JFSA Connections talk to highlight forgiveness

Edith Eger, Ph.D.

Forgiveness is the ultimate spiritual freedom, says Edith Eger, Ph.D.: “It takes forgiveness to heal.”

One of the last remaining Holocaust survivors, Eger, a psychologist, will be the guest speaker at the Jewish Federation of Southern Arizona Women’s Philanthropy Connections 25th Anniversary brunch, “The Power to Heal,” on Feb. 18, at 10 a.m. at The Westin La Paloma Resort & Spa. Eger will speak about her experiences as a survivor, wife, mother, educator and human dignity advocate. She also will highlight her acclaimed memoir, “The Choice: Embrace the Possible,” a moving testament to the resilience of the human spirit and the power of choice in our lives.

Born on Sept. 29, 1927, in Kosice, Slovakia, Eger lived with her parents and two sisters, Magda and Klara, before the Nazi occupation in Hungary forced them into the Kosice Ghetto in March 1944. By May, they were loaded onto cattle cars and sent to Auschwitz, where Eger first encountered Dr. Mengele. He directed her mother to the left, and the gas chamber, and the sisters the right, to labor. By November 1944, Edith and Magda were consigned to ammunition trains and slave labor. In May 1945, they were liberated from Gunskirchen and were reunited with Klara in Prague. Eger married and came to the United States. She had three children and became a clinical psychologist.

Eger always has carried her mother’s words in her heart: “No one can take away from you what you put here, in your own mind.” She emphasizes the importance of “putting words in your mind that empower.” Self-love is not selfish, she tells the AJP, “selfish people don’t like themselves. Self-love is self-care, it’s not narcissism.”

In the 1970s, Eger began studying psychology. A survivor of PTSD before there was such an acronym for post-traumatic stress disorder, she has done extensive consulting work with the U.S. military, treating American war veterans from Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan. She also helped establish shelters for female domestic abuse victims. “She evolved at a time as a psychologist when PTSD wasn’t even on the map,” says Dr. Saul Levine, professor emeritus in psychiatry at University of California at San Diego, who knows and has worked with Eger for more than two decades.

“Auschwitz gave me a tremendous gift in some ways, that I can guide people to have resilience and perseverance,” Eger says. “I don’t like to talk about how terrible the Nazis were, I prefer to talk about the Nazis who saved lives.” Like choosing which flowers in the garden to water — deciding which will live and which will die — “whatever you feed in the present is what will thrive. Love is the ability to let go of pain and live in the present.”

A frequent visitor to Tucson over the years, Eger looks forward to her upcoming visit. Anticipating her talk, she reminds participants, “I can only touch you now. It is important to live in the present,” with forgiveness for the past.

The Connections brunch will include the presentation of the Bryna Zehngut Mitzvot Award to a Southern Arizona teen. The cost to attend is $40, plus a $180 minimum pledge ($18 for students) to the 2018 Federation Community Campaign. The Young Women’s Cabinet is collecting toiletries (toothbrushes, toothpaste, combs, soap, and full-size children’s shampoo and conditioner) and household cleaning products for Aviva Children’s Services. RSVP by Feb. 9 at jfsa.org/connections2018 or contact Karen Graham at 647-8469 or kgraham@jfsa.org.