Two years ago today, I published an online article for one of my journalism classes on a WordPress blog I made. Our assignment--from what I remember--was to write a story about an upcoming event our university was having. Luckily enough, Central was hosting Dr. Edith Eger, an 86-year Clinical Psychologist, and Holocaust Survivor.
I wanted to share this story I wrote because looking back at my early work as a writer, I forgot how proud I was about this story. Not just because it was one of my first big projects, but through all the ups and downs to see this story come to full fruition, I was very proud of myself for 'getting the job done', but also just beyond thankful to meet this fascinating human being who had so many stories and life wisdom just by looking into her eyes. At my age, never did I ever think I'd get to say I met a Holocaust survivor.
*For the original story, click HERE.
Holocaust Survivor Dr. Edith Eger shares her life story with CWU students
(Originally published) MAY 26, 2015 / MANDI RINGGENBERG /
It is not every day a Holocaust survivor is a guest speaker at a local university—in which case Central Washington University had that privilege.
Dr. Edith Eva Eger, 86, a Jewish woman from Hungary, was only 16-years old when she escaped the Auschwitz concentration camp.
Photo Cred: Edith Eger, heroicjourney.com
On May 15, Dr. Eger spoke at Central and shared her survival of the Holocaust and her perspective on life. She graced the SURC Ballroom stage with a heal-kick that reached as high as her chin, spread her arms wide such as preparing for a swan-dive and bowed graciously as the crowd cheered for her introduction.
After a short CNN documentary clip, Eger stood on what looked like a living room setting of a stage productions scene: a comfy plush chair, a night stand and a lamp stood on stage. Eger sat down and begun to talk about her personal journey as a teenager, witnessing her mother be taken away from her and led toward the gas chambers in Auschwitz. She spoke of giving a personal dance performance for the “Angel of Death”, Dr. Josef Mengele, a Nazi officer during World War II in order to save herself, her sister and the additional women staying in her bunker.
As Eger continued with her speech, one phrase of hers stuck out; it was the last sentence her mother ever spoke to her before they would be separated. Her mother told 16-year old Edith at the time of the Holocaust:
“No one can take away from you what you put into your own mind.”
In that moment, young Eger would carry those words with her throughout her year-long fight through her time at Auschwitz.
A private conversation with a Holocaust survivor
The next morning, Eger talked more about her experiences and working with the youth, in a private interview inside her personal suite on campus. She was housed in a presidential suite; dark cherry wood-furnished setting with a full sized kitchen, living room, dining room and bedroom. Eger stood roughly 4’10 feet wearing black pants, a tan shawl, tan scarf, her eyes and mouth curved slightly upward from smiling so often in her life and a hunched back after she broke it during her final days of Auschwitz.
As she spoke, her bracelets clanked together as she a touched her thumb and fore finger together in Namaste fashion, always at peace when she spoke.
“I’ve always had a passion for people who are willing to look at life from the inside out and to not really care what people are thinking.”
After returning to America, Eger got her doctorate degree in Clinical Psychology and now works with the youth, victims of emotional, physical, and sexual abuse on a daily basis in the practice of her own home in La Jolla, California. She states that victims of abuse are people she holds close to her heart when counseling.
“If you were sexually abused, you were more imprisoned than I was in Auschwitz because I knew who the enemy was.”
One subject Eger mentioned in her speech the previous night was after she spoke of her fight and survival of the Holocaust, she returned to Auschwitz. When asked why she wanted to go back and how it changed her, Eger stated,“I was much freer of fear. It was like I had shame over the fact that I survived. I began to forgive myself that I survived.”
Eger stated as she stopped outside of the concentration camp, she began to cry as she faced the lion’s den of Auschwitz. For many years it was a burden to her, but afterwards she stated, “It’s part of my life—I call it my cherished wound.”
Her fight for life during the Holocaust was something Eger would no longer be ashamed for and after seeing the historic landmark, as she began to “reclaim [her] genuine-self”.
Student’s reaction to exclusive interview with Dr. Eger
One of the many students that attended Eger’s speech at Central was Jonnie Crossland, 22, Public Relations student at Central. Crossland had the fortunate opportunity to speech with Dr. Eger in private interview for the campus news program, Central News Watch.
“It was very inspirational, great words of advice for people that need it”, states Crossland after her exclusive interview with Eger.
Crossland recognized the profound opportunity she had to speech with a Holocaust survivor and how inspiration it was for her, stating:
“It felt unreal… it was just eye-opening.”
Central diversity officer shares personal impact meeting Dr. Eger
“I met Edi about three years ago through John Drinkwater”, Michelle Cyrus stated in a private interview in her office. Cyrus is the Diversity Officer for the Center for Diversity and Social Justice department at Central. Cyrus was also one of a few people responsible for scheduling Dr. Eger to speech with Central students and community members.
After meeting Eger for the first time in 2012, Cyrus continues to have a close connection with Eger, reconnecting with her by phone or in person when they both have time.
“It’s like she looks into the depths of your soul,” Cyrus explained after spending two days with Dr. Eger and numerous intimate conversations.
“She doesn’t make you feel guilty or inferior.”
This year also marks the 70th anniversary of the Auschwitz concentration camp liberation; a monumental time in history that Cyrus says she didn’t want to pass up the opportunity to have a Holocaust survivor talk with Central students.
“What a tragedy it would be if students didn’t get to experience her.”
Dr. Edith Eger currently resides in La Jolla, California and continues to practices as a clinical psychologist out of her home and make public appearances and speeches. Eger continues to influences peoples lives through counseling and speeches.
A big thank you to Dr. Eger, Michelle Cyrus, John Drinkwater, Jonnie Crossland, and the Center for Diversity and Social Justice for making this article possible.