Edith Eger: Biography Of This Psychologist Who Survived Auschwitz

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It was 1949 when a very young Edith Eger met Victor Frankl (1905-1997) in the United States, another of the survivors of the Nazi Holocaust and author of the impressive Man’s Search for Meaning, an authentic spiritual search for the meaning of life before an immense and immeasurable pain. Eger had also lived through the Nazi horror and had survived various concentration camps; among them, Auschwitz, where she witnessed how her mother was taken to the gas chamber.

Frankl became her mentor and, under his guidance, Edith began to regain meaning in her life. With a degree in Psychology from the University of Texas, she has dedicated her entire existence to helping others and preventing them from falling into that deep well into which victims plunge. According to Edith Eger, it is not about “overcoming”, but about “accepting”. In today’s article we review the life of the Nazi Holocaust survivor, post-traumatic stress specialist, Edith Eger..

Brief biography of Edith Eger, the psychologist who survived Auschwitz

When she arrived at Auschwitz in 1944, Edith Eger was only sixteen years old. She was a scared and impressionable teenager who had already tasted Nazi horror after living in a ghetto and a brick factory, overcrowded and with hardly any hygiene, with 12,000 other people, Jews like her. Upon arriving at the concentration camp, Edith was separated from her mother, who was taken to the showers so that she could “clean herself.” She never saw her again. She later learned that those “showers” ​​were, in reality, gas chambers.

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The chilling experience of our protagonist was recorded by herself in her famous bestseller The Dancer of Auschwitz. (see bibliography), where he tells how he survived the horror of the concentration camp, in part, thanks to his dancing skills. For a long time she was forced to dance for Josef Mengele (1911-1979), the Nazi who was called “the Angel of Death,” which saved her and her sister Magda’s lives. An impressive testimony of a no less impressive life, which we summarize below.

A dream: to be an Olympic gymnast

Edith was born Edith Eva in Kosice, which in the year of her birth, 1927, belonged to Czechoslovakia. Her birthplace was a territory of change, since, before 1920, she had belonged to Hungary, a country to which she would return in 1938 and until 1945.

Her parents, Lajos and Ilona, ​​were Jews of Hungarian origin, and Edith was the youngest of their three daughters. She studied at the Gymnastics Secondary School, where she began to come into contact with this discipline, and she also received ballet classes. Very gifted in movement, she was part of the Olympic gymnastics team; Unfortunately, her Jewish status and the rise of her Nazi regime caused her to be expelled from the team before fulfilling her dream of being an Olympic gymnast..

It was 1942, and the specter of a new war loomed over Europe. The persecutions against the Jews were increasing; Her sister Klara, who was a violinist, was able to escape from her thanks to her teacher hiding her in a safe place. It was not like that for Edith, her other sister Magda and her parents. Forced to live first in a ghetto and then in a factory, they were finally transferred to Auschwitz in 1944. That was the beginning of a nightmare that seemed to have no end.

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The dancer of Auschwitz

We have already narrated how the sisters were cruelly separated from their parents, and how they died as soon as they arrived. From then on, everything turned into a horrible nightmare. Edith tells how, every time they were taken to the showers, they were overcome by the anxiety of whether it was water or gas that would come out of the pipes. Fortunately, it always came first..

Her extraordinary skills as a dancer worked in her favor. Josef Mengele, a Nazi doctor who was known as Todesengel (the Angel of Death), became infatuated with her and her dancing, and asked her to dance just for him. The enthusiasm of the bloodthirsty doctor, who carried out gruesome experiments on prisoners and often selected victims for the gas chambers, allowed, in part, Edith and her sister to survive. But was that nightmare going to end, that eternal dance to escape death?

Yes, it was over. But before being freed by the allies, Edith and Magda were transferred to various camps. They were two of the prisoners who carried out the macabre “death march” towards Gunskirchen, one of the camps attached to Mauthausen. The sisters had to walk, in very difficult conditions, 55 kilometers on foot. Once in their new prison, where they arrived exhausted, they had to eat grass to survive.. When the Allied forces arrived to rescue the prisoners, they realized that Edith was alive because they saw her hand moving among a pile of corpses.

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A life dedicated to helping victims

When the Allies rescued Edith, she weighed only 32 kilos and was suffering from pneumonia, typhoid fever and pleurisy. In reality, it was unlikely that she would survive… but she survived. Once recovered, she returned to Czechoslovakia, where she met her future husband, Albert Eger.. However, the rising communist regime prompted them to exile to the United States, where they arrived in 1949.

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Edith then decides to graduate in Psychology and dedicate her life to helping victims of post-traumatic stress, an area in which she specializes. She has been a professor at the University of California and has her own clinic in La Jolla, California, in addition to appearing repeatedly in the media. At the time of writing this article, Edith is ninety-seven years old and is still as vital as ever. She has never stopped doing her part to help people who have suffered trauma, with the aim of improving their existence.

In 2017, her book The Choice – Embrace the Possible (translated into Spanish as The Dancer of Auschwitz) was published, a sincere and emotional testimony of her experiences and her learning to accept the designs of life and survive them. Edith’s goal has always been to help victimized people so that they are not victims. And all her life she retained the last advice of her mother, before being sent to the gas chamber: “Remember. No one can take away from you what you have deposited in your mind.” Survive (and live), despite everything.

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