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From One Survivor to Another

an Auschwitz survivor lends her experience

Edith Eva Eger radiates love and warmth to everyone she meets. She is an excellent psychotherapist, known for her quiet, healing presence and her deep understanding of people going through extreme emotional crises. Edie Eger is an Auschwitz survivor. She was sent to the death camp at age 16. Most of her family members were killed, but the Nazi officers decided to keep her alive because she was a ballerina. They had her dance for them. Her physical survival is a miracle. When the allied forces entered the camp, Edie had a broken back and weighed only 40 pounds. Her emotional survival is a story of incredible courage. For many years she suppressed her hatred for the Nazis and her guilt about living while others died. Her emotional recovery took a long time. When asked to speak to the survivors of the terrorist attack, here is what she said:

Let me speak to you, as one survivor to another...

I'd like to tell you about my journey from victimization, and how I was able to recognize that victims do not heal. Yesterday, I may have been a victim, but today I am more than a survivor. I can thrive! I can truly celebrate life! I am for something rather than against.

I was a guilty survivor for forty years. I didn't tell my story until I returned to Auschwitz and I forgave myself for surviving. I suffered a tremendous amount of Survivor's Guilt and Survivor's Shame. For most of my life if you had asked me about the Holocaust, I would have said, "What Holocaust?" It is like it happened to someone else. I ran from my past for many, many, many years.

I needed to go back to Auschwitz and forgive myself that I survived. No one could do that for me. I asked God to help me, to guide me back forty years later.

When I returned to Auschwitz, I was wondering, "Is there such a thing as a Survivor Personality? What made the difference?"

I believe survivors are flexible. Survivors are the spiritual people who surrender to God's will. Hitler's law did not prevail, God's law did! That is why I am talking to you.

We must use God's gifts, and not to sit around and wait, because that's what happened in Auschwitz. People did not use their resources, and were not able to really say anything to themselves; to say, "I am here for a purpose."

I remember that that is how God helped me in Auschwitz. I was able to somehow use everything I could, with divine guidance.

We have to rise above the situation and look at the bigger picture. That is what I did in Auschwitz. I didn't let the situation and the people dishearten me, because I knew I would get out of there.

The first time in Auschwitz that I had the opportunity to exercise this freedom is when my sister, Magna, and I were taken into this big hole and we were shaven completely. My ear rings were torn out and I was bleeding. In the midst of it all, I asked, "When will I see my mother?"

I was told, "She's burning over there. You better talk about it in past tense."

I remember, Magna and I were clutching and saying to each other that the spirit never dies, that the soul never dies.

I believe victims are people who are walking around a lot of the time with a sort of entitlement, the idea that the world owes them something. Then, I don't have to do anything. I have zero to do with anything, because I'm a victim; and you cannot perpetuate your victim position unless you look for the victimizers.

The "P's" are dangerous: paranoia and paralysis. Begin moving from the "P's" to the "A's." Give yourself the kind of attention, the affection, the approval that you need. The healing journey is not going to ever truly take place without the choice to open up inside. There is no healing without feeling. In our society, we do everything to avoid feeling the feelings. We may censor our feelings. We may justify the feelings. We may get addicted to being right. Then, when I'm right, of course, you're wrong. When I'm good, you're bad. I'll be angry long enough for you to apologize for what you did to me.

I think, being alone, I'm able to now truly realize that the gift I have when nothing comes from the outside, as it did not in Auschwitz, I still can get it from the inside. I can resort to my inner resources. I can still realize that Nazis could torture me, they could kill me, but they could not rob me from my hope.

How do you find hope in hopelessness? How do you find an answer when there is no answer? I think, as a child, I was kind of beginning to get that training; especially, when my mother took me to a ballet school when I was only four and I had a very spiritual ballet master. He said to me, "You know, God made you in such a magnificent way that all the ecstasy has to come from the inside out."

This is a time when you can reach within you, when what you expected may not come from the outside.

Hans Selye talks about the fight or flight phenomena. In Auschwitz I found a third alternative. I couldn't fight in Auschwitz. If I would have fought, I would have been shot. I couldn't flee, because then I would have touched the barbed wires and been electrocuted. The third alternative when you cannot fight and cannot flee, you flow. You stay in the situation, day by day, hour by hour.

I lost my family in Auschwitz, and I never went to a funeral. Today, I emphasize closure and conflict resolution. Make peace with the past. Release the feelings. Learn to live today, again.

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