Winner of the 2017 National Jewish Book Award and 2018 Christopher Award
“Edith’s strength and courage are remarkable…her life and work are an incredible example of forgiveness, resilience, and generosity.”—Sheryl Sandberg
It’s 1944 and sixteen-year-old ballerina and gymnast Edith Eger is sent to Auschwitz. Separated from her parents on arrival, she endures unimaginable experiences, including being made to dance for the infamous Josef Mengele. When the camp is finally liberated, she is pulled from a pile of bodies, barely alive.
The horrors of the Holocaust didn’t break Edith. In fact, they helped her learn to live again with a life-affirming strength and a truly remarkable resilience. The Choice is her unforgettable story.
“The Choice will be an extraordinary book on heroism, healing, resiliency, compassion, survival with dignity, mental toughness, and moral courage. It will appeal to millions of people who can learn from Dr. Eger’s inspiring cases and shocking personal story as well as her profound clinical wisdom to heal their lives.” (Philip Zimbardo, Ph.D., Stanford Professor Emeritus of Psychology, Author of the New York Times-Bestselling The Lucifer Effect: Understanding How Good People Turn Evil )
“I would take Edie Eger on an Op with me any day.” (U.S. Navy SEAL Commander (Ret) Mark Divine, Bestselling author of The Way of the SEAL and Unbeatable Mind )
“Life’s experiences can lead to contraction and grief and to expansion and love. The story of Edie Eger’s WWII era experiences and her subsequent growth and life path is an incredible journey and victory of the human soul over the pain of human degradation.” (Stephen Robinson, CEO, MAGIS Group LLC, Specialist in Optimal Performance under Stress™ (OPS™) training )
“We brought Dr. Eger to work with our most troubled military personnel—people grappling with the most intense emotional scars from their experience in battle. Dr. Eger is a healer of the highest order. Personally, I have learned from this gifted human being, this indomitable survivor, this accomplished therapist more about humanity—and suffering—and resilience, than all my advanced degrees put together. Dr. Eger has informed and inspired me more than any other role model in my practice of thirty years. This effervescent, brawny, octogenarian has more than a story to tell, a therapy to offer, a journey to guide; she brings us to a new way of being.” (U.S. Navy Capt. Robert Koffman, M.D., Former Director of Deployment Health/Psychological Health )
“The Choice is a gift to humanity. One of those rare and eternal stories that you don’t want to end and that leave you forever changed. Dr. Eger’s life reveals our capacity to transcend even the greatest of horrors and to use that suffering for the benefit of others. She has found true freedom and forgiveness and shows us how we can as well.” (Desmond Tutu, Nobel Peace Prize Laureate )
“A more important book for our times is hard to imagine” (The Bookseller)
“A poignantly crafted memoir…a searing, astute study of intensive healing and self-acceptance through the absolution of suffering and atrocity.” (Kirkus, starred review)
“Dr. Edith Eva Eger is my kind of hero. She survived unspeakable horrors and brutality; but rather than let her painful past destroy her, she chose to transform it into a powerful gift – one she uses to help others heal.” (Jeannette Walls, author of The Glass Castle )
“Eger present a searing firsthand account of surviving the Holocaust in this heartfelt memoir of trauma, resilience, and hope… Offering a gripping survival story and hard-won wisdom for facing the painful impact of trauma on the human psyche, this valuable work bears witness to the strength of the human spirit to overcome unfathomable evil.” (Library Journal)
“The Choice is more than an eloquent memoir by Holocaust survivor and psychologist Edith Eva Eger. It is an exploration of the healing potential of choice. . . Eger is not suggesting that she is unscarred by her experience, but that she lives a life filled with grace. The Choice is not a how-to book; it is, however, an invitation to choose to live life fully.” (Book Page)
The ballerina that got away and helped others in troubles to have a second or third choice in life.
Some sentences shock, potent prose of hauntingly retelling in the memoir part, and then her forbearingness, compassion, and great advising in the helping others part of this work.
She tells, the author Dr. Edith Eva Eger, of her days vividly, from her darkest days of captivity from Factory to factory, loaded from Train to train and then Shower of one kind cleansing to another of dread, a shower of killing, ultimately from Captivity to survival and living on with resilience, hope and forwardness, and choices to be bigger, greater than her parents could ever want, in helping others in their captivity of all kinds of pains and darkness, to breathing and walking out of their domain into some light, some chance for choice of a better kind, a pursuit of a happiness, a betterment.
The authors writing has a melody to telling something so terrible, her voice potent and visceral has you hanging with heartbeat in her place, in her terror of those days past, all evoked before the reader. These brutal facts heard of before, seen on screen, but for me not read in a book before with such great vivid telling and craft in writing coupled with a voice compelling and compassionate.
A work of accountabilities and choices, and freeing yourself from captivity within, whatsoever the pain, whatsoever the darkness passeth, and continue on.
