Thu, Sep 13, 2018 - Page 9 News List

Learning
to heal decades after Auschwitz

Her mother’s wisdom helped Edith Eger create a happy inner life in the camp, but true healing meant going back there

By Anna Moore  /  The Guardian

“I had a white coat and it said ‘Dr Eger,’ but I felt like an imposter because I did not really deal with my past,” she said. “I could not be a good guide to my patients or take them any further than I’d gone myself. For that, I had to go back to the lion’s den and look at the place where my mother was murdered, where I was so close to death every day.”

It was during this return to Auschwitz that Eger confronted a devastating truth, a memory she had hidden even from herself.

When she had arrived at Auschwitz and awaited selection, Mengele had looked at her mother’s unlined face, then turned to Eger and asked if this was her “mother” or her “sister.”

Eger did not think about which word would protect her — she simply told him the truth. Her mother was moved to the other line — the line that led straight to the gas chamber.

“Until I returned, I was my own worst enemy,” she said. “I not only had survivor’s guilt, I had survivor’s shame. I didn’t need a Hitler out there, I had a Hitler in me telling me I was unworthy, that I didn’t deserve to survive.”

“On that day, I allowed myself to be human — not superhuman and not subhuman. We do things the way human beings do and we make mistakes,” she said. “If I had known better, I would have done better — I would have, believe me, but unless we acknowledge that we cannot change the past, we cannot really heal and live life.”

Every part of her experience has informed her work.

“I studied it and I lived it,” she said. “There is a difference between all the knowledge you get from books and all the clinical experience — both of which I have — and the ‘life experience.’”

“That’s what I use most,” she said. “I help people realize that the biggest prison is in their mind — and to be free of the past means not to run from it or forget it, but to face it. I see my work as my calling, and I’m still not done.”

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