The Choice review: Liberation in confronting the past

That alone makes her a remarkable woman but her extraordinary life story, and the way she has channelled it to help others, make for an unforgettable memoir. 

Eger was a Jew whose family lived in Hungary until they were sent to the Auschwitz death camp in March 1944 when she was 16. 

She writes that if she could sum up her life in one moment, it would be “three women in dark wool coats, wait, arms linked, in a barren yard”. 

The women are Eger, her sister Magda and their mother, who was immediately murdered in the gas chambers by the Nazis. Her father was gassed too. 

Eger loved to dance and had trained to compete as a gymnast for the Hungarian Olympic team. 

So when Josef Mengele came to the barracks seeking entertainment, her fellow inmates volunteered her to dance. 

She danced the waltz to the tune of The Blue Danube while Mengele discussed which of the girls in her barracks should be killed next. 

“I was so scared,” she said. 

But she was rewarded with bread which she shared with her fellow prisoners. 

At the end of the war Edith was pulled, almost dead, from a heap of corpses. 

She weighed 60lb, her back was broken and she was suffering from typhus. 

Shortly after the war, she met a fellow Hungarian Jew who had fought the Nazis. 

They married and moved to America where she trained to become a psychologist. 

She appeared to embody the American dream but it took decades for Eger to resolve the terrible experiences she had suffered.

In 1985 she visited Auschwitz for the first time since her imprisonment. 

By confronting her past and paying her respects to her parents where they died, she started to make peace with her experiences and learnt to heal. 

What makes Eger’s book so exceptional is that not only does it tell of her life in the concentration camp, it also portrays how difficult life was for Holocaust survivors who emigrated to the US. 

Eger’s husband gave up a family fortune and both had to work in menial jobs. 

She and her husband would divorce, although they later remarried. 

Eger uses case studies from her own clinical practice to show that we all have a choice in how we deal with what life has dealt us. “Suffering is universal,” she writes, “but victimhood is optional.” 

She also tells patients, “The biggest concentration camp is in our mind.” 

Her message is that if we are willing to let go of “regret and unresolved grief”, we can move on to a better life. 

The Choice is written simply, clearly and directly which makes her message so much stronger. 

Through her work, Eger became a friend of Viktor Frankl, psychologist and fellow Auschwitz survivor, and The Choice is a wonderful companion piece to his classic memoir Man’s Search For Meaning. 

Both books are full of hope, showing that people can take something positive out of even the most terrible experiences and leave you marvelling at the resilience of mankind.