By Shayna Vadnai
In her memoir, The Choice, renowned psychologist Dr. Edith Eva Eger tells the story of her survival and recovery from the Holocaust, as well as her choice to use her incredible experiences to help others. Her striking work inspires readers to look within themselves to access a deep inner strength to persevere through life’s various challenges.
The youngest of three daughters, Eger was born to a Jewish tailor in Kassa, Slovakia. She grew up dancing ballet and training as a gymnast, and by the time a Nazi presence emerged in her hometown, she was a promising member of the Hungarian Olympic Gymnastics team. However, at sixteen, her beautiful life in Kassa was taken from her when she was sent to Auschwitz. There, both of her parents were immediately sent to the gas chambers.
Eger, together with her oldest sister, Magda, miraculously survived the brutality, starvation, and death in Auschwitz. It took many months, but Eger eventually recovered from the years of malnourishment and a debilitating broken back.The two sisters were able to reunite with their third sister, Klara, who survived the war in a convent in Budapest. Eger met and married Béla, a kind, wealthy Jewish survivor who had joined the partisans during the war. They settled in Béla’s ancestral home and had their first child, Marianne. However, their safety and comfort in Slovakia was short-lived. Béla found himself in prison soon after refusing to join the communist party. With a clever and daring plan, Eger broke him out of prison and they immediately moved to America.
In El Paso, Texas, Eger and her husband peacefully raised three children. However, Eger continued to suffer from panic attacks, survivor’s guilt, and a sense of loss at having not reconciled her past. It was Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning that awakened her to the possibility of sharing her story and healing. She internalized Frankl’s wise words: “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms- to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”
Eger attached herself to this idea: that no matter the pain or frustration, we can choose our responses and subsequent actions. She returned to school to study clinical psychology, graduating with a PhD in the field. Eger learned to reframe the way in which she viewed her trauma- to see it as an experience that revealed her immense strength – and she used this newfound outlook to help her clients apply this freedom of choice to their own lives. She explored the strength of self-talk, and how people should choose to not only practice compassion towards others, but towards themselves.
Eger’s memoir contains valuable insights on how we can conquer the obstacles that come our way or that we create for ourselves. Every individual, with guidance and love, can access the inner strength to practice self-compassion, draw strength from struggles, and choose to follow a path of healing and growth. The Choice inspires readers to explore their own mindset and choices, and guides them on how to actualize Eger’s beautiful methods.