A mental health professional braids stories of her patients’ epiphanies with her own personal journey through Nazi Germany.
As a Holocaust survivor and clinical psychologist, 89-year-old Eger is often introduced to her audiences at speaking engagements as “the Anne Frank who didn’t die.” Her poignantly crafted memoir is a meditation on two motifs: the internal struggle of psychologically troubled individuals and the deep shadows cast upon the future of a concentration camp survivor. As a teenager living as the “silent sister” in a dynamic Jewish-Hungarian family in Czechoslovakia, the author recalls being forcibly “resettled” to a labor camp and then transported by train as “human cargo” to Auschwitz, where her parents were promptly executed. Eger was somehow spared, and notoriously sadistic executioner Josef Mengele commanded her to dance in exchange for rare bread rations. Sent to other concentration camps, she was plucked, nearly lifeless, from a carcass heap as the war ended. She married, bore children, befriended fellow survivor Viktor Frankl, and began the “cautious joy” of a new life and career in America. Yet she grew desperate to redress a history scarred by evil: “I began to formulate a new relationship with my own trauma.” Crosscutting this intensely bittersweet narrative are portraitures of the author’s clinical patients, many of whose experiences mirrored much of what Eger had to overcome in order to thrive in society. She intriguingly compares her office sessions, and in mining the roots of pain and victimization, she declares that “suffering is universal…but victimhood is optional.” The distressed fabric of the author’s traumatic past becomes a beautiful backdrop for a memoir written with integrity and conviction. Throughout, Eger is strong in her knowledge of what makes life better for those of us willing to relinquish past “regret and unresolved grief” and “enjoy the full, rich feast of life.”
A searing, astute study of intensive healing and self-acceptance through the absolution of suffering and atrocity.