We’ve talked about teamwork instead of Being John Wayne and trying to take on everything by yourself.
So, which is it? Is life a group sport or a solo effort? What works best?
Dr. Edith Eva Eger would say you have choices. What does she know about it? A little.
She says,”Everything I know I learned from Auschwitz.”
It would be easy to underestimate the 85-year-old, vivacious blond. People often do. Before she was a La Jolla, California psychologist, she was a sixteen-year-old dancer who performed for the prime minister of Hungary. But her most important performance was before the infamous Dr Josef Mengele at Auschwitz-Birkenau, the Nazi extermination camp.
In a room occupied only by the infamous “Angel of Death” and his assistant, she closed her eyes and imagined herself onstage. While a group of prisoners outside performed a waltz by Johan Strauss, she imagined Tchaikovsky’s Romeo and Juliet and in her mind she danced across the floor of the famed Budapest Opera House.
Her performance earned her no applause but she was rewarded with a fifteen month stay in one of the most depraved and brutal places on earth.
The scale of the horror is hard to get your mind around today. Here’s an illustration using numbers from the 2010 U.S. Census.
If you brutally and callously killed every man, woman and child in the states of Wyoming, North Dakota, Vermont, Alaska, South Dakota, Delaware and Montana and then killed the entire city of Atlanta, Georgia, you would still not kill as many people as Jews who were murdered in the Holocaust.
Photos of Auschwitz today are surely haunting. But still the place doesn’t convey the enormity of the evil. This one blurry photo shows the selection process for one train on one day. This is the only photo of selection that I can find because the Nazis attempted to destroy all evidence of their evil. Nine out of ten of these people didn’t survive the day. This happened day after day.
Other concentration camps are less infamous than Auschwitz, only because they were smaller and did their horrible job more efficiently. There was one camp that only seven people survived. Another had ten survivors. The reason the bodies were burned is because they could not be hidden. There were just too many.
So, how did Edie, a sixteen-year-old ballerina, survive? In the above example she used a rich mental creativity ability to place herself elsewhere. This abundant mental life turned out to be more powerful than physical strength and bold courage. Because physical strength failed and bold courage was answered with a rifle shot.
Earlier that same day, Edie’s mother had encouraged her with these words.
“No one can take from you what you put in your mind.”
They were timely genius, her mother’s last advice before heading left to a shower filled with Zyklon B gas.
Edie took these words to heart. When she should have been in shock, devastated by her imprisonment, her parent’s deaths and her impending demise, she found the flexibility to adapt. Instead of dancing before Dr. Mingele, she was gliding across a brightly lit stage, safely in the arms of her lover.
“I wanted to live so much,” she said.
Dr. Mengele was entertained. He held out a piece of bread and with it a temporary reprieve. Edie had survived her first day at Auschwitz.
But there were daily tests to follow that were far more difficult. How did she continue to make it? Her answer is simple and unique.
She made choices.