Holocaust remembrance compassionate and cruel

In heartbreaking waves of in-conceivable human cruelty, 
Dr. Edith Eva Eger winds us through her teenage life in Second World War Czechoslovakia. 


In The Choice: Embrace the Possible, she takes us on a cattle car to her barracks at Auschwitz. We watch as her parents disappear into the gas chambers. We see the smoke rise from the human incinerators, spewing ash and despair on the concentration camp survivors. 


We walk with her and her starving sister on death marches through Germany and Austria where only 100 of 2,000 will survive. 


We finally arrive in Gunskirken Lager, Austria, where the flame of their young lives is almost extinguished.


The writing in this memoir is fierce and unflinching. It’s as compassionate as it is cruel and as hopeful as it is mournful. It is barbaric and poetic all in one fell swoop. 


“It is already hard to tell who is living and who is dead. Disease passes into and between our bodies. Typhus. Dysentery. White lice. Open sores. Flesh upon flesh. Living and rotting.”


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The writing mimics Eger’s story, which is as tragic as it is uplifting. We are taken time and again into horrific circumstances in which no human should survive. 


At times, I have to remind myself that this book is a true story and that it was someone’s reality.


While entangled with dead bodies in a pile of corpses, Eger sees someone eating another human and takes the reader into the moment with horrific grace, reliving her nearly unconscious state in short haggard sentences that sear, and save.


“I must eat or I will die. Out of the trampled mud grows grass. I stare at the blades, I see their different lengths and shades. I will eat grass. I will choose this blade of grass over that one. I will occupy my mind with the choice. This is what it means to choose. To eat or not eat. To eat grass or to eat flesh.”


Despite the deathly and dehumanizing brutality Eger endures, a spark of hope lies at the center of her, a spark that saves her as an American soldier finds her and her sister lying lifelessly in a pile of dead people when troops liberate death camp survivors in 1945.


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This must-read memoir from the 90-year-old Holocaust survivor is so much more than the story of her survival. It’s about finding the key to living fully for everyone. 


The psychologist takes us to her current private practice in California to intertwine stories of the resilient nature of all humans, whether in the grips of war or in the vice of everyday life.


She tells of prisons imposed by both the Nazis and by people themselves who are trapped in an unconscious stream of self-criticism. While it’s hard for me to make the leap from the death camps to the modern-day world, Eger makes it possible by showing that suffering is suffering.


After reading this book, I was simply changed at some base level, both by the inconceivable human cruelty in Nazi Germany and by the way in which Eger was able to survive it and go on to save others.


This is the Holocaust book for our times, showing what hate, prejudice and racism can do. It also shows what love, compassion and the resilient human spirit can overcome.


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The Choice: Embrace the Possible is written by Dr. Edith Eva Eger and published by Simon and Schuster (2017).

Christalee Froese is a freelance journalist from Montmartre, Sask. Contact: chapters@producer.com.