The Choice: Embrace the Possible

  • Review
By – December 21, 2017

Dr. Edith Eva Eger sur­vived the Holo­caust in body, mind, and spir­it; her mem­oir pow­er­ful­ly illus­trates her decades-long jour­ney to not only sur­vive, but also tran­scend the atroc­i­ties of the Shoah.

In 1944, Edith, a teenage bal­let dancer, Olympic gym­nas­tics hope­ful, and the youngest daugh­ter in a Hun­gar­i­an Jew­ish fam­i­ly, is trans­port­ed to Auschwitz in a cat­tle car. She and her sis­ter Mag­da are select­ed to life,” while her par­ents are imme­di­ate­ly mur­dered. Through­out the cat­a­stroph­ic loss­es in the months that fol­low, this Anne Frank who didn’t die” (as Edith was often called) holds onto her mother’s wis­dom in the face of destruc­tion: Just remem­ber, no one can take away from you what you’ve put in your mind.” In atro­cious sit­u­a­tions, she holds onto her dig­ni­ty and her belief in con­nec­tion and com­mu­ni­ty, rather than sim­ply try­ing to sur­vive at all costs. At the end of the war, she and her sis­ter are found by an Amer­i­can G.I., prob­a­bly only hours from death through star­va­tion. Even­tu­al­ly, they phys­i­cal­ly recov­er, Edith with a seri­ous­ly injured upper back.

Despite her almost unbe­liev­able expe­ri­ences in sev­er­al con­cen­tra­tion and forced labor camps, Dr. Eger’s mem­oir does not focus on the events of the Holo­caust. In fact, writ­ing at nine­ty years old and still a prac­tic­ing clin­i­cal psy­chol­o­gist, the author shows how her ear­ly life expe­ri­ences became the ref­er­ence points for her lat­er life deci­sions (to mar­ry and have chil­dren, to move to the Unit­ed States and pur­sue a degree) as well as for her clin­i­cal work with trau­ma­tized vet­er­ans and civil­ian patients caught between life and death.

Dr. Eger is also guid­ed by her patients’ inter­nal strug­gles to embark on her own explo­ration of the long-term con­se­quences of sur­viv­ing, while count­less oth­ers did not. Guid­ed by Vic­tor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Mean­ing and even­tu­al­ly by Dr. Fran­kl him­self in friend­ship, the quin­tes­sen­tial ques­tion of sur­vivor guilt, Why me?!”, becomes Why not me?!” – the fuel for her deter­mi­na­tion to heal her­self and oth­ers against many odds.

Dr. Eger exem­pli­fies the dic­tum that psy­chother­a­pists can only guide their patients as far as they them­selves have dared to go. Real­iz­ing that she will have to con­front the most haunt­ing and painful moment of her lifein order for her own growth and heal­ing to be com­plete, she returns to Ger­many and to Auschwitz despite oth­ers’ warn­ings. There she comes to a hard-won con­clu­sion that frees her, final­ly, to ful­ly embrace her life and her call­ing. Hitler did not win her war!

While this mem­oir is not a how-to on over­com­ing trau­ma and loss via the essen­tials of pos­i­tive psy­chol­o­gy or for­give­ness work, and while the clin­i­cal vignettes do not nec­es­sar­i­ly describe evi­dence-based prac­tices, The Choice teach­es a pro­found les­son: heal­ing from dark­ness is a life­long process. When under­tak­en ardu­ous­ly, it means we con­tin­ue to climb and climb,” with eter­nal curios­i­ty about what could be next, as Dr. Eger shares in an inter­view. This mem­oir is a worth­while reflec­tion on the mean­ing and tasks of our existence.

The Choice is a 2017 Nation­al Jew­ish Book Award win­ner, in the Biog­ra­phy, Auto­bi­og­ra­phy, and Mem­oir category.

Rein­hild Draeger-Muenke left her native Ger­many as a young adult and has lived in the Unit­ed States for almost 40 years. She is a psy­chol­o­gist and fam­i­ly ther­a­pist in the Philadel­phia area, help­ing peo­ple heal from inter­gen­er­a­tional­ly trans­mit­ted trauma.

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