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‘12 Lessons to Save Your Life’: La Jolla’s Edith Eger presents practical advice in new book, ‘The Gift’

La Jollan Edith Eger, a Holocaust survivor and clinical psychologist, has written her second book, "The Gift."
La Jollan Edith Eger, a Holocaust survivor and clinical psychologist, has written her second book, “The Gift: 12 Lessons to Save Your Life.”
(Courtesy)

“My gift is when I was chosen to come to this world and learn to give rather than take.”

La Jollan Edith Eger is offering lessons to overcome life’s challenges in her second book, published in September. “The Gift: 12 Lessons to Save Your Life” contains wisdom Eger gleaned as a survivor of the Holocaust, cultivated in the decades since as a clinical psychologist and shared as part of Eger’s propensity to give.

Born and raised in Hungary, Eger was 16 in May 1944 when she was sent to the Auschwitz concentration camp, where her parents were killed. Eger and her sister Magda survived and were liberated in May 1945.

Auschwitz was “hell on Earth,” Eger said.

Her memoirs are detailed in her first book, “The Choice,” published in 2017. “I thought I was done [writing], but people kept calling that they need practical things,” she said. “That’s how ‘The Gift’ came about. I give you everything I can and tell you how you can truly change. Because if you don’t change, you don’t grow.”

At 93, Eger is still a practicing psychologist with no plans to retire. “Why retire now? I’m better than I was,” she said. “I’m wiser now.

“I like to guide people to get rid of the concentration camp in their own minds and find a key in that pocket so they don’t need me anymore. It’s not a job, it’s a calling.”

She said she’s “so blessed to be here, not only that I survived but now I guide people to be survivors, not victims.”

“I’m not a victim; I was victimized,” Eger said. “It’s not who I am, it’s not my identity. I am a human being who went through an experience. I have many, many ways that I could still improve.”

Improvement, she said, is a continual process. “I’m still in a process of becoming. I’ve climbed that mountain, but I never stop climbing.”

Eger said part of that perpetual climb is to practice freedom daily. “Every day I get up, I look in the mirror and I’m so grateful that now I have a choice to find a goal for the day.

“Anything you focus on has to be in alignment to get you closer to a goal. Today I have a goal, and I check it off.”

Also “very, very important,” Eger said, is self-love. “Self-love is self-care. It’s not narcissistic. ... If you don’t love you, why should I, if you don’t want to be with yourself?”

Eger, who not only escaped death during the Holocaust but marched with Martin Luther King Jr. in 1963 after immigrating to the United States in 1949, said one of the most important lessons came from when she had to confront “the bigot in me.”

“I had a 14-year-old White supremacist boy who was part of the David Koresh movement in Waco, Texas,” she said. “He told me America has to be White again and he’s going to kill all the Jewish people.

“There’s a difference between reacting and responding. If I would have reacted, I would have grabbed that boy. I probably would have taken him into the corner and stepped on him. But I knew that the most obnoxious person is my best teacher.”

“Prejudice comes from ‘pre-judge,’” she said. “There is my feeling and your feeling. I took a deep breath and I created a climate [for] that boy that with me, he can feel any feelings without being judged. I looked at him and I said, ‘Tell me more.’”

Young people are “ambassadors,” she said, “because they are the future. I want to be a good role model for them.”

Eger said “every behavior satisfies a need. I look at people who come to me, and my diagnosis is that they are hungry. They’re hungry for affection ... for approval. I ask: ‘If I had a magic wand and I could give you anything, what would you ask for that you don’t have now? What’s missing?’”

“If you’re waiting for someone to make you happy, you’ll never be happy,” she said. “Dependency breeds depression.

“You have to breathe. We are much stronger than we think we are.”

“The Gift: 12 Lessons to Save Your Life” is available for $16.35 at bit.ly/egerthegift.