What my mama told me: Edith Eva Eger at TEDxLaJolla

What my mama told me: Edith Eva Eger at TEDxLaJolla

October 9, 2019 97 By Stanley Isaacs


Translator: Elisabetta Siagri
Reviewer: Tanya Cushman I would be so privileged
if you would allow me, for the few minutes that you’ve given me, to be your mom, your grandma, your great-grandma. (Laughter) I have four generations. What a joy for me to be here with you. And with your permission, I’m going to take you on a ride. I want to share with you
what my mom told me that truly, truly changed my life –
the past and the present. The time is 1944. My dad, my sister Magda and I and my mom, we were on our way to Auschwitz. And my mom held me,
and this is what she said. She said, “We don’t know
where we’re going. We don’t know what’s going to happen. Just remember, no one can take away from you
what you put here in your own mind.” And this is exactly what happened. We arrived in Auschwitz. I saw the sign. I didn’t know where I was. My father was separated, and I stood in front of Doctor Mengele,
“the Angel of Death.” He pointed my mom to go to the left and my sister and I to the right. I followed my mom, and he grabbed me, looked me in the eye – that I never forget that look – and he said: “You’re going to see
your mother very soon; she’s just going to take a shower,” and promptly threw me on the other side – which meant life. I suffered so many years
from survivor’s guilt and shame, wondering, “Why me?” There were people who were
so much prettier than I was. I had two very beautiful sisters, and after two beautiful sisters,
my parents wanted a son, and guess what happened! They got me, and I was the runt in my family. My sisters took me for a walk, and they blindfolded me
because I was cross-eyed. Today, I speak at schools. I’m really guiding the precious children not to allow anyone to define who you are. You’re beautiful because
God doesn’t make junk. And so, here I was asking –
it was called Birkenau – I asked one of the inmates,
“When will I see my mother?” She pointed at a chimney, and she said to me very coldly,
“She’s burning there.” So there was no help from the outside, but I still had my mind
and my sister Magda. She was the pretty one
in my family, the sexy one. And when we were completely shaved, she came to me with hair in her palms
and said, “How do I look?” It’s a Hungarian woman’s question – we’re pretty vain – and I knew and I discovered Auschwitz was all about discovering traits
I never thought were possible. And instead of telling Magda
how she really looked, I found something, something
that she still had left, and I said to her, “Magda,
you have such beautiful eyes, and you know, I really didn’t see it when you had
your hair covering your eyes.” So I hope that you’re going
to relate tonight. Pay attention to the kind of words
that you put in your mind so you can empower someone and see in which way
I can be your guide tonight. Doctor Mengele appeared in our barracks and looked for the talents, and my friends volunteered me because I was a student of ballet. I was a good gymnast. I danced for the president
of Hungary, Admiral Horthy, and I found myself
in front of Doctor Mengele, dancing. And again, my mind was with me,
and I was able to check out, and I pretended that the music
was Tchaikovsky and I was dancing the Romeo and Juliet
at the Budapest Opera House. He gave me a piece of bread,
which I shared with my girls. Life was really difficult in Auschwitz because we never knew
what’s going to happen next. We didn’t know when we took a shower whether water is going to come out
or gas is going to come out. And then, what we had to do
is, again, somehow survive. I remember we stood in line
every morning, four o’clock, and I, I began to fantasize
about my boyfriend. And I said to myself, “If I survive today,
then tomorrow I’ll be free.” Tomorrow, tomorrow – always looking ahead. And I learned to say –
instead of “Why me?” – “What now?” and “What next?” I had a tremendous curiosity
that really was so powerful that I was able to make it day by day. But we had to be committed to each other; otherwise, we never would have made it. Cooperation was the name of the game. Not competition, not domination because all we had was each other then and all we have is each other now. In December, they took me out of Auschwitz. I became a slave laborer, and I was transported to a place
called Mauthausen to enter a death march. And in a death march, when you stopped,
you were shot right away. And while I was just about
to collapse myself, and my friends, whom I shared
the bread with, they came and they formed
a chair with their arms, and they carried me so I wouldn’t die. Isn’t that amazing? That the worst conditions
can bring out the best in us? I was liberated May 4th –
it’s coming up – 1945, by the 71st Infantry. I was so privileged that I am working now with the military,
doing work with PTSD. I was invited to Fort Carson,
Colorado City, and I realized when I arrived
that it’s the home of the 71st Infantry. You see how life comes around? And now, today, as I’m standing
here in front of you, I can tell you I have
nothing but gratitude. We don’t seem to appreciate, sometimes,
what we have until we lose it. Every morsel of food. The walk on this beautiful beach. I never throw out a piece of bread. If you take me out to dinner,
chances are I may eat up your leftovers. It’s really painful for me,
my daughter keeps telling me and my precious grandson, Jordan. Please, let people know
that beauty of mine. Come on, stand up, Jordan! Jordan! (Applause) That’s the best revenge!
That’s the best revenge – my kind! That’s all. Not only do I have three children; I have five grandchildren
and three beautiful great-grandsons. That’s revenge – my kind. But I was not really able
to have the joy and the compassion until I was able to return to Auschwitz, until I was able to go back
to that lion’s den and look at the lion in the face – until I was able to somehow
reclaim my innocence, assign the shame and guilt
to the perpetrator and finally forgive myself
that I survived. You see, revenge gives you satisfaction, but I think it’s very temporary. It just saps you of so much energy. But forgiveness – believe me – has given me the ultimate,
the ultimate spiritual freedom. So, as I stand here in front of you today, I can tell you that I’m so blessed today that I can guide people
from darkness to light, from prison to freedom and to find that, perhaps, the biggest concentration camp
is right in your own mind and the key is in your pocket. What keeps me young today? That I live in the present because I can only touch you now. If you’d please like to hold hand in hand. We all have a little skin hunger. So please touch, hold hands! And I, too, believe somehow,
as I am able to stand here, look at you precious young people, that you are the future. With TED, you and I can empower
each other with our differences and never kicking each other
into submission because that would be
the beginning of the end of the beautiful democracy
that I came to this country for. So just remember,
you can make a difference. And remember my mom’s words, that everything can be taken away from us except what you put in your own mind. So I hope that you will be
very careful and very selective with the words that you
can put in your mind so your life would be
as beautiful as mine has become, and you and I can truly celebrate the beautiful gift
that God has given us called life. Thank you! (Applause)