A Holocaust survivor who danced for Mengele


For thirty years, even her own children did not know that their mother, Dr. Edith Eva Eger, a native of Hungary, had been to concentration camps. This extremely strong woman belongs to the small number of survivors who credibly testifies of horrors and monstrosity in concentration camps. As a clinical psychologist, she currently runs a practice in La Jolla, California, where she leads her patients suffering from distress and pain to recognize hope and opportunities, as well as how to bring remedy to their own lives. “True freedom can only be found by forgiving, letting go, and moving on” says Dr. Eger, who spent her life to achieve that her patients can live a complete life beyond their problems. Her main mission became to help people make choices in order to heal and prosper. As an adviser to the US Army and the Navy, she holds tolerance trainings and helps in the treatment of post-traumatic stress syndrome. However, her journey to this point was very long and full of anguish and tribulation.

Dr. Edith Eva Eger was born in Košice (Kassa in Hungarian) in 1927, where she lived a ‘normal life’, ‘happy life’ with his parents and two sisters – Magda and Klara, in Hungary at that time. Her friends and family just called her Edie. The teenage girl spent five hours a day at the ballet hall after school, and besides that she also started gymnastics. Gymnastics soon became the same passion for her as ballet. Due to her trainings and ability she was facing enormous opportunities. Their gymnasium was preparing for the Olympics at that time.

“During the holiday season there is nothing more important than holding your family close to your heart, and telling them how much you love them. “

She had to face her first truly painful disappointment when her teacher told her in tears that due to her Jewish origin, she could not go to the Olympics. Edith felt that her dreams were torn apart. Her happy life slowly started to break up. The Germans also appeared in Košice and took away the Jews.  Edith was still a teenager when she, her parents and Magda’s older sister were taken to Auschwitz. Only her other sister, Klara, who was a violinist, managed to escape from it by staying in Budapest for her teacher’s advice.

After this, her family, together with a lot of other people, had to go through heinous and incredible things. At home, in Košice, Edith, thought that her first big love, Erik would be the man who would first see her naked. However, this pure and sincere dream of a child perished forever. Cruelty dominated everything there, depriving people from their hair, clothes, and everything. There was a total emotional and physical annihilation for people there. It was only their soul which no one could take away from them. Edith’s mother always said to her daughters: “Soul never dies”.

When they arrived in Auschwitz, women above 40, including Edith’s mother, were taken away separately, and led to the shower straight away. Shortly afterwards, a never-ending smoke cloud was coming from the chimney of this building. Staring at the smoke, the two sisters understood that they lost their mother forever. In their inability and helplessness, they clung to full force. For a lifetime…

Already that night Edith had to dance to the “Angel of Death”, as from time to time, Mengele ordered musical performances from the prisoners for his own entertainment. Prisoners deported from Košice knew Edit well, as she had been dancing ballet for years, even for Miklós Horthy, when the governor rode his horse into Košice in 1938.

She had to dance to Mengele several times, and Mengele rewarded her with a loaf of bread that she shared with her fellow prisoners in her barrack. While dancing, Edith was trying to turn her thoughts off so that she did not have to face the reality at least while dancing. “While dancing, I was thinking of dancing Romeo and Juliet on the stage of the Opera House similarly to victims of sexual violence who often turn off to survive the trauma” – she said. She shared the loaf of bread she received in return of dancing with the others in the barrack. She learned in Auschwitz that the force should not come from outside, but it must be inside. An enemy can take everything, you must not let them take your soul.

So many people died! Some ran to the fence and were electrocuted, others were attacked by the guards, and were shot immediately. However, it was not just a coincidence who could survive the death camp. Only few people could survive. By the end of the forced march from Mauthausen to Gunskirchen, only a hundred of the two thousand survived. Magda and her sister went through all horrors together including the forced labour, the death march, and famine which they had to face day by day. In the concentration camp in Gunskirchen, cruel starvation forced many of her prisoner comrades to eat human meat, while Edith and her sister picked and chewed grass, but from her weakness she often forgot even her sister’s name. By the time the US soldiers arrived, they were both literally dying.

Nowadays, in the 21st century, it is difficult for young people to imagine that there was a little girl dreaming about the stage of the Opera House, the Olympics, the true love and a happy family, who then had to go through the darkest and most cruel years of the 20th century. When the liberation came in the end, she was lying amongst a number of dead bodies in a concentration camp and was not even able to give the American soldiers any signs of life to make herself noticed. The same girl had to dance the Blue Danube Waltz in front of the murderers of her parents.

According to Dr. Edith Eva Eger, when we suffer, we get some gift in life. Edith became a constant victim, but soon she realized what real freedom was. But to achieve this, she first had to go back to Auschwitz again. This finally helped her to release her secret and to be able to forgive herself for having survived the death camp which her parents did not.

Today, the mission of her life is to help people in their prosperity and healing.

“I’m grateful for every little thing, for every little piece of food, for a walk or for seeing the beautiful flowers growing. I learned to see and appreciate things and how to like even that I do not like.”

Unfortunately, things cannot be made unhappened, but we are all responsible for not letting this happen again. Younger generation, young people are responsible for creating a world where similar cruelties can never ever happen again.

Three generations, with daughter and grand daughter.

Source: The Choice (A döntés in Hungarian) by Edith Eva Eger, a book full of pain and sincere love which I recommend everybody without exception to read.