Telling the Truth

connecting the dots of my life

Tag: World War II

Choosing to embrace the possible

Several weeks ago I finished reading Dr. Edith Eva Eger’s riveting memoir, The Choice. Dr. Eger is in her 90s. She’s a psychotherapist and a survivor of the Holocaust. One of thousands, including her entire family, rounded up by Nazis and sent from Hungary to Auschwitz. This is a 5-star book, well worth reading.

When it appeared the Nazis might not win World War II, Dr. Eger, a young Hungarian Jew teenager, was evacuated from Auschwitz. Eventually she ended up in the Death March of young girls who walked to a prison facility at Gunskirchen in upper Austria. Many didn’t make it.

Dr. Eger begins and ends her memoir by describing her work with several types of clients suffering from PTSD. Each had a different version of PTSD; each had to unravel the tangled knots of past histories; each had to find within him or herself the courage to change.

After recounting her own story, Dr. Eger describes the way these cases challenged her to understand more about her own traumatic experiences as a young Hungarian Jew. Recovery from PTSD isn’t over until it’s over.

The map of Dr. Eger’s journey from Hungary to the USA is convoluted, filled with high personal drama and heartbreaking choices. Some would call it a page-turner. I could only take several pages or short sections at a time.

Here’s what grabbed me: The one thing Dr. Eger did not want to do was, in fact, the most important thing she had to do to be at peace with herself and those she most loved.

This got me thinking. If she still had unfinished work even after she was a well-known, sought-after psychotherapist, what might that mean for me? What have I missed seeing back there in my history?

Short answer: I missed seeing my lost self. Not my family history or my father’s abusive, unyielding treatment of me, but myself! Yet there I was. From the second month of my mother’s pregnancy until I was 10-months old, my father was not a daily presence. He was in a TB sanatorium somewhere, fighting for his life.

Those ten months are a small piece of ground that belong to me. They aren’t marked by his attempts to beat anger out of me and make me into a tame, submissive ‘good girl.’ It’s not too late to take care of that young infant in me. The one I overlooked for so many years.

I highly recommend Dr. Eger’s book, even if you’re only interested in a no-holds-barred, first-hand account of part of World War II. On the other hand, you might also find a bit of your lost self along the way.

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 5 October 2018
Image found at mdmemories.blogspot.com

The Survivors

From her wheelchair
The frail old woman
Repeats her truth

Over over and over
Eyes bright with recognition
Insist on being heard

He made me alive
He made me safe
He made me alive
He made me safe
(He didn’t kill me.)

Memory frozen with truth
And lies she survived
Trapped in her past
Body drowning yet again
In yesterday’s icy waters
At the hands of the man
Now standing before her
In the dock –
Drowning in truth

I woke up today thinking about this woman and the doctor who experimented on her body, as told in “Ancient History,” an episode of Kavanagh QC.

Both are Jews, deported and taken to the same prison camp. He, a medical doctor, accepts an offer to run horrifying medical experiments on prisoners, or die. She is one of his unfinished experiments, saved in the last days of World War II. At what temperature could a living human being be frozen in water and brought back to life?

There were no winners. There never are. In addition, there’s a strange bond between these two prisoners whose lives are thrown together in a hell-on-earth situation.

This doesn’t mean choices made in hell-on-earth situations don’t matter. They do. But not always in the ways we imagine.

Sometimes they may show the content of our character, other times they might not. They may, in fact, show how terrified and helpless we are at the hands of our tormentors. And how much we want to live and die without being compromised.

©Elouise Renich Fraser, 6 September 2018
Photo of Russian Jews arriving at Auschwitz-Birkenau; found at collections.ushmm.org

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