Dr. Edith Eva Eger: Her Dance of Life

Dr. Edith Eva Eger, author and clinical psychologist, shares her memories of the Holocaust and reveals how those experiences inspired her to pursue a life of service and healing.

For more about Dr. Eger's experiences, check out her book here: http://thechoicememoir.com

Hi Guideposts. My name is Dr. Edith Eva Eger. I am one of the few survivors of Auschwitz and other camps. I was taken to Auschwitz in May 1944; I was liberated in Austria, Gunskirchen, in 1945 by the 71st Infantry. I'm a licensed clinical psychologist.

I was born in Czechoslovakia. I was 16 years old when we were picked up early in the morning. The night before was Passover, and my father kissed us, not realizing that in the morning, we would be taken to a brick factory in my city. We were told we were going to go to Hungary. Next thing I knew, in May 1944, I was on my way to Auschwitz in a cattle car, and my mother hugged me and said, "We don't know where we're going; we don't know what's going to happen. Just remember, no one can take away from you what you put in your mind. And that's exactly what happened; everything was taken away.

My sister Klara was the only Jewish girl accepted in the music conservatory in Budapest and she was already in her camp when her Christian professor smuggled her out and hid her until the end of the war. And of course these are my heroes, those righteous, wonderful Gentiles who risked their own lives, like Corrie ten Boom, to save others.

When we were separated, my father was saying goodbye to us and my mother and I approached a line. At the end of the line was Dr. Mengele, and he pointed my mom to go to the left and I followed her. And he grabbed me and he said, "You're going to see your mother very soon; she's just going to take a shower," and threw me on the other side, which meant life.

And I asked one of the inmates, "When will I see my mother?" and she pointed at the chimney and said, "She is burning there; you'd better talk about her in past tense." My sister and I hugged each other and she said, "The spirit never dies." That's how I remember entering Birkenau.

My sister was very pretty, and I was the smart one in the family. My mother told me, "It's good that you have brains because you have no looks." My sister asked me, "How do I look?" And instead of telling her how she really looked, I said to her, "Magda, you have beautiful eyes, and I didn't see it when you had your hair all over the place." And I think it's important even today to find something good and find something [that's a] gift in everything.

Dr. Mengele came to the barracks and wanted to know, "Who are the talented ones?" And my friends who knew me and knew that I was the one who danced for the President with my Hungarian costume, they just put me in front of him and volunteered me to dance for Dr. Mengele. But I didn't know who he was.

After my dance, he gave me some bread and I shared it with the girls, so cooperation was the name of the game, not competition, not domination. All we had was each other then, and all we have is each other now. 

I was dancing for my life, working for the Nazis, carrying ammunition for the Nazis, and I ended up being in a place called Mauthausen, where we were going to be killed. That was a very bad, bad time.

So when people tell me I can't, I just take [away] the apostrophe and the T. I can. Why? Because I think I can. Like a choo-choo train, and that's what I teach my patients. You can if you want to, but I can't make people want to. I don't have that power.

I was  very ill; I was in a hospital. They put me in a cast. I had five kinds of typhoid fever, and I became very suicidal because I realized my parents were not coming back, and I had no purpose in my life. So I didn't ask "What?" but "What for?" And I know that the voice told me that if I died, I'd be a coward, but if I live, I'm going to be [living] for something, and today I am a member of the healing arts profession, and I celebrate every moment.

You know, people ask me how did I overcome, and I'm going to tell you: I didn't overcome. It's with me every day. I'm reminded when I go out and I see a policeman; I am reminded when I see barbed wire in places like Costco and other places. I didn't overcome—that's why I call it my cherished wound. I came to terms with that part in me that gave me an opportunity to find the power within me. It's about [being] able to live in the present, but a part of me stayed in Auschwitz—but not the better part.

It comes from realizing that love is what I was born with—love is what we are all born with—and I gave up the need to really just be against, against, against. I am for peace and I am for realizing that we can empower with our differences, that we are unique, we are one of a kind, and there will never be another you. I think that's very exciting to me.

View Transcript
Tags:
View Comments