by Elissa Felder
An Auschwitz survivor shares her life-affirming wisdom.
Dr. Edith Eva Eger survived hell on earth. At age 16, she and her family were sent to Auschwitz. She is now 93 and a practicing psychotherapist specializing in treating trauma. She wrote her first book, The Choice, at the age of 91, and just released her second book, The Gift. These life-affirming books are filled with her wisdom about how to live our lives more fully.
1. You don’t have crises; you have challenges. Dr Eger describes life as filled with suffering and struggle. Each challenge provides a chance to find hope in hopelessness. Every struggle is a gift, an opportunity to find light in the darkness. Dr. Eger states that, “My suffering made me stronger.”
2. You always have choices. It is not what happens to you that is important; it is what you do with what happens to you. Life is difficult. “I will never forget what happened to me,” she shared, “I came to terms with it. I call it my cherished wound.” Life is a choice. It is much easier to die but, “I choose to live.”
3. Live fully today. “I don’t take anything for granted. I have this one life to live and you don’t know what’s going to happen tomorrow.” She describes life as being like one long day. “The morning sunshine isn’t coming back, so celebrate each moment.” Each second is precious.
4. Pay attention to what you pay attention to. Your thoughts have the ability to create your realityso be selective. Re-orienting your thoughts can impact how our lives play out since, “If you change your thinking, you change your life.” This was a lesson her mother taught her as they were being transported in the cattle cars to the death camp. Her mother told her, “No-one can take away from you what you put in your own mind.”
5. The opposite of depression is expression, because what comes out of your bodies cannot make you ill. Dr. Eger spoke about the importance of feeling your feelings, that all our feelings are legitimate, and that there are no right or wrong emotions. “You can’t heal what you don’t feel,” so “Have a good cry. Go to the ocean and scream, or scream in the car and then laugh like a hyena.” She guarantees that grieving, feeling, and healing will make you feel better. Furthermore “My God gives me permission to feel any feelings without the fear of being judged.
6. Love yourself and take care of yourself. Dr. Eger believes that we are born with love and with passion. However, throughout life we learn to hate and we learn the, ’us and them,’ mentality. “No one can replace you, so love yourself fully,” she advises. “When you get up in the morning do you look in the mirror and say, ‘I love you’?” Give up the need for approval and don’t let others bring you down.
7. Be selective with your anger. Dr. Eger pointed out, “Once you get angry you give your power away. When you are angry you can’t hear you. I’m very selective with who gets my anger. Dissolve the anger; it is inconvenient, and I don’t like it. We must keep on walking.”
8. Forgiveness is a gift you give yourself. “There is no forgiveness without rage.” Only God has the power to forgive. “I don’t have Godly powers,” she says. “Only God has the last word. I see forgiveness as a gift I give to me that I don’t carry. Forgiveness gives you ultimate spiritual freedom.”
9. God is always present. Dr. Eger says, “I found God in Auschwitz. My God was always with me. God told me that everything is temporary, nothing is permanent.” Furthermore, “God has a plan for me, not only to survive but to guide other people and to be useful to them. My God is full of hope, full of light, full of love, and full of compassion.”
10. Don’t give up. Dr. Eger describes herself as a woman of strength who is strong because of her Jewish identity. “We Jews never give up. My ancestors survived the desert and the Holocaust, so I say, ‘Keep climbing the mountain and don’t ever stop.’” Her life affirming mantra is, “Yes I am, Yes I can, and Yes I will.” After a lifetime of scaling the mountain Dr. Eger is still climbing, still giving to others, still trying to make the world a better place and still filled with curiosity about what will happen next.