A must read that will be in best and highly recommended reads lists of 2017.
In the foreword Philip Zimbardo PhD writes a fitting account of this work: “The Choice is an extraordinary chronicle of heroism and healing, resiliency and compassion, survival with dignity, mental toughness, and moral courage. All of us can learn from Dr. Eger’s inspiring cases and riveting personal story to heal our own lives.”
What happened can never be forgotten and can never be changed. But over time I learned that I can choose how to respond to the past. I can be miserable, or I can be hopeful, I can be depressed or I can be happy. We always have that choice, that opportunity for control.
Freedom lies in learning to embrace what happened. Freedom means we muster the courage to dismantle the prison, brick by brick.
Bad things, I am afraid, happen to everyone. This we can’t change. If you look at your birth certificate, does it say life will be easy? It does not. But so many of us remain stuck in a trauma or grief, unable to experience our lives fully. This we can change.
My own search for freedom and my years of experience as a licensed clinical psychologist have taught me that suffering is universal. But victimhood is optional. There is a difference between victimization and victimhood. We are all likely to be victimized in some way in the course of our lives. At some point we will suffer some kind of affliction or calamity or abuse, caused by circumstances or people or institutions over which we have little or no control. This is life. And this is victimization. It comes from the outside. It’s the neighborhood bully, the boss who rages, the spouse who hits, the lover who cheats, the discriminatory law, the accident that lands you in the hospital. In contrast, victimhood comes from the inside. No one can make you a victim but you. We become victims not because of what happens to us but when we choose to hold on to our victimization. We develop a victim’s mind—a way of thinking and being that is rigid, blaming, pessimistic, stuck in the past, unforgiving, punitive, and without healthy limits or boundaries. We become our own jailors when we choose the confines of the victim’s mind.
Whether you’re in the dawn or noon or late evening of your life, whether you’ve seen deep suffering or are only just beginning to encounter struggle, whether you’re falling in love for the first time or losing your life partner to old age, whether you’re healing from a life-altering event or in search of some little adjustments that could bring more joy to your life, I would love to help you discover how to escape the concentration camp of your own mind and become the person you were meant to be. I would love to help you experience freedom from the past, freedom from failures and fears, freedom from anger and mistakes, freedom from regret and unresolved grief—and the freedom to enjoy the full, rich feast of life.
What follows is the story of the choices, big and small, that can lead us from trauma to triumph, from darkness to light, from imprisonment to freedom.
Memory is sacred ground. But it’s haunted too. It’s the place where my rage and guilt and grief go circling like hungry birds scavenging the same old bones. It’s the place where I go searching for the answer to the unanswerable question: Why did I survive?
First the high kick. Then the pirouette and turn. The splits. And up. As I step and bend and twirl, I can hear Mengele talking to his assistant. He never takes his eyes off me, but he attends to his duties as he watches. I can hear his voice over the music. He discusses with the other officer which ones of the hundred girls present will be killed next. If I miss a step, if I do anything to displease him, it could be me. I dance. I dance. I am dancing in hell. I can’t bear to see the executioner as he decides our fates. I close my eyes.
We were sent to the showers every day at Auschwitz, and every shower was fraught with uncertainty. We never knew whether water or gas would stream out of the tap.
Our skin hardly covers our bones. We are an anatomy lesson. Elbows, knees, ankles, cheeks, knuckles, ribs jut out like questions. What are we now? Our bones look obscene, our eyes are caverns, blank, dark, empty. Hollow faces. Blue-black fingernails. We are trauma in motion. We are a slow-moving parade of ghouls. We stagger as we walk, our carts roll over the cobblestones. Row on row, we fill the square in Wels, Austria. Townspeople stare at us from windows. We are frightening. No one speaks. We choke the square with our silence. Townspeople run into their homes. Children cover their eyes. We have lived through hell only to become someone else’s nightmare.
All of the survivors I met had one thing in common with me and with each other: We had no control over the most consuming facts of our lives, but we had the power to determine how we experienced life after trauma. Survivors could continue to be victims long after the oppression had ended, or they could learn to thrive. In my dissertation research, I discovered and articulated my personal conviction and my clinical touchstone: We can choose to be our own jailors, or we can choose to be free.
“My mama told me something I will never forget,” I began. “She said, ‘We don’t know where we’re going, we don’t know what’s going to happen, but no one can take away from you what you put in your own mind.’ ”
I have said these words countless times, to Navy SEALs and crisis first responders, to POWs and their advocates at the Department of Veterans Affairs, to oncologists and people living with cancer, to Righteous Gentiles, to parents and children, to Christians and Muslims and Buddhists and Jews, to law students and at-risk youth, to people grieving the loss of a loved one, to people preparing to die, and sometimes I spin when I say them, with gratitude, with sorrow.