I feel such a responsibility to read memoirs by Holocaust survivors. So much history, so much suffering, so much to learn about how not just to survive but even thrive while carrying some of the worst trauma imaginable. I’m careful about how and when I read these books, however; I recognize when I’m more able to engage with these types of books, in order to preserve my mental health (especially with the constant chaos going on in the world today), and hopefully you are too. On my last library trip, I decided I was ready for The Choice: Embrace the Possible by Dr. Edith Eva Eger (Scribner, 2017), a Holocaust survivor, and I’m glad I was. This is a remarkable book.
Edith Eger was only sixteen years old when she wound up in Auschwitz. Her parents were killed immediately; her oldest sister had been away playing violin concerts, so she hadn’t made the trip, but Edith and her other sister clung to each other, helping each other to survive and risking their lives for each other. Throughout her time there, through illness, starvation, grief, and pain, Edith managed to maintain an attitude that helped her make it through the grueling days of suffering, and afterwards, trying to rebuild a life without her parents and beloved boyfriend, she carried on with that same attitude, marrying, having a family, and eventually earning a PhD and growing a successful therapy practice. Her story is one of resilience, a message about how we can’t always choose our circumstances, but we can choose our attitude towards them, and some attitudes are more helpful for survival – and thriving! – than others.
Dr. Eger’s story is a tough one. Her descriptions of conditions, of the depravity forced upon the prisoners in Auschwitz and the other camps she spent time in are horrifying, and there were definitely times I had to set the book down and take a few breaths. It’s not an easy story to listen to, but these stories are so, so important. We can’t let this history be lost; we have to take it in, carry it with us into the future, and make sure our children understand what the outcome of such hatred looks like.
Reading about Dr. Eger’s successful practice, not only after having survived the Holocaust but after having earned her PhD as an adult student, filled me with hope (and also more than a little jealousy for her clients; she sounds like she’s a remarkable therapist!). Maybe it’s not too late for me to become something more than what I am now. If she can do it, maybe I can, too…
Truly a heart-wrenching, inspiring book, one I’m very glad made its way to my TBR.