In the spring of 1944, Dr. Edith Eger was 16 years old and living in Hungary with her parents and two older sisters, Magda and Klara. Edith was a dancer and gymnast who had been cut from the Olympic gymnastics team when it was discovered that she was Jewish. She was newly in love with her first boyfriend when the Nazis came for her family, along with all of the Jews of Kassa, Hungary, and took them to Auschwitz.
In her new book, “The Gift: 12 Lessons to Save Your Life,” Eger describes her shock of not knowing what to expect in those first few hours at Auschwitz. She was separated from her mother, whom she was told was just going to take a shower. Moments later, a woman in charge of the girls cold-heartedly said that the smoke rising was their mother burning and that they should get used to referring to her in the past tense.
Magda whispered these words to her sister, “The spirit never dies.” Edith credits her sister with finding “the gift” in that moment of devastation through her focus on the positive. It is what led Eger to recognize every experience as a “gift that helps us grow, and learn, and become who we are meant to be,” she wrote in the book. She remembers her mother’s words, “No one can take from you what you’ve put in your mind.”
Over the course of her life, Eger has continued to unwrap the gift and use positivity to heal herself, along with countless others. She believes that “it’s not what happens to us that matters most, but rather what we choose to do with it,” she wrote.
On that first horrific night, Eger describes in her book how she was forced to dance for Josef Mengele, the German SS officer and physician known as the Angel of Death, who performed heinous experiments on prisoners and selected those who would be gassed. Eger, still watching the smoke rise into the air, found a way to go beyond the imprisonment of her body as she danced for her survival. Her mind, she explains, was free to imagine herself dancing in the role of Juliet in Tchaikovsky’s ballet at the Budapest Opera House.
“The Gift” is Eger’s second book. She wrote it this year at the age of 92. In her words, it’s a “practical guide to help us identify our mental prisons and develop the tools we need to become free.” She wrote, “The prison is in your mind. The key is in your pocket.”
One of the keys addresses “The Nazi in You.” It speaks to the “prison of judgment” in which we hold ourselves. “The Nazi is the part of you that has the capacity to judge and withhold compassion, that denies you the permission to be free and victimizes others when things don’t go your way.” Egar teaches that judgment should be released and replaced with compassion.
The concept of hope is also addressed in “The Gift.” Whether used as a survival tool during the Holocaust or to get through this pandemic, Eger said, “Hope isn’t a distraction from darkness. It’s a confrontation with darkness.” She goes on to say, “Choosing hope affects what gets my attention every day.” She emphasized the importance of our thoughts and how no one has the power to take what we put into our minds. Eger believes, “To choose hope is to choose life.”
Eger wrote her first book, “The Choice: Embrace the Possible,” at the age of 90. It’s the story of “survival in the concentration camps, her escape, healing and journey to freedom.”
In a Sept. 15 video interview with entrepreneur and author Marie Forleo, dancer Eger is the embodiment of a powerful spirit. She even ended the interview with the signature Rockette kick she does, just because she can.
Dr. Terry Segal is a licensed therapist with a Ph.D. in Energy Medicine. She is the author of “The Enchanted Journey: Finding the Key that Unlocks You.”