Just when one thinks that all the Holocaust survivors who were able to record their unspeakable past have done so, and when, sadly, few are still among us, Edith Eger’s deeply moving book offers extraordinary insight.
In her account, we are allowed a tiny glimpse into the dark fields of murder and torture where millions of loved ones died and where, for the vast majority, love itself died, along with hope and trust. Only a survivor like Eger could dare apply the iron-wrought “Arbeit Macht Frei” slogan over the Auschwitz gates to her own therapeutic work and determination to become “an author of choice rather than a victim of fate”.
Born into a modest Hungarian family, Eger, a gifted dancer and promising athlete selected to train with the country’s Olympic team, was deported to Auschwitz on one of the last, and most horrendous transports in the history of the Shoah, when even Rudolf Hoess complained to Eichmann that the Hungarian Jews’ appalling physical state upon arrival at the camp made them “useless for work”: “diese Leihjuden sind nicht zu gebrauchen”.
Edith survived along with her sister Magda but their parents were murdered. Throughout the book, she links aspects of her experience and survival with reflections on life in general, as a wife, mother and, later, renowned psychologist in America, healing and freeing herself by adopting the outlook of her mentor Victor Frankl: “one can choose one’s own way to respond…eventually embracing our real and possible selves… and thrive”.
And yet, towards the latter part of Eger’s life, she describes reliving an experience that took her back across years and vast distances to a tragic choice that time could not heal.
Eger weaves the thread of her personal story into her current work with trauma patients, which, based on her Jungian training, helps them to profoundly change their lives. Case examples from her consulting room form a separate part of the book.
It is not surprising that, when Eger speaks, her audiences are roused to give her a standing ovation. For they are not only honouring Edith Eger but also the triumph of the human spirit.
The Choice is published by Ebury Publishing £14.99
Eva Burke is a journalist and translator who grew up in Vienna