Who most inspires you? I have been asked that question often, having interviewed many inspirational people including Nobel Prize winners Elie Wiesel, Robert (Yisrael) Aumann, Ada Yonath, Shimon Peres, Nelson Mandela and the Dalai Lama. My favorite onstage interview? Sex therapist and Holocaust survivor Dr. Ruth Westheimer, who always makes me laugh – and blush!
But the person who most inspires me is Dr. Edith (Edie) Eger. Born in Košice (Kassa), Slovakia, on September 29, 1927, to Hungarian Jewish parents, Dr. Edie is a Holocaust survivor and psychologist based in La Jolla, California, specializing in the treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder.
In May 1944, she together with her parents and sister Magda were deported to Auschwitz. Separated by Josef Mengele from her mother, who died in the gas chambers, she recalls how Mengele made her dance for him that evening in her barracks (“The Ballerina of Auschwitz”). As a “thank you,” she received a loaf of bread that she shared with the other girls in the death camp.
After surviving the Shoah, Edie and Magda returned to Kassa, where they found their sister Clara. Their parents and Edith’s fiancé, Eric, did not survive Auschwitz, and she married former partisan Albert (Béla) Eger, whom she had met in the hospital.
In 1949, after threats from the Communists, they fled with their daughter to the US, where Edie befriended Viktor Frankl and received her doctorate in clinical psychology from the University of Texas at El Paso. She opened a therapy clinic in La Jolla, where she still practices. The Egers had two more children, one of whom – Marianne – is married to 2003 Nobel Prize laureate Robert Engle. Béla died in 1993.
When people ask me if it’s too late to start to write, I say, “It’s never too late to learn to skate!” Then I tell them about Dr. Edie, who published her first book of memoirs, The Choice – Embrace the Possible, in 2017, when she was 90 – and it soon became an international bestseller. Her second book, The Gift – 12 Lessons to Save Your Life, was published three years later.
Today, Dr. Edie continues to be active, especially on Facebook, where she has some 100,000 followers. I loved her recent post, a message of warmth aimed at those who feel alone during the holiday period:
Hello my dears,
The holidays are upon us, and I wanted to share with you that I understand these times can be difficult for some of us. They may remind us of people who are not with us any longer, and the holidays may bring up a sense of sadness or loneliness. I can tell you from the bottom of my heart you are not alone. I have been working with patients over the last 30 years, and many of them experience hard times during the holidays.
I encourage you to take care of yourself. And if you see others struggling, please lend an ear, as many times we are just looking for someone to talk to.
With mental health, depression and anxiety on the rise, especially as we get into winter and the days are shorter and the weather colder, we must all work together to keep the village healthy.
I am here to offer you what healing I can, and let you know that all your feelings and challenges are here to make you stronger, if you let them.
Wishing you all my love,
I messaged her, but alas, received no response. If you happen to read this, Dr. Edie, I wanted to say thank you on behalf of all your fans. I’d also like to wish you and all our readers a happy 2022!