• Isabelle Osborne

Reviewing Edith Eger's 'The Choice'

What if telling my story could lighten its grip instead of tightening it? What if speaking about the past could heal it instead of calcify it? What if silence and denial parent the only choices to make in the wake of catastrophic loss?

Detailing her experiences before, during and after her time in Auschwitz concentration camp, Edith Eger offers an inspiring account of how she dealt with the immense suffering she was forced to endure as a Jew during Nazi rule. This is one of the most remarkable pieces of literature based on the Jewish experience I have ever read, and I know it will stay with me for a very long time.

I urge anyone and everyone to read this book. Not only does Eger offer an insight into her life within the concentration camp, she offers her experience of how we can overcome our pasts and live whole in the present. This is something I have never experienced before whilst reading other material based on the Jewish experience of the Nazi regime. Eger offers a really refreshing insight into how we must let go of what has happened, avoiding victimisation, in order to live wholly in the present.

The book begins with Edith recollecting her childhood, prior to the persecution of the Jews and her subsequent habitation in Auschwitz. She considers how a sense of inferiority was an institutionalised belief as a result of her religion, so that she never wanted to admit that she was Jewish. We can only imagine the suffering this caused Edith and the Jewish community - a lack of belonging, a constant fear that your identity would never be yours to choose.

The foundation of our persistent suffering...is the belief that discomfort, mistakes, disappointment signal something about our worth. The belief that the unpleasant things in our lives are all we deserve.

The concept of choice is explored throughout the book. The title ‘The Choice’ is tied to Edith’s ability to conjure and focus on the future that lied ahead of her whilst in the camp, and is a value she continued to think about during the rest of her life. Her reminding that life is ours to choose what we do with it shapes the book, making you feel uplifted throughout that even in the darkest times, there is a light waiting for us. As Edith reminds us, 'Freedom lies in learning to embrace what happened. Freedom means we must the courage to dismantle the prison, brick by brick.' After reading this book, you realise that we can avenge the past, or live in the present. For Edith, 'Freedom is about CHOICE - about choosing compassion...And to be free is to live in the present. If we are stuck in the past...we are living in the prison of our own making.' Survivors must ask themselves 'what now?', not 'why me?'

Bad things, I am afraid, happen to everyone. This we can't change...But so many of us remain stuck in a trauma or grief, unable to experience our lives fully. This we can change.

Dancing played and continues to play a role in Edith’s life. One of the most memorable moments in the book is when Dr. Mengele forced Edith to dance during her time in Auschwitz. Edith hoped to become a professional ballerina, but was prevented from competing just before she was taken to the camp on the grounds of her religion. Whilst this moment could have broken Edith’s relationship with dance and ballet, it served as a testament of her strength and endurance, and it is with such clarity that Edith demonstrates how this moment had a residual effect on her life.

Dr Mengele is a reoccurring figure in the book, one of the most important moments of his mention being when Edith reminds us that she is free in her mind, but 'he can never be'. Mengele, the 'seasoned killer' will 'always have to live with what he's done', making him more of a prisoner that Edith and any of the victims of the Nazi regime.

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...from failures and fears...from anger and mistakes...from regret and unresolved grief.

Education is another powerful tool Edith used following the liberation of the camp, as she went on to achieve her degree and doctorship in psychology. Her work within the field of psychology, which Edith details within the book, is truly inspiring; I felt empowered whilst reading about how she used her experiences of the most brutal evil imaginable to help other people and understand how humans react to pain, suffering and trauma.

Edith had no power over her exile to Auschwitz, and suffered immense loss during her time there. However, there is such a poignant message that resonates within the book - she had every control over how she walked forward, away from her past. I loved her outlook on how our relationship with the past governs our present, and how we often victimise ourselves rather than focusing on what we can do to move forward from our trauma. Edith considers how survivors have the power to stay victims after oppressions and the power to thrive - the choice is theirs. As she states so perfectly, ‘we can choose to be our own jailers, or we can choose to be free’. Edith reminds us that your mind is the most powerful thing in your life, and we are in control of how we see the world and endure our experiences.

Victimhood comes from the inside. No one can make you a victim but you. We become victims because of what happens to us but when we choose to hold on to out victimisation. We develop a victim's mind - a way of thinking and being that is rigid, blaming, pessimistic, stuck in the past...We become our own sailors when we choose the confines of the victim's mind.

This is a powerful and profound read. I feel so privileged to have heard Edith’s story. I know this is a book that will help me see the light in dark times, and cannot recommend enough that you read this wonder. Edith reminds us that 'we have a choice: to pay attention to what we've lost or to pay attention to what we still have.'

Today, more than seventy years have passed. 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 misreable, or I can be hopeful - I can be depressed, or I can be happy. We always have that choice, that opportunity for control.

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