The Choice is a phenomenal memoir. Dr. Edith Eger’s story is one that should sit beside Anne Frank: The Diary of A Young Girl as essential literature. It’s brimming with both the horrors that Edith faced in the year she spent in Auschwitz and the stunning things she did after those chilling experiences. It is a personal account that follows one simple theme: our choices. It was Edith’s choice not to give up on life despite being held in Auschwitz, forced into the Death Marches, and left for dead. Instead, she chose to fight and to live.
I have so many feelings now that I have finished this book that I don't quite know how to sum them all up. My heart is full of emotion, my head is full of inspiration, but, most of all, I wish I could meet Edith and have my fill of her in person.
The Choice begins with Edith’s childhood in Hungary. It describes her parents, her two sisters, and their family life. She speaks of her love of ballet, her passion for gymnastics, and her first love, a boy named Eric. It also describes the beginnings of the unrest that plagued Europe in the 1930s and 40s. This culminates with her and her family's deportation to Auschwitz in 1944. There, she is separated from her mother but she and her sister, Magda, remain together. With Magda, she faces endless selection lines, starvation, and the constant threat of death, and is even forced to dance for Josef Mengele, “The Angel of Death” and orchestrator of The Final Solution. This scene completely took my breath away, as I pictured her dancing ballet for the pleasure of one of history's most evil figures.
Edith's story is incredibly moving and unpredictable. The moment where she is put into a different selection line from Magda, and does cartwheels to cause a distraction which allows Magda to slip into Edith’s line, is particularly wondrous.
Against all odds, Edith and Magda survive Auschwitz, but they are weak. They are left for dead as victims of the Death Marches, lying in a pile of bodies. Miraculously, the two are found by American liberators, thanks to a glint of sunlight on a can of food in Magda's moving hand. After the agony of their horrific circumstance, their return to the family home in Hungary is heart-breakingly beautiful.
Through all of these experiences, Edith lines up the choices that led her to each part of her life and looks at how things could have been different had she made different decisions. However, she doesn't dwell too much on the 'could've beens.' Fascinatingly, most of the choices she recalls relate to survivor’s guilt and how a different answer to a Nazi soldier’s question could have meant the difference between life and death for other members of her family.
I listened to this book as an audiobook, so I missed out on the photos that the book includes. When I finished listening, I immediately Googled Edith and learned that she is a healthy, smiling 82-year-old. I needed to do this because in the last chapter she mentions that she finishes all her public speaking events with a high kick. I couldn’t imagine she still had the ability to be so agile – how wrong I was! I want to be as full of life as she is when I’m 82.
That said, The Choice is as harrowing as it is hopeful. Edith does not hold back from the details and I would not suggest reading this memoir if you are not ready to put a mental footstep into Auschwitz. It was hard to hear. I found tears brewing in my eyes multiple times when listening, but I couldn't stop. Dr. Edith Eger is clever, relentless, and inspiringly unstoppable.