physical agility to skirt capture. After she and her sister were liberated, they learned that out of the 15,000 Jews deported from their hometown in Hungary only 70 survived the war.

Her survival is a blessing to patients whom she has treated and readers able to revel in the wisdom of a 90-year-old survivor with the courage to relive the past and the stamina to tell her story. Dr. Eger embodies the light of loving compassion and enables us to feel its healing power. She is a living, breathing, caring historic treasure. She intends her book to be an affirmation and so it is. Read it and be inspired – it’s what the good Dr. Eger orders.

“The Choice” has already garnered two significant honors: the Jewish Book Council’s National Jewish Book Award in the Biography, Autobiography and Memoir category; and a Christopher Award (created in 1949 to honor creative work that “affirms the highest values of the human spirit”). Her affecting memoir deserves these accolades, a wide readership and to engender so much more love.

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